May 7th, 2014

storyteller doll

Northlands Storytelling Conference plus Bonus Hotel Rant

I have a bunch of things to catch up on, but for various reasons it made sense for me to devote a separate entry to the Northlands Storytelling Conference, which was the weekend before last. I’d heard good things about this event in the past and, in the interest of seeing how people in other parts of the country manage storytelling get-togethers, I thought it was worth going to. I actually won the registration in a fundraising auction for the National Storytelling Network, so I was doing an additional good deed out of it. I had to add on meals and, of course, transportation, but that would have been the case anyway. Warning: you will have to read through some travel rants before getting to the good stuff, which is about the conference itself.

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So, was it worth the hassle? I can give an unqualified yes. Details below.

I arrived just in time for the Friday afternoon intensive session. I chose Loren Niemi’s workshop on Mapping the territory: Exploring Narrative Paths, largely because I have a few things I’ve been working on and struggling to find a way to organize into a story. I did accomplish that, but there’s a certain aspect of "be careful what you wish for" to it. I’m still not completely convinced that some of the alternate plot structures work well for oral storytelling, so being pushed to try more of them might have been better for me in the long run.

After dinner came a story concert with performances by Cathryn Fairlee, Linda Gorham, Laura Packer, Jo Radner, Nothando Zulu, and Pippa White. All of them told well. I want to particularly note Laura’s personal story about how she reacted to being told as a child that girls couldn’t do certain things. It’s a subject I relate to and she had a wonderful and humorous take on her response. I also want to mention Jo’s story about pie, which I’ve heard before and enjoyed just as much on hearing it again. And I can’t leave out the excellent job of emceeing by Yvonne Healy.

I stayed up for one fringe performance, by Britt Aamodt on her experiences in Air Force Basic Training. This was an amusing and enlightening look at a life few of us are personally familiar with. I found this story particularly interesting in light of Loren Niemi’s workshop earlier in the day.

The first workshop I went to on Saturday was Pippa White’s on Mining the Gold in the History Books: How to Find Captivating Stories in History. There was good material in this, but it wasn’t entirely satisfying because an hour and a half was not nearly enough time to really get through the whole process of crafting an historical story.

My favorite workshop of the conference was on How to Create a Story-telling Based Walking Tour by Dale Jarvis. Dale had lots of practical tips, based on years of doing ghost tours in Newfoundland. I came away with my mind racing with ideas, which is always a sign of an excellent workshop.

After lunch I went to a workshop by Sara Slayton and Terry Visger on Guilds and Festivals and Shows, Oh My. Most of this had to do with festival organizing and, frankly, it would have been better to maintain that focus since there was so much material they didn’t get to. I did pick up some useful tips, so it was worthwhile.

I followed that with going to a story swap, which was fun. I did tell a story ("Thank You, Miss Tammy") but the point was mostly to hear a lot of tellers who I don’t usually hear. And, besides, the drum circle was outdoors – brrr!

I skipped the Northlands annual meeting in favor of continuing a dinner conversation about critique in storytelling (or, as I think of it, how to damn with faint praise). Having just said that, I don’t think I can critique the evening concert, which featured Catherine Brophy, Barb Schutzgruber, Sara Slayton, Susan Stone, and Connie Reagan-Blake.

I had intended to go to a Sunday workshop and concert, but there was a high risk of travel issues due to weather approaching. So I ended up changing my flights. That proved to be a good move, as one leg of my original itinerary did end up getting canceled.

What this summary doesn’t cover is, of course, the general chats and networking, which is where much of the value of storytelling (and other!) conferences. All in all, I would consider going to Northlands again, although it is challenging as it is always the last weekend in April, which is the same time as about 700 other events. But I would stay far away from The Cove of Lake Geneva.