The Time Traveler


Storyteller Ben Kemper celebrates Boise’s Sesquicentennial with new stories from Boise’s past

By Laura Wolstenholme
Photography by Copper Chadwick

Dotted across this summer’s calendar are a series of new story performances by the talented storyteller Ben Kemper in honor of Boise’s Sesquicentennial celebration. Kemper has chosen stories and characters from history of the varied cultures that make up Boise’s kaleidoscopic past. Collectively called “Gem of the Mountains,” Kemper’s story performances about the African, Basque, Chinese, Latino and Shoshone-Bannock peoples of Idaho’s past are a unique chance to learn of Boise’s history from new perspectives.

Born and raised in Boise, Kemper is currently attending Northwestern University, and majoring in Theatre with an emphasis on the adaptation of literature to storytelling. I spoke with Kemper about his experiences, love of storytelling, and his preparation for this summer’s performances.

What has been the process been like preparing these stories for Boise’s Sesquicentennial Celebration?
I’ve been working on them for at least a year, which is challenging sometimes since I’m in Chicago right now. I’ve done earlier stories on Boise’s founding and was interested in how this Intermountain West town had this incredible ethnic background. I chose moments and characters from old history books that show how it would feel to be alive then and that are representative of the culture and time.

What drew you into becoming a storyteller?
When I was in the second grade, the storyteller Joy Steiner came to my school – she’s a powerful and creative storyteller. I was just fascinated by the unwinding of her narrative. At seven years of age I stalked her from event to event! Eventually, I became her apprentice. I picked up historical stories and started telling them… I found it fascinating.

How do you keep telling the same story over and over and keep it fresh?
You really don’t understand a story until you tell it at least hundred times –you just begin to enjoy it, and the words in your mouth.

The audience receives the benefit of a story, what do you receive as a storyteller when telling a story?
There’s tremendous energy on stage – you get a huge rush of endorphins when you delight or scare the audience through a story. Also it’s a chance to work with words and wonderful characters.

How do you prepare for a performance?
I map out a set of stories and spend at least a week practicing every day until they they’re smooth… right now I have 30 stories in my repertoire. “Gem of the Mountains” is unfinished, so I’m working on those right now. I consider the venue of the performance and prepare accordingly.

What’s your favorite story in your repertoire?
My current favorite story is a Mexican folk tale about a young boy whose Godmother is Death – it’s quite a story!

What would you like to do in the future?
You mean what’s my dream future? Come back to Boise and work for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in the summers! I’d also like to work for the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival and then do storytelling in the spring and fall. But right now I’m firing on all cylinders for the Boise performances of “Gem of the Mountains.”

Ben Kemper will perform “Gem of the Mountains” on June 28 and 29, July 6, 8 and 25, and Aug 8, 15 and 17 at various locations around Boise. Visit for more information.