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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Award-winning storyteller keeps audiences mesmerized

Bev Twillman tells a story to a group of children at Borders Books recently, entertaining them by embellishing a simple story about Frog and Toad. 
 (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Kathleen Mary Andersen Correspondent

The listeners sat spellbound, enthralled by Bev Twillmann telling a story.

“Nights in this area of North Idaho are dark and eerie,” Twillmann read. “The shadows and sounds of the forests can play all sorts of tricks on the minds of residents and visitors; or are they really just tricks? One true story that happened several years ago at a local scout camp was terrifying enough for a grown man to stay awake all night with his flashlight burning. He had been followed by an unexplained companion late at night, and knew he didn’t want to ever see the face of what had treaded next to him on that dark pathway back to camp.”

A small group of people had gathered to hear the Harrison, Idaho, storyteller at a recent appearance at an old barn on the edge of the Rathdrum Prairie.

“It is well-known that people remember stories and forget the facts.” Twillmann told them. “Those who share stories and use the story technique for effective communication have found this method highly successful for generations.”

“It is so important in our society that we cultivate our imagination and creativity. We are losing that.”

An award-winning storyteller, Twillmann has performed in front of thousands of people in the United States, West Africa, Spain, the Canary Islands, Uruguay, and recently, Mexico, and is now a native of North Idaho. Her philosophy is partially based on the philosophies and teachings of Freeman Tilden. “The story’s the thing,” he said in his landmark book, “Interpreting Our Heritage.”

As Twillmann explains it, Tilden went on to recommend an interpreter “tell a story rather than recite an inventory” in order to “provide a much higher service than the teaching of facts.” The import key is how to awaken creativity.

“When you tell the story instead of reading it, the story promotes each listener to individually visualize what the story is about; they’re not just hearing recited words,” Twillmann said. “Listeners can actually experience what they have heard.”

Twillmann knew storytelling was her life passion when, at an early age, she would entertain the neighborhood children with stories. She learned even back then that body language, eye contact, and voice inflections are important, but a real key she discovered is letting your emotions show.

“It simply evolves from the human need to communicate to other humans,” Twillmann said. “We pass along our experiences in life to others, our families, our friends and our children, so that they can gain from our wisdom, our mistakes and our feelings.”

In 2000, Twillmann received the Service Award from the National Storytelling Network, the national organization for storytelling, for exemplary service and significant contributions to the community through storytelling. In 2002, she was recognized by the National Park Service for 10 years of support in planning and presenting The Haunting in the Hills Storytelling Festival, the nation’s largest storytelling event servicing more than 25,000 participants.

Storytelling is the oldest form of art dating as far back as the epic Sumerian tale of Gilgamesh, recalling the story of Noah. There are many famous storytellers in history. One in particular was Hans Christian Andersen. Having no friends as a child and thinking of himself as the ugly duckling, he was forced to create a fantasy world which later became his fortune and fame in children’s books and allowed readers to relate to his experience.

Twillmann and her husband, Norbert, both Missouri natives, came to Idaho after owning two marinas in Knoxville, Tenn. Her recent appearances in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane include The Talent of Stars at the Schulman Theater on Sept. 29, held for Hurricane Katrina victims, sharing tales at Farragut State Park, as well as speaking at schools and churches in the area.

Her experience training numerous National Park employees across the nation inspired her to form Interpretive Voices, a teaching project to empower interpretive personnel from all areas of communication, especially museums, educators and speakers from various arenas.

Twillmann is easy to listen to. People grab onto not only her words and the tone of her voice but to her actions as well. She wants listeners to feel as if they are living the story. She adds to the effect and mood by sometimes playing a dulcimer, a guitar and a drum. Helping people and students to visualize the scene, is part of her goal.

Twillmann’s training programs and workshops teach how to reawaken creative powers, how to use “storytelling” rather than “info-speak” to enhance attention and retention, and how to help students and creative writers discover relevant and compelling stories.

“It is important,” Twillmann said “to get the audience to be able to share in ways that relate to something within the personality or experience of each individual.”

Drawing from her experiences in storytelling and her travels, she has written “Bonding of Generations,” a loose-leaf book, which she uses in her workshop presentations. Her favorite stories are stories that teach, traditional stories that stretch one’s imagination and those stories that jump out at you, just begging to be told.

“Any story that can touch even just one listener is a story well worth sharing,” she said.

Twillmann’s goals in the community are to host a workshop in creative thinking and writing, sometime in the spring or summer months.

“Learning the art of storytelling is fun and extremely beneficial,” she said. “It crosses all generations and cultures in its power and significance.”