Every two years, the Tejas Storytelling Association puts on a Summer Conference that, as they say, is "...known for stories, workshops, feasts, and fun." This year, Storyteller.net director K. Sean Buvala attended the conference in Waco, Texas (along with his wife and illustrator Michelle Buvala from The Small Tooth Dog Publishing Group), presented a workshop and was a teller at an evening concert. In between, he picked up a couple of interviews for you, listed below. You can also read a transcript of one of the interviews found a bit lower on this page.
To listen to the interviews in .mp3 audio, you will need to go *all the way down the page* to the sections labeled as "Part 1" and "Part 2."
In the Interviews!
In Part 1 (link at bottom of page), Sean and Laura Packer talk stop signs, delis, folktales and folklore, the value of workshops for the neophyte and experienced, the evolution of a story and more. There is a loose transcript of this session at the very bottom of this page.
In Part 2 (link at bottom of page), Sean speaks with the conference leadership team from the Tejas Storytelling Association's 2016 Summer Conference. Included in the conversation are Mary Grace Ketner, Larry Thompson and Vivian Rutherford. They talk about the production of a conference of this sort and its place in all the offerings from the TSA.
Loose Transcript From the Laura Packer Interview:
Voiceover: You've just entered the Storyteller.net Amphitheater.
Sean Buvala: .....partially hydrogenated? So....
Laura Packer: Hmmmm.
SB: Hey folks, Sean Buvala, Storyteller.net Amphitheater and I am at the Tejas Storytelling Summer Conference. Michelle, you know, my wife the illustrator and Laura Packer have escaped. Hi Laura. We have escaped.
LP: We've escaped.
SB: We've escaped. We've gone to a local deli, well sort of a deli.
LP: It's close enough to being a deli.
SB: Yeah, it's like a deli. "Jason's Deli." Michelle and I have written books at this place.
LP: Well, that counts for something. It does the job
SB: ...and places like this. So that's good. So, anyway, we are at the Waco conference. So good to see you.
LP: It is great to see you, too.
SB: I mean it is really good to see you live and in person. So, we're gonna eat lunch. So we may get, you know, mouthfuls of food when we talk.So that is fine. So, Waco, Texas. Have you been here before?
LP: I have never been here before.
SB: How exciting.
LP: It is exciting. It is flat.
SB: All of Texas is flat.
LP: Well, flat topographically speaking, anyway.
SB: The people are great.
LP: The people are wonderful. What welcoming, smart, funny folks are at the conference.
SB: Yeah. It has been...the hospitality has been great. Vivian Rutherford...she has been great.
LP: What a lovely woman and a good storyteller, too. She gave us a little, just a little bit of her storytelling finesse to make a whole bunch of storytellers shut up this morning. And it was really well done.
SB: That is a miracle.
LP: It was a miracle.
SB: It was funny because she used that, one of those preschool call-and-response chant things.
LP: We are all just big kids. We all respond to that stuff.
SB: I think you said it best, you just learn something by watching somebody do that.
VO: The Storyteller.net Amphitheater.
SB: What do you think? We'll talk about our concert last night, in a minute. But what are you thinking about this because this is a little different model. It's in the middle of summer. What do you think?
LP: I like it. I find it refreshing. Summer is usually the festival season. So, having a conference in the middle of it gives us a chance to kind of reboot. To collect some new ideas and to think about what we may want to be doing with our work. I am also enjoying it because this area is culturally quite different than where I live. I currently live in Kansas City and I spent many many years in Boston.
SB: You are an east-coaster.
LP: It is very different for me. The style of telling is different and it is just really interesting to be immersed in that for a little while.
SB: We talked, in the car on the way over here, when I almost ran a stop sign. Look, I am not a bad driver. It was just not a good day.
LP: You are a storyteller, Sean. How much should I believe?
SB: But that stop sign appeared out of nowhere!
LP: Nowhere! It wasn't there a moment ago. The stop sign elves....
SB: Yeah, well, there it is.
Michelle Buvala: The other car saw the stop sign. Or, should I not have said that?
LP: Do we really know that other car was there? It must have been an illusion.
SB: That's right, it's the Matrix. We are all in the Matrix. There is no stop sign.
SB: You said...talked about a different style of telling. I think I know what you mean, but, tell us what you mean? What do you mean by a "different style of telling?"
LP: The first word that comes into my mind is one that I hesitate to use. Because...although I think the word has no negative connotation in and of itself, people may assume it does. But the first word that came to mind was "folksy." It is a much more conversational style of telling, which is great. I am really enjoying it. It is very accessible. But it is much more about "here is this thing that happened to me and let me tell you about it" or "here is this thing that happened to Jack and let me tell you about it." No grand gestures and "setting the mood." It is a much more...it's in some ways much more intimate, more like you are just sitting and listening to your buddy tell you a story on the front porch.
I know there is a lot of craft behind that, but these people are so good at that the craft is invisible. It then just feels very welcoming.
SB: I would agree with that. I thought that last night listening to Charlie. Dr. Charles Temple from Hobart University if I am getting the name right. (edit: Hobart and William Smith College is correct.) He did a nice job. But what he did last night at the concert, doing these type of "uncle and aunt" stories, that....they just happen.
SB: He certainly knew what he was gonna say before he got there, but it has the feel of, "hey, I'm just sharing this with you."
LP: What is interesting to me about it...You know, Sean, and anybody listening to this knows, you certainly know, Michelle, that one of the core pieces of power about storytelling is that it is all about connection. It is all about realizing that no one is unique in their experience. We are all connected. We are all experiencing relatable things. This style of storytelling, that is really what is front and center. Even if it is a tall-tale, even if it is a lie, the lies are built on things that are common to all of us. So, this style makes that...makes you very comfortable. You are just hearing these stories about people who might be people you know.
SB: Yeah. That's a good image for that. You and I talked, also in the car, talked about...we have been at this for a while...decades. This thing here is primarily conference workshops. What workshops did you go to and what are you taking....(coughs) now I am choking....
LP: All right. Good.
SB: What did you hear in all these workshops?
LP: Well, first off, let me say that I often come to conferences to meet people....to talk with people, to spend time with them.
LP: The workshops are kinda like the icing on the cake at this point.
SB: It's the hallway conversations...
LP: Right, it's the hallway conversations...but I have been doing this long enough that when I attend a workshop, my reasons for attending it extend beyond just "I am hungry to learn what the instructor has to teach," which of course I am. But it also includes`that getting to see how they teach and so on and so forth.
I have gone to two workshops so far out of, I think, four workshop sessions. One was with Lorene, I don't remember her last name you will have to look it up. (edit: Lorene Stillwell). She did a piece on telling stories out of your heritage.
SB: Yeah, the ancestral piece.
LP: Right....and telling ancestral stories. I liked a great many things that she did with her workshop. She got people talking about what their heritage was. But what I really liked was that she touched upon this thing that you and I have talked about briefly, which is the, the sort of the mystical or transcendent nature of storytelling. She talked about inviting your ancestors to tell you, to give you, to bring the stories to you, the ones you should tell. I really liked that. I liked the idea that we are, as storytellers, creators, as artists, (as any artist is,) we are extending beyond ourselves. So, I really liked hearing her name that.
SB: You and I did talk about the whole transcendent stories, where metaphor comes from. I think that is...if we don't do it somewhere else, we need to do a Skype workshop or....to make that... I think that same thing. I think the first workshop I went to was "Storytelling 101." I went to a beginners' workshop. (edit: with Esther Malone)
LP: I love beginners' workshops. I love going to them. I always learn something there.
SB: Yeah, because you can get to the point in any art form and think, you know, that you are the cat's meow, and you are not.
LP: No. None of us are.
SB: I look for that "one thing," that one moment. She had a thing about "soft knees," about how you stand at a microphone, that you keep your body moving. She talked about "scaffolding," which is a way to bring kids in, the kids who sit in the back of the room that are angry they are at storytelling. How you eventually get them to the front and they become the characters. She called it "scaffolding." It was really smart. She talked about characters whispering in your ear. Now, we know that under terms, but the way she talked about it was....
So, even in the midst of this 75 minute workshop, there were these "a-ha!" moments which was why I think most people should go to a workshop. And now I am going to pontificate here. When you go to a workshop, get the "a-ha!" moment. Get that stuff that, "Oh! That's why I came today."
LP: That's right.
SB. ....versus saying, "Did I get 75 minutes worth of information?"
LP: No, you should get the gems. And everyone's gem will be something different.
SB: Let's wrap up briefly. You and I were both in the opening concert on Friday night.
LP: What fun to share the stage with you. That was just a blast.
SB: Thank you. It was, it was great. Like I said, you and I talked, I haven't seen you in years since you came to Phoenix for that NSN conference.
LP: That was a million years ago.
SB: Or something. A long time ago. You did a piece (at the concert) that begins as a personal tale and ends up somewhere else. So, give us a moment of talking about that piece. Just give us a quick piece and we will kinda wrap with that.
LP: The story I told is a love story, told from initially my point of view and then the point of view of an older man telling me how he met his wife. It's an unusual way of meeting, there are some elements of magical realism in it. The story evolved out of a couple of things, out of having a great fondness for sea mammals, of visiting my family in Florida. Then, thinking there were all these love stories that we're supposed to...the predominant people in those love stories are white, straight, young and beautiful.
SB: You nailed it.
LP: That's right. And, sure, I have told stories about people who are not white, who are not straight. I wanted to tell a story about love at the ending years of life and that older people can love and be passionate and experience desire. I also wanted to think about what is it to be beautiful if you are older or if your body isn't the shape of models that we see. So, that's what it evolved out of.
I love telling that story because...there is certainly one big and several small moments where I can see the audience suddenly realizing that we have gone in a direction they entirely didn't expect. And that's really fun.
It is also a story that moves from, through the Elizabeth Ellis model. It starts out pretty light and funny. There are some "a-ha!" moments, there is that "ohh....." where everything is really sinking in to you. Then it ends in this kind of sacred place....the "amen" moment. I really like that structure. I play with it in lots of different ways but I think this story encapsulates it well.
And, the theme of the conference is "embracing our differences and diversity." Well, there is a lot of stuff around age and people being discriminated against because of their age or because of their body. So, or just because they are different or because they don't fit in like he talks about moving to a retirement community. He doesn't fit in so he doesn't have any friends. So, that can happen to us at any age. I think it is important for people to hear that. It is also a very image-rich story so it's huge fun for me to play around with all that sensory details of the sounds and the smells and the sights...it is really fun to play with.
SB: I thought it was an interesting mix yesterday. It was mostly personal tales. There was....
LP: Really? Well Charles did, Charlie did folktales...
SB: Which folktale did he do?
LP: Well, the stuff with the Aunt and Uncle. That's traditional material. I mean it is couched as out of family but it is not his family that he is talking about.
SB: That is interesting.
LP: The two young tellers both did personal tales. Kathy did a folktale but within a more....
SB: It was kind of a motivational speaking....
LP. It was kind of motivational speaking but she was talking about issues around diversity but she did folktale embedded in that.
SB: That is true. She did the frog and the snake. You know, that is interesting as I would not identify....I need to think about what you said...I would not identify Charlie's tales are folktales.
LP: They are certainly folklore.
SB: I will take folklore. Yeah. Okay. I have to think about...you really are making me think about this.
LP: That's my job. (laughs)
SB: Sure. "That's my job" over lettuce and salad and egg yolk. All right, you need to finish eating and so do I so, we are going to wrap this here.
What website are you at right now?
LP: Laurapacker.com. L-a-u-r-a-p-a-c-k-e-r dot com.
SB: We will of course put all that, the links, and be sure you are on the site.
LP: Let me just say, Sean, your story last night was beautiful. Your telling of "Beauty and the Beast" touched on so many things that just made my heart sing. So, thank you.
SB: Thanks. That is...thank you very much. That is one of my favorites. I really...I thought we ended the evening than how it started. "Beauty and the Beast" is a more elegant piece for me.
LP: It is elegant.
SB: And I tell it that way. I want it to be that way. You told last and you ended on these really beautiful, as you said, kind of sacred, transcendent notes of that piece. I would suggest anyone catch this piece from you. It was really good. There was so much. There was one moment where she is singing under water and I went, "Oh, we are somewhere else." (both laugh) It was really interesting.
Anyway, Laura Packer, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
LP: Thank you so much, Sean and Michelle.
VO: You've been listening to the Storyteller.net Amphitheater. All rights reserved. No part or whole may be reproduced in any manner for any reason without the express written permission of Storyteller.net