Monday, March 28, 2011

The 10th Anniversary VASA Gathering

March 18-20, 2011

Massanetta Springs Camp and Conference Center
Harrisonburg, VA

The Blue Ridge Mountains were lovely, and the 10th anniversary VASA Gathering was sweet!

A Friday evening concert featuring Lynn Ruehlmann, Donna Will, and Joan and Mac Swift kicked of the event. Lynn shared her experience of adopting her first child. We, the audience, felt her joy and her apprehension, while at the same time learning quite a bit about stage managing an opera. Donna made us laugh as she told a personal story involving a practical joke on a Volkswagen bug’s puzzled owner. Joan and Mac did what they do better than anyone else: perform a Jack tale in tandem.

Following the Friday concert, Megan Hicks did a special performance of her story The Book of Joe Bob, which paid tribute to those whose lives have been disrupted by natural disasters.

Saturday morning began bright and early with a keynote by Michael Reno Harrell. He made several points that hit home with me. Like most others, I had bought into the myth that the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee began in 1972 with 20 people gathered around some haystacks and a wagon. Not so, according to Harrell. Bill Monroe kicked off the festival in a gymnasium filled with 500 people. The wagon, featuring Ray Hicks, appeared the next day and our story began. I found it ironic that our own history was a story. Dramatic license, as always in the storytelling realm, ruled.

Other points in Harrell’s keynote:

The average age of a person attending the National Storytelling Festival in 2010 was fifty-five. The average age of a person attending the festival twenty years ago was also fifty-five. I found this comforting. I had thought that our audience was getting older and that there was no new blood coming in. The truth of the matter, it seems, is that people don’t really have time to spend an entire weekend at a festival until the kids are grown.

The distinction between storytellers and comedians: Comedians tell funny stories; Storytellers tell stories funny. I thought that was a good analogy, though I prefer stories of a serious nature.

Regarding the current bankrupt status of the International Storytelling Center, storytelling will win because those of us who love it will take care of it.

Harrell’s keynote was followed by his workshop on using humor in stories. Did you know that, according to Mark Twain, the humorous story is American? Quotes from other famous men on humor:

“Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the innards are destroyed.” E.B White

“Humor is emotional chaos to remember in tranquility.” Thurber

Saturday afternoon was filled by two workshops and an alternative space. I heard good things about Ellouise Schoettler’s workshop Putting Flesh on Old Bones, a lesson in how to mine stories from genealogy. Susanna Holstein’s ballad workshop was also well received. I did not get to attend either workshop because I was performing stories from my show Shattered Silence, which was well received. I did catch the tail end of Susanna’s workshop and got to hear her beautiful voice sing a few of those enchanting ballads.

Saturday night’s concert was Aces! Ralph Chatham opened with a haunting version of the Kelpie Bride. Geraldine Buckley followed with two hilarious stories, one about the first time she went to prison (you had to be there!) and another about being bored in paradise.

The end of the evening belonged to Michael Reno Harrell, and he OWNED the stage. I loved his story about the time he was the recipient of one Christmas miracle while initiating another.

Story swaps were held throughout the weekend. I am not a night owl, so I missed the Friday and Saturday night swaps, but I did get to attend two hours of swaps on Sunday morning. As usual, several stories that I will cherish were told in the swaps. I will never forget Dr. Mwizenge Tembo’s story of his brother visiting from Kenya. His brother was so excited about the things that he learned in the United States that he could not wait to get home and bring some of the technology to his people. As a result of what he learned here and took home, including ways to make water more accessible for his people, he became a leader in his village.

The weekend ended at noon with puns, bouncing around like rubber balls. The cool thing about a small conference is that by the end of the weekend, you have heard each person attending tell at least once. By the end of the weekend we were a family. I cannot wait to get together again.

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