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09 August 2019 @ 03:32 pm
Lots About Storytelling  
National Storytelling Summit: My previous catch-up entry finished with a business trip to Los Angeles. I flew from LAX to SFO the next day to go to the National Storytelling Summit. My superpower is understanding public transit, so I took BART from the airport to a relatively new station called Warm Springs in South Fremont, which was a fairly short Lyft ride from the Fremont Marriott where the conference was being held. This would be a great location for a business trip to the Tesla plant, but was, frankly, a miserable location for a conference as it is really surrounded by industrial wasteland with nothing of interest. (There are a handful of places to eat within walking distance, including a couple of Asian restaurants, a McDonald’s, and a Subway at a gas station.) I, for one, would rather pay more money and be somewhere more interesting. Other than that, the hotel was decent enough, but the break-out rooms tended to be too small and the restaurant was inefficient. I gathered that they had only opened fairly recently so maybe that will improve. Not that I expect to have any reason to be there ever again, but you never know.

But the point of the trip was the conference, not the hotel. And that posed a different sort of problem – namely, my desire (and inability) to be in multiple places at once. I long ago figured out that the best thing to do under those circumstances is to tell myself that I can’t make a bad decision.

Anyway, I was tired after the intensity of my business trip, so took a short walk, got a sandwich for a late lunch / early supper, and gave myself some introvert time in my room until the official opening of the event. That started with a bunch of announcements, followed by an Ohlone Welcome and Land Acknowledgement ceremony. The Friday night keynote was by George Dawes Green, the founder of The Moth. He emphasized decision and vulnerability as being the key elements of good personal stories. I am not convinced, because I think that you also need to have resolution to turn something from an anecdote to a story. He played a number of clips of one-minute stories and I felt that, while they were entertaining, the majority of them didn’t go anywhere. He went on to talk about some neurological studies of storytelling and I thought that was more satisfying.

The keynote was followed by a reception, i.e. chance to hug lots of people I don’t see often enough. It was also a chance to preview the silent auction and decide which items I wanted to bid on. Then there were several fringe shows and the first qualifying story slam. I volunteered to be a judge at that, which may not have been a great idea because it meant I had to stay alert. I also have a problem with how to compare very different types of stories, but I think there are some basic elements you can look for. In particular, I want to be shown what the story is about, not told what I should be thinking.


Friday started with a choice of workshops. I chose to go to Once Upon a Gallery: Using Storytelling to Bring Museums to Life by Liz Nichols and Jeff Byers. They were well-organized, with a good mix of lecture, stories, exercises, and discussion. This wasn’t directly relevant to anything I am doing right now, but there are things I am interested in pursuing when I retire, and I came away with some good ideas.

Next up was a keynote (The Middle of the Middle of Us) by Charlotte Blake Alston. She started out with a poem about the late great Brother Blue, before talking about reconnecting with traditional stories. In particular, she talked about three motifs – the trickster, the orphan’s journey and dilemma tales. She also mentioned untold stories of our nation’s history noting "I have an agenda. It isn’t hidden." Overall, it was an excellent talk. I am hoping it was recorded and will be available for people to hear later on.

Next up was the State Liaison lunch. That qualified as work for me, but was useful. Afterwards, I decided I needed to listen to some stories, so went to a showcase, which featured five tellers from the Pacific region. Nancy Donoval had a particularly well-crafted and amusing story about having her fortune told.

For the next session, I chose to go to Dixie De La Tour’s workshop on Bawdy Stories: The History and Practice of THAT Storytelling. This isn’t really a topic I expect to be relevant to my storytelling, for a number of reasons, starting with my being remarkably vanilla in this area of my life. But Dixie runs a very successful series in San Francisco and I figure there are always broader lessons about producing shows. She was entertaining, but it was mostly a lecture, with some Q&A, while I prefer more broadly interactive sessions.

I went out to dinner with a few people from Southern California, followed by the Oracle Awards, which are the way the National Storytelling Network honors both performers and people who promote storytelling. There was a reception afterwards. There were also fringe performances, but I was exhausted and decided that I would go to bed earlyish. There was a rumor about a Fairy Tale Lobby story swap, which I’d have liked to go to, but sometimes sleep is the best use of my time.

On Saturday morning, I chose to go to an Intensive (i.e. a 2-session workshop) with Joel ben Izzy on Stringing Stories Together. I was hoping this would be helpful for the fringe show I vaguely have in mind, but it was a but too freeform for that. He had some good examples of making some apparently unrelated stories work together, but, overall, it wasn’t really quite what I was looking for.

After lunch, came the NSN membership meeting. The meeting was recorded and I assume it is still available for anybody who is interested. The key things to know are: 1) NSN is struggling financially, 2) next year’s summit will be in Decatur, Georgia, and 3) yes, they know the website is screwed up. I did my part towards the first item by bidding on a couple of items in the silent auction.

The other thing I did in the afternoon was go to one more workshop, on From Print to Story bv Elaine Brewster. I expected this to focus on adapting literary stories, but it was more or less about historical material. There was some useful information, but, again, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I also wish it had been more interactive and not quite so much lecture.

The evening featured a concert, with stories from Charlie Chin, Vicki Juditz, Kirk Waller, Disie de la Tour, and Brenda Wong Aoki. It was particularly delightful to hear Vicki, who I’ve known since the very first story swap I ever went to.

That was followed by collecting a necklace I won in the silent auction. It’s made of ceramic figures from Fun With Dick and Jane and I thought that was cute, even though we used the Ginn Basic Readers with Susan, Tom, and Betty instead. I was, alas, outbid on a set of space-related posters, which would have done nicely for my office.

Then came the Slam finale, which Sarah Beth Nelson won deservedly with a very funny story about one of the dilemmas of modern motherhood. Afterwards, I went to the beginning of Mary Hamilton’s fringe show, but I was tired and it was absurdly crowded, so I left after her first story.

I flew home early on Sunday. BART doesn’t start running until 8 on Sundays, so I used Lyft and, fortunately, was able to share a ride with another conference attendee. All in all, the conference was worth attending. I’d say that Charlotte Blake Alston’s keynote was the definite highlight. Well, along with getting to hang out with several people I don't see often enough. One thing, though - there weren't any story swaps on the program and I found that very disappointing. People's stories are the best way to get to know them and swaps work well for that.

Better Said Than Done Show: This past Saturday night was a Better Said Than Done show. The theme was Other People’s Stories and I told this story, about some of my favorite bits of New York history:



If you have some time, you should go to the blog page for the show and follow the link to hear Jay Johnson’s story, which has an incredible ending.


Andy Offutt Irwin Workshop: Sunday involved more storytelling, in the form of a workshop with Andy Offutt Irwin, organized by Voices in the Glen. He talked about various things, mostly related to wit and humor, but touching also on story structure. The heart of the workshop involved what he referred to as "Pen the Tale on the Narrative," which involved a number of words on one side of a piece of paper and each participant listing roles they play on the other. Then we each dropped a pen three times on each side of the paper, resulting in three combinations of words to use as the basis of a story. The catch is that we each had a partner who chose which pair we used. I was given "Discovery" and "Storyteller," which I, frankly, was less than enthused by. I still came up with something, but I suspect it’s rather too meta to use. It was still a fun day and worth the time (and the drive to darkest Maryland). And I might use the random method for inspiration some time when I feel lacking in that.

And now to return to my quotidian existence, which means a business trip next week, followed by a puzzle event and theatre going.

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