A few days ago, me and Iona went to a storytelling event making part of a storytelling festival in Edinburgh. Storytelling, obviously, isn’t a uniquely Scottish tradition: it is an example of intangible heritage practice common probably to all cultures around the world.
It seems that in recent times, storytelling has been banished from cultural activities: it has been considered appropriate for children, but not for adults (this is at least what I observed – what are your experiences?). Indeed, nowadays we watch stories, but we don’t listen to them anymore and we don’t tell them either. Listening to stories requires a certain deal of gullibility and imagination, whereas telling them is even harder…
Shonaleigh, to whom we were listening to that night, is a professional storyteller. What is unique about her is that she fully engages in a story she tells (although she has been telling these stories for 17 years – isn’t it wonderful?), and, as a result, the listeners are brought to be emotionally engaged as well. She is really IN the story she is telling. To transmit it the best, she modulates her voice, uses gestures and mimics.
Another interesting thing about storytelling is that, in Shonaleigh’s case at least, stories are embedded in one other. It seems that one could never tell them all! It goes like this: while telling a story, the storyteller mentions other stories, like those that characters in the story listened to, told or knew about (e.g. ‘Anne heard some stories about the forest she wanted to go to’) and adds: ‘But this is another story!…’, awaiting the response of the community/audience. Then the audience has two options: it can either unanimously finish the sentence with a phrase: ‘…for another time!’ or it can insist upon telling this particular story. Often, it is one person from the audience who is particularly interested by this specific story and says: ‘I wanna hear this story!’. Then the storyteller and the rest of the audience must conform: storyteller tells the story. BUT! There are always few other stories mentioned during each one, so this time storyteller also brings up some of them: and again, somebody can find it particularly interesting. So it can go on and on, without a single story being finished… Luckily, this time we heard two or three stories to the end!
The question is whether storytelling has a potential to revive – either in form of public performances (as it is done now; however, occasionally, only a few times per year) or as something done in a family circle. The latter seems doubtful, as telling stories requires effort and time, and we are likely to choose less demanding activities, like watching movies.
However, if one day technology fails us, I think storytelling seems a nice thing to return to.
Sources of the images: