The Room Behind the Bookcase ~ Episode 4 ~ Epic Weekend 2014: The Iliad

Posted: March 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Podcast | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

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The intro music was from Hymir’s Maidens used you as a trough by Prometheus Project. The podcast featured Christine Cooper and Tom as well as audio clips from Tom Goodale, Mark Wainwright, Liz Cruze, Tara Hartley, Stephe Harrop, Tim Ralphs and Jill Barr.

The Room Behind the Bookcase – Making it your own

Posted: February 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Podcast | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

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Want to make a traditional story your own when you tell it? We ask Nell Phoenix how. Show notes in the comments.

Storycast – The Thieves’ Daughter

Posted: April 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Podcast | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

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The intro music was from Hymir’s Maidens used you as a trough by Prometheus Project. The outro music taken from Death Jig by Sharron Kraus.

The Room Behind the Bookcase – Contemporary & Traditional

Posted: April 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Podcast | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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Show notes in the comments.

Mimesis and Diegesis

Posted: March 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Blog | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

‘Mimesis’ and ‘Diegesis’ are two terms from drama and narrative theory that I tend to use a lot, so I thought I’d take a moment to explain them here.

To put it simply, both mimesis and diegesis describe ways of presenting a story. In mimesis, the story is acted out. In diegesis, the story is narrated. Mimesis is show. Diegesis is tell.

Most film and television stories are mimesis. The audience and the actors are engaged in an elaborate game of pretend—a contract that expects the actors to behave as if they really are the character. The audience, for their part, is invited to suspend their disbelief, to forget the many layers of artifice and experience the story as if was in some way real. The film or program may help this with powerful, believable acting, a spectacle of special effects and convincing costume. These great efforts are expended because, for the audience to have an emotional experience arising from the mimesis, they need a sense of authenticity. They need to trust and believe that what they are seeing is, after a fashion, a reality.

The phenomenon is even more interesting in theatre. The lights drop, the curtains rise, and once again audience and performers are united in an artistic pact. On the one side, the performers portray a playwright’s script as if the memorised lines were spontaneous and their own. On the other side of the fourth wall, the audience act as if they were not sitting in a crowd of acquaintances. Instead, they almost behave as if they themselves do not exist. They become part of the play of theatre, the game whereby backdrops and props indicate and create an imaginary world. If the game is well done the audience’s experience of that world can be as profound, ecstatic or cathartic as anything the real world can offer. If you’re willing to wave that fake knife around as if you really mean it, the audience member unconsciously agrees, I’ll feel a real sense of dread that you’ll stab King Duncan.

But Mimesis asks more of its audience than simply to believe in an imaginary world. Indeed, all narrative invites the listener into an imaginary world. The distinctive feature of mimesis is that the audience experiences the story as playing out in front of them. The imaginary world does not exist at a distance—it is neither long ago nor in a galaxy far away, it is on this screen, this stage, immediate and immanent, for as long as the story takes.

Photo by Theefer

Diegesis, in contrast, is pure narration. It is a story told, rather than acted. Novels provide an obvious example. A book may contain the tale of carnivorous horses on an alien planet, but at no point does C J Cherryh’s “Rider at the Gate” actually pretend to be any of those things. At no point will the pages bite at my fingers. (I should say that I am only up to page 217, so maybe there are surprises to come.)

Obviously as a storyteller I work almost entirely with diegesis. Between the “Once upon a time” and the “happily ever after.” I invite my listeners to join me on an imaginary journey, but I do not expect them to experience it as actually happening in front of them.

Diegesis, so the school children in Rainham explained to me when I introduced them to the term, requires you to use your imagination more than mimesis, and is more powerful as a result. There’s some truth in that:- the cinema of the mind has the most compelling of special effects, with artistry and budget constraints handed over to the listener. I remember talking to audience members about a particular monster from a Dovie Thomason story. One woman described how the monster was a childhood terror she knew from growing up, a thing that had lived in her garden pond, a creature of scales and teeth with murderous intentions. She marvelled at how Dovie had managed to bring to life this creature that had been buried under decades of memory. In truth, the detailed description of the monster that the listener was able to give hardly matched Dovie’s broad brush strokes at all. The teller had offered a canvas and the listener had painted their own deep fears. The diegesis is what is told and that means making critical decisions about what to leave untold.

Because it allows us to simply state outright the point we’re trying to convey in the story, Diegesis allows us to be more economical than mimesis. This character, I can say, was up all night worrying. The director has to show the character removing their glasses, rubbing their eyes, lines on their face. The script writer may even engineer a chance for a little exposition.

Are you okay?

Sorry, I was up all night worrying.

And yet having said this, there is an incredible power in the insight that mimesis requires of us. We end a scene with a character awake, pacing the room, night outside. We start a new scene with them slumped at a table, still dressed but now slightly unkempt, removing their glasses to rub at bleary, red eyes. On some deep level, the audience clicks. ah ha! they think, realising that time has passed They were up all night worrying. They still haven’t had any news. I bet they’re really tired. That insight into the underlying story is part of what makes mimesis enchanting. In many ways the greatest hook mimesis has is the way the audience creates the narrative from what they are shown. It is for this reason that so much creative advice boils down to “show and don’t tell.” It’s not just that the opposite leads to clumsy, exposition-heavy dialogue. It’s because of the enchantment of insight that draws the audience into a story well shown. Of course, it’s perfectly possible to leave space for insight in diegesis, in telling a tale, and there may well be another blog post about that in the future.

On the other end of the spectrum of economy, diegesis also allows us to take our time. A novel can linger over a character’s emotions, thoughts, memories, histories, perceptions and expectations in ways that mimetic artforms struggle to replicate. Indeed, it is one of the features of mimesis that it tends to take place in real time. There may be cuts between scenes, but when an actor recites a scripted line it takes them exactly as long as it takes their character. When they walk down a corridor and we watch them go, time in the world of the story and time in the world of the portrayal are in synch. Each second of screen time is a second of the audience’s time as well. How long does a novel linger over the space of a few seconds? As long as the author deems necessary. She is free from the tyranny of a constantly shifting now.

Photo by Lin Kristensen

And there are further subtleties to both. Shakespeare loved a play within a play; mimesis within mimesis. A character in a play may tell a story; diegesis within mimesis. Likewise a storyteller may step into character stance, may speak in the character’s voice, and suddenly a little moment of mimesis occurs.

Beyond diegesis, the storyteller also has the option of talking to the audience directly. Ben Haggerty calls this “The language of commentary”, but then clarifies that everything, including for example the clothes the storyteller wears to tell their tale, is commentary on the story. I’m being a little more specific. I describe the act of a teller pausing in their narration to address the audience directly as stepping into “commentator stance.” It may be as brief as a knowing look toward the audience that says “we all know what’s going on here!” But it is outside the diegesis, in the world that the teller and the audience share, not the world of the story.

The truth, as is probably becoming clear, is that diegesis and mimesis are not distinct labels that can be exclusively applied to each narrative expression. They are a spectrum on which different artforms and performances exist at intervals. A graphic novel encompasses both in every panel. A film director who uses a voice over embeds a little diegesis in their work. A writer who summarises a whole conversations in a few lines rather than directly reporting the speech makes medium already strongly diegetic even more so by telling about the character’s words rather than showing them writ long.

Diegesis. Mimesis. That’s how I’ll be using the words here.

In which Tim mostly talks about robots…

Posted: June 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

Slowly but surely I’m building the Booking Information page. There should now be details up for my performance of The Court of the Queen of Claywood Flats. It is one of my favourite shows and I’m hoping that I’ll still be able to tour it for years to come.

On an unrelated note, I’ve been thinking about robots a lot lately. They have a seminal place in my love of stories dating back to the letters my step-father wrote to me as a child. I was young when my mother remarried. As an adult I wonder what it must have been like for my step-father to fall for a woman who came with a small, ticklish, sickly, know-it-all son attached. He moved away for a few months at the start of a new job, living in a bedsit while we sorted out the process of moving to join him. These were tentative times, early in our relationship, and there are few roadmaps written on how you’re meant to fashion a father-son bond.

I had given him a lego spaceman and robot to keep him company at work. He wrote me stories, the adventures that he’d overheard the spaceman dictating to his companion. I was too young to read his handwriting, which being “joined-up” seemed to hardly resemble the letters I was learning. My mother read them aloud to me instead. Now, as an adult, I haul them out from under my bed and what strikes me most is the gentleness in them.

I don’t normally tell stories from my own life or experiences, but this little exchange between myself and my step-dad forms a nice introduction to a tale I tell about the museum he worked in. The story will feature in my upcoming show Re-branding Beelzebub TM, which I’m hoping to tour in 2013. The show brings together of a pack of urban devil stories that have slithered their way into my repertoire without any sort of intent on my part, and I’ll try and keep you up to date here on the show’s progress.

But back to robots. Has anyone seen Richard Sargent’s Where’s Wall-E? picture that’s doing the rounds on facebook? It’s a great medley of popular robots. Enjoy it. See how many of them you remember. I’d like to put a shout out, though, to two of my favourite synthetic creations that didn’t make it onto Sargent’s image.

One is the incredible The One Electonic, or Mr T.O.E., from Evan Dahm’s Riceboy webcomic. This humanoid machine is a trench-coat wearing, hard smoking, film noir bad-ass. The One Electronic is on a quest to find the fulfiller of an ancient prophecy. He’s made a deal (possibly with God,) that as long as he keeps on the quest he is effectively immortal, but that as soon as he abandons the quest he’ll die. Riceboy is gorgeous and I particularly like the art for The One Electronic, whose face shows occasional images like a TV set hunting for an analogue signal. Furthermore, Riceboy is finished, a feature I usually approve of in a webcomic. The ending seemed a bit abrupt to me, but that hasn’t put me off T.O.E. and I hope you’ll be just as impressed by him as well. First page is right here.

The second robot I want to present to you all is Navvy Jim. He could never have made Sargent’s poster because he only ever appeared in text, as a part of the bizarre but wondrous world of Jenna Moran’s Hitherby Dragons. Hitherby Dragons is likely to be the subject of a whole blog post from me at some point, when I can fathom sufficient hyperbole to begin to describe it. It is, in its way and as far as I’m aware, the single greatest work ever composed in the English language. It is also flawed, inaccessable, geeky, monstrously vast, unfinished and very hard to recommend to people. However, a great taste of the epic is a short series of three linked stories written in May 2006 called The Dynamite Trilogy. Navvy Jim is the eponymous star of the first part, he is a Rock-Paper-Scissors playing robot so good at the game that he always wins. Always. In this short series, Moran captures the beautiful, alien and compassionate quality of the impossible mechanical being. He turns up in the third part as well, where he is awesome.

Anyway, that’s enough about robots and that’s all from me for now. Him downstairs and I need to have a long chat about this show we seem to be crafting together. Until next time!

What’s been keeping Tim Ralphs busy?

Posted: March 29th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Things have been pretty quiet around here. I’ve finally got around to putting a show description up under the “Booking information” page. You can see that here.

This year I’ve got some crazy storytelling projects on the go. I’ve started running lectures and seminars for Sheffield University in the use of narrative techniques for presenting research. They are aimed at Phd students and early careers researchers, and thus far it’s been really good to share my passion with people looking to share their passions.

I’m also involved in a project to learn every story from The Pentamerone in order. It’s a feat of memory indeed! You can keep up with my progress on Twitter, @TimRalphs and there’ll probably be a show based on The Tale of Tales coming out in 2013.

Lastly, I’m working on a very secret project that has me getting up at six in the morning. It’s too soon to share exactly what that is, but I’m really excited!

The Skeletal Village, (2/3)

Posted: May 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

One of the things I want to do here, on this site, is talk openly about the practice and craft of storytelling. I am at that stage in my development where I’m shedding the mantle of being a young storyteller, of being an emergent artist, and looking to stand amongst my peers in my own right. From where I am it’s painfully obvious to me that there’s a lack of resources available for people looking to grow as tellers. So I’ll be taking this opportunity to talk a little about the lessons I’ve learned, as much to get them straight in my head as anything else. If it leads to dialogue, or if anyone else learns anything, then that’s brilliant!

I won’t start with performance or language, these things aren’t my forte. To begin with I intend to put together a series of brief essays on the subject of crafting, of structuring, of putting stories together. These are lessons that are important, especially to someone looking to work as a teller professionally, because they ensure that our repertoires are really our own, that we know our material, that we are bringing stories back to the village to share and that we are serving them up in new, engaging, relevant ways.

I can’t remember from whom I first heard the metaphor, Ben Lehman probably. When you find a story in a collection or summarised on Wikipedia or the like, you find its bones. Written down, raggedly, scratched in the dirt. Brief and pointless and dead. But these stories are incredibly important to us. If we find them preserved in this ragged, skeletal fashion, rather than hearing them whole and vital from other tellers, then that means they may be missing from the collected canon of tales in circulation round the village. We have an obligation to perform a little necromancy.

So the craft of storytelling is the art of putting those bones together, of wrapping them in flesh, of making them come alive, dance and entrance the listeners. It may be as light as giving proper emphasis to some parts of the story in order to put a pulse into the tale. It may be adding or embellishing description or deciding whose point of view the narrative should follow. However, sometimes the process will be much more rigorous, and we will need to think about how the emotional arc is pulling the story, graft more than one tale together, or build up character motivations from little more than dust. What’s important is that all the decisions we make about the structure of a story, as Loren Neimi repeatedly makes clear in his The Book of Plots, should be deliberate and considered, and we should be aware of the importance and impact of the choices we make on the telling.

So before we continue, let’s ask how much can we change and work our material. What permissions do we have to adapt our tales, and what obligations do we have to the story? I’ll expand on this further when I talk about life in the Cannibal Village, but for now I want to share some of the insight I gleamed while reading Mariah Tartar’s The Classic Fairy Tales.

In this collection Tartar very deliberately takes four or five common versions of well known fairy tales and offers them up alongside one another. So, for example, under the section for Beauty and the Beast we find de Beaumont’s Beauty and The Beast, Straparola’s The Pig King, the Brothers Grimm’s The Frog King, Angela Carter’s The Tiger’s Bride and several others, along with commentary about what makes these different versions distinct and references to similar tales like East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

These different versions are just that: different and radically so. It’s hard in some cases to even say what fundamental quality of the story is preserved when narrative premise, beastial imagery and every single aspect of the tale seem mutable from one version to the next. And yet what we can learn here is that the boundaries which a single story can explore without losing its fundamental identity are very wide indeed. We have permission to adapt, to change, to twist and to reconsider our stories to an alarming degree, as long as we do so to the betterment and relevance of the performances we give.

Our work is very different from that of the great anatomist Cuvier, who allegedly could see exactly how a whole animal must have appeared from a single bone. There is no definite creature we are making when we reconstruct our bones, we may have too many bones or bones from more than one original creature. Thus the choices that need making are ours to make, the artistic decisions ours to own, and we must not shy away from them.

And the resulting stories are ours to tell.

Daniel Morden discusses the art of storytelling

Posted: April 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

Good clip of Daniel Morden and Sarah Moody!

“It’s a sort of cinema of the mind.” Gorgeous stuff! And he’s a very fine gentleman as well.

Being paid to tell stories, 2009-2010

Posted: April 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

I have a day job. It’s an in-the-office, 9-5, pay-the-rent, J-O-B job. (Thanks to Dovie Thomasin for drawing that distinction!) And, like so many people right now, my position has been classified as “at risk” and I may be facing unemployment in the next few months.

It’s not a particularly surprising situation, I don’t think anyone’s job is secure in the current economic climate. What has surprised me is the number of people who have said that this may be my chance to “go pro” and try and make my living working as a full time storyteller. I even had another teller, one who does use storytelling as their principle income, explain to me that I was working in some very prestigious, very highly paid circles, and that I should surely be able to make a modest living doing the work I do.

A full time storyteller, living by my wits and skill! It’s a glorious dream. And maybe, in future decades, it’s something that I might be able to pull off, but it’s not really an option right now. What I thought I’d do here is unpack the misconception about the world of performance storytelling, which accounts for the majority of work that I do.

Coincidentally, we’ve just passed the end of the tax year. I’ve finished up my books for the year 2010/2011, and I’m quite happy to share that information here.

I received a little over £2,000, in total, over the course of the year, from telling stories. I work hard and I take just about every offer that comes my way. However, I also paid out a lot in travel, I did a lot of work for free, and have a whole heap of other expenses as well. So overall, I probably made closer to £900 in profit. I’ll be declaring even less than that to the tax man, because of the deductions for using my home as an office.

I was walking back through London a few weeks ago with Suresh Ariaratnam. I’d just been telling some stories at Rich Mix as part of a night of Mad March Hare stories with Jan Blake and Hugh Lupton. And as we were chatting away I described storytelling as “my hobby.”

Suresh seemed a little taken aback by that statement and challenged me on it. I didn’t mean to say that I don’t take Storytelling very seriously. It is my passion. I put my all into my performances, and I work in service of the artform. I dedicate many, many hours of my free time to composing, to developing my skills. Being on stage with Hugh and Jan? That’s an honour, the culmination of a childhood dream, and I appreciate how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing.

But it’s not my livelihood, and it’s not my profession.

That’s no bad thing! Hey, my hobby pays for itself. It pays enough for me to travel the country, for me to keep a simple website, to buy a book here and there, to see other people’s shows. That’s fantastic, and it’s a constant incentive to grow, to put the work in.

Maybe it’ll be more that a hobby one day. But right now? I am more than content to enjoy what I’m doing without any illusions.