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  • Daryl Ward

A New Year, A New Festival

Polk County is fortunate to have so many wonderful arts festivals. From the Swan City Jazz Festival to the Lake Wales Arts Festival, to Winter Haven’s Central Park Art Festival, there are numerous opportunities to peruse fantastic visual art or hear great music. What’s missing, however, is a literary festival. When I first became Executive Director of the Polk Arts & Cultural Alliance, I wanted PACA to produce arts and cultural events that were missing from our wonderful arts and cultural landscape – think Shakespeare-in-the-Park, or a children’s book festival. This month, we’re taking a small step towards that goal with the first-ever Polk Tales: A Storytelling Festival.

Working with Rogue Stage and the Orlando Story Club, we’re excited to announce that nationally recognized storyteller, Paul Strickland will be joining us for three days of interactive storytelling fun. The festival kicks off on February 9 at 8 pm in the Ghostlight Lounge at Theatre Winter Haven with Paul performing a solo set of stories that are sure to ignite your imagination. The next evening, February 10, Strickland returns with some special guests to the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland for a 5 pm performance. Joining Strickland will be members of the Orlando Story Club and Thom Mesrobian, performing as Sharktooth Sam. Wrapping up the weekend festivities will be a children’s storytelling concert at the Florida Children’s Museum at Bonnet Springs Park in Lakeland. That event begins at 1 pm. 

Strickland, who originally wanted to be a songwriter, has come to see storytelling as a vital part of our communities. “We live in a time of apart-ness,” Strickland said. “People spend so much time ‘alone’ on our devices.” This “aloneness” Strickland noted often runs counter to our communal nature. “We are social creatures.  And taking in a story in a group setting is a part of an ancient experience. There’s something truly unifying in that collective experience,” he said.

Thom Mesrobian, who has performed on numerous local stages in Lakeland, Winter Haven, and Orlando also recognizes the value a storytelling festival brings to Polk County. “I started Rogue Stage because I know just how much people need to hear stories. It’s the core of our human experience, and I can’t wait to see it blossom here in Polk County,” he said. 

Danielle Ziss and Bobby Wesley, who host Orlando Story Club events, are also excited to be bringing this artform to Polk County. “It’s an honor to participate in building connections via storytelling across central Florida,” Ziss said. “Watching relationships form after an audience engages in a teller’s story is such a rewarding experience. Some of my closest friends were made at OSC shows,” she added. Polk Tales: A Storytelling Festival will be the first time the OSC storytelling team has performed in Polk.

Strickland, who will conclude the festival with Sharktooth Sam at the Florida Children’s Museum on Sunday, encourages patrons to attend as many of the festival performances as possible. “Every performance is a little different.  I always adapt the telling of the stories a bit – on the fly – to best communicate the most important things within that story to that specific set of listeners,” he said. “It’s an interactive artform, but you as an audience member don’t have to do anything but be present and listen, and be willing to let me take you on a story.” 

Find out more about the inaugural Polk Tales: A Storytelling Festival at


 Photography Provided

Ghostlight Lounge at 

Theatre Winter Haven

210 Cypress Gardens Blvd, Winter Haven


Polk Museum of Art at 

Florida Southern College

800 E Palmetto St, Lakeland


Florida Children’s Museum

600 Bonnet Springs Blvd, Lakeland


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