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2009 Storytelling (Un)Conference. West Coast. Let's Do This.

Given that the National Storytelling Network will not be holding a National Conference in 2009 in Los Angeles (or anywhere else, apparently)*...
let's go to Plan B:

we meet in Los Angeles anyway, without NSN.

Or San Diego. Or Oakland. Or Portland.

Who's in?

At this stage, it's a discussion. Add your thoughts, ideas, suggestions for location, format, time of year, length, etc.


* See Margaret Meyers and Jo Radner comments of July 21 and July 23 here.

Tags: conference, unconference

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Hi Sean. Actually no. I hadn't followed your blog at all, though I appreciate you directing me to it. That similar thoughts emerge, produced independently, attests to the veracity of our statements. "In the mouths of two or more witnesses shall every word be established" type of thing. :-)

Anyway, we'll talk more. I'm tingling with a sense that a fresh storytelling movement is underway...a third wave on the ocean of life. Refreshing.

Let me be clear, though. I herald the "giants" of storytelling as the forebears of this art (the Donald Davis, Diane Ferlatte crowd). We owe them much. However, let me proffer a statement my father repeats oft. "The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man" (George Bernard Shaw). It's time for the uncommon person to adapt surrounding conditions to themselves.

Tim, if you want to organize and host a conference/festival, you will work your butt off. To do one of the size your talking about you will work your butt off and several others’ butts off too. You wouldn’t get everybody, and some of who you do get will be unsatisfied. (You can please some of the people...) If it is worth doing, then do it. If it is meant to last it will.
What will get me to Portland in 09 is just what I said: 1. Cost 2. Opportunity and 3. Warning. And, of course, no other problems, i.e. car exploding, kids get sick, earthquake, etc.
If you want to go big then you need the city of Portland behind you. Go to the Arts Commissions and businesses. Invite the Mayor to participate. Get the Schools involved, both attending and telling. (Look at the Weber State Storytelling Festival) Advertise, advertise, advertise. Make sure that Seattle knows about it, and Boise, and Sacramento, cross the border in to Vancouver. If you are going to do it, do it right. If it succeeds, Hurray. If it fails, then make it such a failure that you can be proud, because you did everything you could do.
Good Luck, go to, and may the Story be with you, and all of that.
Daniel Bishop, the Storyteller

As Tim asked here is my original Post on his Blog.
I've wanted to go to every Storytelling Conference or Festival that I have heard about. Portland is closer to me then others have been, but...
What would get me there is:
1. Money. Make the conference affordable to us working stiffs that don't have $$$ just laying around. For me to have gone to Johannesburg this year it would have cost me, missed work included, over $500, and that is if I scrimped of things like food and lodging.
2. I would like a chance to be a payed teller. I've been trying to "crack" into the inner circle for several years, but I can't seem to break through. I love to hear Bobby, David and Bev as much as the next but I would like to hear someone new. And I would like to be one of the new tellers. (I've been wondering who I have to pay to get into the Timpanogos Festival. I even know the comitee.)
and 3. Plenty of warning. Most of the time I hear about Storytelling event after the fact. Then when I ask when is the next one auditioning, I'm told will let you know, and then don't. It is enough to make one feel unwanted.
I don't know much about the Conference/Unconference thing, (like I said, I'm out of the loop) I say what does it matter? Let's get together and tell some stories. Let's get together and learn from each other. Let's get together and have some fun.
Daniel Bishop, the Storyteller
OK, I'm reading the comments and I want to ask everyone to think a little about the question. If we want a conference where producers/promoters will attend or where we can showcase our talents we should go to where they are - College/State Arts booking conferences. If we want to get together to tell stories, learn from each other,and hang out let's just organize some retreats or go to one of the existing regional conferences (Sharing the Fire in March, Northlands in April, Florida Storytelling Camp also in March, the upcoming Tipponogos CONFERENCE in Feb).

For myself, I'd spend the money to come to Portland to work with other storytellers on things I hear people say they want to do to have the art taken seriously, elevated to opera, dance, etc, status 1) creating vaible national and regional touring programs and 2) alternatives to the same-old-festivals that you complain about and 3) to spend time getting to know self-identified storytellers, Fringe performers, narrative and spoken word artists and yes, rappers, who will be performing after I and the rest of the first generation of the storytelling "revival" (who comprise much of the Festival roster that folks are tired of and who met each other, invited and supported each other in creating those festivals 30 years ago) are dead and gone.
Dear Loren:

Those three topics are of absolute interest to me. In some ways, why change the current festival circuit when there are other circuits to create? We can still support the traditional venues, but let us be willing to explore.

I have recently learned about booking conferences and it's something that more storytellers need to participate in if we are to be elevated to the "opera, dance, etc. status" you mentioned.

As for the Arts Northwest Booking Conference, out of the roughly 30 slots to showcase, maybe one is dedicated to a storyteller. This assumes if a storyteller even applied. Diane Ferlatte has been showcased there. The more storytellers apply, the more slots the conference must reserve for us.

You can see my blog post by clicking here.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
I sense a bit of disgruntlement on your part, Loren. Whether real or perceived, I can't tell, since the written word (alas) lacks so much of the rich nuances of orality.

As for the booking conferences, I agree. We need to make our presence known in those circles--learning interdisciplinarily from artists beyond our own. Plus, those tents are already staked and roped. Why cobble together a new tent using sticks and twine? Valuable input. I've attended Arts Northwest, Wyoming Arts Alliance, the Montana Performing Arts Consortium, and Western Arts Alliance, and secured work off them all. More importantly, I found pearls of wisdom.

But please permit me to speak to the disgruntlement, if it is such. First, thank you for your closing words. You bring the conversation up short with your final reminder that the "forebears" of the storytelling movement didn't magically pull success out of their hats. They fought long and hard to elevate the art to its current status and popularity. May I be among the many to thank you for this. You're absolutely right.

Additionally, if we're blunt, part of the frustration (I prefer this alternative to "complaining") voiced in these circles stems from sour grapes. Those on the festival circuit are envied by those not. In truth, a certain notoriety exists for those telling in festivals--a status symbol, a feeling of having "arrived" on the national stage. I daresay it's no different than any other circle, be it Hollywood, Sony Records, or the NFL. The highly visible are envied by the less visible.

Yet I wonder (sometimes) if our storytelling "parentage" are content with their status, or if they actively strive to mentor the newbies and bring them onto the main stage. I'm not pointing fingers, nor voicing ideas that have rattled around my cage for months. It's just a thought that flickers at the edge of my mind. Also, in earnest I wonder whether the forebears (or newbies) feel they have anything to learn from us young whippersnappers who, to be honest, have traveled a fair distance down the storytelling road but found that road leading into the unseen forests rather than visible castles. Just thoughts.

Until now I've been quite content with my little corner. And, admittedly, I've taken a devil-care attitude about the storytelling world at large, preferring my hobbit hole to the armies of Storytelling Gondor. However, I sense exciting things on the horizon and want to be part of that light.

Anyway, thanks to all who voice their thoughts as well. Without this sort of dialogue we would merely sit, dream, struggle, and ultimately fall asleep alone at day's end.
Do you detect a little snark in my post? Well yes. So let me be absolutely clear about my position. I am one of the elders but I am not a frequent Festival teller - mostly because festival producers don't think to ask me, don't think I will tell funny or family values, or maybe because I have not pushed myself in that market, etc. In some sense I am in the same boat as 'newbe" tellers - festival producers want 1) tellers they've seen and liked 2) tellers they are confident their audience will see and like and 3) harkening back to one of my other themes - brand recognition. When you get Donald Davis you know exactly what you are getting. When you get Minton Sparks, you or your audience might be in for a surprise.

And to be truthful, as a producer of storytelling, I take a very curatorial approach with many of the same concerns. I do not want to use people whose work I have not seen perform with an audience. For both Two Chairs Telling and the work I am doing for the Guthrie Theater, I pair tellers based on style, interactivity, and willingness to risk. I am willing to present the audience with a much more adventurous combination of tellers and styles than most Fetival producers will, but I have much lower production costs and need smaller income returns than most Festivals do.

Part of my disgruntlement is that fact that so many storytellers have "bought" into the Festival model as validation. I do not look to festivals to validate my storytelling or provide my income. I find or make opportunities, working in cabarets, art centers, small theaters, Fringe Festivals that are conducive to the storytelling I want to do. I do think that there should be a lot more exploring and creating opportunites going on. Build your brand... use the internet, facebook, you-tube, local venues!!! On some level storytelling is no different than indie rock at least as far as how we create markets for our art.

I am personally intersted in bringing newbies (including spoken word, hip hop and rap performers), into the fray. I teach at the university, do workshops, coach, bring new voices to the events I produce but I'll be frank in saying that I am asked for advice (or even an opinion) far less often than I am willing to offer it. I am looking for quality, possibility and talent and when i find it I will do what I can to help get you seen and heard. It is not a short term process and the first rule of whitewater rafting applies - you must participate in your journey. No one is exempt.

I could say more and may later but I have to take someone to the airport now, so with i'll let this settle.
Great post, Loren. Thanks for the clarity on both the success and frustrations. I, too, have to run (storytelling residency) but I'm eager to continue the conversation and hear our many voices of experience.

hi everyone..I'm from Ireland + just joined this site. I'd love to see a festival somewhere on the West Coast because I'll be in San Francisco for a bit in the coming months. I'm a storyteller but know nothing of what goes on in the storytelling world!
I'm one of that generation which were the last to hear the old traditional tellers. Our kids have a new form that involves a lot more physical energy, performance and music, than the guys we listened to — who sat by the fire and kept us enthralled for an hour with the one story which was maybe a thousand years old. The art has moved on here, it had to to survive, and we had one of the most esteemed storytelling traditions in the Western World. I'd like to see/hear what it's like in America.
Hi Eddie,

Arizona has a festival the end of October, and though it's in a completely different state I suspect you could find cheap airfare. San Fran and Phoenix are both hubs. Not sure what's available in California, though I believe events flourish there.

It'd be a treat to hear your telling! Ireland does indeed boast one of the richest traditions, and that book Ireland: A Novel holds up the tradition masterfully. Let me know if you decide to cross into Arizona. We're a full house, but I'd gladly give you a couch and a hot meal, as well as drive you to and from the airport. Just give a holler.

Good post
I have really enjoyed following this thread. Real meat and potatoes stuff.

I think Steve Otto's (and others) model for the chicken festival is a good way to bring in people to the "movement". Podcast interview
I'm still a fan of unconference - was seriously looking at organizing one on storytelling here in Ohio with Kevin Cordi - but I felt like maybe I need to start something smaller - you know maybe a masters retreat hear in Ohio. That's what I am getting out of this conversation. Start with a small fire and build bigger as it gets going.
More on Brother Wolf
One of our course members is running this symposium next year..anyone interested?
Hi Everyone!

I'm looking at my 2009 calendar to decide when and where I want to be. Any news about a possible West Coast (un) conference next year? Inquiring minds want to know.

My best to all,




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