Rachel’s Re-Awakenings & Reflections-inspired by National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival, Part 4 of 9

This is the fourth 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 – TODAY
  • Part 5 – June 3, 2020 – Official Day 4
  • 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

The drive to help the world and find social justice for all was strong on this day…

Susan O’Halloran personifies “social justice” as do so many storytellers. All that they do and who they are exude the feeling that bridges can be built and understandings can be met if we take the time to listen to each other. The timing of the social justice concerts and workshops was phenomenal as people struggled on what action to take ever since George Floyd’s death.

To add to this charge to better the world, we experienced storytelling from South America as well as the North Central Region of the United States.

So be prepared to be wowed.

Events of June 2 and Reflections–

10:00 am CDT: Performance: A Showcase of Social Justice Stories with Susan O’Halloran (Emcee), Sheila Arnold, Laura Packer, Archy Jamjun, Jasmin Cardenas, Rives Collins, Diane Ferlatte, and Arif Choudhury, Can stories make a difference in how we see the world and each other? Come hear a sample of social justice stories by eight diverse tellers whose repertoires include stories that artfully raise awareness and motivate action about pressing social issues.

Was anyone supposed to experience these stories without crying? Storytelling can be flooded with crying, especially when you have true experiences as shared by Sheila Arnold. She is always a happy and supportive person, and she kept that smile amid her own tears while telling when her 31-year-old son faced a dangerous situation with law enforcement. People need to see this story, which you can find by clicking here. So far, there has been 228 shares on Facebook and 8,900+ views to give an idea of the impact of her story.

Sheila Arnold had me cry for a different event hosted by Story Crossroads called “The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities” when she portrayed Oney Judge, maidservant of Martha Washington. The heart-wrenching injustices of the past can still be seen today though called by other names.

Laura Packer shared an experience that felt familiar. She was violated as someone searched through her hair for horns because she was Jewish. Thankfully, I never had it to that extreme, but I had a time when I was collecting money on my newspaper route and this tall burly well-groomed old man accused me of having horns because I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed many times as Mormons). I have no idea how that was even brought up. Maybe I was wearing a Brigham Young University t-shirt? Was I singing a hymn, as I do love to sing–and did sing–while on the newspaper route? I don’t know. The fact that someone truly thought I would have horns is beyond my ability to reason. The fact that Laura had someone so convinced that horns would be upon her head? The amazing, caring, and poignant Laura? Oh, I wish I could have traveled in time and been there to defend her as a child…and perhaps giving me the strength needed to face my own demon at the door.

12:00 pm CDT: Workshop: Social Justice Stories: Edutainment at Its Best with Susan O’Halloran, Noa Baum, Nancy Donoval, Charlotte Blake Alston and Judith Black, You have something to say in a story, but how do you say it without sounding too pushy, opinionated or downright boring? Noa Baum, Nancy Donoval, Charlotte Blake Alston and Judith Black join Sue O’Halloran for a panel discussion exploring the craft of social justice stories. How do you combine education and entertainment into social justice stories that respect, enlighten and emotionally move your audiences? This session is perfect for non-profit and organizational leaders, ministers and storytellers of all experience levels.

This workshop brought back what Elizabeth Ellis shared in her keynote. “You can’t build a bridge out of soap boxes.” This is always a risk when delving into social justice stories.

Nancy Donoval’s approach was awe-inspiring. She said, “I couldn’t talk first, I had to listen.” She had the horrific experience of being date-raped. It took at least 15 years before she could tell the story. She eventually had the courage to listen to the stories of the young men who were part of the same fraternity of her attacker. She listened before sharing her part, her story. That act alone opened them to what she had to say.

I was disturbed by what Charlotte Blake Alston experienced while being a “Person of Color” at a formal sit-down event in the 1980s. The people sitting down were white. The people serving were black. The way people addressed each other was different with the attendees being called by full names with titles and the servers called by first name as someone would call a little kid. She pointed out the inequities. She suggested that it could be a buffet rather than a catered meal, The organizers would not hear of it. She was told, “You don’t have to come if you don’t feel comfortable.” Oh, that boiled me up! Then I thought…has any of that happened through Story Crossroads? What would be an audit, a formal review of our organization and events be like? I would be open to anything to help avoid the blind spots that we all have in one way or another.

I could go on with the eye-opening moments. Always, I wondered, “Is it I?”

Have you asked that question before? Often, we don’t want to hear the answers.

Susan O’Halloran asked, “How am I like what I am wanting to change?”

This workshop could have been a full day, a full week, or a full semester. No matter the length of time, I hope my re-awakenings stay with me forever.

1:45 pm CDT Lunch Meet & Greet with Storytelling in Organizations

I went into spy mode while attending this conversation with people connected to Storytelling in Organizations, special interest group of the National Storytelling Network. Julienne Ryan, SIO Chair, invited people to share thoughts and experiences. Some people wondered “How do I break into that business world?” One person said it can be hard to “make it” as some organizations won’t allow to be mentioned or for you to use pictures or videos in promotional materials. Yikes!

With Story Crossroads, our main focus is on teachers and students. We are more educational-based between our storytelling workshops or the feed-in-festival that have in and out of school residencies. Then, for the Festival itself, we have field trip offerings. Except for wanting corporate sponsors, we have not done much in this business world.

This gathering reminded me of the many industries and professions in the world…and all need the benefits and strength of storytelling. The potential is dizzying.

3:00 pm CDT: Workshop: Stories for Social Change: Mobilizing Narratives to Cultivate Agency & Social Entrepreneurship in Global Development with Sara Surani, This session explores how storytelling can cultivate agency, inspire entrepreneurship, and improve development outcomes. Based on workshops with youth in the Amazon, this workshop equips participants with how to facilitate and sustain storytelling workshops in a community, and steps required to mobilize these stories to encourage empathy and reduce disconnect between programs and people’s needs.

It was fascinating to see Sara Surani’s approach as she considers herself as a story enthusiast rather than as a storyteller. It felt as if she was unprepared to be with a whole room (virtual room) of people who are almost all professional storytellers or who use storytelling constantly. Despite this impression, she had a remarkable and amazing activity where we needed to take three pictures. She gave us a few minutes to do the task. We needed a picture to represent our strength, our challenge, and our dream.

Here is what I took:

The old-time phone is actually able to be used in modern times. I felt my strength is in combining the old/traditional ways of things with the new/modern times. The phone also links to the ability to communicate.

The ripped Barbie RV instruction paper was the challenge, the divisions all around. People were protesting in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah and throughout the nation and world due to the injustices of George Floyd’s death.

As for a dream, I had a picture of “Eternally Ever After” to be with my family forever. We adopted all three of our kids and are sealed together. The dream is to be together beyond this time on earth.

Sara works with 20,000+ youth in the Amazon and Nicaragua with these exciting activities. I must reach out to her and find out more. With Story Crossroads, we work with youth all the time, and we could help each other. I am sure of it!

5:00 pm CDT: Voices From Latin America with Tania Castro Gonzales, Natalia Dávila (Supay Warmi), Maria Elisa Palacios, Valentina Ortiz, and Jennifer Boni, Voices of Latin America weaves the stories of popular and ancient tradition of Ecuador, Colombia, México and Peru. Five women of great experience in the storytelling world of their regions, will unite their words to salute Mother Earth from the ancient knowledge of the Andes and Aztec people, give voice to the wise women of the indigenous worlds and honor their African heritage.

I have been lucky to travel to the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls. I went on a cruise because my husband’s parents celebrated 50 years, and I got to travel to Greece, Montenegro, and so much more for the first time. I certainly have never been to South America. Yet, I did through this wonderful concert.

I was soaking every moment from learning about the Quechua indigenous traditions to discovering the recipe and significance of a sacred beverage from Ecuadorian Andes. I was most impressed by Valentina Ortiz, who used the musical instrument…of herself! All over her body was a place to emphasize different characters and actions. I was mesmerized. I wanted her to continue this story music.

7:00 pm CDT: North Central Regional Spotlight Performance, Emceed by Megan Wells, Featuring Julie McGhee, Darrin Crow, Jeff Doyle, Richard Rousseau, Sadarri Saskill, Beth Horner

My attention was captured by Sadarri Saskill with her animation and techniques. Though, I was also remembering when I saw her and her daughters perform…maybe 15+ years ago? She is also from Wisconsin, and that is where I grew up. I longed to step through the screen and give her a hug and reminisce. I wanted to find out what her talented daughters were up to and hopefully hear them tell as well.

I reflected on the importance of a mother–a parent–who supports and teaches the art of storytelling. We need more parents, grandparents, family members of all kinds, to respond to the call.

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 3 of 9

This is the third 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 – TODAY
  • Part 4 – June 2, 2020 – Official Day 3
  • Part 5 – June 3, 2020 – Official Day 4
  • 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

We continued to travel the world from our own homes with performances from India to the South Central Region of the United States

I was amazed at how intimate and intense these storytelling concerts were through the screen. The storytellers from Scotland were impressive the other day, and the storytellers from India continued to keep the bar up high in the ability to connect to my emotions and excitement.

I did have a shift at the library (as my particular library opened up on May 18, 2020 to the public) and I was sad to miss two workshops. I intend to go back and delve once the Digital Library is open through the National Storytelling Network.

So onward to those invaluable moments.

Events of June 1 and Reflections–

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

I am not a morning person. I can eventually sing in the morning and have the appearance of it being “my time,” though I am active and productive at night. This was at 8:00am CDT and meant it was 7:00am for me. My three kids used to wake up towards 6:00am on their own. As they have gotten older, I delight “sleeping in” to 7:30am. Yet, I had to get up. Yes, this was not a forced meeting. BUT…I am a hallways kind-of conference goer. This would be the closest to that experience through the virtual means.

I was not on time. Throughout this virtual conference, I averaged at least 30 minutes “late” to this breakfast/social time. However, a solid 30 minutes or more of “talking story” was ever delightful. Jennifer Pahl Otto from the NSN Board led the group. Most of the time, we were “loose” and focused on a theme to kick-off storytelling. Only once was it more of a morning story swap. I preferred the conversations. I noticed that people were “shy” to use the chat box in the beginning though people were more smart in how they used the chat later on–like recommending certain storytelling books and related materials and placing direct links–as we went along.

While not a workshop or a concert, this social time opened my mind to what we could do for Story Crossroads. We already know that 2021 will likely be another year that schools will be nervous or will simply ban in-person field trips. We can offer virtual field trips again. Though, for the general pubic/adults who wish to mingle, we need a virtual social space. Maybe I could even convince Jennifer to assist. Story Crossroads is an organization member of NSN….

10:00 am CDT: Folktales of India with C. Mangalam Senthil, Deeptha Vivekanand, Jeeva Raghunath, Lopa Mudra Mohanty, Usha Venkatraman, and Vikram Sridhar, India with its numerous states and varied cultures, has folktales beyond imagination Kathai Kalatta promotes and nurtures Indian culture and heritage through stories. We will be presenting Indian folktales to give a glimpse of Mother India.

I was in the parking lot, ready to go into the building to start my shift at the library. I was able to have the Zoom app on my phone and could let it play while driving with two hands on the steering wheel. As the library did not open to the public until 10:00am MDT, I was allowed to play it from my phone as I took care of the “hold alert” for patrons. I am grateful to an understanding branch manager.

My full attention (as I will need to catch up with the whole concert later) was for “Checkmate #I am Savitri” told by Lopa Mudra Mohanty and “The Mysterious Oils” from Bengal told by Usha Venkatraman.

I delighted in Lopa’s mixture of mythology and modern ways of telling this story. I also recognized the story as I recently did a blog post through Story Crossroads about it for the 2020 A to Z Blog Challenge. Her use of hashtags of a repeating element of this story made me laugh every time. I was driving while laughing…maybe not the safest…but I was not on my phone. Only listening through my phone while both hands were on the steering wheel. I do love traditional storytelling though any time we can mix in the modern…I am a fan.

I was most moved by the story told by Usha Venkatraman of a tense relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law. She was to have oils to massage into her mother-in-law that would gradually “get rid of her.” Hmmm. This story reminds me of “The Tiger’s Whisker” or another version of “The Lion’s Whisker” or still another of “The Crescent Moon Bear.” Yet, of all those versions, THIS is my new ultimate favorite. Wow, so much wow. I also reminded myself on the symbolism of oil. A while back, I wrote a blog post on it…again, A to Z Blog Challenge but this time in 2017. Oil, with so many meanings, is mostly known for healing.

12:00 pm CDT: Workshop, One World of Stories: Celebrating Diversity and Commonality Through Folktales with Heather Forest, This storytelling workshop for beginning and burgeoning storytellers offers practical insights into researching and performing multicultural folktales. Participants will explore how to shape and share folktale repertoire that respectfully reflects both the uniqueness of cultural heritage and the universality of human experience.

Oh, it pained me to miss this workshop. I happened to be working at the library near the 398.2 section of the library where Heather Forest tends to find those exact folktales and fairy tales to then perform. I was in the place to pull out books she has authored in our library…but I could not attend virtually.

When it comes to Story Crossroads, we celebrate diversity through multicultural professional story artists. Our inaugural year, we had 14 different languages spoken from stage. Yes, they were mainly spoken by people who had ancestral backgrounds to those languages.

Telling stories from other cultures is important as long as it is not for entertainment purposes only. I have heard several storytellers say this, though cannot remember all of them who have at this time. Know that this is a prominent feeling in the storytelling community. There must be respect and reverence for any story shared, especially when outside of your culture.

Despite missing this workshop, the topic is enough to have me pause and make sure that I as an individual and as a story producer can inspire others to treat stories with respect.

3:00 pm CDT: Workshop, Welcoming the Other with Jim Brulé, This workshop manifests the theme of “engagement through empathy.” It starts with a highly interactive exercise designed to evoke a strong, empathic response to being “outside” – invoking motivation to action. It then provides storytellers with the specific tools and techniques they require to adapt this method to their own issues and communities. Dialogue and collaboration are used throughout.

The fact that this was led by Jim Brulé was enough for me to be disappointed to miss it. He is so open and kind-hearted, and I look foward to working with him more. For Story Crossroads, we commissioned him to create a 5-minute Zoom Basics video for virtual workshops as well as paid him to train our Story Crossroads Board on using Zoom.

He always delivers what he promises…and then gives a little more. I know this has nothing to do with his topic, but it also informs me that this was a workshop not to be missed–and I missed it! Though, I will definitely have this on my “must see” when the Digital Library is up for the National Storytelling Network. His workshop would go nicely with the Keynote from Ekansh Tambe from the first official day of this 9-day virtual event. Let us think of border, boundaries, walls. Do we build those around ourselves? Do others build them around themselves? What can break down those barriers? Ah, I will ponder this more soon.

5:00 pm CDT: National Spotlight: Asian American Storytelling Showcase, Experience the diverse faces and stories of the Asian American diaspora. Our stories will transport you across the continent of Asia and bring you back to America for an intimate view of the Asian experience through folk, personal, and historical tales. Presented by Asian Storytellers in Unity and hosted by Joel Ying, performers are Dr. Joel Ying, Karin Amano, Eleanor Clement Glass, Roopa Mohan, Alton Takiyama-Chung

Hurrah! My library shift was over. I do still love working there–but hard when an amazing 9-day virtual event is happening. Anyway, I was able to watch this in full.

I appreciated Dr. Joel Ying’s cultural identity story. I stepped back and thought about how I unintentionally ask questions about where people come from. It’s been a while since I have been guilty of such an offense and I cringe when I hear people ask that pointed question. “Where are you from? Where are you REALLY from?” Is the “from” as important as where someone is now? Who we are becoming? Ah, I like pondering these questions better.

All the storytellers were wonderful. I wish more Asian stories were told. In fact, I noticed the great lack of representation at Story Crossroads. That must change. I have not done this on purpose. Much of our selection process is through our online application and videos that story artists submit and then are reviewed by our Story Training and Telling Committee. We need more Asian tellers submitting. More everybody, really. We have had 90+ and we are five years old…but, yes, more. Here, this makes it easy.

7:00 pm CDT: South Central Regional Spotlight Concert with Lisa Overholser (host), Priscilla Howe, Jim Two Crows Wallen, Bobby Norfolk, David Titus, Donna Ingham, and Tim Tingle, The storytellers of the South Central Region represent the diversity of their origins and cultures with a range of stories from history to tall tale, from ancient folktale to personal saga. The South Central Region of NSN is comprised of Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

The line-up was already getting me excited. Plus, Tim Tingle has been to Utah to perform though it had been a while. I love how he likes to question the audience of how a Native American/Choctaw dresses. Most people think traditional garb, but he has this as a trick question. What about today? When people start saying “jeans” or “t-shirts,” we are finally on the right path.

I was not as familiar with Jim Two Crows Wallen. I know a couple Mountain Men Storytellers and have enjoyed the tall tales and the blatant lies these folks share. Have you ever pondered why we, as a society, love listening to lies? Why we love our leg being pulled? Now, think of when we want and desire the full and complete truth. Fascinating, right? Bil Lepp, if you are reading this, feel free to comment. Though, perhaps Donna Ingham will beat you to it. After all, she was one of the enthralling tellers for this concert.

As for Bobby Norfolk, I love how his energy is felt no matter if it is live or virtual. He feeds off the response of the audience so much that I worry about him–as I do for all storytellers–on how we are all mentally doing with this mindshift of doing things digitally. Meanwhile, I am grateful to all who attempt or completely master this way of performing.

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 2 of 9

This is the second 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 – TODAY
  • Part 3 – June 1, 2020 – Official Day 2
  • Part 4 – June 2, 2020 – Official Day 3
  • Part 5 – June 3, 2020 – Official Day 4
  • 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

A Moving Tribute and Ideas that Can Change the World

No matter someone’s age, wisdom abounds. Many times people have said, “Out of the mouth of babes.” We also know that the elders of society have experienced much in life and have much to share that can benefit us all. I was floored by the combined wisdom of Ekansh Tambe, a high school student, and Elizabeth Ellis, a matriarch of American Storytelling.

Yet, it was more than the keynotes today. Everything flowed so beautifully. I felt like I was in some kind of dream world where people are open-minded and willing to listen to each other, where we can appreciate each other’s differences and rejoice in how we are the same.

Oh, when all the words escape from this divine experience, I can always remember how the day felt.

Events of May 31 and Reflections–

11:30am & Noon CDT: Opening & Keynote Addresses

Beyond Borders with Ekansh Tambe–High School student Ekansh Tambe has visited six world borders, taking photographs and telling stories. In this brief talk, he will guide us through his experiences and what he has learned.

We talk of the Mexico/United States all the time. With such a front-and-center place in the news, I never thought about other borders around the world. I was shocked at my oblivious state. Shocked and saddened.

Ekansh Tambe, as young as he was, had traveled all over the world to understand the division and strife found in North and South Korea, Peru and Colombia, Israel/Palestine/Syria, as well as the Strait of Gibraltar that keeps people from Spain and Morocco. Yet, among this turmoil, people found ways to connect with each other. Along Peru and Colombia, there is an island that people can go and enjoy swimming and wrestling without recourse. With the Israel and Syria border, there is “Shouting Hill” so people can communicate with family members while looking through binoculars.

Then, Ekansh pointed out something that does not honor borders: COVID-19. He encouraged us to reflect and said, “We can be the change we see in the world.”

And what change do we want to see?

Being that this day of the Conference landed on Sunday, I thought of a favorite hymn called, “More Holiness Give Me.” Each verse gives quite a list of what the world could use more of–

More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of his care,
More joy in his service,
More purpose in prayer.

More gratitude give me,
More trust in the Lord,
More pride in his glory,
More hope in his word,
More tears for his sorrows,
More pain at his grief,
More meekness in trial,
More praise for relief.

More purity give me,
More strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains,
More longing for home.
More fit for the kingdom,
More used would I be,
More blessed and holy—
More, Savior, like thee.

No matter your faith, you can replace Christian references for what you believe. If you do not connect to any faith, you still have core values. Replace those for you.

Now, of course, we must talk of Elizabeth Ellis–

Rivets and Girders: Building Storytelling for the Pandemic and Beyond with Elizabeth Ellis–Rivets and Girders: Building Storytelling for the Pandemic and Beyond Like it or not, storytelling is under renovation! First let’s examine the foundation for structural soundness. Then we can identify what can be salvaged and what should be scrapped.

To give you an idea of how much I love and respect Elizabeth Ellis, picture this–It’s an icy and bleak February in Utah. I learn that Elizabeth Ellis will be featured at the Vernal Storytelling Festival, four hours away from where I live. I grab the three kids–ages 4, 9, and 11–and we go on a road trip. We travel through a white-out blizzard four hours there and fours hours back the same night…two nights in a row. (Hey, the kids still had school.)

As for her words, I was typing so fast that my wrists cramped while attempting to keep up with the glorious insights she kept spouting.

It took me back to when I took Advanced Storytelling with her while working on my Storytelling Masters at East Tennessee State University. Every day I was exhausted after each class period because of the intensity of her words and compassion and love behind every bit of it. It was an exhaustion of excitement and potential we have as storytellers and our roles in the world.

In the background of this keynote broadcast, Elizabeth’s neighbor had renovations to their home that sounded during the broadcast stream.

This inspired Elizabeth to focus on the “Cracks in our Foundation” of our storytelling world:

  1. We’ve been too insular, short-sighted;
  2. We’ve had debates on personal storytelling versus traditional storytelling;
  3. We’ve had divisions of young tellers (feeling unwelcomed) versus older tellers (feeling disrespected);
  4. We’ve had disagreements between storytelling organizations;
  5. We’ve had grievances–justified or not–that get in the way of us progressing.

I do love our storytelling world…and we have been much too insular.

I remember going to a National Storytelling Conference–yes, live and in-person–and we had a wonderful speaker who represented the video gaming world and the importance of story. When it came to questions and such, I was embarrassed for our storytelling community in the complete rudeness and disregard for what this person’s presence meant at this event. Elizabeth Ellis, even then, stormed to the microphone and gave “The Great Chastisement” to us. She then pleaded with that person to stay around. She wanted to hear more and she, as a professional storyteller, wished to know how best to link our two worlds.

As for personal storytelling versus traditional storytelling, we still have a debate–friendly or not–that can place a wedge.

The United States is famous right now for having many venues and performers who focus on personal and true stories. Interestingly, Story Crossroads is mainly a place to celebrate folktales from around the world. Yet, we do still have the motto of “I have a story. You have a story. We all have stories.” This opens it up for traditional as well as personal and family stories.

Elizabeth’s words had me ask the “Is it I?” question. Is it I who is driving any wedges?

I am vocal in what I think. I can push it too far. If you have ever experienced this of me, please forgive me.

Then, when exploring the generations of storytellers, I tend to be on the “young” side. I will be 41 in August 2020–yet I have been in this world of storytelling for 27 years. I might be able to count as “older” in that regard.

I wrote a thesis on the American Storytelling Movement and interviewed 24 key people in that movement so I am more familiar to the storytelling scene on an organizational level than what people may think at first glance of me.

There can be the battle between young and older tellers on how to solve a problem. Elizabeth said, “Invention is wonderful, change is important. Discarding what has been held dear without learning their value is a little short-sighted.”

I hope people can trust me in how much I love the traditional side of storytelling. I worry that people hear what I dub “Random Rachel Ideas” or “RRI”s and question my loyalty. Do people picture me valuing the virtual or the tech side more so than the art itself? The thought makes me shudder.

Whenever I share ideas, there is never any malice. No ill will. Only hopeful ways to build the future of storytelling while honoring the past.

And have there been rifts between storytelling organizations? Absolutely! From the largest of them to even on a local level. Elizabeth reminded, “No matter what you think has been ‘done’ to you, think about it a little deeper.”

She then encouraged, “Somebody has to be the person to think a peaceful thought. Somebody has to be the person to do a peaceful deed. Why not be first? What do you have to lose?”

These same words apply between storytelling organization as well as between individual storytellers.

Oh, I worry that I could be causing problems. I am not a sit-back-and-be-quiet kind of person. Again, if I have wronged in any way, please forgive.

Before you think that I am despairing…I am not. I bravely move forward despite it all.

I could be in danger of being on a soap box right now. Elizabeth warned, “You can’t build a bridge out of soap boxes – can’t be done.” The way about it is to offer hope.

I see myself as an optimistic realist or a realistic optimist. Either way, Elizabeth encouraged us that despite all that happens around us in the world, it is “so important that YOU do not lose hope.”

When we transformed the live Story Crossroads Festival into Story Crossroads Spectacular, we purposely chose “Spectacular” to be that beacon of hope. We had students with cancelled field trips. Then, they had “Spectacular” as a way to connect to the world of storytelling. Some of the comments in the live-stream had students say how much they loved it and even one that said this was the best field trip ever.

Hope. We must offer hope as storytellers.

3:00 pm CDT: NSN Member Meeting–Meet the Board of Directors; Review the Organization’s Financial report for 2019; Learn about NSN’s programs and partnerships; Ask about where we are and where we are going.

This part of the conference was open and free to all. Though, the Zoom room capped at 100 people and blocked some people in joining. Thankfully, the “cap” was lifted and some people were able to join past that original 100 amount about 15 minutes later. The biggest reveal was that the National Storytelling Network needed to somehow cover $18,000 in expenses by the end of 2020. I LOVE NSN, and I cannot see this organization go down during my lifetime. Yet, the success of this virtual 9-day event gives some hope to whittle that amount down. The online auction will be coming up. If you need reasons to keep NSN around, you can see this 5-part blog series on why Story Crossroads loves National Storytelling Network.

5:00 pm CDT: Traditional Tales of Scotland with Peter Vallance, Heather Yule, David Campbell, Janis Mackay, Mairi Campbell, David Francis

I was whisked away to Scotland and yet I remained in my home of West Jordan, Utah. Every single teller was inspiring and gave a feel of their land despite being separated by a computer screen. I was so impressed that I looked up Peter Vallance and wrote a message as soon as the concert ended.

I then learned from him that Scottish teller Stanley Robertson belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like me. Peter promised it was a fascinating story with details I have yet to get. Though, he was kind to share that Stanley, though since passed on, does appear here: https://www.facebook.com/TobaranDualchaisKistoRiches/. Peter warned, “Stanley’s dialect takes a while to get used to, and he uses both Doric and Cant words that you may not understand. When he went to the States, he altered his language to be better understood.”

7:00 pm CDT: Northeast Regional Spotlight Performance with Tony Toledo (Emcee), Valerie Tutson, Jennifer Munro, Christopher Newcomb, Simon Brooks, Nicolette Nordin Heavey, and Tim Jennings

Everyone was wonderful. Most impressive for me were Valerie Tutson and Jennifer Munro.

Valerie Tutson shared a historical tale of James Forten, a 14-year-old boy who had a father who worked for a sail-maker. James played marble with the Captain’s son and made the difference later on. I will not share more…but beautifully told.

Jennifer Munro was inducted into the Circle of Excellence, ORACLE Award for 2020. She knew how to use Zoom! She was close enough and deliberate in performing to the computer screen. I felt like she was telling her story across my table.

9:00 pm CDT: The Owl Prince & Other Folktales From Asia with Kalah Rajesh, Wong Swee Yean, Simone Maria Sales, Sheila Wee, Jumaini Ariff, Ahn Sook Kim, Roger Jenkins, and Karen Lee – brought about by FEAST

The moon theme was remarkable throughout this concert. All were fantastic and traveled me throughout Asia with their tales. I was most in shock and delight with Kim Ahn Sook. She told her story for the first time in English! She was so smooth that no one would have known except that she revealed it at the end. Wow, oh wow! I felt like that made it a sacred and special moment. She proved her dedication and love of storytelling in that act alone. The delivery was moving and tears of happiness were wiped from my cheeks after this performance. May I be as dedicated. May we all.

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 1 of 9

This is the first 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 – TODAY
  • Part 2 – May 31, 2020 – Official Day 1
  • Part 3 – June 1, 2020 – Official Day 2
  • Part 4 – June 2, 2020 – Official Day 3
  • Part 5 – June 3, 2020 – Official Day 4
  • 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 Audacity and Fervor for the National Storytelling Network to Undertake a 9-day Virtual Event…

I respect people who are willing to take risks. Life was and is supposed to be messy. How would we have any exciting stories to share unless there were struggles and obstacles?

Even before this pandemic, the National Storytelling Network faced a tough year–and it did every year–to convince people to attend a conference. Many people were burned out and even questioned the need for community.

Before Story Crossroads existed, I had attended 7 National Storytelling Conferences in a row. I did not care if these events were in the same location or not. I loved the gathering. Yes, the workshops and performances were nice, but I came for all the chatter and discussions in the hallways. You could say, I search for the “bonus” or “extra” moments within the experience.

Yet, I had to somehow balance the founding of a nonprofit storytelling organization AND being a Mom of three kids–all adopted through foster care that tends to come with its own demands, state mandates, and therapy-required adventures. I grieved when I could not make my 8th conference…to eventually get to 10 years to eventually get to…well, you see where I am headed.

Despite the ups and downs, Story Crossroads came to exist. My conference attendance…did not.

Then COVID-19 came. All changed. For me. For the storytelling community. For the world.

We all faced a grieving cycle. Some of us were in denial. Others were angry. We were bargaining. Depressed. Eventually, we had to accept–though not all seem to be at that point exactly.

Still, any producer of story events–of which I happened to be with Story Crossroads–were truly there…at the crossroads.

Anything can happen at the crossroads. Good. Ill. Anything. Even a mixture of both. The National Storytelling Network faced that decision.

Instead of the typical live conference issues and problems, now it would be hard for people to gather. Period.

Rather than keep the dates towards the end of July 2020, the Board and Staff agreed to rush the event early. They sensed many story artists struggling to make sense of everything. The tech to learn was daunting enough.

While not the smartest of moves, the decision to go full-speed ahead was made out of compassion. I get that.

The Communications Marketing side of me grabbed my head and shook it as I witnessed the attempt to put all the pieces together.

Yes, we transformed Story Crossroads from a live event into a virtual. We had to start over and crash-course-learn the tech. We had about one month to make the decision and plow forth. We only had to worry about one full day.

The National Storytelling Network had perhaps that same length of time but doing a 9-DAY EVENT! WHAT!?! WITH 24 PERFORMANCES WITH INTERNATIONAL AND NATIONAL SHOWCASES. WITH 15 WORKSHOPS. WITH PRE-CONFERENCES. WHILE LEARNING TECH THAT WOULD BE USER-FRIENDLY ENOUGH AND HAVE THE REGISTRATION ABILITY. AND WHAT KIND OF MARKETING TIME?

Now, I really had a headache.

You need a minimum of a month to market any level of event. For something as big as this, it would have been smarter to keep the original dates. Work out the kinks. Have more test runs. Convince more presenters to self-promote their events better. All that.

Nope.

Yet, that all said, this was the most impressive undertaking I have ever seen in the storytelling world.

This year of 2020 is historic on many levels. I place this decision by NSN to be as important–if not more important–than what has been deemed the catalyst of the American Storytelling Movement: the launch of the National Storytelling Festival.

We are seeing a second storytelling movement.

What will people call this time? There are highly-viewed videos that claim “The Great Realization” as seen in this Tom Foolery video.

May I propose the following name: The Great Global Story Realization Movement.

A time when storytelling was explored and evolved to bring healing to the masses and to the individuals. A time of frustrations yet grand learning moments that brought confidence in our skills as humans to adapt. A time of opening our minds to understand the new ways that the audience can interact with us, how the structure and techniques still provide feedback for us to feel energized and fulfilled. Yes, it is not the same. We miss what we had. We will strive to preserve and perpetuate what we had. Though, this is another generation of storytelling, another movement, another story for us.

How do we honor the traditional way of the art while surrounded by cords and tech? We surround us by each other. We look through the screen and realize that a human–many humans–are on the other side, hanging to our words, our voice, our way with sharing the art of storytelling.

Lest you thought I forgot, what of the NSN event itself? I did not attend any of the Pre-Conferences and Concerts of May 30…though I wished it. I attended from the Official Day 1 to Official Day 8. Yet, I still have inspiration from the topics themselves.

Events of May 30 and Reflections (whether or not I attended)–

Storytelling in Organizations (SIO) Pre-Conference Workshop, Double “Why”: What Russian Language Shows Us About Deep Human Connection with Artem Mushin-Makedonskiy

What I Discovered…Even When Not Attending: I was delighted that the Russian Language was being explored. For Story Crossroads, we have the academic series “Language of Story” that focuses on a specific language each year. We have studied American Sign Language, Portuguese, and German and will eventually do Hungarian. We learn so much by seeing the traditions and phrases that come from different cultures. I will need to keep Artem Mushin-Makedonskiy in mind for the future when we focus on Russian. Kudos to Storytelling in Organizations for opening minds through this workshop.

Healing Story Alliance (HSA) Pre-Conference Workshop, Developing the Oars in the Water Series, Hosted by Lani Peterson, Wally Scott, Heather Forest, and Cheryl Cofield, with Libby Tipton.

What I Discovered…Even When Not Attending: I have never been a member of the Healing Story Alliance, but I have always wanted to be skilled enough to feel “worthy” of such membership. I do believe that storytelling has great power and healing is one of its many powers.

Youth, Educators and Storytellers Alliance (YES) Pre-Conference Workshop, Personal Storytelling with College Students in Theory and Practice with Dr. Charles Parrott and the Kennesaw State University Tellers

What I Discovered…Even When Not Attending: I miss Youth, Educators, and Storytellers. I used to be Co-Chair many, many years ago. It feels strange to not be directly involved as before. YES recently combined with the Storytelling in Higher Education, and this workshop topic was an obvious collaboration. Before founding Story Crossroads, I helped with the Weber State University Storytelling Festival. While elementary to secondary schools are the target audiences of this event, the connection with the university also means we worked with college students. The personal stories were certainly the way to most of these student’s hearts (as opposed to folktales). The Moth has inspired other related events. Utah has one like The Moth…but called The Bee. And what aged audience attends? Mainly your college students as well as up to your 30-year-olds. Yes, other ages are there, though fascinating to see this trend nationwide. Oh, I would have loved to hear Dr. Charles Parrott’s thoughts on this scene!

Youth, Educators and Storytellers Alliance (YES) Youth Spotlight Performance, Host: Lisa Overholser; Emcee: Angela Lloyd; Brought to you by the Tattletales (Kuumba Storytellers of Georgia), the Southern Crescent Storytellers (Southern Order of Storytellers Cluster Group), and the Young Tales Storytelling Program (sponsored by the Ridge and Valley Storytelling Guild)

What I Discovered…Even When Not Attending: I started storytelling in 1994 as a sophomore in high school. I am biased and love youth storytelling. Oh, how it killed me to not be able to go due to my shift at the library. I was there in spirit.

Healing Story Alliance (HSA) Spotlight Performance, Performers: Heather Forest (Emcee), Michael McCarty, Noa Baum, Antonio Rocha, Valentina Ortiz Pandolfi, Nancy Wang, Dan Yashinsky, Laura Simms, Heather Forest (Closing song)

What I Discovered…Even When Not Attending: Holy cow, this line-up! Again, my heart sought to be there but my body needed to be librarian. I guess keeping my job was more important. Still, I was there in spirit. I probably sang the closing song…I was that connected.

For the rest of this blog series, I will have specific moments and realizations from presenters. That happens when I actually attend events!

Yet, this felt “right” to compliment the dedication and actions of the NSN Board, Staff, and Volunteers. Even when pointing out the parts that make me shake my head and dream that 600+ registrations of this event could have easily been 1,000+ registrations had the original dates been kept.

But, you have to love spunk. And the heart and mind to do it.

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

Let us be dreamers AND doers, together in story. Congratulations to the National Storytelling Network for doing both.

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