This year’s conference was in Richmond, Virginia, so the travel was an easy drive down I-95. The only catch was that Mother Nature decided that Neptune needed a bath and unleashed one hell of a storm. (For the uninitiated, I call my car Neptune because it is a blue-green Saturn. And I am a geek.) The monsoon didn’t slow things down much, but it did make the hotel (the Hilton Short Pump) invisible from the road and I only realized I must have driven past it when I saw the sign for the county line. Fortunately, that was easily remedied and I made it in plenty of time for the Thursday afternoon master class I’d signed up for.
That master class was Jo Radner’s on Mosaic Work: Crafting Complicated Stories. I’d signed up for it largely to force myself to work on a piece that I’ve been fiddling around on the margins of for over a decade. Jo is always well-organized and I particularly appreciated that she kept us to the (inadequate) time for each piece of her workshop, something that is often difficult in these events which condense a several day process into a few hours. She had also given us some homework beforehand and that was very helpful. Overall, this was an excellent workshop. I came away with a few realizations about pieces of the story and some ideas about structure, but I think I am still trying to fit bits of ocean into a jigsaw puzzle of the desert.
The conference opening session focused on Story in Visual Art & Media. Joe Lambert of The Center for Digital Storytelling presented some excerpts of the center’s work. This was interesting, but never really made any particular point about the use of digital media. The high point of the session was Christopher Agostino’s Storyfaces. I had seen his work last year (when it was part of the fringe) and he tells stories while painting faces to represent elements of them. This was very entertaining and his results enhanced the stories. Finally, there was a talk by photographer Oliver Uberti. He had some interesting material, but he emphasized not showing people all your images while he went on to show us all of his. There have been a number of keynote speakers over the years who are too much in awe of storytellers and feel out of their comfort zone, so I will attribute his performance to that sort of nervousness. On the plus side, I now know what not to say when articulating a skeleton in my living room.
I was going to go to bed early, but I couldn’t resist the Lightning Round swap, hosted by Rivka Willick. This involved very short stories (about a minute), with the twist that you had to work particular themes and elements in for some rounds. So, for example, you got time removed from your total on one round for including a brand name, a farm animal, and some sort of footwear. This was tremendous fun and I left feeling reenergized. That meant I thought I could stay up for the ghost story room concert Robin Bady and Megan Hicks put on. They’re two of my favorite people and this event reminded me of why I love their unique voices.
Friday morning started with a general session on Story in Music. This featured a high energy performance by The Healing Force. They got us up and singing and dancing first thing in the morning, which made me glad I had decided not to sleep in.
Next up for me was Judy Alton’s Fringe performance, True Moon Stories. I was particularly interested and pleased because Judy and I had been paired in a workshop a couple of years ago and talked about this project. She had some interesting inside bits on the moon program, including a moving story about Buzz Aldrin’s relationship with a young boy suffering from leukemia. It’s always good to see a long-standing project come to such satisfying fruition.
In the afternoon, I went to the Fairy Tale Lobby swap. Let me be a petulant child for a moment and whine about my name not being selected in the random draw. (The petulance is due to a misunderstanding about how long the session was. There was actually time for everyone.) I did hear some good stories and let me particularly note Margaret Chatham’s performance of MacTavish.
After that I went to Lori Hansen’s Fringe performance, Becoming an Honorary Crone. The third of the three stories she told (about her mother) was particularly strong.
The evening featured a story slam on the theme, "Create!" Kim Weitkamp did an excellent job of emceeing this and there were several strong stories. I especially like Lynn Ruehlmann’s, which got her a second place prize. (I understand why Elzora Trimmer’s story won, so this is a matter of personal taste. Lynn’s story was less flamboyant, but struck just the right note with me.) After the slam, I contemplated the various swaps and fringes and decided that the best use of my time was going up to my room and going over the story for my Saturday showcase session. I didn’t go over it quite as many hundreds of times as I intended to since there were, after all, crossword puzzles that weren’t going to solve themselves. But I did enough to feel comfortable. And I got to bed at a fairly reasonable hour.
I started Saturday with a session on storytelling in organizations by Annet Scheringa. I was interested in this largely because Annet is from the Netherlands, so it was an opportunity to get a perspective we don’t usually hear. She had interesting material about eliciting stories about corporate values, but there was not quite enough time to really get through everything she had.
Then came the session I was most excited about – the mid-Atlantic story showcase I was in. The story I had submitted wasn’t my ideal choice, but it was: a) one I had on video and b) unlike the one I have on video that I like better, did not use the f-word. (Note to self: learn how to use the expletive-deleted video camera already.) The session was emceed by Adam Booth, who I would adopt as my son if only his parents would give him up. The session started with Geraldine Buckley’s story about Spain, nuns, her brother, and sangria. Then came a piece about coal mining by Fred Powers. Linda Goodman told an exquisite story about how she tricked her sister as a child. Kathy Long (who nade a point of reminding me of how we had met a few years ago) told her version of The Peddler of Swaffham. I’m always interested in hearing people tell familiar stories, because it highlights how many individual choices we make in our telling. I was up next and things went well. I got laughs at the right places. And nobody noticed the few flubs I had. (I should note that storytellers are always a great audience to tell to, since they are naturally inclined to be responsive. This was no exception.) Diane Macklin closed out the session with an African folktale in her musical style. All in all, the showcase was fun for me and I think it was fun for the audience, too.
The NSN membership meetings have gotten more productive over the last few years. The topic of greatest interest is, of course, the organization’s headquarters relocation, but there was nothing final on that yet. The other big news is that next year’s conference will be in Phoenix. It will be hot and, inevitably, the hotel will be freezing. (That was, by the way, a big problem this year. I was glad that Renee Englot had mentioned it on facebook, reminding me to bring along a sweater.)
After the membership meeting, I went to Beth Horner’s workshop on how to make factual stories not be like book reports. It was interesting but she needed about another hour. It was also very crowded, which created some challenges. I suspect that looking through the handouts will prove valuable in the future. And I did come away with an idea for what to do about a family story I’ve been vaguely playing with for a while.
The ORACLE awards were handled efficiently. I want to congratulate all the winners. I am sorry that Ellouise Schoettler had injured her knee and could not be there to receive a personal hug for all she has done for storytelling in the DC metro area. I am also particularly pleased about seeing the unique and quirky Angela Lloyd joining the Circle of Excellence. I still remember the time she discovered that the floor of the stage squeaked and just incorporated that squeak into her performance.
I closed out Saturday night at Bernadette Nason’s Fringe performance, Tea in Tripoli. I’d heard parts of this before, but hearing her experiences with learning to cook a chicken was just as funny this time around. And I definitely relate to the optimism about being a different person by moving to a different place. Well done!
I wanted to go to the room concert that Loren Niemi and Regi Carpenter were doing, but I was just too tired. Going to bed at a halfway decent hour meant I could make it to Janice Del Negro’s morning workshop on post-modern fairy tales. I had expected more of a lecture / rant, but it was relatively interactive. This is rare for me to say, but I think I’d have preferred the rant, at least at that time of day.
The conference closed with a session on Music and Dance, meaning a performance by the Latin Ballet of Virginia. The costumes were amazing and the dancing was reasonably impressive. But the room set-up made the viewing difficult for anybody who had not gotten there early enough to get a front row seat.
There was an afternoon concert and I had bought a ticket for it, but decided to drive home earlier for various reasons. I took my time saying good-byes and hugging various people I don’t see often enough. (A lot of the pleasure of the conference is, of course, seeing people who don’t live within normal visiting distance. I will not list names, lest I forget someone and inadvertently offend them, but you know who you are. And, if you think there is a faint chance you might be, you are.) The traffic was slow getting out of Richmond, but things picked up around King’s Dominion and I got home with plenty of time for a pre-supper nap.
Overall, the conference was stimulating and I came away with lots of ideas. The challenge is, of course, to maintain that energy while absorbed in my day to day life.