April 25th, 2013

storyteller doll

Portland, Maine - Where MOOSE Are Seen, Fire Is Shared, and Cold Winds Blow on Ballparks

As I mentioned previously, I spent the first weekend in April in Portland, Maine for Sharing the Fire. STF is the annual conference of the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (LANES) and is one of the major regional storytelling conferences. I'd heard how wonderful it was for years and this year I miraculously didn't have any major schedule conflicts. Besides, I had only spent about 5 or so hours in Maine previously (a day trip from Camp Birchbrook in New Hampshire to Ogunquit around 1968 or so). So why not?

The flight up to Portland was pretty routine. In fact, I had a pleasant hour or so in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge at IAD, where I could get a glass of wine and nibble on dark chocolate and dried apricots while reading the newspaper in relative peace and quiet. (My United Gold status gets me into that lounge, but not United's own. Don't ask.) And the flight is short enough that a regional jet is tolerable. On arrival, I got a shuttle to the Marriott at Sable Oaks, which was perfectly adequate, though not really near anything per se. That doesn't really matter for a conference, of course, since my free time was limited.

The Friday night opening by Michael Parent featured a mixture of bad jokes about Maine. Moose calls (MOOSE refers to the Maine Order of Storytelling Enthusiasts, as well as a large, antlered ruminant), and assorted other rude noises. That was followed by a story slam on the theme of Culture Shock. Bruce Marcus won that with an exquisite story about when he realized his children, adopted from Russia, had truly become American. The slam was fun, but went rather slowly, presumably due to the judging process. During the breaks, I had time to connect with some friends from southern California, two of whom now live in New England. (The third has a daughter in the area.) Then I went off to a swap with the theme "Tales of the Ornery, Original and Independent" before going to bed. I have at least two of those traits.

The morning started with a keynote by Joseph Bruchac. His talk included some interesting linguistic insight (e.g. the names by which we know American Indians are generally those which their enemies used for them) as well as the more expected material on cultural continuity and community building. Plus, I also now know the correct way to pronounce "Abenaki." After his talk we divided into groups to join tellers for a short story, and cultural discussion. In the spirit of choosing cultures I was less familiar with, I went to sessions by Antonio Rocha (Brazilian)and Diane Edgecomb (Kurdish). I found the Kurdish story particularly alien and, frankly, unsatisfying. The Brazilian story was more satisfying, but Antonio altered the traditional version, so the discussion got somewhat away from mainstream Brazilian cultural values. And, in both cases, the time for this activity was only enough to brush over the surface lightly.

After lunch, there were two 90 minute workshop sessions. For the first session, I went to Diane Edgecomb's workshop on "The Golden Thread: Finding Meaning in Traditional Tales." I'll admit I was disappointed in this, largely because 90 minutes was only enough time for Diane to get through maybe a fifth of what she intended to cover. The result was that I felt that she never quite pulled things together. I'm not sure if there is a solution other than not to attempt condensing what should be a 2 or 3 day workshop into a short session.

The other afternoon workshop I went to was Antonio Rocha's on "Transitions in Eloquence." This was fantastic. He talked about transitions from one character to another (and from one scene to another), had us all do some mime exercises, demonstrated what he was talking about, and coached a volunteer to hone in on potential solutions.

Saturday night featured the bestowal of the Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Award to Jo Radner. She definitely deserved this recognition for her work in fostering storytelling in New England (and elsewhere).

The Saturday night olio was one of the highlights of the weekend. I particularly liked Jo Radner's family story about pie. I also want to note that seeing Antonio Rocha perform crystallized a lot of things he had talked about in his workshop. Had I not gone to that session, I might not have paid quite so much attention to how he establishes the body language that goes with a particular character, for example. I finished out the night by going to an open (i.e. unthemed) swap where, at the request of one of my friends, I told "The Three Sisters."

I tried to avoid the LANES membership meeting, but did get dragged into the last half hour or so of it. I will refrain from comment on comparisons with my regional organization(s). But I will note that STF will be in Amherst, Massachusetts next year. That poses some interesting travel challenges, but we shall see.

Finally, I went to John Porcino's workshop. His topic was "There's a Nightmare at My Show" and he had a very concrete approach to handling the problems that arise at performances. Of course, most of problem handling is avoidance (e.g. check that the alarm is turned off before opening the side door - and, yes, that is a real lesson learned). At any rate, I came away with some useful ideas, as well as just enjoying the validation of hearing that these things happen to other people, too.

I didn't stay for the closing session because I had tickets to a Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox AA Affiliaate) game. Instead, I left my luggage in my friend, Katy's, car and got a taxi to Hadlock Field. I got a particularly unimpressive ballpark lunch of fish and chips and shivered in the stands on a day that was really too cold for baseball. (And, yes, I was wearing lots of layers, including my winter jacket.) The game was reasonably exciting, largely because it was fairly close. In the end, the Trenton Thunder (an affiliate of the Source of All Evil in the Universe) won, alas. By the way, Trenton has a player I predict will be someone to watch out for in the future. Remember the name Rob Segedin.

After the game, Katy picked me up and we went over to her condo for a while to thaw out. Then she took me on a short driving tour of Portland. Casco Bay is beautiful, but it was way too cold out to walk around much. After the tour, we went out to dinner with another local storyteller. We ate interesting pizza (e.g. with things like butternut squash and cranberries). Then she dropped me off at the Hilton Garden Inn which I switched to for the night to maximize some hotel stay needs. Apparently all Portland hotels have hot cider in their lobbies, instead of coffee and tea. (Well, okay, two is not a fair sample size, but it is still something I haven't seen elsewhere, so worth noting.)

My flight home was also uneventful, though way too early in the morning. That enabled me to get the bus from IAD to West Falls Church in time to get a bus straight from there to work. All in all, this was an excellent weekend and I'm glad I finally got to go to STF.