This past weekend I attended NerdCon: Stories in the Twin Cities at the Minneapolis Convention Center and geeked out at whole new levels of geeking out. The conference was attended by about 3000 people that were all there to learn about storytelling in different medias. There was also a group of panelists that appeared more than happy talk about various facets of their work in front of the attentive and engaged audience. Full disclosure, I didn’t attend any of the signings so I can’t really speak about how that went. While I respect these people a lot and want to learn from them, I have a hard time placing value on a signature. I learned at a very young age how easy it is to replicate one (sorry mom and dad) and after that I always figured I’d rather find out what someone has to offer that I can’t do myself. Luckily for me this conference had some wildly successful and intelligent storytellers attending, who all had a lot to offer.
As this was my first Con I didn’t have too many expectations going in. (That’s a lie actually. I’m pretty sure I went to some sort of leadership/learning convention when I was in high school. But if the title is convention instead of con they seem to be very different things. Which makes no sense because con is short for convention. I’ll have to get back to you on this. I suspect Con is what the cool kids say and convention is what the teachers that are trying to make the uncool kids feel cool say. I wonder if this distinction is pointed out in the OED…) I don’t know if you know this but 3000 people is a lot of people. According to various articles I’ve read this is actually a small con which is a tad mind boggling to me. In general the Minneapolis Convention center had plenty of space. The room where the MainStage events were happening was always plenty big enough to seat everybody but some of the panels in the side auditoriums overfilled. It didn’t seem like they expected this because on the first day they let people sit and stand in the aisles, but by the middle of the day they were monitoring the capacity more closely. This is when being there by myself came in handy. I never had to look for more than one seat and I’m happy to say I was able to attend every panel that I wanted to attend.
The theme throughout the weekend was why stories are important. At the MainStage events they always had two separate speakers discuss this topic. This is something I feel very strongly about and I loved hearing expert storytellers reenforce what I’ve believed for as long as I’ve understood stories. Stories and narratives are what people relate to. They’re how we learn how to empathize and as a result listen to people instead of shouting at them. I sometimes fear that as a society we’ve gotten so caught up in our own stories that we forget to look out for others. The most important thing we can do is listen and get swept up in someone’s story and let them be swept up in our own in return. In that order. I realize that the attendees at this particular con were probably the choir in the hypothetical story church, but it’s comforting to know that the storytellers and creators that were on the panels are consciously using their platform to, quite literally, spread the word.
My intention was to write about my favorite panels but I truly don’t think I can narrow it down. The panels I attended discussed truth in storytelling, the craft of storytelling itself, the benefits of diverse stories, how to stay true to your stories after success, storytelling through song, and the moral responsibility of storytellers. I could write a separate piece on every single one of these panels. Not only were the panelists thoughtful and interesting in their conversations but the attendees that got the opportunity to ask questions asked thoughtful and intelligent questions.
I’ll admit going into this I was concerned that the Con would be more of a fans freaking out type of event. There’s nothing wrong with that type of event but I really just wanted to walk away having heard interesting people give me new perspectives and ideas to think critically about, and that’s exactly what I got. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all panels with serious questions. The MainStage got goofy and I’m so glad it did. Both days were jam packed and very long so it was a relief to get the MainStage and laugh. We watched the panelists play some games that I fully intend on forcing my friends to play with me and we got to see some very impressive performances (what’s a story telling convention without a little storytelling, after all?).
The very last event was a performance of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind by the New York Neo-Fututrists. It honestly deserves its own post, but I plan on seeing it performed again so I’ll do another one then. For now I’ll say it’s a spectacular and moving show. I usually leave theaters trying to make sense of what I saw in relation to what I know (and sometimes in relation to what I know I don’t know) and it gives me three or four arenas to think about. This performance in which they attempt to do 30 plays in 60 minutes left me with more to think about than any other performance I’ve ever seen. Putting aside the content of the plays, the set up of the show is fascinating. It embraces and injects a shot of adrenaline into what people love about live theater…every show is always different. Remember the content that we just put aside? Bring it back in and you’ve got beautiful performances that touch on everything that’s relevant in your life and some things you never knew were relevant until the Neo-Futurists presented it to you.
Overall my NerdCon experience was better than I could have hoped it to be. I have a huge list of authors, podcasts, musicians, and performers to look up and enjoy, and I have some new thoughts and ideas to consider. Having that many people all in one place loving and appreciating the art and importance of storytelling was inspiring. I left feeling newly motivated to carry on writing and telling my own stories, and, more importantly, seeking out and listening to other people’s stories.