This is me reporting in from the Federation for European Storytelling conference in Greece. This is an unofficial, personal account of the conference.
FEST storytelling conference took place between July 19th and 22nd this summer, on the lovely island of Kea in Greece. According to my count (based on the list of participants we received in our conference packet) it was attended by 75 storytellers, representing 21 countries and 44 storytelling organizations, 32 of which were members of FEST. It was the first time I was representing an official member: We registered the Holnemvolt Storytelling Foundation last September! Apart from several European countries, we had people visiting from Canada and South Korea; also for the first time in FEST history, 9 lovely ladies showed up from Turkey! It was a dynamic, exciting, culturally colorful conference.
We started off on Sunday evening with an international picnic where every country offered up some traditional food. Sadly, I couldn't find any Hungarian delicacies that would have traveled well, so I gave up the Hungarian table to the Turkish delegation, who promptly filled it with overflowing delicious sweets (talk about history going the right way). Our gracious Greek hosts treated us to dinner with music and spontaneous dancing. The walk around the harbor in the sunset was a very romantic opening scene for the three days of storytelling work.
Monday morning opened at the Cultural Center in Korissia, with a ceremony involving Greek mythology and music. Next we heard a presentation from Mr. Stavros Benos from an organization called Diazoma that works to revitalize ancient Greek theaters, and bring new cultural events to the ancient stages. They talked about research and restoration work, tourist programs, and ideas for future projects.
Three other presentations followed: Marina Granlund (Sweden) introduced us to Project Hermes through a ritual invoking the Greek gods and a beautiful telling of the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Maria Vrachionidou (Greece) gave a presentation about motifs of mythology surviving in folktales (or maybe the other way around?) and brought some great examples too. My favorite was a version of the Prometheus myth that features a smart old woman. The third presentation was by Stella Kassimati from Friends of Amari in Crete, who talked about how mythology and personal or family stories can be intertwined, and brought the story of Europa and Kadmos as an example.
The walk ended under a great old plane tree, where we all gathered to take pictures, drink from the fountain, and have a picnic together. Before the food we had an open forum discussion about how landscape affects the stories that are born from it. We heard very interesting opinions, examples, and even stories (obviously). The common ground seemed to be that yes, stories are affected and shaped by landscapes, but that in itself is not enough to make them interesting to a foreign listener. Speaking for myself, I was glad I got to hear the tales of Kea in the place where they were born. It added a lot to the experience.
In the second round I joined the group titled "Storytelling and Inclusion - Social, political, economic immigrants." This was a very timely topic for me as a Hungarian person, for all the wrong reasons, and I was eager to hear about projects and ideas that help storytellers contribute to building bridges and counteracting hate and prejudice. The discussion was moderated by Guy Tilkin (Alden Biesen, Belgium), and we heard about things like the Human Library Project, integration of immigrant children into German-speaking schools through storytelling, and other great things. It made me feel hopeful to hear that storytellers had an important part to play in this cultural shift.
Tuesday evening the Greek hosts passed the torch of FEST on to the French representatives - next year's conference will be in France! We celebrated with drinks, singing, and dancing, and conversations late into the night.
The conference's last day contained all the actual organizational work. We had to vote on several things. One of them was the location of the conference in 2017; both the Irish and the Dutch delegation brought excellent presentations to pitch their own sites. It was a tough choice; we had to break a tie, and in the end, Ireland was chosen by the representatives of FEST members for the 2017 conference. I am personally very excited about it! I also hope the Dutch apply again. Their plans sounded amazing as well.
We also voted on FEST 2018; 4 countries proposed, and in the end, after another elaborate voting process, Slovenia gathered the most votes. In my personal opinion, this is great for several seasons: One, Slovenia is a gorgeous place; two, Ana, the Slovenian representative, made a very good point about the need to bring FEST to Eastern European and Slavic speaking storytellers, in order to bring them into the FEST community (she was the only Slavic speaking person at the conference). I am looking forward to the next three years!
All in all, it was a great conference: Friendly, well organized, educational, and not too hurried. I will be processing all I heard and learned for a very long time.
With all the voting done, we were free to relax and enjoy the 13th Kea Folktale Festival. But I'll leave that for the next post.