fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,

National Storytelling Conference

This year's National Storytelling Conference was in Los Angeles - well, actually, Woodland Hills. It's a good thing that I know L.A. well and didn't feel the need for sightseeing there, since there is nothing particularly close to the Marriott where the conference was held. There is a shopping mall across the street and a few other restaurants within walking distance, but it's pretty much bland suburbia.

None of that mattered, of course, since I was there to spend time with other storytellers and go to a mixture of workshops and performances. I spent Thursday afternoon at Susan Klein's master class on "Emcee and Microphone Skills." I thought the part on microphones was especially helpful, as she had us play with various adjustments. This is something I have not always been comfortable with and I left feeling like I had a better idea of what I was doing.

The opening ceremony featured a story by Baba the Storyteller and a blessing /chant by Chumash elder Georgiana Valoyce Sanchez/ This was followed by a performance by Locked Up in Malibu, a troupe of incarcerated teenagers who do improv comedy. I can recognize the skill involved, but improv comedy is one of those things that I just don't get. I also have to admit to being distracted by wondering what a 17 year old had done that has had him locked up for 3+ years. The evening went on to a keynote speech by Diane Ferlatte. Basically, she spoke on the conference theme of "Many Worlds, One Story." After that, I went to a fringe performance by Peter Griffin, a retired national park ranger. His show was titled "Everything I Know About Leadership I Learned From Beavers." The best of the five stories he told did, indeed, have to do with beavers (and, specifically, battling them and the Alaska state government).

Friday morning started with a great general sesson, led by Susan O'Hallaran. It included an exercise in which groups of four people formed a "beehive." Each person took a turn being the queen bee and had a worker bee go around to other hives collecting contact information from people who had an answer to the queen bee's question. For example, I had to run around to other hives asking who had a good home remedy to use when you have a gig but you have a head cold. (For my turn as queen bee, I asked for stories about coffee.) The idea is to use the contact info to follow-up after the conference and get answers to your question. I thought this was a lot of fun and a good way to get people networking fairly painlessly.

I needed a bit of a mental break after that, so I went to the Traditional Tales story swap. It was interesting to hear the mix of stories people told. I told "Two Foolish Old People," a Mongolian folktale. I actually have an issue with the title since I don't think the wife is foolish at all, but so be it. It has the advantage of being a story that is from a somewhat exotic culture and which is not widely told. I have no objection to common stories but my feeling is that I have no personal need to tell a story that a lot of other people tell unless I can bring something radically different to it.

The afternoon brought one of the highlights for the conference for me - Jo Radner's intensive on oral history. Jo is extremely well organized and had a good mix of lecture, demonstration, and exercises for us. I have a few projects I have been contemplating (like I need more projects?) and I felt like I got useful ideas for going ahead with them.

The All Regions Concert Friday evening was a mixed bag. I tend to like less theatrical storytelling, so was pleased with some of the tellers who took a more straightforward narrative tone. But I'm always glad for a mix of styles and material. The definite highlight for me was Karen Golden's "The Big White Pushka," which has always been one of my favorites of her stories. It was even funnier to hear again, despite my knowing what was coming. I finished off the evening at Priscilla Howe's fringe performance, Queen Berta and King Pippin: A Medieval Tale of Treachery. I was impressed at Priscilla's ability to weave together all the ends of a complex story which she had translated from the medieval French herself). She kept us all awake and on the edge of our seats despite the late hour.

I started Saturday by going to the first half of the intensive on "Old Tales for a New Millennium." I liked the story Linda Gorham told about finding her voice, but I was not getting as much out of the exercises as I should have been, so bailed on the second half and went to the Pacific State Showcase instead. Barbara Wong told a personal story I've heard her tell before (and liked) and followed that with a bilingual tale. Elaine Muray did a nice job with "Lady Ragnell," using movement to add something to a familiar story. (That's high up on the stories I don't tell because everybody and her cousin does, so it's nice to see somebody do something with it.) Jo Walter told a nicely creepy story of gardening and revenge. Finally, Tim Erenata told "Isabella and her Brother" (which I'd heard in his recent Capital Fringe Show) and a very traditional version of "Iron Henry" (which you probably know better as "The Frog Prince") with a lovely twist at the end.

The NSN membership lunch had mediocre food and a positive report from the board. (The National Storytelling Network is solvent! Rah!) That was followed by a powerful keynote speech by Antonio Sacre. He is one of my favorite storytellers and he talked about how he got in trouble over a speech at a high school. The speech was a powerful, honest and moving one and, frankly, it's material I would want every high school student to hear. I went to his back story presentation afterwards and I heard a little more about his fears that the incident would hurt his career. The problem is that there are people who don't have the integrity he has, as he mentioned somebody telling a story at a festival after being asked explicitly not to tell that piece. I hope people realize the impact that actions like that have on the storytelling world in general.

The Oracle Awards were that evening. I'd like to congratulate all of the winners and, especially, Norris Spencer who won the Mid-Atlantic Region Leadership and Service Award. Well done! I closed out the evening by going to the swap on "Stories That Changed Your Life." Again, this was a wide mix. I told "Thank You, Miss Tammy" which went over well. It's always nice to tell to such a responsive audience and that's a story I find personally satisfying after all the struggling I did to figure out how to end it. By the way, there was a dessert reception and dancing, too, but the music was not really my type (too Western!) and was louder than I could deal with.

Sunday started with a panel by storytellers with disabilities. I was particularly intrigued by the talk by Jessica Carleton about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Overall, it was an interesting panel and I wish there had been time for questions. After that, I went to Jane Treat's workshop on "The Destination is the Journey: Stories and Life Transitions." I think this was more geared to people using stories for therapy, so I didn't find it particularly relevant to me right now.

Finally, there was a closing concert featuring Victoria Burnett (with an excellent piece on how to behave in a Black Baptist Church), Antonio Sacre (talking mostly about his upcoming children's book), Susan Klein (telling "Beauty and the Beast") and Willy Claflin (with a story about his father and a Maynard Moose tale).

But a lot of the value of events like this is hanging out with old friends and new. It was great seeing a lot of the L.A. crowd and a few friends from this coast and meeting other people who are so enthusiastic about storytelling. As at past conferences, I came back energized and excited to work on various storytelling projects. (The challenge is, of course, maintaining that energy as real life gets in the way of things. If only I didn't have this unfortunate addiction to a middle class lifestyle.) I won't name many names since I will inevitably offend someone by leaving them out unintentionally. But it would be remiss of me not to give kudos to Michael D. McCarty who chaired the event so ably. Oh, yeah!
Tags: storytelling

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