The retreat center we were at was a lovely setting and the rooms were definitely nicer than the ones at the previous location. But it was also more expensive and, apparently, VASA lost a lot of money on this year's event since attendance was also noticeably lower. There was an up side to that, since the small group meant that everyone got to talk more with everyone else. And, for me, the major purpose of the event is seeing folks who I don't see often - the workshops and performances are just a bonus.
Friday night started out with a concert by regional tellers. There was an interesting range, though the bent was defintely towards the humorous. I was particularly impressed by Willa Brigham, who has a marvelous voice and told a sultry blue-tinged tale of love with the wrong man. We adjourned for refreshments, followed by a story swap. I didn't know what to tell, so told "The Three Sisters," which went over very well. Having such a receptive audience is always a pleasure.
Saturday started with a keynote speech (really, more of a workshop) by Charlotte Blake Alston. Her focus was on what we need to do to nurture and develop the craftsmanship of storytelling and we talked about what we needed when we were starting out and what we've learned that we want to teach to beginners.
The first workshop I went to was Rivka Willick's on "Once Upon a Time." She had some interesting ideas on how to introduce stories and we did an exercise where each of us was given a piece of paper with some particular audience and told to come up with a way to introduce "The Pied Piper of Hamelin." The audience I got was a fun one - a conference of exterminators! I also liked how Rivka addressed having way more material than the hour she had for the workshop. She gave us an exercise and a little badge to wear. The other people in the workshop could come up to you if you were wearing the badge and ask you to run through the exercise.
For the afternoon workshop, I went to Charlotte's coaching session. I didn't have a story I wanted to work on there, but I'm always interested in seeing how other people approach coaching. One thing she did that I liked a lot was ask the volunteers how the story had changed since they started telling it. She also asked people what they needed, which is always helpful.
After that was the short story swap, i.e. a five minute limit. I told "Sam Short's Story" (a 450 word tongue twister, in which every word starts with "S"). I'm always sure I'm going to slip but I've told the story over a dozen times and haven't slipped up yet. I admit I was glad the luck of the draw had me starting off the swap, since that let me relax and listen more effectively to the other tellers. I got a lot of comments through the rest of the day about the story. It's basically a stupid human trick, but it is effectively silly. As for the rest of the swap, I especially enjoyed a story Paul told which had him getting stuck in a tree trunk. He was trapped for so long, he was sure he was going to die and began reviewing his life. He realized he had voted for George W. Bush twice and that made him feel so small, he just slid right out of that trunk!
Charlotte's concert on Saturday night was also delightful, with a mix of African and African-American stories, some of them accompanied on the kora (a West African stringed instrument). The other big event of the night was the silent auction. As is traditional, Jane and I got in a bidding war, but I let her have the two pins and necklace we were fighting over. I did win two items - a box of cookies (a good thing to buy, since I can take them to work and they don't become clutter) and two stuffed animals (a donkey and an elephant with American flags on their sides). I was seriously tempted to buy one of the masks Lynn is making, but I couldn't make up my mind. And I am trying to declutter my life so shouldn't buy things I don't need.
The late night swap got a lot of the newcomers up and telling, which is always a good thing. The morning swap was on stories of "kindness and beauty," which isn't really a subject I have much for. The highlight of that for me was Anthony's spooneristic version of the story of the Tower of Babel.
We closed with a bunch of bad puns, which is something I have way too much material for. It's nice to have an opportunity to tell them without anybody throwing things at me. I finished with the incident in which I entered ten puns in a contest, hoping at least one would win. Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.
Again, the main thing was seeing so many people who don't live nearby enough to see often. And I met a few delightful new folks, too. The conversations over meals and during breaks are as valuable as the formal events. It was all a lot of fun and I hope VASA finds a way to keep it economically viable for the future.