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Kim Weitkamp dragging storytelling into 21st century

Staff report • May 5, 2013 at 11:36 AM

The world of storytelling isn’t exactly known for its embrace of cutting-edge technology — at least, not yet. Storyteller Kim Weitkamp is pulling the ancient art into the 21st century one tale at a time, connecting with long-time fans as well as new converts with her take on oral tradition.

The award-winning performer, whose weeklong storytelling residency in Jonesborough will open the new season of Storytelling Live!, is widely hailed for her fearless embrace of new forms in an industry that has been slow to change.

“What was oral tradition hundreds of years ago isn’t oral tradition today,” Weitkamp says. “We need to cling to traditional forms, but I also think we need to recognize some of the patterns that are happening in technology and use them to our benefit.”

Weitkamp’s forthcoming album, “You Are Here,” is a digital-only collection that will be released later this summer.

“Each story is meant to be listened to in a certain location,” she says, citing iconic Everytown spots such as Laundromats, playgrounds and graveyards. “Every story is under 10 minutes and every title is the story’s location.”

Listeners are meant to use earbuds with their phones or mp3 players to take in the tales. As they hear Weitkamp’s voice, their other senses will be engaged by the sights and sounds of their surroundings.

“You’re actually in the location of the story, so it’s very tactile,” she says. “In the Laundromat, you’re going to be smelling laundry detergent while I tell a story that happens to take place in a Laundromat. You’re going to be seeing the laundry going round and round in the dryer. It just adds to the whole experience.”

The unique project combines Weitkamp’s interest in technology and design, which informs all her work. She works hard to use these tools to make traditions seem relevant and appealing to modern audiences.

“In storytelling, it’s about taking that traditional form and preserving it while finding new outlets and new ways to draw people in,” she explains. “The Louvre [a museum in Paris] houses ancient art — brilliant pieces of ancient art — but it’s constantly remodeling. It’s upgrading its technology, marketing, security and lighting. None of that changes the priceless art.

“It’s the same way with traditional stories,” she continues. “I may be packaging it differently or using technology to spread the word and highlight it, but that doesn’t change the art itself.”

During her weeklong storytelling residency, May 7-11, Weitkamp will offer matinees at 2 p.m., daily. All performances will be held in the International Storytelling Center’s Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall, an intimate theater in downtown Jonesborough.

On Thursday morning, May 9, Weitkamp will lead a workshop, “Happy Endings: Client and Customer Service for Business and Non-Profits.” The two-hour session will focus on easy ways to use story as a customer service tool and to improve manager-staff relationships. Admission for the workshop is $30 and is open to the public. Spots are limited, so advance registration is highly recommended.

Tickets for all of Weitkamp’s matinee performances are $12 for adults and $11 for seniors, students and children under 18. Season passes that offer savings of nearly 50 percent are also available while supplies last. Ticket holders for all matinee and evening performances will save 10 percent on same-day dining at The Olde Courthouse Diner, The Dining Room or Main Street Cafe.

Information about the complete TIR lineup and a detailed schedule for 2013 are available at www.storytellingcenter.net.

The International Storytelling Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Storytelling Live! is sponsored in part by Eastman Credit Union. Media sponsors are News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Herald & Tribune and Cumulus Media.

For more information about Storytelling Live! or to make a group reservation, call (800) 952-8392 ext. 222 or (423) 913-1276.

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