Rachel’s Re-Awakenings & Reflections-inspired by National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival, Part 5 of 9

This is the fifth of nine parts to focus on each of the nine days of the National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival that occurred May 30-June 7, 2020. Enjoy biggest moments and action items as a result of the experience for Story Crossroads and on the storytelling world in general.

9-Parts for the 9 Days:

  • Part 1 – May 30, 2020 – Pre-Conferences/Preparations – REVEALED
  • Part 2 – May 31, 2020 – Official Day 1 – REVEALED
  • Part 3 – June 1, 2020 – Official Day 2 – REVEALED
  • Part 4 – June 2, 2020 – Official Day 3 – REVEALED
  • Part 5 – June 3, 2020 – Official Day 4 – TODAY
  • Part 6 – June 4, 2020 – Official Day 5
  • Part 7 – June 5, 2020 – Official Day 6
  • Part 8 – June 6, 2020 – Official Day 7
  • Part 9 – June 7, 2020 – Official Day 8

What is storytelling? So many ways to present our art…

Each of us has a style and an excitement to bring to storytelling. There is no “right” way to tell a story. At times, we can feel uncomfortable at how others choose to perform. I faced one of my debates that perhaps is one you have had, too.

We had some technical “bumps” for this day of the conference. Nothing ruined, though ones to learn from indeed.

I rejoiced in the all-ladies producer workshop, being that I am a lady myself. Well, not as well-mannered though I am certainly a woman.

AND…I heard one of the best workshops of the 9-day event led by Ada Cheng. Every line she said was one to get at my heart and revive me in my duties as a storyteller and a story producer in being inclusive and diverse.

Join in the great debate of storyteller versus story-reading and how open you art to what is considered “storytelling.”

Events of June 3 and Reflections–

10:00 am CDT: Around the World in 90 Minutes with Beatriz Montero, Richard Martin, Geeta Ramanujam, Michael Kerins, María Gómez de la Torre, Janet Dowling, and Richard Marsh, Presented by the International Storytelling Network, Red Internacional de Cuentacuentos (RIC), which brings together 1,351 storytellers from 61 countries. Our objectives: connect storytellers from all cultures, revitalise libraries and schools, encourage reading, disseminate traditional and contemporary literature, and promote storytelling through articles and publications.

The first storyteller, Beatriz Montero from Spain, told a story with an adorable book called “The Stair.” I was confused as this concert started. I could not help but wonder where this landed on the storytelling spectrum. I did not deny it was storytelling, though it felt closer to story-reading. Considering the combination of storytelling and story-reading, the placing of this performance would have been better as the second story or perhaps in the middle.

I assumed that most of the audience were fellow storytellers, though I wondered if there were any first-time people to the art who noticed this virtual event. Would this solidify in their minds that storytelling is story-reading? This is a common misconception that I must clarify when people ask for me to tell stories. Again, she did a fine job in sharing the story. No other storytellers throughout the event used a book.

I face this conflict as a librarian. I am the Young Adult Librarian so I am not over storytimes. Though, I have substituted for the Children’s Librarian at times. When I cover, I have a tradition of telling the first story–no book despite being based on a book–while all the other featured stories are read.

I respect both types of presenting to promote literacy. Yet, it does throw me off when part of a oral national/international organization and event.

Then I have to breathe and link the commonalities of storytelling and story-reading. We have many oral storytellers who are authors and vice versa. What do they face and how do they choose on which way to present?

With Story Crossroads, we purposely are “story” rather than “storytelling” to allow for combinations. Would I allow story-reading on the Story Crossroads stage? Well, when we transformed our live festival to a virtual one, we had to figure out a way to feature our selected youth tellers. Everyone had to stay-at-home. The only way I could record the stories from the youth tellers was to do it through Zoom from our two separate homes.

One of the youth tellers, instead of recording through Zoom, had it recorded by a parent’s device. I had heard this youth teller at a feed-in festival before the shut-down of schools and businesses. She was strong and knew her story. Then, with the changes to our own festival, it had been a while since she told the story. I was positive that the youth read the story with the script off camera. She still presented in a lovely way with nice energy, and despite some reservations, I allowed the video to be part of the overall premiere of the 17 youth and adult community tellers. I did hint with the parent that it appeared that the youth was reading–but that I could be wrong. I never received a direct answer from the parent. I didn’t push it beyond that “observation” as a subtle warning for that to not happen in the future.

Still, I cringe a little. Do I need to be more open-minded? Probably. All this jumbled about and distracted me from enjoying the story fully. With it being the first story, I was also distracted throughout the concert.

I remember enjoying all the stories. I felt moved and noticed a lovely theme with several tellers of the need to acknowledge each other despite differences. Current events fed into our interpretations of the stories told, definitely. How could they not?

My favorite tellings for this session were “The Mountain’s Tale” told by Geeta Ramanujam as well as “The Varona and the Seagull” told by Michael Kerins. Geeta allowed the audience to decide the ending. Michael opened our minds to what sacrifice and friendship mean.

12:00 pm CDT: Workshop: Lady Producers Unite! Panel Discussion with Jill Howe and other female and female-identifying producers from around the US. Do you want to produce a quality storytelling event? Have you been producing and pulling your hair out? Do you wish we could all work together? Female and female-identifying producers from around the country will share their experiences. We’ll talk about everything from submissions, venues, promotions, booking, and all of the hiccups you never see coming. We can’t wait to see what you create!

Someone said that another name for a story producer was a community organizer. I love the sound of it!

While story producers have had to adapt from live to virtual–or delay/wait out–this workshop focused on when these were “normal” times. The lessons learned still apply though must be weighed out carefully in regards to health and safety. Several of the panelists had partnerships with bars, restaurants, or other eating establishments. All of those places have had to be shut down or have major restrictions at this time.

Yet, having collaborations can be a dream…or a nightmare. It must be a win-win situation. As story producers, we need to be willing to say “no” or “let us consider…” instead of having a potential partner call all the shots.

Regardless, an event needs a place. Megan Wells said that as a story needs a setting, do does an event need a place.

Nowadays, besides the location–live or virtual–you have to choose if you are editing or keeping the imperfections. Suzy Kahn Weinberg prefered the imperfections and was wary of pre-recorded.

I love the risk of live art. Thus, live-streaming without editing–even when archiving for later–allows those imperfections and blips and all–to be memorialized. We mostly have live-streamed, though we did do the pre-recorded of the 17 youth and community tellers. No edits were made except to string them together. The “anything-can-happen” feeling can be retained that way.

3:00 pm CDT: Workshop, Oral History in Action: Integrating Storytelling for Community Engagement with Ada Cheng, What does it mean to produce storytelling shows to preserve important community histories, such as war, genocide, and deportation? What does it mean to do community-based storytelling? How do we involve community members in storytelling for healing and critical engagement? I will use my experiences in producing Talk Stories and Speaking Truths Series to reflect upon central issues involved. Ada Cheng, a professor-turned storyteller, is the producer and the host of four storytelling shows, including Pour One Out: A Monthly Storytelling Series, Am I Man Enough?, Talk Stories: An Asian American/Asian Diaspora Storytelling Show, and Speaking Truths Series. She creates platforms for people to tell vulnerable stories as well as for communities who may not have opportunities otherwise.

I had a barrage of comments in the chat because Ada Cheng was blowing my mind time after time. I kept thinking what I wanted to do for Story Crossroads as a result of her teaching. To the point of unintentional rudeness. I do feel bad about it. When I make connections, I lean towards blurting than thinking.

Ada brought up the need to have storytelling available and accessible for all cultures. Much attention is given to the white or upper-class citizens. What of everyone else? Where are we taking the art?

For Story Crossroads, our main venues are the Murray City Park and the South Jordan Community Center, linked to the senior center. We send storytellers to each of the five school districts in Salt Lake County, Utah. For many years, we have had storytelling at the Blind Center.

I had someone ask me why we went to the Blind Center. They pointed out that it was not the easiest venue to find. I said it was to be easy access to those who are Blind more so than the rest of the public. All were welcomed, of course, but sometimes you need to choose a venue not for the number of people you will get but for the people themselves. With Ada’s workshop, she affirmed this feeling of going to the people. If you want to see diversity in the audience as well as on the stage, you need to go to where people of different cultures and ethnicity gather.

Ada wanted us to ponder the following questions:

  • How do we use storytelling to critique and address inequity, privileges, and injustice?
  • How do we produce shows and events in a way that benefit marginalized communities?
  • What does it mean to produce community-centered storytelling shows?

Ada urged that having a diverse line-up of storytellers was not enough. Consider the themes and topics that different cultural groups would be interested in. Center a storytelling concert or workshop around those themes and topics.

My mind was blown because these felt like “of course!” answers. I will be forever grateful for the insights from this one workshop alone. Of the 9-day event, this workshop was one of the most inspiring ones. Remember, the bar was set really high throughout this conference. I learned from everyone and each topic.

5:00 pm CDT: Music in Storytelling Spotlight Hosted by Sam Payne & Bill Harley, Featuring Sam Payne, Bill Harley, Jazzy K, April Armstrong, Anne Rutherford

I loved having Utah represented through Sam Payne. He is a natural on The Apple Seed radio show through BYU. He was wonderful again during this concert. He is authentic and genuine. He welcomes you into the screen as if you are in his living room. Truly delightful. I smiled big when Sam said, “What the heck!” Such a Utah thing to say.

It was a little confusing as to who was emceeing as that was tossed back and forth, though the interactions we had from these musical storytelling geniuses was wonderful.

Anytime you have instruments, Zoom can be a little “interesting.” I had to keep adjusting the volume depending on how it came through for each story musician.

I was thrilled to hear Jazzy K for the first time. Her style is “groovy” and head-bopping. I was happy to celebrate with April Armstrong, the 2020 J.J. Reneaux Emerging Artist Award. Does she have energy! I will need to borrow some from her whenever I feel a little on the low side.

While Kim Weitkamp was originally going to be part of this concert, Anne Rutherford “saved the day” by jumping in last minute with her ode to “Clementine.” The back and forth of telling and singing is enthralling and informative at the same time.

7:00 pm CDT: Pacific Regional Spotlight Performance, Featuring Tobey Ishii-Anderson, Juliana Person, Brandon Spars, Ken Iverson, Linda Yemoto

I was sad to miss this concert. I had family obligations as one of my nephews had a graduation parade. So strange to think he has finished high school! Yes, my family was masked and properly distanced as we cheered his accomplishments. I know if I had heard this concert, I would have also cheered.

This particular line-up of people are mostly new to me except for Linda Yemoto. She has told wonderful stories and you never know if you will jump, laugh, cry, or a combination.

I will catch up with this concert when the Digital Library is available through the National Storytelling Network. Some things are worth waiting for. No harm in being anxious.

Thank you for taking part in this re-awakening journey for me. Please post comments, and we can continue the discussion.

We did this 9-part Blog Series in anticipation of the Digital Library being put together by the National Storytelling Network. Whether or not you attended virtually, you can still access the recordings through pay-per-view options. More details to come soon and will be at http://www.storynet.org/virtual-conference/.

See our already-streamed/recorded The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities with three options to watch it featuring our panelists: Dr. Caroliese Frink Reed, Sheila Arnold, Darci Tucker, and Brian “Fox” Ellis. We are grateful to funding from Utah Humanities.

See our 5-video playlist from the Story Crossroads Spectacular by clicking here

Published by storycrossroads

Story Crossroads fosters creative and compassionate communities through the art of storytelling. 501(c)(3)

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