New York Part 2: The Readers Studio (a.k.a The Majorly Life Changing Experience!)

For Part 1 of my New York adventure go here.

On Friday April 24 of this year I walked into the New York LaGuardia Airport Marriott Hotel, where the biggest tarot conference in the world – the Readers Studio – was to be held.

'Twas a fine Spring day!

‘Twas a fine Spring day!

I checked in at the front desk and then prepared myself to discover… whatever there is to be discovered at a tarot conference. This was my first conference and I had no idea. Oh my goodness, had I found myself in the right place at the right time! But I didn’t know that yet. I walked over to the registration table, where, in honour of my first-timer-at-Readers-Studio-status, I was serenaded with a yodelling “WELCome!” (for the next hour, yodelling was heard many more times… there were quite a few newbies it turned out), and was handed an envelope full of information about the weekend.

The official poster was created by Robert M. Place.

The official poster was created by Robert M. Place.

What does one wear when about to enter a room with over 200 tarot readers, none of whom you know? I opted for my bright magenta paisley patterned vintage button-up dress. What does one do when you enter that room, not wanting to appear shy, but rather, cool, calm, and collected? Go forth and buy many tarot decks in under an hour. So many awesome tarot decks! A one-hour-tax-deductible-tarot-extravaganza-shopping–spree!

I walked around purchasing and chatting with the vendors, gently reminding myself that this was no place for my quiet, introverted side. Right now I can hear my friends saying “pfff, what quiet introverted side are you talking about? The one when you are asleep?”, but it does exist, sometimes it does make an outing! And while I fully support its existence at times, I hadn’t travelled 16,000km to have a nice, quiet, introverted time. I wanted to meet my tribe! I wanted to learn! I wanted to introduce my zany side to people I would spend only three days with!

Spotted at the tea area outside the main room. Clearly tarot readers had taken over the hotel!

Spotted at the tea area in the restaurant. Clearly tarot readers had taken over the hotel!

The Readers Studio is actually very well set up for first timers to make sure they feel comfortable straight away. Before the weekend commenced, all the newbies had been contacted by a volunteer Tarot Ambassador, who had been assigned to them to make sure they felt welcome before the event began, and to be their point of contact during the weekend. I felt very lucky to have Carrie Paris as my ambassador, and exchanged a few amusing, excited emails with her before embarking on my adventure.

When I arrived, and had spent up big on tarot cards, I made my way to Carrie’s vendor table where I was greeted most warmly. Carrie was also one of the three main presenters for the weekend, along with Theresa Reed and Ellen Lorenzi-Prince. More about that later.

My tarot deck haul!

My tarot deck haul!

I sat down at one of the many tables, and was warmly welcomed to that table by Dale Howard and Heatherleigh Navarre (who is one of the main presenters for next year’s Readers Studio) who both had me in stitches with their hilarious banter.

When the founders and producers of the Readers Studio – Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone – took to the stage, everyone applauded. They started the proceedings, and when Ruth Ann said, “We’ve got some people who have come from far away… we have someone here from Australia…” I found myself impulsively leaping up, with my right arm pointing up to the sky and yelling “that’s me!” And then I was treated to a massive round of applause and loud cheers, wowzers! The woman from China was also treated to the same uproarious welcome. (At time of writing, there are at least four Australians heading over next year, myself included. Will there be more? Come on my fellow antipodeans, represent! And New Zealanders – I’m looking at you too!)

Ruth Ann & Wald Amberstone

Ruth Ann & Wald Amberstone

When all the first timers were asked to stand out the front of the room (there were 60 of us!), again we were all treated to the same applause and cheers. Way to make people feel special! There were many occasions at the conference where I was struck by and so grateful for the American Enthusiasm. Seriously! There’s nothing like it. I love it!

Then it was time for the foundation readings, where we paired off and gave each other 15 minute readings. We were to revisit these same readings on Sunday, incorporating the new things we had learned during the conference. What happened next was rather astounding to me. My ears started to hear something I had never heard before, and my consciousness started to shake as I wondered, “What is that extraordinary sound?”, before realising what it was: it was the sound of over 200 tarot decks being shuffled. Have you ever heard this sound? Surely this sheer abundance of synchronised tarot deck shuffling was some kind of world record?

My partner for the foundation reading was Sue Weare from Canada, and we were delighted to witness the synchronicity of randomly choosing each other, as we had a lot in common.

After lunch was the first of the master class presentations. Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, creator of the Dark Goddess Tarot, Tarot of the Crone and more, lead us through the elements in the tarot. As readers we usually refer to the minor arcana by their suits – the Pentacles, Cups, Swords and Wands. With Ellen, we explored their corresponding elements – Earth, Water, Air and Fire. I liked it when Ellen said something to the effect of “I’m sick of Swords getting such a bad rap!”, before going on to wax lyrical about the qualities of Air.

By sitting with the elements rather than just the suits, I could feel my understanding of the minor arcana expanding. The elements are so limitless in what they offer – immersing myself in Ellen’s teachings has allowed me to encompass so many more layers of connection into my readings.

It was the Dark Goddess Tarot that first introduced me to Ellen, and then when I discovered that she was to present at the Readers Studio I was like, “well, I have to go.” (realising that Theresa Reed and Carrie Paris were also presenting meant that it would have been sheer and utter madness for me to have stayed home. Imagine if I had stayed home! *shudder!*).

That night I had signed up to have a tarot reading with Nancy Antenucci, who pretty much blew me away from her first sentence. Heavy with wisdom and clear with insight, she engaged with me in a way that still warms my heart, over four months later.

There is so much on at all hours at the Readers Studio, and in the information pack we are advised to ‘take it easy’ to not try and do EVERYTHING, and to take rest as we need to. With Saturday looking completely full with two master class sessions, the dinner banquet and dance party afterwards, I made the decision to have my mornings more relaxed. So instead of waking up super early to fit in an hour’s meditation before heading downstairs for Breakfast Roundtables, I just meditated and missed the roundtables. Which was hard, because they looked like exciting things to attend!

The second master class was with Theresa Reed (The Tarot Lady) who presented a lively class where we explored how to be able to read the tarot under any circumstances. She entertained us with stories from her own experience and led us through practices that could help us in our own reading sessions. At one stage we paired off and were instructed to be each other’s worst client, so we could have the experience of integrating what she was teaching us, whilst under pressure! To top it all off, Theresa delivered excellent information to us whilst there were technical issues with the AV. Essentially, she embodied the theme of her presentation by taking the techie issues in her stride, not breaking the flow at all. When the AV did come back on, she seamlessly introduced the visuals into the class. Then it was standing ovation time! Theresa will be teaching a study group at next years Readers Studio. More about the different study groups on offer, here.

After lunch it was Carrie Paris time! There was such a lovely flow from presenter to presenter – all that was offered was so relevant, and just seemed to stream from one to the other. With Carrie we started to dive deep into connecting with our creative forces. She reminded us to observe the synchronicities when we sit with our clients, and to lean into the unknown.

She asked us a series of questions, using the different suits of the minor arcana to guide us, to help us get closer to removing obstacles that aren’t our client’s or our own. Question after question, layers started to peel away and I remember feeling at first a little nervous at the depths of this process in a room full of people I didn’t know, and then relaxing into the teachings when I realised how strongly Carrie was holding the energy of the room.

I turned at one point to Hilary Parry and said “this is really deep stuff she’s making us do!”, who nodded back at me, eyes wide. We finished the class with soul gazing (where you sit opposite someone and stare into each other’s eyes), which I must admit, in the past I have never really been that into. But with the exercises leading up to it, and with the warmth in the room, I found it a profoundly beautiful experience. I did the gazing with both Theresa Reed and Hilary Parry, and with Hilary we found ourselves smiling at each other as tears rolled down our cheeks, woah! Under the right circumstances, I’ll do it again!

Selfie time with all the main presenters! From left, Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, Theresa Reed and Carrie Paris.

Selfie time with all the main presenters! From left, Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, Theresa Reed and Carrie Paris.

After we had all been thoroughly opened up and loved up by the teachings of all three of these amazing women, it was time for the banquet. People were encouraged to dress up, and it seemed everyone got the memo on that.

Dressing up for the banquet, with Ruth Ann Amberstone and Gina Jean.

Dressing up for the banquet, with Ruth Ann Amberstone and Gina Jean.

We sat down at our tables, ate and talked until the banquet show started, starring Nancy Antenucci, Rhonda Lund and Dan Pelletier. They put on a great play where they starred as the Tower, Death and the Devil who could no longer remember who they were. I loved it!

Nancy Antenucci and Rhonda Lund thoroughly entertained us with their tarot play.

Nancy Antenucci and Rhonda Lund thoroughly entertained us with their tarot play.

And then it was time for the Readers Studio Rave! Those tarot readers sure know how to party – that dance floor was full from the very beginning. We were even given glow sticks on arrival so that it was a proper rave!

Tarot readers, shy? No way! The dance floor was instantly full!

Tarot readers, shy? No way! The dance floor was instantly full!

I found a new use for the glow sticks. Hooray for 12mm ear holes!

I found a new use for the glow sticks. Hooray for 12mm ear holes!

After a while I decided to head back upstairs to the Readers Studio Lounge, where tarot readings were taking place as well as people just hanging about, chatting. There was a most excellent moon prop which of course became a photo shoot for everyone at some point during the weekend. Nancy turned up and we ended up doing very dramatic poses with the moon. Hooray for goofing around with new tarot pals!

Goofing around with Nancy Antenucci :)

Goofing around with Nancy Antenucci 🙂

The next morning was the final day, and we revisited our foundation readings from the first day. It was interesting going back to the same cards, but with new perspectives that we had gained from all we had learned over the weekend.

After the readings we had the Tarot Incubators, which was hosted by James Wells. There were 10 tables with 10 different topics to choose from. There were so many I wanted to participate in, but when I had read the program on the first day I knew I had to go to Heatherleigh Navarre‘s table as her theme was something that I had been thinking about a lot already.

Heatherleigh facilitated a discussion titled ‘Cross-Cultural Tarot’, where she asked us to brainstorm ways we can ‘create and sustain tarot practices that are reflective of a more multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-sexual-identity, and multi-cultural society.’ Powerful stuff! So powerful in fact I am going to do a separate blog post all about it, as it is far too important a subject matter to me to just mention briefly, here.

And then everything came too quickly to an end. We all received certificates, and had the closing ceremony. The presenters for next year were announced: Sasha Graham, Barbara Moore and Heatherleigh Navarre. I was actually kind of annoyed when I heard who was going to present, because I knew that now I couldn’t resist coming next year! The night before I had been chatting with Wald Amberstone in the Readers Studio Lounge, and I had said to him I wanted to come again, but probably not next year, as it is such a long way to come. Famous last words!

So come again I shall, I have registered for the conference, and I’ve also been asked to lead one of the breakfast roundtables, along with Andrew McGregor from Toronto. You can see the themes we have chosen here. I am excited to have this opportunity, and can’t wait to connect with all my tarot pals again.

After dinner with some of the tarot crew, it was home to the hotel to sleep (via a cup of tea at the bar), and then the next day I caught a cab back into Manhattan. Back to the Carlton Arms Hotel and all its eccentric wonder!

Walls and doors at the Carlton Arms hotel.

Walls and doors at the Carlton Arms hotel.

I managed to get to the Bjork exhibition at MOMA, where I happily relived my teenage years (being spared of the angst this time around).

Bjork MOMA

Bjork! Oh, Bjork.

Then I saw a sign advertising a Gilbert and George exhibition. I stopped in my tracks and said “WOW!” really loudly, and drew attention to myself as I happily skipped over to the sign to then stop and go “Oh. It opens next week”. Sigh. Hopefully the exhibition travels to Australia!

Gilbert & George

So close yet so far! For now I shall have to be content with hearing them speak at the Art Gallery of NSW back in 2010. They were amazing! So eloquent, so funny. After they left the stage I jumped up on stage and drank from their glasses of water! I am a true fangirl 🙂

On the final day, the resident cat at the Carlton Arms came into my room to say goodbye to my thongs. Then the other cat came in and they had a small fight so I had to shoo them out so I could pack in peace.Carlton Arms Cat

Carlton Arms II

More excellent art on the walls and doors of the Carlton Arms!

I was blessed by the plane fairies on the way home. From New York to LA I had two seats to myself, and then from LA to Sydney I had three seats to myself – score! It was the first time I had ever lain flat on a plane, and I even managed to sleep for a bit (with some wildly crazy dreams). My partner was waiting for me at Sydney airport, and she also managed to tee up a lift for our friend who had just arrived home from India. When we dropped him off he invited us in for homemade chai, bliss!

Not long after this photo was taken, I got a cold and then food poisoning! But that's another story, and a rather dull one at that!

Not long after this photo was taken, I got a cold and then food poisoning! But that’s another story, and a rather dull one at that!

If you love the tarot and haven’t booked yet for the Readers Studio, hop to it! May you find the way to get there so that you can grow and expand in all manner of exciting ways. I highly doubt you’ll regret it!

© Sarah Barry ~ Tarot Readings with Psychic Sarah 2015

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