You don't have to go very far to find a great storytelling conference. Or maybe I just live in the right place.
OOPS (the Ohio Order for the Preservation of Storytelling) and I happen to be the same age. This year's conference was titled "Respect the Past - Focus Forward" and I was invited to present my workshop "StorySpotting - Building a bridge between folktales and popular media."
I arrived Friday evening before the conference. I spent a nice long Mexican dinner with some of the other early birds: Adam Booth, the keynote speaker of the conference (with whom I had a nice conversation about archival research and folktales), Kevin Cordi (who was generous enough to host me for the weekend), Anthony Burcher (whose book 101 Games that Teach Storytelling Skills is a life-saver), Granny Sue (who gave me one of my first and favorite tales) and Janelle Reardon, the heart and soul of the conference. We ate, we laughed, we talked about everything related to storytelling and more things that are not. It was a great evening.
The conference itself took place on the campus of the Ohio Dominican University, in a nice modern building and rooms with big windows. The morning started off with snacks and socializing, and then we opened the event with a mini-concert where all presenters told a five-minute tale. I told the Secret of the Fairy Lake (a Hungarian folktale) and people seemed to like it. After the warm-up, it was time for Adam's keynote speech.
Adam is an extremely talented young storyteller. He was also a J.J. Reneaux Mentorship Grant recipient, mentored by Dovie Thomason. In his keynote he talked about music, tradition, and storytelling; he reminded us that one day we will all be the next generation's ancestors, and asked us to think about what that means. He talked about the importance of knowing where we come from, and the traditions that came before us - but also the importance to do our best to make them better, to add our own talent and voice. He also told us about his research in the folklore archives, listening to Appalachian folktales and their musical rhythm. It was a fascinating keynote.
Sadly I didn't get to go to Adam's workshop, because we were scheduled at the same time - I did my workshop in the first slot of the day. I had about fifteen people, including some students and young teachers, and we had a great conversation about popular media and representation. By the time I got back to the main room, by books sold out. I was content.
The next workshop I went to was Eric Wolf's, on Narrative Therapy. It was a well done workshop with a lot of explanation of the theories behind the therapy, and a lot of visuals. I learned several new things, and I am looking forward to reading more.
Next, there was a round of story swap, where anyone could contribute a tale or two; we relaxed, sat in a circle, and shared family stories as well as folktales and tall tales (and even some juggling). Cris Riedel told an adorable German folktale that I will definitely remember for a long time.
For the last round of the day I went to Cathy Jo Smith's workshop in historical interpretation. She set up a full Irish wake in the room, and walked us through the process of how she researched it, created it, and how she uses it as a backdrop for storytelling and education. She put a lot of emphasis on authenticity, which I especially liked.
After a great dinner we all gathered again in the university's theater for an open mic, and then the evening concert. A lot of university students came to listen - and also to participate. The concert included a student teller, a short improv by a group of Kevin's students with alternate endings to the Tortoise and the Hare (some of them hilarious), and a longer improv section by Columbus Unscripted (featuring Barbara, Kevin's wife). They ran slightly longer than expected, and sadly we saw part of the audience leave before Adam got on stage. He did a great job, with a nostalgic personal story and a hilarious, classic tall tale. He put his money where his mouth is, combining tradition with creativity.
It was a very friendly event. We spent a lot of time together during meals and in-between workshops; everyone was curious, attentive, and very welcoming. I am looking forward to next year's conference!