Storytelling hunger

The storytelling yurt at Nottingham’s Old Market Square

I recently had the luxury of getting funds from the European Commission to curate and deliver Sound of Stories, a 3 day storytelling programme as part of Night of Festivals 2012 in Nottingham. The project was part of the London 2012 Festival that accompanies the countdown to the Olympic Games later this month and continues until 9 September . But as great as it may sound, without the support and trust of ArtReach’s Director, David Hill, clearly my input in this event would have never happened, so thank you so much.

Thanks to the vision of ArtReach, the storytelling took place in an incredible Mongolian yurt which made the whole experience fascinating as the atmosphere was simply perfect. I couldn’t ask for a better setting to enjoy tales from all over the world, and celebrate the spoken word that makes this world such an incredible place to live in. The programme looked great on paper, but the talent of my team of storytellers completely blew me away. Mike Payton, Helen Appleton, Rachel Murray, Kasper Sorensen, Francine Vidal and Claire Harisson-Bullet from Compagnie Caracol were the key players in making this adventure such a great success.

When it comes to storytelling, technology, visual aid and any other form of external support is absolutely irrelevant. The only tool needed is people’s will to let their imagination flow and to make this happen the storyteller has in its hands a huge challenge: to keep people’s attention. What happened for three days inside that yurt was going back to the origins to enjoy the incredibly beautiful art of simply telling a story.

Here’s a sneaky look at the magic happening in the yurt:

The extraordinary Rachel Murray performing in the yurt

The experience left a very big impression in me. I curated the programme assuming that the potential audience would exposed to culture on a regular basis. I simply did. I believed that children and people in general were familiar with storytelling as a form of cultural activity because our everyday life is full of narratives! Films, TV dramas, the news or the paper, even advertising are constantly telling us stories. But I guess reality is a very different story.

Three different Nottingham Primary schools booked the morning slots to hear African, European and Asian tales. But what really struck me was to see many of those children coming back on Saturday with their families. You may think that obviously they enjoyed it very much and wanted to hear more and to be sure, I asked.  A combination of feelings came to me when a girl aged 10 told me that no one had told her stories before so there she was with her sister.  I started wondering what happens in those families at bed time and at the same time felt very stupid for not even thinking that this scenario could be possible. How could I overlook the fact that there are many children who have no bedtime stories! Children with no grandparents to tell them about the family history and those curious facts that come with our ancestors.

There, before my eyes, as I saw the queue getting longer, I realised that what I was looking at was nothing but storytelling hunger in people incredibly keen to hear more and more tales. It was not about children only, it also included those adults who quietly asked me if they could also get in, eagerly and excited as everybody else to hear a story. In a world where art and culture rely so much on technology is easy to forget that sometimes less is more. That is ok to be in your 60s and walk into a yurt to hear a Korean tale and enjoy it.

I just hope that every single person who came to the yurt at the Old Market Square in Nottingham on 21, 22 and 23 of June left with a memorable experience that will give them something to talk about. I also wish that those parents who never tell their children stories perhaps felt inspired to do so in the near future.  Sound of Stories opened my eyes that there is an alarming need to slow down, wake up and smell the coffee. It is possible… try storytelling.