Your Hidden Hero: Outreach project for Cheltenham Poetry Festival

Posted: September 26, 2020 in Books + Literacy, It's Personal, Performance Art + Spoken Word, Uncategorized

Headshot of Chloë showing weight loss and undiagnosed illnessIn April 2018, three weeks before I was hauled into hospital for emergency surgery, I completed a storytelling workshop project for Cheltenham Poetry Festival.
Today I found that I wrote this account of it:

When ordinary life scares you rigid, imagine what order of heroism is required to step up and tell a story – live without notes – even to a handful of people you know.

I’m Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers and I’ve been a gabby, über confident diva since I was four. Since 1999 I’ve worked full time as a performance storyteller.

But I remember when I was just as terrified of public speaking as anybody else. And for forty years I’ve experienced phases of not handling the world very well.

Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2018 invited me to deliver an Outreach programme to people supported by the Independence Trust in managing their mental health issues, notably anxiety. I wanted to deliver workshops that I hoped would help empower participants to break free of habitual thought patterns and explore happier scenarios: to discover their own ‘hidden hero’.

Positive fantasies

I workshopped with the group to develop their storytelling skills and devise pieces for performance. We based ideas on a folktale or fairytale of their choice; or they could create an original story. Many of the group already took part in drama and creative writing sessions run by Independence Trust. They were up for something new.

Above all I encouraged the group to create positive fantasies in which the hero was an aspect of the person at their very best – confident, capable, feeling good. I hoped it would be a chance for some participants to step into the imaginative opposite of their regular experience.

Working with traditional story allows people to explore ideas at a safe emotional distance – story action happens to a fictional character not to themselves. Most participants adapted fairy tales. And two people created moving, original stories.

Huge achievement

Five participants braved the microphone at our third workshop, a recording session at Independence Trust’s music studio.

Part of the challenge was to complete the story devising and rehearse in personal time. It was also seriously daunting for some of this group to speak in front of other people let alone into a microphone, and it was a huge achievement that they did it.

The final performance and recording took place in April 2018 at Independence Trust music studio. Four people spoke live. Two recordings were played.

Stories presented were:

A Brave Little Girl – This Red Riding Hood boldly enters the forest and sorts out the wolf.

Blue Roving Hood – A Red Riding Hood who wins the day despite being tricked into taking drugs; plus a woodcutter with caring good sense.

Cinderella Story – Cinders leaves home and starts her own business.

Moving On – Original fiction about the conflict between family duty and life changing romance.

The Little Tree – Original fiction, styled like a folktale and enhanced with mini puppets.

Bra, Knickers & Beanstalk – Benny Hill style romp through the Jack & the Beanstalk fairytale, complete with naughty names and magic mushroom dream.

For some of the group, summoning the courage to attend the event was already a big success. For others, quietly telling a four minute story with only a couple of glances at notes was quite simply a heroic triumph.

You can tell I’m proud of them all, can’t you? I’m also hugely grateful to Hugo Poyser at Independence Trust for his kind and energetic support, and to Anna Saunders / Cheltenham Poetry Festival for giving me the opportunity to deliver the project.

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