Storytelling

jamu.cz

Storytelling

Hello everybody!My name is Jitka Oláh and I am in the third year of my doctoral project, based here in Brno. Thetopic of my research is oral storytelling and its value and possibilities for Drama and Education.As a doctoral student I spent the whole last academic year in Welsh Glamorgan University, in theGeorge Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling - and during this time I was trying to see, meet and talkto as much storytellers as I could. They were telling their stories not only on the stage, but in theclassrooms, libraries, museums, art centre, in cafes, in contest etc. The diversity of the phenomenastoryteller seemed to me huge - from 10 years old pupil telling the story to the 7 year old fellow tothe professional performer telling the long welsh epos for a few hours. I am happy I had thispossibility to investigate the local shapes of storytelling movement in its home environment as inUK is this movement active since 60s and contemporary storytelling scene is indeed influenced bythis development happening in time. In Czech we can not talk about storytelling revival whosebeginnings could be seen in US and in Europe in late 60s and early 70s - in times of contra-culture.But form the very beginning: storytelling is a way of very common communication, its a way oftransmitting the information, a way of self-presentig and a way of creating meanings. Storytelling ishappening if somebody is orally telling a story to somebody else while the storyteller is organisingprinciple of this communication - his role is naturally respected by spectator/s. The ostentativecharacter of sharing a story (caused by its oral nature happening only now and here), distinctborders between storyteller and audience causes a performative/theatrical aspect of storytelling. 1Next to performance storytelling exists an applied storytelling - in some points these two streamsexist next to each other and influence each other. Especially in the second half of the 20th century.In applied storytelling is telling the story primarily considered as a creative tool / method enablingto the pedagogue / facilitator working with a group to influence, form or develop some participant’sskills and abilities. This method is called in English context applied storytelling and is used indifferent fields with different purposes - education, therapy, healing, improving communicationskills in business etc. An educational approach to storytelling seems to me as an essential forapplied storytelling. In the centre there is a persuasion that sharing a story by telling it is verynatural and human closed way of passing the information in very understandable way. There is alsoa strong belief that story structure can help to structure our own experiences in order to understandthem which might be a very creative, relaxing and helping process.1 Spalding Gray‘s autobiographical stories from 80s1 are called by some performative art but byothers also a performance storytelling. This double terminology refers at least to the same culturaland social origins of performance art and performace storytelling.


I am trying to prove in my research that storytelling activities with a group can effectively work as acreative tool supporting development of telling and listening abilities, sense for community, criticalthinking, literacy and can help to formulate ourselves. Of course there is a great amount of otheraspects influencing mentioned abilities and skills which shall be impeached. It’s obvious thatstoryteller can’t “produce” a great readers, amazingly thinking personalities but I guess thatnarrativity - the ability to tell a story - is as a language ability possible to be trained, improved andcan help with finding a way to understand meanings of spoken word, written text and its aesthetics.My doctoral paper is greatly inspired by my need to explore what is happening when somebody istelling a story - what is happening when somebody is trying to transfer the story from outside intohis/her inside to be able to tell it as her/his story - as an author. After my initial theoretical andpractical research I realised that especially this creative process of authorship is for me the mostimportant aspect of storytelling - not only in performance storytelling but in applied storytelling aswell. So that I decided to examine this complex aspect in my paper as well as in my practicalproject.Well, what can you expect then in these 20 minutes? I would like to point out some theoreticalresources I was using for understanding the narrative issue in generally. Then I would like to sharethe methodology of my work with the group of students here at faculty and at the end of my speechI would be happy to hear your questions and comments which is probably the most important partof my today performance as the aim of this speech is not to bring final and unchangeableconclusions but rather to provoke questions and fan the fire of debate about using storytelling.It was very quick process a few years ago when I realised that I am attracted by storytelling when Imet a storyteller working in educational field. It has happened in a very short time. Unfortunatelymore time then took me to explore why this very common and rather ordinary/simplified way oftheatre communication works so well - not only in educational context but also on the stage.If you are interested in similar topics I am sure you have certainly come into touch with someliterature focusing on narratives, narratology, narrative thinking, meanings of stories, narrativeconstruction of identities, narrative self-receptions etc. Sometimes you might even feel that there isalmost nothing but narrative and nothing but narratively structured. In this moment you arecertainly under powerful regime of narrative imperialism floating over a lot of research fields. Thisenthusiasm about narrative metaphor in human sciences is presenting changing attitudes to a wayhow to examine a human behaviour and thinking and in last decades has been spread from


creative structuring an experience. The experience comes from safe environment of fiction which isin this case created narratively.“How can we use the story?” This question initiates some taught about how to apply mentionedvalues of stories and storytelling into the practise. As I am mainly focusing on applied storytellingthis question seemed to me rather more important than “How to tell the story?”. After a fewpractical experiences I realised that there is no differences between those two questions as the firstimplies the second one and the quality opens possibilities for its use. Analysing the story verynaturally leads to searching and exploring personal storytelling style as the storyteller is performer,dramaturg and director all in one. Thinking about the story implies thinking about how to tell thestory, how to share it, with whom to share it and who am I while telling the story. What the storymeans for me implies how can I immediate these meanings to my listeners, to my audience. In thismutual process rise conditions for creating an original personal author view. Interpretation of thecertain story is happening currently in conceptual and performing lines.Very important part of this process is exploring the role of myself as a storyteller. There is just onemain character in told story - the storyteller - who is projected into all characters as s/he is creatingthem, giving them their shapes and characteristics and is also commenting them. hiking aboutmetaphor and meaning of the story go hand in hand with its performance aesthetics. This requires tothink about using language, voice modulation, expressions, gestures, mimicking, movements, body,contact with audience, rhythm, eventually using instruments, songs, cooperate with musicians, otherstorytellers etc.At the beginning there is just a material / fabric / written story (if the story isn’t devised bystoryteller). If this story shall be animated by telling it there must be a storyteller through whom thestory will be transmitted to the audience. Lot of storytellers call them selves as messengers, guides,ambassadors of the story.What is quite interesting aspect of storytelling is the chance to share the story in a group, listeningto the orally told story isn’t so individual and sort of passive act like f. e. watching the movie orreading the text. This common experience might be the key for community sense development - Ihave realised that in a some long term school storytelling projects I came across 2 - very importantfactor of its success was in each case (next to others) the appreciation of the time children spentwith storyteller/s. In other words the role of storyteller rather the way of delivery is more importantand more influential that the story itself.2 Sprachloss!? Berlin, Kirten Wardetzky, Robin Melo - US, Richard Berry - Moorland School,Caridff.


The role of storyteller as a mediator of the story (using naratology terms we can say that narrator isa narrative strategy) is essential. The fiction world exists only as a result of narrator’s activity,narrator is main modus of organisation. Any amazingly written story can’t save a bad storytellerwhilst a good storyteller might be able to capture his/her audience with any kind of story.Author of the text is while his story is told by storyteller subdued and blend with the dominantfigure of the alive storyteller. The storyteller 3 means for me the way of thinking about the storyfrom a very specific author’s view. An original text’s author could be vividly presented in the storybut only in comments by the storyteller. While storyteller is telling the story the author of the text isinvisible.The storyteller isn’t usually part of the told story as a character (not in case life story), but is in away TÉMATIZOVÁN in the whole story. This could be seen e.g. in sort of pre-story (often told)before the story itself or in a way distributing facts and elements of the story which is told, or inaddressing listeners and of course in comments. This TÉMATIZACE might be way of creating thenarrative style - narrative perspective.Usually is storyteller acting as a omniscient narrator - s/he is showing us the world of the story,there are no white spots in this created purposely. We can go even further in applying narratologycategories on oral storytelling - according to Percy Lubbock 4 ’s understanding of point of view innarrative by using polarity of mimesis and diegesis. In the first case the storyteller might vanish andthe listener / spectator can have a feeling that the fiction is a part of his / her reality - the principle ofmimesis is in this case strongly enforcement. There can be also contrary situation that the principleof diegesis is pushed forward - this is happening when the storyteller is visible guide of the story.In both cases It’s very ostentaive way of communication the story with very quick, visible andnaturally spontaneous responses and reactions of the audience. The storyteller can’t simply avoidthis a little bit “dangerous” character of oral telling which is happening now and here between him/her and the audience, which is essential. Storyteller can’t physically vanish from the stage, can’tlose eye contact, can’t only act - the storyteller shall create the vision not in the stage but directly inspectator’s head.3 So than I have to declare that I do not understand the meaning of the word storyteller as a trendylabel or title which can be simply add to somebody’s business card bellow his/her name to be ableto do good business.4 viz Tomáš Kubíček, Vypravěč, Kategorie narativní analýzy, Brno: HOST 2007, s. 47 - 49.


My practical project is based on my work with a group of students from Drama and EducationDepartment. This pedagogical experience helps me to prove the methodology I have chosenbecause practical outcomes are the most important for me. In this very moment I can not bring finalconclusions of my practical research as the work is still in progress but I would like to share withyou my way of teaching storytelling a group of drama teachers who are on their storytellingjourney. Next to exploring aesthetics of oral storytelling they work on their own story to beprepared to tell it at end of the term. I encouraged them not to hesitate to chose any traditional fairytalethough it might seem to be bit boring, too simplified, literary not so well crafted and full ofquestions. This kind of narrativ is easier for telling as its already involves oral character in and it’sstructure is rather simple. Thanks to this was the fairytale examined by Russian formalist VladimirPropp and categorised into a general categories of hero type, helper type etc. Later on narratologist(f. e. Seymour Chatman) pointed out that this categorisation can not be used for understanding tomore complex narratives. But those students work or will work mainly with children and youngpeople so that I wanted them to examine the quality of the fairy-tale - the closest narrativ to thetarget age group of their work.There are a few steps in our work we would like to reach this term which will be completed withtwo public storytelling evenings in a cosy cafe. This is more an experiment with informal space butI suppose that the very first storytelling experience just in informal space might help them to beaware of the freedom and necessity to create their own space while telling a story and I wantedthem to be closer to audience. I was afraid of that in classical theatre space they might fell bound byits space arrangement. Maybe I was also influenced by this decision by the idea of storytelling cafeswhich I met I UK 5 .I wanted students to finish the journey of absorbing the story form outside into their inside with thepublic storytelling event because the most important part of this creative process is happening justwhen the storyteller is telling it with live ammunition in certain situation for certain audience, in acertain atmosphere and in his/her certain mood... etc - in other words the story is getting its shapewhile the storyteller is telling it to the audience / creating the story for the certain circumstances. Ass/he is the only one performer all in one standing “solo” in front of the people telling the story sothat the storyteller shall be absolutely certain about meanings of the story for themselves to be ableto communicate them. There is nothing to hide behind - every empty phrase, cliché or anyFLOSKULE will reveal splitting from the story, the communication will be disturbed, the pictureswill stop to be displayed in a spectator’s mind...5 GRAHAM LANGLEY’s storytelling cafes.


Recently we are working on these steps:1. the first step is to get know the skeleton of the story - facts about story, what has happened2. then it’s important to visualise the story - creating own pictures, add own sensations3. analysing the story - what does it mean? this leads to concretisation of meanings4. analysing the topic and searching for an interpretation, metaphor, creating the point of view,what does it mean to me? - creating the concept.5. animate still pictures - searching for movements and gestures of certain characters6. personal associations - experience of situation7. exploring the way of telling certain story - Why am I going to tell the story? How shall I tell it?8. the last step - giving the shape to the story by telling itIn the second term they shall be able to tell a story to a group of children and work with a story afterit’s told. This is what I called creative storytelling - the method originates in the idea that there is ahuge creative potential in the group after the story is told and might be used for transforming it intoan activities developing the effect of orally told story.I guess time is gone for the moment. As I have mentioned at the beginning of my paper that I wouldbe happy to hear your comments and questions.I am mainly interested in:- What’s happening with the space while storyteller is telling a story?- Is storyteller’s relationship to the audience the essential difference form acting?- What role play intimacy and feel of togetherness?

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