It took me five years, but I finally mane my way back to one of the first storytelling conferences I have ever attended: Northlands. Famous for great locations, the friendliest people, and workshops and concerts until you have stories coming out your ears.
We did this year's gig Supernatural style: Cathy Jo and I drove up from Tennessee to Wisconsin (with a short stop in Chicago) mostly listening to classic rock and slaying some demons on the way. Well, Cathy drove. I navigated, counted dead possums, and watched the land go completely flat, and the foliage disappearing back into late winter. It was fascinating.
Northlands this year took place is Lake Geneva. I am ashamed to admit that it took me almost a day to realize why the name was so familiar: We were in the sacred homeland of Dungeons and Dragons. It could have been a true pilgrimage, except there really was nothing to pilgrim to, but still, the fact was enough.
The two keynotes were Andy Offutt Irwin (everyone's favorite hyperactive trickster) and Syd Lieberman (everyone's favorite badass Papa Smurf). They are both delightful people and great storytellers, and we shamelessly pestered them for wisdom all through the weekend. Storytellers can have fangirls too!
We also participated in workshops (divided by breaks filled with delicious buffet meals). The highlight of the weekend was Janice Del Negro's intensive three hour adventure into the modern adaptations of fairy tales. Janice is a lot of fun as a presenter - very well informed, witty, and very often sarcastic. She is also well versed in all things geeky, which just made the discussion on TV shows and Hollywood mishaps all the more lovely.
Another very well done workshop was led by Barb Schutzgruber and Dorothy Cleveland. It was about the Heroine's Journey, but it did not drift off into feminism - we talked about how there are two kinds of journeys, external and internal, and both can be done by male or female heroes. It was a very educational and thought-provoking hour and a half.
The concerts and the fringes were very exciting, and took us on a ride from emotionally heavy and deep all the way to hilariously funny. One thing I observed, however, was that over the course of the two and a half days we only heard personal stories, with one or two original ones in the mix. After doing the workshop on the use, importance, and popularity of traditional tales, this struck me as strange.
Cathy Jo and I did our Fringe of steampunk stories on Friday night. We spent dinner wearing our costumes to drum up some publicity within the conference, and many interesting discussions ensued about the nature of steampunk. The show went well, we had fun, although it was hard to keep up a rival's grumpy face during each other's stories... But we still left several people furiously Googling what steampunk is. You are welcome.
I did my workshop on role-playing games for storytellers the next day. I had thirteen people, which was absolutely ideal. We talked about what role-playing is and why and how it can be useful for storytellers and educators. We brainstormed about campaign ideas based on traditional stories (some of the ideas were awesome, like the one where the party of sever dwarfs were guarding Snow White from harm). We brainstormed characters, and then I handed out situation cards that the groups had to solve, or try to solve.
I love role-playing with storytellers. They are highly creative.
And of course there were the evenings when storytellers could sit around sipping cocktails and eating peanuts, sharing anecdotes of their latest travels, laughing, goofing off, and generally having a good time. We are all traveling people; we do not gather like this very often, and we always cherish the moments we have.
Goodbye, Northlands, see you next year!