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Rachel’s Re-Awakenings & Reflections-inspired by National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival, Part 7 of 9

This is the seventh 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:

When time is set aside to chat with other storytellers, I jump at the opportunity…

I was surprised when a breakfast social time was not as social as declared. I had stumbled on a story swap. I do love listening to stories, but I was hoping to connect with my fellow storytellers. I was not alone.

Though, the day was filled with chances to learn and celebrate. A few technological “bumps” but fixable. Whether or not sound works, the virtual world tends to be more visual. Thus, a concert celebrating body movement can still succeed among these hard times.

I was opened to a world of LGBTQIA+. I only knew the “LGBTQ” as that is what is more commonly used. The “I” and the “A” were new. I appreciated the storytellers on the panel who allowed me to understand feelings, fears, and joys.

I fell in love with the storytellers from South Africa. Then, I rejoiced in the Western Region Concert, of where I reside.

Find out the frustrations and the thankful moments from this particular day.

Events of June 5 and Reflections–

8:00 – 9:30 am CDT: Breakfast/Coffee Social Time

This was a harder one to attend…not that I could not wake up in time. Every morning social time has been topic and discussion-focused. This one was a story swap. There was no description that prepared myself mentally for such a “swap” in meeting. The world became more virtual with performances galore through Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope (Twitter), Instagram…and the list goes on. Hearing people tell stories was “easy.” The harder part was gathering storytellers to talk about the art.

I was not the only one who wished for more time to chat. Jeff Gere was vocal in wanting to chat. We both have felt a bombardment of stories–this is good, until one becomes a little wearied by it.

I suggested that we use the break-out room abilities of Zoom so that anyone wanting to do story swaps could be in the main room and then anyone wanting to chat could be in a second room. That did not happen.

At a live conference, it is easy to know what are social gatherings and what are the story swaps. For virtual, one can only rely on the descriptions. The title of this was “Breakfast/Coffee Social Time.” If I had read “Story Swap,” then all would have been clear.

Now were the stories told wonderful? Of course. But as I looked into the squares of people who would be lovely to chat with, I was saddened by lost opportunities.

Of course, can I reach out on my own to these people? Yes. Yet, in the hustle and bustle of our lives, this can be harder. A dedicated 9-day virtual event is easier for schedules to coincide.

This did have me ponder that 2021 Story Crossroads will probably need to be an expanded version of what we did with Story Crossroads Spectacular. Many schools–if not all–could be avoiding field trips and can only do virtual. We may have limited-sized possibilities with the general public but not with our main audience of students. Part of this expansion could be to allow places to “chat” or “talk story” that are informal as well as another option of the swaps. You can do both. We don’t have to rest upon one way.

10:00 am CDT: The Dynamic Body Storytelling Showcase with Antonio Rocha, Shereen Saif, Milbre Burch, Gene Tagaban, Elaine Muray, Peter Cook, and Kuniko Yamamoto, This is a 90-minute olio storytelling performance with tellers from the US and beyond, whose physical eloquence is often the central part of their telling.

The body is amazing in being able to tell stories. All of the tellers for this concert were wonderful to the point that a second viewing would be great to do so without volume. Of course, for Peter Cook’s story in American Sign Language, no sound would be needed at all. Yes, there was a voiceover of Peter’s story yet it was not crucial to understanding.

When Elaine Muray’s “Fox and Stork” story was told, the sound cut in and out. I put the volume on the highest possible part, but could only get bits of words. Her movements, however, were elegant and graceful. Sound distracts from the overall story dance anyways. Later, Elaine did send out a video of her work. The beauty of when things go “wrong” with technology, there is another part of technology that can get it “right.”

12:00 pm CDT: Workshop, Race, Class, Ambiguity: People of Color in the LGBTQIA+ Community with Chetter Galloway, Les Kurkendaal-Barrett, Rico Rodriguez, Camilla Brewer, Taria Person, The focus of the panel discussion will be to explore the intersectionality of being both a person of color and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in addition to creating safe spaces for individuals to share their stories.

I had heard the name “Chetter Galloway” but never got a chance to get to know him yet. My friend and sometimes tandem storytelling partner, Holly Robison, had told me that he was nice and enjoyed his style. I was glad to his openness during this panel.

I had no idea what to expect. I am a straight white woman, and there will be things I will never understand. I can listen. I can do my best. So that is what I did at this time.

I have plenty of friends who identify as gay and lesbian though I pause if I know any transgender, queer, or any other sexual orientation. I focus on the person, and that would be a big reason why this is simply not known. It is not like people are loud about who they are except at parades or protests. It is like, “Hi, my name is ________ and I happen to be (fill-in-the-blank sexual orientation)” versus “Hi, I am (fill-in-the-blank sexual orientation) and my name is ________.” In fact, I don’t remember any of my friends saying their lifestyle in that way. Usually, it was in a gradual and quiet way.

I felt for the people on this panel with the struggle with telling people about themselves. Again, I don’t understand it. I can connect the best I can with something unrelated.

I grew up in Wisconsin, and I was a rare member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in my high school. Maybe three others in over 2,000+? I was known as different. I was lucky to have friends who accepted me despite the “weirdness.” There were the people who were vocal and were convinced I had horns or was a demon. My Dad told me that when he decided to join The Church of Jesus Christ, half of his family revolted. Practically disowned him. He was in his early 20s. Luckily, by the time I was age 8 or so, the tensions had calmed. I don’t remember any riff or problem. I have cousins who are outright mad and purposely share memes or hateful articles. I chose to unfriend these particular cousins on Facebook–love and care about them as family members–but step back in my associations with them. Too much hate. Hard to build upon hate.

Is this the same as what Chetter, Rico, Camilla, Taria, and Les face every day? No. But it is what I can draw upon so I can express love for my fellow human beings.

3:00 pm CDT: Workshop, Crafting Your Personal Legacy: The “Why I’m a Storyteller” Story with June Kaewsith, What do ancestors and altars have to do with our personal legacy? And what is the story you’ll leave behind for the next generation? In this workshop, walk away with clarity on your “story medicine” through a 3-5 minute personal story you can utilize repeatedly to communicate what it is you do, and to spark a movement of people who are in alignment with your vision. June Marisa Kaewsith, also known as “Jumakae,” is a TEDx Speaker, multidisciplinary artist, and transformational life coach who mentors changemakers and aspiring entrepreneurs in finding clarity in their message and confidence in their speaking so that they can share their story medicine, grow their business, and heal generations before/after them.

I need to catch up on this workshop. I had an appointment that I had already delayed for too long. I couldn’t reschedule it…again. Thus, I look forward to watching this with the Digital Library with the National Storytelling Network is available.

I do love her idea of “story medicine.” Storytelling can heal when the heart and mind are ready. Since June Marisa Kaewsith wants us to have a 3-5-minute version of why we are storytellers, this is more of a “pitch” than an “elevator speech” that is usually only 30 seconds. My storytelling and marketing minds are curious. Hmmm. I recently had to do a 3-minute pitch for the Women’s Entrepreneurial Conference on behalf of Story Crossroads for funding. To cram all the important details into 3 minutes was challenging.

At the same time, we have done Story Blasting through Story Crossroads of ultra-short stories of 1-3 minutes to tell door-to-door in a neighborhood. Think caroling but for storytelling. Now, if I can do that–and I did fit within the 3-minute pitch at the conference with a couple seconds to spare–then I can do it again.

5:00 pm CDT: International Spotlight: Mzansi and her Friends, Stories from South Africa, What happens in a world of no stories when friendships break and mistakes are irreversible? What happens when those around you really turn out to hurt you the most? By their coming together, which is a sign of continued friendship, this collection of South African storytellers will take turns sharing tales about hurt, love and the power of stories. Presented by Naane le Moya.

I learned that the Ostrich is quite clever through a story told by Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa. I knew a different story that is how the Ostrich got a long neck due to kindness knowing that the crocodile would be dangerous. I want to snuggle up and read up more on the Ostrich and find more folktales.

I was feeling all kinds of feelings when Nolubabalo Rani told about the dress that her grandfather got for her. Her sister got a better and more styled dress. The grandfather even picked out a dress that was Nolubabalo’s least favorite color. The dress came to remind thoughtlessness rather than deep love. There is a twist to the tale, but I will let you discover it.

Bongiswa Kotta-Ramushwana was enthralling with everything–her stage presence, her choice of bold and traditional wardrobe, and the words that flowed from her mouth. And talking about mouth…I certainly need some of that porridge that Mamdokwe was known to cook. You will want to see this tale!

All the tellers were wonderful and deserves another watch, and another watch, and…well, you understand.

7:00 pm CDT: Western Regional Spotlight Performance with Liz Mangual, Cindi Allen, Paul Taylor, Pam Faro, John Stansfield, Cathy Ringler, and Carmen Artis, Hosted by Regional Director Sarah Juba Addison, Emceed by Sarah Malone

I was cringing as Cathy Ringler told this story from a gossipy and close-minded pioneer woman. She was complimenting Stagecoach Mary in such a backhanded way. It was obvious that the storyteller did a lot of research to put this piece together. From what I could tell, she wanted the audience to be uncomfortable with this stuck-up pioneer woman and cheer on Stagecoach Mary who was an African American woman that drank whiskey and smoked cigars.

I was more tense than usual due to the current events surrounding George Floyd. Usually, the storyteller seems to be the “hero” rather than a “villain.” So the pioneer woman was not a villain, but certainly not a role model.

Cathy wasn’t the only one who did historical storytelling. Part of me wondered if this was more prevalent in the Western Region due to Wild West and the possibilities along the frontier. Then, I thought of the amazing Chautauqua on the Eastern side of the United States from Mount Vernon to Colonial Williamsburg. So…it probably was how the line-up shook up this time.

The overall concert was not as diverse as it could have been. On top of that, a couple tellers were a little rough in their presentation. Being from the Western Region, that felt a little awkward to watch.

I know over 100 storytellers in Utah alone. We have the Nubian Storytellers of Utah Leadership. I have loved Julius Chavez with his Native American sandpainting storytelling. That said, sometimes it is hard to find people from different cultures who are willing to take the stage. With Story Crossroads, we will continue to invite and educate people to represent their cultures on stage.

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

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

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