Society for Storytelling’s featured teller

Posted: March 22nd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Amy Bell from The Society for Storytelling interviewed me, and you can read about it here. It was really nice to see the SfS giving memberships to winners at Young Storyteller of the Year as well, that sort of support is grand.

For those of you who missed Young Storyteller of the Year, you can catch up videos of them telling here. I saw Ed Croft at Story Nights Torriano a few days after he was commended on his performance at YSotY. That night saw myself, Ed and Wilf Mertens all in the same venue, and it was powerful to be a part of the progression of artists who have had been catapulted by the competition into the world of storytelling. Ed was on form that night, he told a version of Mr Fox which I rate as one of the best I’ve ever heard.

I’m going to include the complete copy of the interview I did for Amy in the comments, just in case there’s any other details here of interest!

2 Comments on “Society for Storytelling’s featured teller”

  1. 1 Tim Ralphs said at 1:39 pm on March 22nd, 2013:

    Why do you choose to use the myths and old tales that you do in your work? For example, how did you come to use the legend of Gilgamesh for your show with Simon Heywood?

    What a great question! If I’m honest, I think that when you’ve spent enough time sunk into old stories, buried in books and listening to folktales it’s impossible for them not to influence your work. I tell a story about someone playing scrabble with the Devil, seemingly modern in tone, but the motifs in it are ancient; there’s a section lifted from the Arabian tale “The Tongue of the Dead” and there are some classic Devil-outwitting shenanigans throughout. After enough exposure to old stories I feel like they infuse everything I turn out. It was traditional tales that I started out listening to when I first came across storytelling, and there’s a power, a resonance in them that’s very compelling.

    With Gilgamesh, I’d been commissioned by “Stories from The Tree of Life” to work on a piece, and I asked Simon Heywood to come on board with me. I outlined the themes of the commission, and he told me a quick version of The Epic of Gilgamesh in the pub we were sat in. Good stories transcend their setting, they touch the universal parts of human experience, and as soon as I heard the tale I knew that we had to tell it together.

    The Queen Of The Court Of Claywood Flats also updates traditional tales and puts them into an urban setting – what was the inspiration for this?

    I do a lot of work adapting traditional stories to urban settings, in fact I’m working on a new show at the moment, “Rebranding Beelzebub”, that is an hour of devil stories in everyday places. Urban fantasy and magical realism are established genres, and so it wasn’t a bold or particularly imaginative step for me to take. That said, I find a lot oral tellers who are doing modern adaptations of fairytales make their changes for comic effect, which is fine, but my own agenda is to tell the tale in way that feels authentic.

    With The Queen of the Court of Claywood Flats, I took quite direct inspiration from Jenna Moran’s epic and still unfinished work, Hitherby Dragons. I’m always a little wary when I mention Moran, because Hitherby Dragons is vast and can be quite hard to get into. What she does is weave stories together, putting them on her website a bit at a time, and over the years of reading Hitherby Dragons the intricacies of the narrative weave become visible. It’s incredibly fun. That was exactly what I wanted for The Queen of Claywood Flats, to slowly bring disparate stories together until it was clear they were all happening in one world, our world, and that everything fits together.

    How did you come to storytelling originally – was it something that’s always appealed to you since childhood, or did you get to it a bit later in life?

    My parents were really into the folk scene, and I used to get taken to folk festivals as a child. I’d sit and listen to the tellers at places like Towersey, and then on the car journeys home I’d babble the stories back to my Dad while he was driving, and I think they all sort of stuck.

    Following on from that, why did you decide to become a storyteller?

    Oh, it was a very gradual thing. I started a storytelling club in my school library when I was in my teens. My other Dad worked in a museum, and I did odd performances there. In 2006 things got a bit more serious, Graham Langley saw me at the hiring fair in Whitby and asked me to be in Young Storyteller of the Year in 2007. I had a great time, met some wonderful people, and the competition in turn lead to more opportunities and things just trundled along. I was still working full time for Sheffield Council until last December, so I don’t know that I’ve really found my feet as a professional or anything. Why do I do it? Because I love the stories. Because I love the artform, the simplicity of one person talking to another and the absolute treasury of experience that comes from that.

    Which of your previous shows or performances are you most proud of?

    Tough question! I have a particular soft spot for a spot I did at The Soho Theatre once, one of the seeds for Rebranding Beelzebub. There was a moment in the story when a woman summons the Devil to sell her soul, she recites the Lord’s Prayer backwards. It’s a black box stage, and I had a prior arrangement with the techie that at that point in the story he’d cut the lights. The whole soul selling scene took place in pitch darkness. I was very happy with how that turned out! Then there are occasions when I’ve found myself on stage with people like Dovie Thomason and Hugh Lupton, tellers who first filled me full of tales when I was young, and there’s something incredibly powerful about sharing space with them as a peer. It still makes me shiver thinking about it!

    What do you find most challenging about your performances, or developing them?

    Oh, that’s easy! Isolation. Storytelling is a lonely thing sometimes. There’s a gulf between first deciding to work on a story and then telling it to a paying audience, and in that gulf it’s easy to feel adrift when all you really need is someone to listen to you saying the words out loud. It’s a very common situation, and part of why helping each other out is so important to tellers. It’d be really interesting to see some creative solutions to the problem of isolation. I it’s a part of Joanne Blake-Cave’s Phd, and I’m really interested to know what she comes up with. I keep meaning to start a club on skype dedicated to providing a critical space for other tellers. It’ll happen soon.

    What are your plans for the future? Any new shows being developed, or big performances coming up?

    I am always working on new shows! I have about five or six on the back burner, I want to tell Don Quixote, I’m working with Sheffield University as part of their “Hidden Perspectives” festival to explore queer themes in the Old Testament. In stark contrast, there’s the dark hilarity of Rebranding Beelzebub that I’ll be telling a lot this summer. So many great stories!

    Right now, I really want to work on and improve my craft, so there’s lots of reflection, lots of voice work. I found myself at a rapping workshop last weekend just to see what lessons I could glean there. It’d be great to get some mentoring from some of the elders in our world, there are great, great depths to the practice of storytelling and in so many ways I’m just taking my first steps.

    Finally – what does storytelling mean to you?

    It means that we are not separate entities. Whatever the perceived boundary between us, we can both share in this imagined space, this imagined place. We can conjure these fictitious characters and they can stir our hearts together. Storytelling is about connecting on a profound level, something that underpins our humanity. It’s an honour to be taking part.

  2. 2 Tim Ralphs said at 1:47 pm on March 22nd, 2013:

    On that Tuesday in Torriano, I informed Ed about the curse that he now labours under. A curse shared with myself, Ruthie Boycott-Garnett and others, which is that he is going to be accidentally introduced as the Young Storyteller of the Year for the rest of his career, leaving him with that difficult moment on stage of having to either go with it or interrupt everything and admit that he was only commended.

    The curse is very real and lively! Amy’s first draft of the interview had me listed as winning Young Storyteller of the Year in 2007, when I was commended but Rachel Rose Reid too the title. It’s all good fun, and it’s a sign of how big the pool the talent coming out of the competition is that the runners up have their own, albeit light-hearted, mark of shared experience.

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