(This post was updated for spelling and information on 8.1.06)
While at the conference in Pittsburgh I was priveleged enough to be asked to come to a meeting of seasoned tellers to take the minutes of the meeting. I typed 6 pages of notes- with many many errors. The discussion centered around the creation of a code of ethics and other "tools" for storytellers (Things like standards, codes of practice, and guidelines that the New Zealand and Austrailian Storytellers have). In the room were at least 20 of "the old ones": the ones who started the storytelling movement and who have been instrumental in the shape that it has taken. They called themselves dragons. Karen sent out invitations, but they were joined by other storytellers who had heard about the meeting and had an interest in the topic. Their topic of conversation was mostly about whether should and then how to create these standards of storytelling.
Please keep in mind that storytelling in America is a very fringe, very new art. Thirty years ago most of these people were still trying to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives.
There was more than one voice of concern, but the loudest was Dan Yashinsky, a Canadian Storyteller who, while not part of the American movement, came to the art the same way that many of the artists in the room came to it- by struggling with an unnamed desire to express himself through an art that no one really recognized. His concern centered around the fact that all of the dragons in the room had the opportunity to find their way without these standards, and he believed that new storytellers should have the same opportunity. Also quite eloquent was the talented and wonderful Gay Ducey, who cautioned the group against creating a "gated community." She also brought up a question that I think no one else was willing to ask: Is this a one-generation revivial? I have to say that I don't think it is exactly, but it is a question that I would love to see debated among the community at large. I wish I had the minutes so I could quote some of what was said, but I do not(I've gotten them, but they are not edited yet- maybe later). The discussion was very interesting.
Later, Dan (who I will have to tell you ALL about later because he is a phenominal storyteller and a very open soul) and I were talking and he said that what really annoyed him was that all these old fogies were in the room talking about the future of storytelling (a future they wouldn't necessarily be a part of) and they were making all sorts of decisions and ignoring the one representation of the future of sotrytelling that was actually in th eroom the whole time. He was referring to me.
I keep thinking about what I would like to have said to them, and what really rings loud in my mind is: be bold, but not too bold. I understand the need for the standards that they want to identify, but I have to wonder if setting these standards isn't more about their own ego- their own legacies, rather than the future of this very fringe, very new art. And truth be told, they can set all the standards they want, but new storytellers will only break them. If storytelling is meant to be led in another direction, who are they to try to hold it to it's current path? Even now the standard model of platform (festival) telling is starting to be rejected for more intimate, personal storytelling called a house concert.
I also wonder if this isn't an attempt to set storytelling up to be mainstreamed. We are growing as an artform and we have reached a larger audience than Jimmy Neil Smith probably first imagined when he started the festival, but I don't know that I want my little art to be mainstreamed. I kind of like being a bit fringe and a bit quirky. True- it's annoying when people first hear me say "I'm a storyteller" and they get that blank look on their face, but I can't stand the thought of such an intimate art becoming so open to the commercialism of our culture.
Despite all of my opinions and thoughts I have to say that I found the conversation fascinating and felt priveledged to be in the room. It's fascinating to watch the past and the present and the future collide in front of you.