LINDSBORG — Irene Nielsen firmly believes in the power of storytelling — so much so that she is chairing National Storytelling Network's accreditation committee to give those learning the art a way to gauge the scope of the program they choose.

Nielsen is no stranger to teaching others about the craft of connecting with an audience. As co-founder of Historical Echoes, she performs in character as dozens of women from the past who were influential in their fields.

Nielsen, along with Historical Echoes co-founder Bonnie Johnson, wanted both structure and scholarship put into the performances. They created their own institute to teach others interested in portraying historical characters not only the basics of storytelling, but also the psychology behind transforming themselves into another person.

"As an organization, Historical Echoes is pushing the envelope on professionalism and national recognition," Nielsen said.

Nielsen's background in medicine and commitment to excellence gives her the motivation to work to better everything in which she is involved.

"Irene is really well connected, in a number of different ways, with the psychology community, nursing and education," said Historical Echoes Institute graduate Donna Becker. "She keeps pushing into excellence (and) improving things because of all the things that she's done."

After starting her own educational program to teach storytelling, Nielsen appreciates how much application the art can have in a multitude of arenas.

"At first, I was worried that if we educated people on how to do first-person performance, they would compete with us," Nielsen said.

Fears of competition were soon replaced by fibers of connection as Nielsen and Johnson worked with their students.

"These two women are such an inspiration to me," Becker said. "They follow their heart into things they still want to learn about and do."

The Historical Echoes Institute seems to especially appeal to retirees, who can dedicate time to learning the skill of storytelling through a method that does not require rote memorization.

"This dream that I had, I'm able now to actualize a bit," Becker said. "I enjoy it and I have something of a knack for it."

Using the Historical Echoes pattern, performers speak to an audience first in character and then take questions afterwards as themselves.

"The interaction with our audience, afterwards, is incredibly important," Becker said. "It amplifies the educational portion of it incredibly and it's very gratifying to have stimulated questions, observations and comments."

Nielsen believes the National Storytelling Network's accreditation program will be approved by its board next month. She also emphasized that the accreditation program will not judge a storytelling course on its curriculum or teacher, but only on what it promises to impart to prospective students.

"We're not telling them what to do," Nielsen said. "...If you say you are preparing people for first-person performance, show us how you do that through your activities and if the students feel they received that."

Nielsen will appear as Frances Perkins, U.S. Secretary of Labor and an advocate for workers' rights, at a tea beginning at 2 p.m. Sept. 14 at McPherson Opera House, 219 S. Main St. Tickets are $41.

For more tickets and more information about Historical Echoes and its performances, visit

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at or follow her stories on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.