Posts Tagged ‘Story Cabaret’

Amid the fury and political stench of the battle for Gloucestershire’s libraries, it was a relief to turn my attention to the 10th anniversary of National Storytelling Week.

Six storytellers from across Gloucestershire, plus me, squeezed into a BBC Radio studio to record mini interviews and 5 minute tales. Some spoke of the oral tradition; some told of new work; one spun an outrageous Hollywood-style fictitious origin of his interest in storytelling… We’re storytellers: what d’you expect?!

NSW events across the county also reflected the mixed fortunes of modern storytelling. Two ‘tellers masked their disappointment as best they could at the paltry turn-out for their evening in a rural library. Free of charge, too. As often happens, the small audience were swept away by the magic and sheer other-ness of the stories. In a delicious touch of reality-swap, the cherries from one tale appeared on a plate for us audience to nosh at the interval.

My own NSW performance was packed out, partly because people in that little town have the habit of enjoying events at their local library – Aha! Another good thing in a LIBRARY! D’you sense a theme here?! – and probably partly because we gave away gourmet chocolate… Radio mentions and good networking probably helped double the expected numbers for the final NSW Gloucestershire event at Stroud’s Museum in the Park, where the storyteller themed her tales to match an exhibition about the tradition of weaving in the Stroud valleys.

Even as the last syllables of NSW floated away, I sent myself on a training course. It was an extension of Bristol’s NSW Storytelling Festival (noted for packing in young, funky audiences) and the 2 days were led by top notch modern storyteller Michael Harvey. He’s been wowing audiences with ‘Hunting the Giant’s Daughter’, a fiery and entrancing Welsh legend complete with hilarious heroic lists and jazz in Welsh.

Continuous professional development for storytellers is.. different. Mind and body get stretched. For me, the course couldn’t have come at a better time: I’m starting to work with very different, very new material and Michael was opening up new ways of bringing stories to life in our own re-tellings. Mind you, I swear there were sharp intakes of breath when the other storytellers worked out what my new story is about…

Oh dear. Looks like I’m going to break the rules again.

  • National Storytelling Week happens in the last week of January/first week of Febrary, Saturday to Saturday
  • Details of the Gloucestershire storytellers involved are in my previous posting ‘Babble On 7’ [26 January 2011]
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…Would have a career! Here I am mixing up a potent cocktail of performance skills: from high drama to stand-up comedy with the odd moment of pure poetry. Making some people drift into dreamland, and some reach for the sick-bag.
(Hmm.. A new ad theme? – Chloe’s work kicks like a Moscow Mule, sparkles like vintage Veuve Cliquot, and is salty round the edges with a worm at the end!?!)

But because I’m a ‘storyteller’ – oh dear, it’s got that nasty childy mocking whine of stor-y-Jacka-Nor-y.  And I’m dead.  No English theatre, no trendy venue, no hip broadcaster wants to put  ‘ickle floaty-birdy-pretty-bunny kiddyfodder in their main schedule! Because that’s all they can imagine storytelling to be!

It is set in stone for entertainment agencies, venue bookers, broadcasters and the general public that ‘storytelling’ is for 5-year-olds. They cannot fathom the idea of Story Cabaret packed with gripping narrative designed to entertain adults.  I cannot meet someone for the first time and be introduced as a storyteller without them gushing Oh How Lovely, D’you Go Into Schools?

It makes me want to do to them what the Japanese storm god does to his sister’s pet pony…
Not nice. Lots of blood.

My latest Story Cabaret (aha! trying another name, see?) at National Trust property Hidcote Manor was sold out. The definitely grown-up and indeed sophisticated audience contained not one person who’d experienced performance storytelling before.  (I asked.)  They’d only come to the show because it was called ‘Tales of Lust & Chocolate’ and frankly anyone with a pulse would come to that.

Even the event organizer was startled by how spellbinding a story show can be. In one hour we experienced naughtiness, heartbreak, temptation and scary trickery. The audience laughed, blushed, grieved and shuddered – sometimes to the same story.

Good spoken-word stories are emotionally powerful and thought provoking. Traditional stories can seem simple; yet they deal with the whole smeary rainbow of human behaviour. New stories – eg urban myths, and the much-maligned-until-recently personal stories – highlight our age, our world, in all its absurdity and contradictions.

Now, do you still think this material is suitable only for 5-year-olds?