I’ve been cycling to as many jobs as I can at the moment because I get so much from being out on London’s streets. Last night there was a vast full moon and although my hands were both painful and numb (how is that possible?), I just had to take the long way home, past Kings Cross, Smithfield and St Paul’s. The city was sparkling, icy and bleakly deserted. Even the coffee shops were empty.
And it being the end of the year and all, I got to thinking about all the events of 2011.
On the whole, I’m glad to say my various storytelling jobs have been really successful and it was pleasant to ponder the interesting commissions and appreciative clients I’ve had over the last 12 months.
But then I started to think about the jobs that didn’t go so well. Some gigs are just destined to be tough. The easiest audiences are primary school classes. They’re so hungry for stories: they would literally listen and join in all day and teachers are often on hand in case of any problems. Next best are adults who have come (and maybe paid) to hear a story. But the toughest gigs are the ones where you have to create the audience out of people who just happen to be there, hanging out with friends… and we suddenly expect all these people to sit quietly and listen! Sometimes they just don’t want to – and why should they?
The absolute worst thing is when the people who don’t want to listen are forced to stay in the room anyway. Their inattention and chatter is supremely distracting to me! If any great storytellers want to run workshops about ‘Focus in the Face of Distractions’, I’d gladly pay to attend as this is a skill I’d love to improve.
The other thing that’s made my life harder is ending up with the wrong story. Stories all have their own personalities. Some are your best friend, some are bombproof, some can be enjoyed by everyone from two-year-olds to pensioners… and some stories are awkward devils that never work properly. There’s this particular five-minute tale I’ve got about a goat who saves the life of a little boy. It should be brilliant: it’s charming, kind and interesting with lots of audience participation. I’ve done it about a dozen times this year. Each time I think it’ll be perfect for the gig and each time it just stalls and I have to ‘drive it through’ instead of letting it tell itself.
Discovering which stories unwrap themselves and which have to be forced is actually one of the most rewarding things about professional storytelling. This is a special alchemy between the story, the teller and the listener that can only be discovered in live performance.
And now 2011 is all but over. Three more shows this year.
London is especially beautiful in December, from the swans on Little Venice to the spires of the Old Bailey, from the crazy ’80s majesty of Elephant & Castle to the crooked Victorian alleys of Hampstead Village. Every street has its own stories and its own phantoms. Enjoy the winter break!
P.S. I have been asked which of my gigs were the best of 2011. I’ve already blogged about some of my favourites, including Shadows and Fog, True stories on the Heath, the Golem of Wapping and Ghost stories at the Heygate Estate. However, I can say with certainty that the best gigs are when people come up to me after the show and thank me – amazed, excited, moved or (best of all) simply glowing with the joy of the story. Sometimes they tell me tales of their own. What better reward could I have?