This post was inspired by a long entry on storyteller Janet Dowling’s Facebook page that began like this…
Someone asked me – what do you do as a storyteller?
Well – I am not your usual kind of storyteller – but this is my diary for the week.
Monday – morning. Mentoring young man with Aspergers, on creative writing using oral storytelling techniques.
Afternoon – working with two separate clients on bereavement issues using storytelling (one is aged 80, the other is aged 5).
Evening – running a supervision group using storytelling and metaphor to facilitate them…
(BTW Janet also performs for children, at adult spoken word events and is a folklore academic.)
So I went on Twitter and asked some other storytellers what their weirdest booking was:
Telling stories to a coma patient. Very intimate and moving, to my surprise…
Animal stories as Dr Doolittle in taxidermy museum. Animals failed to talk back
I have never told to coma patients or used narrative to help with bereavement – don’t know if I even could. I have done a few taxidermy gigs though. (See this post by me on Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy.)
I reckon my work falls into, erm, eight main categories.
- …children’s parties. Some people say this is the worst kind of work because the kids are all crazy and the special boy or girl is often nearly crying before you even start. I have come to enjoy them for their energy, and also their intimacy. You’re in someone’s home taking part in one of the most important days of their childhood. And anyway, parents book a storyteller because their kids love stories. It can be magical.
- Shops – and lots of them. My spot ranges from a tiny corner in an independent bookshop or cafe, to the main atrium in Westfield Shepherds Bush. Also I do lots of fancy places like Selfridges, Harrods and The Apple Store. These can be a challenge because you might only have a couple of people at a time, no one was expecting a story and the energy is rock bottom. But hey, if it was easy everyone would be doing it, right?
- UCL medical school. A massive medical education / public engagement project has kept me endlessly busy with research and interviews: crafting and learning vast reams of story material. The tales I’ve made for UCL deal with big topics: our bodies and souls, our sexuality, race, health, family, hopes and beliefs, and they are performed in creepy dusty museums to healthcare professionals, medical types and a lot of other people who turn up because they like storytelling.
- Countless schools: Mostly primary, a few secondary and special schools. Sometimes long-running projects where I get to know the children well, those are satisfying. I also love the one-day visits: lots of laughs and high jinks.
- Nurseries and toddler groups. Songs, props and actions. Usually something funny happens – and the staff join in better than any other adults I know.
- Site-specific commissions from special places; graveyards, community gardens, museums or stately homes. A couple once asked me to create a spooky story about the house where they live. I went round one night and told it in the dark to them and their friends. Boo!
- Collaborating – I’ve worked with puppeteers, musicians, visual artists, choirs, etc. This is normally a nightmare because I’m very picky and want way too much rehearsal and I drive everyone else mad. I’ve also performed on the bill at poetry slam/spoken word events like the recent Scratch Mixer at the Southbank Centre.
- For pure enjoyment I organise storytelling visits to my favourite (often derelict) corners of London, filling them with fantasy, magic and weird stuff from my favourite folk tales.