time flies!!! part 1

Well its been a few weeks since I updated, for which I apologise for. My last two weeks of my trip turned into a whirlwind of planes, trains and automobiles.

So the last installment I was in Toronto, It was becoming increasingly hard to leave as the hostel had quickly become home and where I was returning to in between the different sections of my travels, also have to say I met some amazing people there. Performing in front of my friends, and some just confused hostelers was nerve racking but brilliant, and it was great to share what I do and I was really pleased that people seemed to enjoy it, especially because the age range of the hostelers was for the most part the age range that my project applies too, so good news fellow storytellers, they are out there and they do enjoy stories!

Red Phoenix Performing at the Canadiana Backpackers in Toronto

Red Phoenix Performing at the Canadiana Backpackers in Toronto

Very early the next Sunday morning I was at the airport ready to fly to San Francisco and when I got there I was greeted by Robert Greygrass,

Robert Greygrass and Carmel, my generous hosts in San Fran

Robert Greygrass and Carmel, my generous hosts in San Fran

a storyteller who I met pretty much a year ago to the day, while he was over performing at the ‘Festival at the Edge’ which was just drawing to a close back home in Britain at the time Robert arrived to pick me up. And then it was a trip through San Francisco, checked out a couple of toruist spots on the way home and drove over the Golden Gate Bridge… to say I was somewhat excited is an understatement… I WAS IN CALIFORNIA BABY!!!!

However the intial excitment got somewhat subdued by the first couple of days plans getting rearranged, as various people had to cancel and rearrange, which was a pity…

Red Phoenix singing on the San Francisco trolley sytem

Red Phoenix gets her Judy Garland moment.

but it did allow time for the sight seeing of San Fran, and roaming around the Napa Valley and Berkley area.It was nice to catch up with Kevin Gerzevitz again, one of the storytellers I had met at the NSN conference, almost a month earlier, and recap the conference and the learning from it. I was really lucky on the Thursday evening to have the chance to perform in California, which Robert had arranged.

 

Friday started early as Robert was driving me up to Camp Winnarainbow, a performance skills summer camp, which is open to both adults and children (although not at the same time) and I was lucky enough to be performing there too, and would get the chance to talk to organisers… who I discovered was THE ‘Wavy Gravy’, and the camp was at the ‘Hog Farm’ (if this isn’t meaning much to you, Wavy Gravy has been on the Simpsons and has a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavour named after him – go google him now!!!!).

The Tipi village at Camp Winnarainbow where the campers get to sleep.

The Tipi village at Camp Winnarainbow where the campers get to sleep.

The camp was an amazing place where young people are taught various performance skills, or encouraged to develop the ones they have whether circus, drama, music or dance, but its the life skills which are formed out of the kids gaining confidence, communication and creativity which was the amazing part. I got the chance to talk to campers, staff and organisers, which was wonderful, everyone was so positive about the camp, the learning and the development which could be globally reaching, and that storytelling was already being used as part of the process was a highlight.

Red Phoenix dancing with one of the 'dupers'

I got taught a move or two while I was there.

Unfortunately my time at the camp flew by and soon I had to leave to get back to San Francisco (the camp was in Northern California, in the mighty Redwood forests – beautiful) and the trip back to the airport was one of adventure, hells angels, forest fires, traffic jams, flight rearrangements, after which I was never so pleased to see Toronto’s CN tower!

I went to Cincy and found Me!

The National Storytelling Network Conference is over, but my head and heart are full. I have met over the past week so many wonderful, beautiful, giving, brilliant, talented, inspired and inspiring people whom I hope I will meet again many times over as I wander the story path. It was a life changing experience (what with temperatures of 100, and tornado warnings) enhancing my concepts, career and calorie intake.
After the pre-conference on Wednesday the pace picked up and the storytellers arrived en-masse, around about 300 or so.

The Master-class on Thursday afternoon with Jane Stenson and Sherry Norfolk, was not only delightful but incredibly insightful, 5 hrs walking us through creating a storytelling classroom from pre-school to secondary school, (or Kindergarten to High school). I loved the new term I picked up in this class ‘Teaching Artist’ which is one it would be great to see used more in the UK because it recognises the artist who works heavily in school as an educator, and of value to the teaching system. The workshop looked at the differences between what the points of view of what the teacher wishes to achieve and what the artist wants and can provide because Jane Stenson was actually a teacher, and Sherry Norfolk comes much more from the performance side. What surprised me but should have been obvious was how similar the issues facing the ‘Teaching Artist’ is between both the UK and US, however due to recognition of the importance of the library system (some which is not so evident in the UK with so many libraries either already closed or under threat of closing) many of the folks I have met are either teachers or librarians or have served as such at one point which then brought them to storytelling. An amazing session which will sit with me for a long time.

After a delightful dinner with Csenge where we discovered we are actually just the same person cloned (watch out world, yes there are two of us, and we’re coming after you bringing our flaming red-haired story revolution!!!!) the opening ceremony began, and the main conference hall filled with storytellers some new some old, but all were recognised and welcomed, during this I met Rachel Hedman, who told me the ‘New Voices’ would be meeting for breakfast the next day, this was to be a gathering of young storytellers, so of course I pounced on the idea. I rounded the evening off with Mary Hamilton’s Fringe show ‘Around the world with Cinderella’ a delightful blending of 11 Cinderella stories and a Norwegian version with a cinderFella.

Friday was a bleary eyed early start to meet the New Voices which incorporates young tellers right up to 35yrs old, but I am so glad I did because as well as meeting around 8 young storytellers, there in the middle of them all was Judy Sima who co-wrote the ‘Raising Voices’ book, a bible for anyone working in the field of youth storytelling. I was so excited to be sat there, just knowing that moments like these are what this trip is all about. Once the group had got their breakfast, very kindly paid for by Judy (many thanks Judy) we all started sharing our stories of what brought us to storytelling, what our hopes and dreams are for the future and our futures in storytelling and the challenges facing young storytellers – which as it turned out is a universal issue of; where do we find the platforms to tell, who do we balance storytelling with school work, getting through exams, going to college/uni, finding jobs, love life, starting families, how do we afford conferences and make time for them, how do we convince established older storytellers that we have voices of value to. It was also really interesting to hear about the way youth storytelling is in America through the eyes of the youth, this was an opportunity I hadn’t expected at the conference.
The rest of Friday was spent going to workshops and panels and a walk up the road to a Korean restaurant for lunch in 100 degree heat. I rounded the day off at a story swap and told my tale of the little tree that wished, which went down really well, and as I left that low and behold but who should have just arrived at the conference but Kevin Cordi, who greeted me with a huge hug (those barrage of emails prior to my trip had worked!!!) and even though by this time it was 11pm we talked for hours until we realised the rest of the lobby was empty and it was 2.30am, I already knew at this point a few days of caught moments during the conference was not going to be enough to capture even a brief snippet of the knowledge and experience Kevin was willing to share, and the support he was willing to give. Return trips and future conversations have already been planned.

The rest of the conference flew by in workshops and panels, one by Judy Sima going through the application of some of the exercises in the book ‘Raising Voices’ and a panel on Mentoring, I gave up Friday lunch period to interview Judy and Kevin, which gave fourth some really interesting material and two very different perspectives on youth storytelling, there are many others I wished I’d had time to interview and so I will be email and skyping to catch up with them either en-route or once I get back to the UK.

It became evident during the conference that 6 weeks is such a small amount of time to achieve all that I hope and it is merely the start of the dialogue rather the whole conversation.
It was interesting to compare the similarities between the NSN and the SFS (Society for Storytelling – UK), and the issues facing youth tellers, and those working in the field of youth storytelling. It was also interesting to note the differences, which for me was that sometimes the conversations, workshops and panels were not focused on stories, but on the relationship the tellers had with certain stories – however I was told by many that this is not the norm and was perhaps due the theme of this year’s conference being about remembrance. I also saw how much more organised things were with early starts (8.30 starts would be unheard in a UK story conference) and late nights, folders and handouts at nearly every workshops, PowerPoint presentations, it was much more lecture style than practical which is what I have grown use to in the UK where content can be flexible depending on the needs and wants of the group.

Kevin Cordi asked on the storytellers Facebook page for those who went to the conference to take some time to reflect and asked themselves; ‘Select one to three things that you learned, questioned, or taught and decide how to use it in your life.’
I learnt that as many better opportunities there are for youth tellers in the US there are also similar challenges to what we face in the UK. Trying to define what ‘youth’ means, where does it start and where does it end? How to approach it – do we ask what they think they need, to give them what we think they need? How do we make opportunities for all despite abilities, locations or skill level? How do we make opportunities to attend conference, what workshops would benefit young tellers?
I have learnt I have many more questions than what I started with!
I question the idea that folktales can be copyrighted as some have been with us for thousands of years, and although a version may have been written down in a modern book, research on the internet get other books and you will find many more versions, which you can blend into your own original work, for isn’t that what storytellers do? Traditional/folk tales have so much teaching in them, they have been crafted over millennia to give teachings and make us question, isn’t losing that denying those that come after us part of their heritage, not just of being from this place or that place, of this people or that people, but of being human and part of this world?
I will use the experience to keep my mind open and remember to (as much as possible) pass it forward, to make sure I leave something those who travel the path behind me.

And lastly I would like to make a role call for all those who made the weekend amazing: Csenge Zalka, Kevin Cordi, Kevin Gerzevitz, Karen Chace, Judy Sima, Jane Crouse, Sherry Norfolk, Jane Stenson, Lyn Ford, Lois, Katie, Rachel Hedman, Holly Robinson, Adam Booth, Beth Horner, Judith Heineman, Elise Krakower, Renee, Heather, Gail Froyen, Sara Armstrong, Noa Baum, Buck Creacy, Brother Wolf, Jim May, Kevin Kling, Rick Huddle, Yvonne Healy, Alton Chung, Michel, Bill Harley, and Marilyn McPhie to name just a few.