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

This is the ninth 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 – REVEALED
  • Part 9 – June 7, 2020 – Official Day 8 – TODAY

All things have an end, until it means there is a beginning…

Sometimes that beginning is with yourself. I attended the self-care panel, and I came away with more than I expected. I really don’t take care of my needs. I love diving deep and putting my energies into my family and storytelling. Behind all this, there is still me. I cannot be a help to someone unless I can be a help to me.

Then, I got to explore the plight and feelings of others through the Israel concert. It felt even more sacred due to being on a Sunday. I know that Sunday is not the holy day for all faiths. Still, my bringing up affects how I view the day.

I was smiling, dancing, clapping, and singing by the closing ceremony. Oh, how I love that song–

May the circle be unbroken.

Events of June 7 and Reflections–

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

This was a chat that needed some deep breaths, some Kleenex, and some chocolate. Really deep and serious conversation. Thank you to Sadika Kebbi from Lebanon for leading the discussion.

Normally, these socials are light and fun, but there are always the times to delve deeper. To give you a hint of the discussion, watch Sadika in this TEDx Talk called “When Your Enemy becomes Human.” She had a shocking and saddening story. The tensions she experienced in the Middle East are humbling.

To lighten the mood, we did get to celebrate her work with youth tellers. Later, I told her that I wanted my youth tellers with Story Crossroads to meet her youth tellers. The virtual world makes this much more possible. We will be in touch.

12:00 pm CDT: Workshop, Moving Stories: Body, Voice and More with Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo and Nancy Wang of Eth-noh-tec, Our voices tell stories, our bodies tell stories, so why not explore it all? This workshop explores the creativity between words and action, from page to stage, the creation of stories for performance storytelling. Whether a seasoned performer or just getting started, Eth-Noh-Tec will introduce the storytellers into a playful performance tool chest with creative movement, musical and rhythm approaches, drama and energy dynamics. It’s action packed, fun-filled with dramatic, musical, and creative movement processes that will help the the teller enhance their storytelling impact. Nancy Wang and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo, aka Eth-Noh-Tec, conjure a magical blend of mythologies and folk tales in a tandem telling style that interweaves choreography, synchronized dialogue and drama. Their ancient Asian myths, folktales and Asian American stories illuminate struggles for social justice and heroic journeys, and create enchanting storytelling using body, voice and gesture.

I “snuck” in for about 15 minutes, and I felt awful for having to leave. Yet, I needed to be there for my family. You could say that my body movement was needed to be planted and before my family so we could have church at home. With my husband being a Priesthood holder as well as my 12-year-old son, we have had Sacrament in the front room of our home that has since been nicknamed “the chapel.” Many people throughout the neighborhood have been doing at-home church until we are invited back into the church buildings with proper distancing, masks, and all other safety precautions.

As we did not rush church, I had to hold onto and cherish the 15 minutes I had with Eth-Noh-Tec. Though, the short time was enough to confirm once again that Robert and Nancy are professionals and will adapt to this virtual world while still honoring any live storytelling that is possible during this time.

I recommend most tellers to be close to the screen, though Robert and Nancy prove that you can still have beautiful choreography translate well through the screen. This screen culture we are in is more visual. This workshop was a great way to enhance people’s skills in using all parts of us to express our stories.

1:45 CDT Lunch Session: Producers and Organizers (PRO) Meet & Greet

I noticed that the Producers and Organizers (PRO) did not have a Pre-Conference like the other special interest groups with the National Storytelling Network. Though, think about it, the story producers of events have had to work more than usual to adapt live events to be virtual or at least have some kind of plan in place. With so much paperwork and creative thinking, who has time to have a Pre-Conference? We at least had enough time to gather and share what we are facing.

Yes, individual professional storytellers are facing the most challenging of times. But it is usually the story producer who has to break the bad news of either a delayed event or taking away the ideal of performing live and seeing the audiences in the same space, the same room. It is just as heart-wrenching, if not more, for the event organizers.

3:00 pm CDT: Workshop, Self-Care for Storytellers Panel Discussion, With Laura Packer, Donna Washington, Ted Parkhurst, Kristin Pedemonti & Allison Broeren, The work of storytellers is always vital, especially in times of turmoil. We are keepers of culture and bearers of hope. Many storytellers tend to prioritize the work before their health, but before we can perform, teach, heal, and serve at our best, we need to take care of ourselves. This panel will share practical ideas, exercises and tools that can help, and invites you into the conversation.

I am a late-night person by choice and usually early-morning person by necessity of being a mom. I am not the best person for doing self-care. Strangely, my greatest improvement in other areas of self-care started January 1, 2020. I committed to physical and spiritual attention with 30 minutes of walking every day and reading about a chapter of scriptures every day. When all the shutdowns and anxieties came due to COVID-19, I was more in control of myself to face the hard times. I was more hopeful though surrounded by chaos.

Having this panel explored more ideas, which is always appreciated. This panel also reminded that none of us are alone in the struggles of this time. We benefit from connecting with each other.

As this panel started, I was shaken a little by how quickly we jumped into intimate and honest conversations with Ted Parkhurst. I almost needed a warm-up to this level of openness and wished there was some kind of ease into it. As Ted publishes mainly storytelling books through Parkhurst Brothers, he must be familiar with having a hook or an attention-getter.

He focused the most on feelings and being honest with yourself. He said, “Stop telling yourself that you are not good enough. Believe you are worthy of being appreciated for that service.”

Beyond feelings, Donna Washington said to listen to your body and where you are in relation to the physical space of where you work. People are mainly at home, and she had to “re-segment [her] house” to find how to increase productivity. Though, even with those arrangements, she warned that we can feel that “even if you accomplished a lot, you feel like you accomplished nothing.” She urged not to have the computer in the same room as where you sleep.

And, now I am in trouble. I am most productive with the computer in my room. I already have insomnia though I have been able to work off of 4-5 hours of sleep for years. I love the comfort of the bed while the kids are sleeping and yet able to type away. Though, I do have “The Story Room” that has almost everything to do with Story Crossroads and my personal storytelling. That is where I need to set up camp, so to speak. I am organized, though that room has always needed some love. There is so much paperwork and projects…and I have opted for other ways to take care of storytelling needs. So…that would be a major adjustment. Donna, you still have me thinking. Usually, if I think about it enough, it becomes action. Usually.

Laura Packer spoke of a bowl of rocks. Every time she goes on Facebook, she takes out a rock. And…I would have an empty bowl.

There was a time I resisted and seemed to be the last person to get a cell phone. Then, it took a while before I exchanged it for a smartphone. And now…I have had to use social media for so much including for Story Crossroads that I check it way more than I need to…yet, I do. Most of us are addicted to social media. And with this pandemic, it is one of the main ways we connect with others besides the humans that share our living space. And sometimes we need a break every so often from the humans in our living space.

Yes, family, I still love you!

Laura spoke of being aware of what you do when stressed. The simple knowledge of it allows you to do something to bring peace and calm again. My husband has pointed out a few of my habits, and I was amazed how right he was – Irritability, Not much sleep, Pacing around kitchen island, twirling hair. Remember that I can be fine with 4-5 hours of sleep. “Not much sleep” is when I am more the 2-3 hours. That would do it.

Kristin Pedemonti expounded on squirrels in the brain. She learned from Elizabeth Ellis (back in 2012) to offer that squirrel in the brain a big juicy peach. You keep giving it peaches until the squirrel goes away. Besides the sudden need to go to a park and see an actual squirrel, this zany approach does say wonders about our ability to imagine problems as well as imagining them away.

When working out all the kinks with transforming Story Crossroads from live to virtual, I could have let the squirrels over-run my brain, throughout my body, and affecting everyone around me. Kristen warned of the “should” versus the “need” to do things. She smirked, “Please don’t ‘should’ on yourself or anyone else.” Yes, I debated on this questionable language here. Please forgive if I offended. Change “I should do this” into “I need to do this.” Ultimately, she said, “I can only do what I can do.”

Then Allison Broeren, founder of Strike Theater, delved into the Impostor Syndrome. Oh, do I have it! Any advancement we do with Story Crossroads feels like “Can we really do this?” or “People may think we are at this level when we are not there yet” and on and on. On an individual side, I feel that all the time. I have been in the art for going on 27 years. Do I really have the skills that reflect that time? Even compliments here and there are easily forgotten in the moment.

Allison said, “The only person you are competing with is yourself. You’re the only person there!” When comparing with others, she wanted us to ask, “What is the seed of that jealousy?” Is it that you “wish [you were] doing X, Y, Z?” And, “What is it that I am having an issue with?”

And, I wrote a lot more on this self-care panel than I intended. Whoops! Obviously, I need to ponder this more. I hope it helps you, too.

5:00 pm CST: International Spotlight: Multi-Cultural Stories from Israel, A potpourri of folk tales and personal stories, reflecting the multiple cultural backgrounds that characterize our society. Some stories will sound familiar to listeners in other countries- so it is when stories wander from land to land. Presented by Israel Storytellers Association. ISA was founded in 2008 with the purpose of gaining recognition and government support for storytelling as a unique art form- complementing but separate from other performing arts. ISA offers its members enrichment workshops and courses, led by local and visiting storytellers. We also sponsor public performances and festivals all around the country. Featuring Rinah Sheleff-Emcee/Host, Sephie Shochat-Beeri, Yoel Shalom Perez, Sharon Aviv, Doron Kaynar Kissinger, Hanan Abo Zlaf, Oshik Achinoam, Na’ama Tel-Tsur, Guy “Zandy” Zandman

Sephie Shochat-Beeri gave an ode to her mother who passed on four months previous. This already made the moment special combined with the fact that she is a teacher and broadcasting from her classroom. It had been a while since I had seen a classroom due to quarantine. What a strange comfort mixed with sadness to see a classroom.

Oshik Achinoam delved into his educational survival course teaching experience. About an hour of Tel-Aviv, he led youth–or adults–every week in forest for four hours. They cooked, built shelters, gathered plants. This time, his moment was of a time he got sick. No, not COVID. Yet, Oshik admitted that he “tries to tell stories when ill to make himself feel better.” He “[wears] the story like an animal skin, telling the story from the inside and then cleaned [himself] from the disease.”

I was mesmerized by Dr. Yoel Shalom Perez. He is one of the Keeper of the Stories in connection with Flora Cohen, who was one of the prime relaters of Jewish Stories in all of Israel for the Israel Folktale Archives. He is a keeper of over 4,000 stories! The story “Abu-Katrina the Lazy” was hilarious and had a moment when he laid on the floor with a shroud to think he was dead. Now, you need to know what led to that, right? Here is a hint – Abu-Katrina was an excellent, simple worker who decided not to work one more day in his life.

I delighted in a youth teller named Hanan Abo Zlaf who shared from the Arabic culture. I was unsure of her age, though young compared to me. She was fun though full of nerves. And the rooster she did? Hilarious! The rooster was threatening anytime he said, “Where’s my ______? (wheat, bread, etc.) Or will make big, big, big noise!” No one wanted that! That is power.

Doron Kaynar Kissinger shared such a moving story. We begin with youth and hopes. We end…well, not there. This story tells of Germans, Templars, and the rise of Hitler in 1933. This must give you enough to understand.

As this took us to a darker place, it was smart of the entire Israel teller ensemble to have a song to uplift. Thus, we heard a song from Guy “Zandy” Zandman. The song was about a troubadour who told and regaled stories to the king. The troubadour sought new stories to tell to kings.

The most amazing words were spoken by Na’ama Tel-Tsur who shared a story about the creation of the world while from a forest along the Northern border of Israel. When God the Creator spoke to Desert, and Desert asked if anything was left, only small and stubborn creatures remained and some thorns, sand, and a few sharp stones.

Is this all? I’ll be so lonely.

Don’t worry, Desert. I will come and I will live with you.

If you are brave enough and you have big questions about your life…you can go down to the desert and surround yourself in the big open space in the silence of the desert, you have a good chance of having a conversation with God.

Pause a little and let all this sink in. Delight in it. Meditate. Now you can read on.

The story was amazing and one I had never heard before. Other people in the chat indicated the same thing. While Dr. Yoel Shalom Perez is an official Keeper, this felt like all the listeners became keepers in another way. After hearing such a special story, what do we, as listeners, do with it? As this was a creation story, consider what does this story create within us? I will ponder this story for a long time. Thank you, Na’ama Tel-Tsur.

Sharon Aviv was the final teller. Her opening lines were mysterious–and perhaps cultural?–as she shared about the full moon in Israel and on that moon is the face of an old woman. That old woman tells everyone the story they should hear.

At this point, Sharon delved into a personal story from 16 years ago, probably 2004. She was invited to go to Belfast and tell stories. There were always conflicts between the Catholics and the Protestants. Being a Jew and coming from Tel-Aviv, she told the Belfast resident that they had their own conflicts. Still, the resident insisted, “Are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?”

Sharon then shared a story to consider anytime you are worried. She learned from her grandmother wise words to whittle down the worries until it feels endless and ultimately…no worries. Her grandmother, after sharing the advice, then asked, “So why worry?”

Sharon brought back her Belfast experience. She said, “Belfast did get peace. Israel, we’re still working on it.

7:00-9:15 pm CDT: ORACLE Performances/Closing Ceremony, ASL Interpretation Provided, ORACLE Concert featuring: Jackson Gillman, Jennifer Munro, Laura Packer, Corrine Stavish, Barbara Schutzgruber, Tim Lowry

So we have come to this–the end. For the first time, we had a concert that consisted of the ORACLE recipients of regional and national levels of Circle of Excellence. And, to give a hint, I have 64 pages from the chat box alone.

No, I will not write 64-pages worth here.

We celebrated the talents of those ORACLE recipients. Tim Lowry shared a personal experience of the privilege of doing a virtual tour for a school of the Deaf within the home of Helen Keller. Wow! I was crying. Laura Packer always tugs at my heart strings and yet I feel safe to come back from it all in the end. Everyone was wonderful. I even got to see Jackson Gillman perform. I interviewed him almost 20 years ago. I really hadn’t heard much since that time so the nostalgia rushed in.

Many people were thanked with huge emphasis for Katie Knutson (hurrahed 59 times!), Erin O’Neil (about the same number as Katie), Danni and Kathy from the National Storytelling Network Office, and the NSN Board and Volunteers – and rightly so.

Cap’s off to the National Storytelling Network with the courage to brave forth in this virtual world. May the Circle be Unbroken!

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/.

The next blog series will be a 5-part “Short & Sweet Marketing for Story Artists.” This will touch on websites to social media to other surprises.

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

If you really want to experiment with us, we have the Story Crossroads Server on Discord with text/vocal/video chat options plus resources and ideas. Click here for the direct invite/link.

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

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:

  • 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 – TODAY
  • Part 8 – June 6, 2020 – Official Day 7
  • Part 9 – June 7, 2020 – Official Day 8

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 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

Rachel’s Re-Awakenings & Reflections-inspired by National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival, Part 6 of 9

This is the sixth 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 – TODAY
  • 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 I expected to be taught was not even close to what was actually taught. Though how stimulating…

As Baba the Storyteller would be presenting, I assumed that his topic was on how individual storytellers can “evolve” and learn some tech skills. I read the title of “Evolution of Our Craft: The Processes of Mastery in an Age of Technology” and guessed what that meant. With the rush of this 9-day event, not all the workshop descriptions were available.

However, what I learned in exchange was far better…at least for me. I say this because I was part of a panel that was more story producer focused on transforming live events into virtual. I had hoped that Baba’s workshop would compliment what we were doing to be focused more on storytellers who do not see themselves necessarily as producers but are now forced to do so.

Oh, well.

And Dr. Raymond Christian opened my eyes to a whole world of podcasting. This never crossed my mind, and now I am determined to do something with the knowledge he bestowed so beautifully.

I was hypnotized, enthralled, thrilled with the concert from Indonesia. You can tell by the length of my comments! I would buy this concert in a heartbeat, knowing that nothing could compare to the in-the-moment feel. This is not that different from when you hear a storyteller in-person (not screen) and NEED to buy the CD.

I missed a few concerts due to my library shift. Again, much to catch up on once the Digital Library from the National Storytelling Network is available.

Discover the “surprise” during Baba the Storyteller’s session as well as other delightful moments–like delving into the world of podcasting.

Events of June 4 and Reflections–

10:00 am CDT: Tales From Indonesia with Agus PM Toh, Bie, Ariyo Zidni, Uncle Gery, Rona Mentari, I Made Taro & Gede Tarmada, Folktales from different island of Indonesia; Aceh and Padang from Sumatera Island, Java and Bali. Enjoy the stories, we will take you there. Ayo Dongeng Indonesia is an organization that initiate the annual “Indonesia International Storytelling Festival” since 2013. It’s also have a voluntary based community, with more than 150 storyteller, writer, and support volunteer. Ayo Dongeng Indonesia now gathered Indonesian Storyteller to be part of this NSN’s event. Presented by Ayo Dongeng Indonesia.

This concert was so amazing that…it went over. I don’t remember any other storytelling concert going over time. Thus, the hard decision had to be made to not have the last storyteller perform. I have an inkling of some of the tellers who went beyond their promised time…though I enjoyed exactly how they worded and shared their stories that I cannot imagine those stories being shorter.

Being a story producer, I would hate to face the decision of having a teller not perform if that happened with Story Crossroads. I have been lucky that this has not been an issue…yet. We did have a panel with four presenters, which already placed us “in danger” of at least one person being over time. Though, they respected each other and kept to the 10-15 minutes per person for what I nicknamed the “solid time” before we got to the questions. I did write a private message to one of the panelists to remind that time was getting close. I did not want to hold up a sign as all six of our boxes (four for panelists, one for me, one for ASL interpreters) to disrupt. I appreciated the ability to privately message. I was also lucky that the panelists were good about checking their chat/messages during the stream itself.

The National Storytelling Network was smart to send a video of the remaining teller that same day to anyone who registered for that event. Whew!

Now, with those thoughts out of the way, I want to focus on the performances themselves.

Mesmerizing!

The first teller, Agus PM Toh, used everyday objects to become characters and items while singing Acehnese. I kept wondering, “What will he use next?” From brooms to a pair of plastic spoons to make birds, I was completely enthralled. I noticed in the chat box and some people thought he made these choices due to the pandemic and being quarantined. Or perhaps those people meant that we can all do the same thing if we feel confined as artists. No matter the meaning, what was obvious is that we can do so much more with what we have. Truly worth watching over again!

I don’t drink coffee, though the story told by Bie was the closest I have been tempted to tasting it. I do not drink coffee for religious reasons, though the way Bie told “The Minangkabau Coffee” was done in such a reverent and delightful way that I was religiously hanging onto every word. She repeated the phrase “This is not a sad story” as a powerful storytelling technique as this did involve a coffee plantation and slaves. Another repeated line was “We are honest people. Don’t steal, don’t break rules.” Bie used traditional ways mixed with modern slang beautifully.

Ariyo Zidni had a deliberate way of telling, and, by talking slowly, made the whole storytelling experience more intimate. His story was full of characters who misunderstood or did not listen correctly. My favorite phrase was “listening to the intention.” Powerful!

The fuller version is this: He only heard what he wanted, but he did not listen. He only heard what he wanted to hear.  And the Fairy didn’t listen to the intention.

Rona Mentari told “Suwidak Loro” from Central Java and used a double-sided mask as a type of device as part of the opening. Amazing way to grab the audience’s attention while connecting us to the culture! She played guitar and sang. I was intrigued by how young she was and delighted in her being part of the next generation of storytellers. She also made me hungry for coconut all steamed inside banana leaves.

Uncle Gery told “Ande-ande Lumut” and this romantic story was the kind to make the audience swoon…until there was danger of crab breath. Uncle Gery was so close to the screen that I thought he would pop through the computer at any moment. This increased the intensity in his eyes and facial expressions and seemed to dare the audience to listen. This Javanese story was a Cinderella version that was full of mystery and dedication and commitment. Loved it! I will need to follow this storyteller more often.

We never got to “The Songs to Beg for Rain” shared by I Made Taro and Gede Tarmada from Bali. We ran out of time. Thankfully, a video of their work was shared quickly by the National Storytelling Network to complete this awe-inspiring experience.

12:00 pm CDT: Podcasting for Storytellers / Storytelling for Podcasts with Dr. Raymond Christian, During this workshop participants will learn how to utilize podcasting to magnify their storytelling audience. Participants will receive lectures and review examples of various styles, formats, shows and genres to consider, along with best practices and tips for successfully selecting and pitching stories. Ray’s stories have appeared in Reader’s Digest’s 2016 Best Stories in America and 2017 American Hero’s edition, he is an 11 time Moth Story Slam Champion, winner of the 2016 National Storytelling Festival Story Slam and featured performer at Exchange Place. His stories have been featured regularly on the shows, The Moth, Snap Judgment, Back Story Radio and the Spooked and Risk podcast.

Dr. Raymond Christian was smooth in his presentation and excited me–and plenty others–to this new world of podcasting. He said, “Millions could actually hear your story…exposed to podcasts already out there.” He continued that money could be made and large national shows could put you on air. The typical payment is $100/minute of a finished story/episode. Not bad! He joked, “Storytellers can die of exposure, but this is different.”

Different and exciting! I talked with my husband afterwards saying, “I have seen two different spirits. I could totally submit something.” My husband said, “Do it! You would be great.” Ah, see why I love him (many reasons, of course). So this is on my list to do after all the grant and final report deadlines of Story Crossroads. Sigh.

To give a hint of the possibilities, he talked of Tier I and Tier II podcasts:

Tier I Podcasts – millions of downloads

  • This American Life-on terrestrial radio AND podcast
  • The Moth
  • Snap Judgment – on terrestrial radio AND podcast
  • Spooked
  • Risk

Tier II Podcasts – hundreds of thousands of downloads, will accept stand-alone recorded stories

  • Story Collider – prefer science-based
  • First Person Arts
  • Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers – out of Detroit, live storytelling show AND podcast, serially – 10-15 episodes in a year
  • Mortified – out of Chicago, stories about childhood, stories that come from diary, what you wrote as a child or teenager and how those stories affected you (embarrassed by these stories today)
  • The Memory Palace – prefers rebroadcast stories, if it was on another show

Dr. Raymond Christian talked on how to pitch and so much that you will have to get the paid-per-view option. Do you have a plan of action? Go forth and podcast!

1:45 pm CDT: Lunch Fun, Chocolate Stories with Erin O’Neil

I had some urgent and important deadlines for Story Crossroads and was sad to miss this storytelling with chocolate. I NEED a chocolate stash to survive life. Okay, so perhaps I would get by without…but it would be rough. I loved how Erin encouraged people to bring some chocolate with them as they watched. How smart to connect actual taste–not just describing taste–in connection with a storytelling performance.

3:00 pm CDT: Workshop, Evolution of Our Craft: The Processes of Mastery in an Age of Technology with Baba the Storyteller, The workshop “Evolution of Our Craft: The Processes of Mastery in an Age of Technology” will offer participants a “Big Picture” analysis of the contemporary craft of storytelling and its’ role in constructing our communities, enriching our educational infrastructures and harnessing the power technology “in service” to our craft. Baba the Storyteller is an author, educator and public speaker. He has been honored with numerous awards over the decades for his work around the world. Baba is currently touring globally working as a Master Teaching Artist, partnering with International Schools, NGO’s, and Cultural Centers while sharing his Love and Passion for the Craft of Storytelling.

Baba the Storyteller really makes the storytelling world look good. He is the utmost professional and has a lovely balance of honoring traditional storytelling while embracing technology and methods to further this love and respect. The academic paper that his discussion was based on can be found here: https://babathestoryteller.com/storytelling-as-technology/.

Baba explained what is meant by “technology.” He had the most beautiful way to say it: “Physical manifestation of human-spiritual potential.” He continued, “We bring technology into being, our imaginations bring technology into being.” Even during Socrates time, people railed against technology. At that time, it was the written word as the technology!

As for the role of the storyteller, he said, “Our craft is integral to bringing the society of where it needs to be.” Thus, the need to focus and be more than entertainment with our fellow human beings.

We discussed that any indigenous cultures are dominant-oral and revere the spoken word. Any Western cultures are dominant-literate and revere the written word. Someone in the chat asked about screen culture. What can we expect from all the virtual events and interactions?

Baba paused and explained that writing can mimic the spoken word and that screen culture “has potential to be something great.” Though, he admitted, that the screen culture has the ability to enslave us. “Instead of owning the screen, the screen owns us.” He then said, “I don’t always enjoy all aspects of technology, but I have to go where the people are. I can’t expect the people to come to me.”

What of the hope from all this? Baba encouraged us to give the people “something else on their screens” Have an impact. He urged, “Give them something that gets them to put their screens down.”

We strive to do that with Story Crossroads. We had each of our Spectacular sessions end in a Question and Answer so the audience can think beyond the stories and warm up their imaginations and logic. You need both right and left sides of the brain to structure stories. We always hope that people explore the art of storytelling for themselves–pick up the screen to see “us” and then put it down to discover “them.”

7:00 pm CDT: Mid-Atlantic Regional Spotlight Performance, Adults Only Event, The Mid-Atlantic Region of The National Storytelling Network brings together storytellers from varying styles and applications in the states of VA, PA, MD, WV, Metro DC, and Metro NYC. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spotlight will feature some of the hottest storytelling talent in a region bustling with storytelling events, shows and talent. The show will feature personal narrative, folktales, and historical narrative from and ten tellers and the innovative organizations and shows that they represent. Emceed by Nick Baskerville & Robin Gelfenblen, Featuring Robin Gelfenbien, Oni Lasana, Ingrid Bohn, Jessica Robinson, Jack Scheer, Gary Lloyd, Jane Dorfman, Stacey Bader Curry, Srilatha Rajamani, Laura Kaighn, Judy England-McCarthy

I got to hear two stories from this concert because I had a 15-minute break at the library. While still wearing a mask, I hovered over my phone. I was glad to have the Zoom app for these kinds of story-listening emergencies.

The timing was amazing because one of the people I heard was Jessica Robinson. I cheered as she was my fellow panelists for “Save Your Space” on Saturday, June 6. I delighted in hearing her tell. When I told her that she was one of the few I could hear this day, she snorted and it was obvious by her “text tone”–if such a thing exists–that she did not see her as the most important to hear from the line-up. I did my best to tell her she is important and glad I had the chance. Just to warn you–her story is a kissing story!

9:00 pm CDT: Voices From Down Under with Jackie Kerin, Anna Jarrett, Christine Carlton, Kiran Shah, Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson, Lillian Rodrigues-Pang, Anne E. Stewart, and Jenni Cargill-Strong, Stories of wisdom, mystery, intrigue, danger, comfort, challenge and caution. The Australian Storytelling Guild (NSW) is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the development of and advocacy for oral storytelling, literature appreciation and creative expression through story creation and performance. Presented by the Australian Storytelling Guild (NSW)

I missed most of this concert. The library closed at 9:00pm MDT and this started at 8:00pm my time. Sigh. By the time I was settled in the car and had the Zoom app running, I got one story called L’histoire Grand’Mère (The Grandmothers Tale) told by Jenni Cargill-Strong. This was a darker version of Little Red Riding Hood. And…I do love dark tales. I am not for gore, but give a little edge to it…perfect! These are not even the kind of stories I tell.

I did think of someone while listening to this piece. Lori Hansen tandem tells with her husband, Omar through The Great Bear Folk Theatre. Her favorite story is Little Red Riding Hood and created a Facebook Group called “The Grimm Keepers” as a way to discuss through Zoom the symbolism and significance of different fairy tales and folktales. The kick-off story was Little Red Riding Hood only a few weeks before this 9-day virtual event. Meant to be? I think yes!

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

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