Rachel’s Re-Awakenings & Reflections-inspired by National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival, Part 8 of 9

This is the eighth 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 – REVEALED
  • Part 6 – June 4, 2020 – Official Day 5 – REVEALED
  • Part 7 – June 5, 2020 – Official Day 6 – REVEALED
  • Part 8 – June 6, 2020 – Official Day 7 – TODAY
  • Part 9 – June 7, 2020 – Official Day 8

I had always wanted to go to Ireland, known as one of the most magical and storytelling-infused lands…

Many friends have traveled and toured Ireland before things shut down. I delighted in all the adventures and photography from Randel McGee, who has a dragon Groark and can be Hans Christian Andersen. He fits nicely in a magical land like Ireland.

Then, I was there, seeing the shores, and being mesmerized by the stories.

Besides, I could reflect on the ORACLE Awards and the 2020 recipients.

I was relaxed, especially as the Irish concert was after my panel with fellow presenters Sheila Arnold and Jessica Robinson while moderated by Tim Ereneta.

Critiquing oneself can be nerve-wracking. Find out what I thought of what we presented.

Events of June 6 and Reflections–

10:00 am CDT: Hot Stories From Boccaccio’s Decameron with Paola Balbi, Germana De Ruvo, Davide Bardi, Adults Only Event, Five stories from Decameron delivered with modern language and spiced with medioeval ballads and music.Sexy, funny and highly entertaining!An icon of Italian culture, humor , glamour and style, the performance delivers to the audience an unmatchable moment of pleasure and laughter. Paola and Davide unique style of tandem telling embodies all the elegance, passion and depth of their tradition. Raccontamiunastoria is the leading Storytelling Company in Italy. Funded in 2004 is steered by performing Storytellers Paola Balbi and Davide Bardi.It has gained across the years a worldwide reputation for performing excellency and top class Storytelling training. It organizes Festivals, events, swaps, performances, tours and workshops.It has a branch in the U.A.E called The Storytelling Company. Presented by Raccontamiunastoria Storytelling Company.

Part of me was curious and wanted to attend. Though, reading through the stories and the “Adults Only” was enough to have me pause. With Story Crossroads, we mainly focus on K-12th grade. We always have events and academic discussions geared for teens and adults. Even in those groups, we love being family-friendly. With permission from Debi Richan of Timpanogos Storytelling, we share two-page document called “What Family-Friendly Means to Us: Getting to Know the Utah Audience” with all our contracted story artists. It is really entertaining and informative and includes the section “Mormon and Sex.”

I avoid R-rated and MA for movies and TV shows. That is not for everyone. That is fine. I heard from those who attended this session that it was funny–as promised. This was obviously performed by amazing professionals.

Will this make it to the Story Crossroads stage? No. But there are many venues and possibilities for it.

12:00 pm CDT: ORACLE Awards, ASL Interpretation Provided, Come celebrate the accomplishments of our NSN community!

Ed Stivender was a delightful one to welcome us to the ORACLE Awards. Since 1995, these awards have taken place which equal the Grammys or the Emmys in the storytelling world.

I never thought about how “ORACLE” actually stands for these words (from National Storytelling Network website):

O rganization/Originality
R eliability
A chievements
C reativity
L eadership
E xcellence

in the Storytelling Community

Amazingly, you can watch these ORACLE Awards by clicking here. All was delightful between Angela Lloyd’s opening with the washboard, bells, and kazoos and humorous antics of Ed Stivender as emcee. He had to “play” with the audience a couple times due to technical difficulties or missing people, but it made the whole event even more special.

While all are deserving, one that has a direct connection with Story Crossroads is Barbara Schutzgruber. You can find the “Cap’s Off to You!” blog post on her here.

Any J.J. Reneaux awardee catches my eye. There is usually a rotation between the Emerging Artist and the Mentorship. I was honored to be the first J.J. Reneaux Mentorship grant recipient that allowed me to work with Don Doyle in Arizona and develop skills that help me to this day. For 2020, we celebrated Sufian Zhemukhov and April Armstrong. They both had a chance to perform during this 9-day virtual event as the perfect way to introduce them to us or “the world,” or at least the “storytelling world.” Sufian taps into his 1st generation Russian immigrant experience to reveal what many of us take for granted every day. April has contagious energy as she tells African-American and Latino folktales.

People who exemplify service and leadership: Jeanne Donato & Peg O’Sullivan (Northeast); Kate Lutz (Western)

People who exemplify regional excellence in the craft: Barbara Schutzgruber (North Central); Tim Lowry (Southeastern)

My congratulations to the four people inducted into the ORACLE Lifetime Circle of Excellence: Laura Packer, Jennifer Munro, Jackson Gillman, and Corinne Stavish. This is the ultimate level of craftsmanship and professionalism and the greatest of care determines who can be honored this status.

3:00 pm CDT: Panel Discussion, Save Your Space: Virtual Events Keep Storytelling Alive with Tim Ereneta, Jessica Robinson, Sheila Arnold, and Rachel Hedman, Virtual Events save your space – the night your show happens, the weekend of your festival – and keep your brand alive. In this panel discussion, you’ll hear from 3 storytellers/show producers who’ve been hosting online storytelling events since March. They’ll share expertise and give tips on how to ensure your online events not only keep storytelling alive, but help it thrive.

Oh, that big moment when our panel streamed live. We could not see the people there though learned that 166 joined us. Wow! I noticed that many workshops hovered between 70-120 so the number is humbling. Whether or not you attended, here is the link to our handout, templates, and resources.

Tim Ereneta was an amazing moderator. He kept us on track, had a variety of questions asked, balanced on who would answer them…so professional.

The funny part is that Sheila Arnold, Jessica Robinson, and I all have experience with Zoom and felt comfortable paying attention to our fellow panelists while responding and writing messages in the chat box itself. Maybe too comfortable. That can almost be too many chefs in a kitchen. Poor, Tim, for having to deal with us!

We each got 10-15 minutes. I had my countdown timer ready on my phone…and forgot to press it. I hope I did not go over. It was a blur. I felt like I shared important things…mixed with some ramblings that could have been tighter. Sheila and Jessica were the stronger presenters, and thankfully we were there to support each other. My “moment” was so much better in my dreams before the panel, but we will always be our worst critics. I imagined banners flowing behind me, my hair lashing out underneath my cap, and motivating the masses–the storytellers–to take risks and venture into the virtual storytelling world. Now, if you imagined the same while I spoke….

In preparation for this, Tim encouraged us to not have the “Talking Points” that were already on our created-handout to be what we focus on for our solid time. I focused on my journey and also the impact of “The Storyteller’s Journey: An American Revival” by Joseph Sobol. The American Storytelling Movement saw many changes. I talked of Ray Hicks and how his traditional style of storytelling made it a struggle for him to work with a microphone during that first year of the National Storytelling Festival that catapulted what we see as organized storytelling today. By the second year, Ray Hicks mastered that microphone. If he can adapt, so can we with our virtual storytelling events.

I noticed from the chat box that people liked my thoughts on how everyone gets a front row seat with virtual storytelling. I do love live storytelling, though I am willing to adapt so that the art stays strong. I was also able to reference Baba the Storyteller’s workshop on technology and storytelling. Someone asked our panel about the accessibility of storytelling for those who don’t have computers. I had already pondered this and shared how Robin Bady worked with seniors and did workshops by telephone conferencing. Even Zoom has the ability to join by computer OR phone. We certainly do not want to widen the divide with this screen-dominant culture. We must remember all in planning our programming.

Sheila shared the invitation for people to make mistakes. Have fun with everything. Jessica had fantastic pointers for the nuts and bolts. I…am a firecracker, as someone told me during the conference. A firecracker can be good or bad depending on where it explodes. So I am pondering this image and how I can be more effective in what I do and how I say things.

5:00 pm CDT: International Spotlight: SEODA! Treasures from Ireland, SEODA – Is an Irish word for Treasures. Niall de Búrca hosts a celebration of performers each of whom has made a unique contribution to Irish traditional storytelling. Nuala Hayes, Colm Sands, Liz Weir and Eddie Lenihan have spent decades immersed in the art form. Their dedication and encouragement of new voices has seen Irish storytelling grow from strength to strength.

As I stared into the screen, the Irish background felt unreal behind the host and emcee, Niall de Búrca. I had debated the whole time. “Perhaps it is a virtual background?” “No, the trees are moving!” “But it could be a virtual VIDEO background.” “No!” And on and on. Strange when a background can be so distracting in such a glorious way.

In case you wondered, I did listen to the stories. Some came through more clearly than others. It seemed the Internet connection was stronger for some than others. The framing in the screen was not always ideal or could be too dark at times. HOWEVER, the overall feel and arc of the whole program was fantastic.

The final teller, Colum Sands, sharing his story and music by the shores, was an ethereal experience in and of itself. Even the way the wind whisked his hair appeared to compliment the fickleness of the characters in his story. I also saw why he was nominated for three Grammy Awards.

7:00 pm CDT: Southeast Regional Spotlight Performance, Featuring Judy Baker, Linda Schuyler Ford, Paul Strickland, Debbie From, Annie B McKee, Linda Gorham, Robyn Rennick

It has been a while since this concert, and I know I enjoyed it all. Yet, I can clearly picture Linda Gorham. Her moving story called “I Am Somebody: 2020” was exactly the story we all needed to hear, especially considering current events. “Poignant” is not enough of a word to describe how I felt after hearing her tell.

One would think that minds and actions would change for the better no matter someone’s skin color. One would think that finally having an African American president would symbolize something. Yet, feelings have festered or have been hidden.

Of all this, we can at least be grateful that the monster known as “Fear” is being faced rather than tucked away under the bed. Time to choose who we will be as human beings.

9:00 pm CDT: Story Slam, Theme: Masked, Hosted by Jamie Brickhouse, Think you have a winning story? Put it to the test at the NSN Story Slam. Tell a true, 5-minute personal story that happened to you on the theme, “Masked.” You decide if you tell the story of wearing a mask for your first Halloween, wishing you could hide your face in middle school, finally seeing “behind the mask,” that fateful trip to the dentist, or something else entirely.

The stories were wonderful. I was searching for an edge or level of risk any time someone told. Although a nice concert, most tellers seemed to lack that “something.” I have attended several slams though most have been poetry slams held at the Utah Arts Festival.

The stories by themselves were nicely told, but that is the point—“nice.”

A slam is supposed to have a vibe different than a typical storytelling concert. Now, I like an edge, but not so far gone that I am dangling off the cliff due to unseemly language and dastardly deeds of conduct. 

This said, the winners did have satisfactory stories. It was hard to vote at the end. Well-deserved congratulations to: Li-Anne Rowswell, Barry Mann, and Erin Johnston.

Would Story Crossroads ever hold a slam? Perhaps. It would be family-friendly with an edge. Probably linked to an intense moment without fear of scary language. Not family-friendly for elementary-aged. The version great for middle schoolers and older.

Find your edge and your cliff. How far do you go with storytelling? How far do people around you go? Fascinating to ponder.

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

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