Portal: Fantasy Workshop Festival – Reflection

It’s been a *few* weeks since we held Portal! Here’s the highlight reel.

Portal, for those of you who didn’t get bombarded with notifications about it, was a Fantasy Workshop Festival we held in the Riverland. In response to our passionate fantasy community in the Riverland, we organised a weekend-long event packed full of fantasy-related workshops to nurture and showcase this community.

Here’s how it went:

Portal was an idea seeded by Alysha Herrmann (Statewide Regional Manager), who has this really incredible skill of finding ways to weave the things we’re passionate about into our work lives while still responding to our community’s needs. Fantasy is my love and home, so producing Portal has been such a privilege and joy.

Initially, Portal was simply going to be a few workshops across a weekend. Through its development, the No Limits team made helpful suggestions of things to make Portal better and stronger; a projection mural, a celebration night, an online commission, a cosplay competition (unfortunately we didn’t get to this one!), and so many more. The final plan for the weekend was: six in-person workshops, a launch night, a projection mural showing, an art exhibition, an after-workshop hangout session, an online live-writing commission, and a creative response crew.

We invited some passionate fantasy lovers and writers to facilitate our workshops; from Adelaide Mark Holgate from Adelaide Sword Academy, authors Catch Tilly (Shadowalker series) and Lyndall Clipstone (World at Lake’s Edge duology), and our local fantasy champions, Stuart Watkinson, Zacharie Steele and Amanda Maynard Schubert (The Stormbringer Chronicles). Each of them had very clear ideas of what they wanted to deliver and we ended up with a really well-rounded variation of workshops.

And then the Portal opened.

Before our workshops were underway, we kicked off the weekend with a launch night celebration at the Bonney Theatre in Barmera. We invited local businesses T.H Books and Riverland Tabletop Guild, and regional SA artists Shania Richards and Tayla Clarke to liven up our event. T.H Books had an array of fantasy books to choose from, Riverland Tabletop Guild set up tables with board games and led RPG throughout the event, Tayla wrote choose your own adventure stories for guests and Shania passed out wholesome fortunes and sold beautiful bookmarks inspired by her life (each with their own individual story!).

Partway through the night we dragged everyone out into the blistering-cold winds to watch a projection mural on the Bonney Theatre wall. We sought out artworks from Riverland artists (Aimee Gladigau, Kat Bell and myself) and sent them off to Riverland writers (Adi Hogg, Stuart Watkinson and Jessa Pearl) to respond to them with a 300 word creative piece.

After the projection, we quickly warmed up with lightsaber wielding. In an array of neon-light swords, Mark and Catch led us through sword fighting choreography for the remainder of the night. 

On Saturday, we continued on from the previous night with how to inject those newly-found skills into our writing. Catch and Mark are so obviously passionate about this topic and that passion is infectious!

After Catch’s workshop, we asked Lyndall Clipstone some questions about her writing process, publishing journey and squealed about her characters. Lyndall had such in-depth answers and was very open about demystifying the behind the scenes for all of our writers aiming for traditional publishing. 

Stuart set up a rotating workshop, where each table was a different activity or role playing game to develop your story, character and world. We got a tiny taste of the world of D&D and RPGs without having to dive fully into it. We used dice sets to help us make decisions and forge forward.

Zach initiated a very passionate conversation about fantasy creatures and the roles they play in our stories – majestic, foes, companions. People gave Zach examples of each trope and he responded by delving into how we could write about those creatures, about how their bodies interact with the world, what words we might use to describe them and their movements. Everyone was so invested in this topic that we didn’t have time for all the activities Zach planned, but we all left feeling connected and energetic!

Amanda finished off the day by teaching us the importance of building our magic systems with foundations of realism. After a presentation and discussion, we all took some time to consider the worlds we’ve been creating (in and outside Portal) to consider Amanda’s examples and suggestions of strengthening our magic systems.

The Part of Portal art exhibition was open in Part of Things throughout the weekend too. It featured works from Alysha Herrmann, Sam Wannan, Stuart Watkinson, Kat Bell, Adi Hogg and me (Kirste Vandergiessen) — varying from artwork, written stories and games.

Primarily, Portal was an in-person event, but while our workshops were underway, we commissioned some other regional South Australian writers to tell us the stories of the times they encountered an Australian-inspired fantasy creature. Maddy Nyp, Bri Boyington, Johanna Sanders, Kat Bell, Britnie Hocking, Olivia Aston, Kimjurin Vurtha and Shania Richards took turns writing live in Google Docs, where people could jump into the link and watch the stories come to life. You can find all finished pieces here.

Portal was the most wonderful opportunity to talk to old friends, hunt down some new ones, guide our new and emerging creatives into that strong community, connecting everyone together, offer helping hands and support for their future projects and careers. We learned and we were inspired by our incredible community, shared about the things that we are passionate about, and each and every person participated in impactful conversations.

These events and workshops evoked some really rich and significant conversations. From the 1-on-1s to the big group, we showed passion for our personal projects, the possibility of future projects and collaborations, careers and beginnings of journeys — and having the permission to chase after those things.

Thank you to everyone who was involved and to everyone who supported, each of you made this such a highlighting moment of the year.

– Kirste x

This event was presented by the Writers SA No Limits: Young Regional Writers program and aimed at regional writers under 30, however writers from all ages and locations are very welcome to our program.

If you have any questions about this project, please contact Riverland Coordinator, Kirste Vandergiessen ([email protected])

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