Friday, May 1, 2015

10 Things You Get to Do at a Northlands Conference

Last weekend was the annual Northlands Storytelling Conference in Lake Geneva, WI (kind of poetic that storytellers accidentally found themselves flocking to the birthplace of D&D every year). The conference this year was titled Confabulation; it was my fourth time visiting, and definitely by far the best.
It was con-fabulous.
(Not my pun! Not my pun!)

For those of you who have never been to a storytelling conference before (why not?!), and those of you who have not yet been to the USA's friendliest storytelling conference (that's Northlands), here are 10 things I got to do this year and you didn't.
(But you can next time!)

1. Attend Amazing Workshops
The array of workshops offered this year was staggering, and I wished I would have one of those time-turner thingies from Harry Potter so I could be in more places at once. Alas, without one, I had to make hard choices.
I attended Andre Heuer's three-hour intensive on healing stories, and I learned a lot that made sense to me (there are many kinds of story healing and story therapy, and not all of them do). We got to try out some of the techniques in person, and I ended up with a personally designed sequel to Turtle Flies South to talk about my flight anxiety... Talking about animals, Kevin Strauss' workshop on how to tell biologically correct animal tales was also awesome. I learned about parachuting beavers (which really happened!) and I was an armadillo for a while. Still on the topic of making up stories, I took Loren Niemi's workshop titled "Is the Ghost Story Dead?" and 90 minutes later I left with half a vampire tale that I made up on the spot. We all did. It was great fun. (The ghost story is alive and well). The last workshop of the weekend (other than mine) was taught by Lyn Ford; she used several variations of the Tortoise and the Hare to talk about tailoring storytelling programs to the common core curriculum. I left the conference with a pile of handouts, two new story ideas, and a ton of practical advice.

2. Hear Inspiring Concerts
There is a concert every night! All three days of the conference. We got to hear amazing local, regional and national storytellers bring their very best. In the middle of all the intensive learning that happened in the workshops, it was great to sit back, relax, and let the stories wash over us...
(My favorites were probably Jeff Doyle's wild rendition of a Robin Hood tale, and Beth Horner's telling of how she realized her mother was an academic legend. I highly recommend the latter for Women's Centers, universities, and academic conferences.)

3. Have Breakfast with the Next Generation
Northlands has a scholarship for young storytellers under 35, and this year they gave out 9 of them! Next Gen winners get to meet for breakfast on the Saturday of the conference and talk about how they got into storytelling, where they are going with it, and why a sloth petting zoo is a good idea. (Among other things). This year's 8 ladies and 1 gentleman came from many backgrounds, for libraries to environmental education to performance storytelling.

4. Cash in Some Pocket Stories!
This was a new thing this year, and Jeff's idea. We got together for a story swap of 5-10 minute tales, and all tales told and heard were fair game to take and run with! Storytellers tend to be somewhat possessive of their favorite stories, so it was a fun and liberating idea to do a swap where you could go "what a neat tale!... I'm taking it home!" (We ended up with 13 stories told)

5. Hear Fabulous Fringe Performances
Fringes also happened all three days of the conference, but here I'll only highlight one of them: Janice Del Negro's Broken Molds and Alternative Images: Folktales Reimagined. It was a breathtaking one-hour performance of fairy tales re-told through musing about questions that need to be asked: Why would the girl in Rumpelstiltskin marry the king that threatened to kill her? What happened to the Twelve Dancing Princesses after they were found out? Is wishing for all women to fall in love with you really a good idea?... Janice tells her reimagined tales with captivating eloquence, deep empathy, and craft that stays true to tradition and re-creates it at the same time.
No, really, this show needs a fandom.

6. Go to a Ghost Story Swap
We had one! I am not usually one for ghost stories, but this one was fun, in a dark room with an (electric) fireplace, popcorn, and chilling stories. I even told a Hungarian folktale about a vampire princess - I'll post it here tomorrow for Story Saturday!

7. See a Flash Mob
More aptly titled: See some of the most illustrious national storytellers of the USA dance to "Fabulous" from High School Musical.

8. Make Up Stories for a Raffle
Again, Jeff's idea. The conference does a raffle every year to support the Next Gen scholarship. This year, we had an array of thrift store items, and we spent Friday morning making up stories to make them more appealing. Anne Harding and I created a great tale about a mysterious hat pin. You could hear it drop.

9. Teach a Workshop
I did! I taught a workshop on Heroes (the theme of this year's Summer Reading Program) and it was mostly about diversity in the tales we tell. It is kind of my home turf now, I guess, since my folktale collection is also about superpowers and pop culture heroes in folklore... More about it later, I plan on posting some of the workshop materials online.

10. Drink Socialize with Famous Storytellers
There is no conference without networking. You know what happens when you put dozens of storytellers in the same space? Talking happens. Cheerful, enthusiastic, hands-flailing-all-over-the-place, I-didn't-have-a-voice-for-two-days-after, star-struck, ocean deep conversations on life, the universe, and everything. Stories, mostly.

Next year, same place. See you there!


  1. Oh that sounds amazing! I wish we had something like it in Scotland.

    1. You do :) There is a Scottish Storytelling Center. I think they also have a festival...


  2. Re: #10. Plenty of opportunities to break bread and share a meal with some of the greatest minds in storytelling!
    Reminded of that today with this lament about most conferences:

    Hope to get back to Northlands some day.

  3. That sounds like an absolutely amazing time! How fun! :) I can't wait to be able to attend conventions... I MIGHT be able to go to a writer's conference this summer in Japan... pretty excited!