The New American Storytelling Festival: If Not Now, When?

by Willy Claflin

claflinI’m really looking forward to joining all of you at the National Storytelling Conference in Richmond this August 1-4.  Last summer we planted a seed.  A new domain name was registered: The American Storytelling Festival.  A new festival was proposed.  Somewhat tongue in cheek, it promised to be Everything You Ever Wanted.  But now, seriously, I’m asking you to join me and help make it happen!

Whether you are discontented with the limitations of Jonesborough, or simply eager to share your vision of the Perfect Festival, please come to our brainstorming session on Sunday morning, August 4, 9-10:30 am in Richmond, Virginia.  What would you most like to see in a new national festival?  True diversity in tellers, tales, and audience? Epics, slams, traditional stories, monologues?  Workshops on improvisation or “going deep”?  If you could have Anything You Like, what would it be?

This will be a true brainstorming session: any and all ideas are welcome and will be considered and recorded.  Questionnaires will be sent to all participants afterwards, just in case there was something you forgot, or didn’t have time to say!

At the end of this time together, you will have the chance to join an active network of tellers in developing themes and programs for the new festival.  Goals and timelines will be established, and next steps identified.  You will have the opportunity to take an active, ongoing role in shaping the festival and help us decide issues like: What kind of festival best suits the storytelling community’s needs? What kind of outreach is necessary to recruit tellers from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural groups?  Where should we hold the Festival?  What kinds of venues best support a diversity of tellers and tales?  Shall we incorporate workshops?  How long should the Festival last? Any suggestions, all ideas, every fantasy will be considered.

OK, some of you may be thinking—that’s great, but really, how can we organize and pay for all this?  Ah, you’re in luck!  For those hardy souls wishing to deal with the nuts and bolts of finance, I’ll see you at Ellen Munds’ wonderful Friday intensive on fundraising and finance.  Ellen really knows what she’s doing, and if you come, well…then, you’ll know too!

But no pre$$ure!  Just come share your dreams on Sunday.  Let’s do this!

Thank you all for all you do,
Willy Claflin

P.S.  For those of you unable to attend the conference or attending a different session on Sunday, your ideas are welcome also.  Comment here on the blog!

About Willy

Willy Claflin is a one-man festival. Spanning historical sagas, intergalactic yarns, Mother Moose Tales, and counter culture misadventures, he covers the full spectrum of spoken word entertainment.  A headliner and master of ceremonies at the National Storytelling Festival, Willy is a favorite at festivals throughout the U.S. He also has many award-winning recordings and is the co-author (along with Maynard Moose) of three award-winning children’s books.  Willy’s tribute to Gamble Rogers was a highlight of last year’s National Storytelling Conference. Original, traditional, historical, personal, comic—regardless of genre, Willy fits any playbill.

Contact Willy


3 thoughts on “The New American Storytelling Festival: If Not Now, When?”

  1. Willy and All,
    I’ve been waiting for this. Thank you for taking the initative to get the ball rolling. It’s time our festivals reflect the American population and all of its ethnicity, geographic vaiations, economic layers and especialy age range.

    We all know storytelling isn’t just for kids but that dosen’t mean they shouldn’t be invited to our festivals. However the motivation for inviting children to our festival should not be to promote literacy, build character or enhance problem solving skills. These are indeed benifets but not the reasom for the invitation.They should be invited for the same reason we invite adults – for the pure pleasure and joy we experience when we listen to stories.

    Let’s show the same respcct we would show to adults. Give them the very best we have and let each listner take what they need and want from a story. Let each person see it from their own point of view whether it is a car seat, a school bus or behind the wheel.
    It is the only way we will grow storytellers.

  2. Such a breath of fresh air! Such a sense of possibility! I am so excited to see this movement begin in NSN, to feel the genuine enthusiasm. Thank you, Willy.

    I hope the brainstorming session will extend beyond ideas of what the New American Storytelling Festival might include. I’m eager to exchange ideas about reaching and educating storytelling audiences. We can create a nifty new festival to please professional tellers — but what we need to create simultaneously is a knowledgeable and flexible audience.

    I’d also like to hear conversation about different storytelling formats that could be included within the festival framework. Lets get beyond the massive-audience-in-a-tent model and also showcase intimate, small-group storytelling, for instance. Let’s include long-form stories; participatory and improvisational storytelling; explorations of different points of view; different cultural versions of similar plots and tale types; etc.

    Oh, this will be fun. A thousand thanks.

  3. I’ve been impressed with the way the Smithsonian Folklife Festival worked with various locations (a 3 year intensive commitment) to establish a festival. Here in Michigan the Great Lakes Folk Festival — a general festival heavily spotlighting music — got its start that way.

    NSN has helped in a related way with regional conferences. Now is the perfect time to focus on establishing the New American Storytelling Festival. We could start with a New American Storytelling Festival – Central Region for 3 years since that lets the location be the most accessible to the entire country, then, while continuing that location, which by then has become self-sustaining, add a 2d region in a similar way, and then more regions every 3 years. The 3 year focus helps establish resources in a way that annual re-location misses.

    We’ve had our historical roots with a “Mecca” where all are expected to pilgrimage. The new festival model should show this is an American phenomenon not unique to any one location. The past model let the non-storytelling world view storytelling as a quaint old tradition rooted in the South. It’s time to show it’s a living tradition of our entire country, alive and growing.

    Can’t make the conference this year, but want these thoughts considered.

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