Monday, 9 August 2010

Back for Estonia

I have just come back from a wonderful time in Estonia soaking up the peace of the forests and the water. All renewwed for the final elements of my report on storytelling and science. I am breaming with ideas and materials with which I shalll now be posting.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Back from the Blues

I have not been posting for a very long time but this was mostly becuase I established a facebook page and also have been quite busy attending workshops on storytelling skills at new battle Abbey College and giving storytelling sessions. I was lucky enought to be able to give 2 storytelling sessions this summer. One at the St. Mungo's Museum in Glasgow and the other at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. The focus was Science Stories. Both sessions were given in conjunction with William Docherty another storyteller from Glasgow.

The focus of the session was to showcase storytelling as a suitable medium to enthuse children about science. I have been working on this for quite a while and will hope to be able to do a workshop on this topic later on in the future. I will be posting the stories which we wrote, as well as adapted for the session plus the activities we designed to get children to interact with the stories and with scientific processes.

I have had good feedback on this.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Science and Storytelling

I have been working for a while together with William Docherty, a storyteller from St Mungo's Museum in Glasgow on a storytelling event that showcases the narrative aspects of science and I ran accross this video from MIT talking about the way science uses a narrative to convey its messages. I found the article fascinating becuase it is so much at the heart of our current work. Science Stories will be presented at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on April 16th 2010 from 4-6 pm. Children will hear stories from scientific and technological developments and will be encouraged to create their own science stgories using a variety of media. It is aimed at children from 7-11 years olf. The event is spondored by St Mungo's Museum and the Science, Religion and Technology Project, Church and Society Council.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Contemporary Storytelling Course

I have been away from the blog for quite a while but not wawy from storytelling. I have taken a full time job and this inevitably impinges on the time I can spend writing and learning about storytelling, however, my love for storytelling has not decreased. I have continued taking workshops here and there. More importantly I have started telling stories to adults within the context of the Storytelling Cafe which meets every month at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. I am slowly working on my repertoire and with this in mind, I decided to enrol in the Contemporary Storytelling Course given at Newbattle Abbey College.

Formal and Informal Learning.
I found the experience really invigorating. The weekend from the 25-27 September was run by Donald Smith and Bea Ferguson. The weekend gave us an opportunity to work in groups having the advice and feedback of both tutors and this was invaluable.

I met and worked with people who specialise in ghost stories running storytelling tours in the dark streets and alley-ways of Edinburgh; people who specialise in stories from The Orkney Islands; people who specialise in writing and telling stories with a religious context. There were also academics from abroad using stories as a teaching aid to teach and learn English as a foreign language. There were early years teachers and people who work with young people in a variety of challenging environments. I was able to compare ways of working with children, particularly some of the techniques that I honed in within the DigiStory Club. All in all, I realised how fantastically varied are the applications of storytelling.

The first weekend was stuctured as a workshop in the morning, with opportunities for groupwork and feedback time. Afternoons gave further opportunities to work on specific stories. The second day we worked more in fleshing out individual projects either based on the work done in the previous day, or our own personal project. I worked on a project about bringing together the stories embedded within scientific discoveries with the magic of storytelling. This project is fleshing itself more and more and I will be able to share more of this as the project develops further.

The final day was for actual performance with group feedback and later on, individual feedback by the tutors. I was able to present a story based on mythology from the region of Oaxaca in Mexico. I had already told this story at the Storytelling Cafe in Edinburgh, but through the work at the workshop I was able to develop it to a much finer point, taking in side characters and descriptions that helped the audience understand the context of the story. All in all very satisfying.

What did I learned?
My repertoire of stories was enlarged. I explored different methodologies with which to study the core of each story. I became aware of the very wide applications that storytelling has. I saw the importance of freeing my body and my voice in order to make the story a more "lived-in" experience. I am working on a project that works with science narratives and storytelling. I made friends and established working partnerships with a number of people and I had 2 glorious evenings of endless storytelling.

However, for me the most important thing was the close cooperation and feedback from fellow storytellers. It was wonderful to meet up and get to work on projects with people who have woven storytelling within their professional activities. Every evening we met by the huge fireplace in the medieval part of the college and told stories. This was a fantastic learning experience for me. The feedback, advice and encouragement I got from my colleagues was invaluable. So, after the first part of the course, I am back with renewed energy for more writing about storytelling.

Friday, 12 June 2009

The landscape as a metaphor for context within a story

I have recenlty become interested in the work of Patrick Gedes because it shows the ways in which our environment, whether a rural landscape, or a city dwelling influences our creativity, whether in our manufacturing of technology or in the creation of artistic works. He had a tremendous influence on the development of the city of Edinburgh. The natural features of the city influenced his architectural work as well as his ideas about town planning.

As I was listening to all of this at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in a joint workshop lead by Donald Smith and Bob Pegg it dawned on me that most of my preocupation had so far been on finding techniques to sketch out the macrostructure of stories to the detriment of the context of the story. I resonated very much with the need we have as storytellers to get our audiences to "see" the location where the story takes place. How to use our voice, our gestures and our body language to aid this visualisation is definitely a whole area of inquiry but, and perhaps more poignately, how do we as storytellers work our stories and develop a sense for "seeing" for ourselves, the landscape of our stories?

The physical landscape map
During the workshop we were encouraged to visualise, smell and feel the scenery. We were asked to concentrate on particular elements of the landscape that could have an influence in the visualisation that the audience would have. I found this particular exercise very fruitful, since at the moment I am working on a story from the Aztecs and I needed to visualise the famous city of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City). I was taken as a child by my grandmother to Zocalo, (the central square, as it was rebuilt by the Spaniards after the fall of Tenochtitlan) however, I had not really thought about how the square would have looked at the time of the Aztecs.

We were then asked to draw a map of the physical landscape of our story. I found that exercise particularly powerful. I realised that a crucial element of my story would have to be a depiction of the central square of Tenochtitlan. Just as crucial would be the canals, circling the city and providing major commercial waterways connecting the city, which was built on an island on a lake, to the mainland.
I also realised that the market was crucial to the story because the smells and sounds of the market should permeate the story.

After I finished my physical map, I could actually see the central square, with the two main pyramids and the surrounding waterways with barges. The drawing of the map, embedded the square in my mind to the point that all I have to do now, is close my eyes and "see" it. I think that I can now tell what I "see" of this once great but destroyed city, to anyone that listens to my story.

The action map
We were then asked to use our physical map, and incorporate within it specific actions or sound elements (i.e. movements, music etc) that might help the audience to visualise the environment of the story. I used this opportunity to develop the idea of using clay flutes and perhaps small percussion instruments to introduce a feeling of mystery and hussle and bussle of the market streets adjacent to the ceremonial square.
I also thought of using scented copal or incense at a specific time within the story to illustrate the significane fo the religious activities being performed at the central square. the action map became a fantastic visual image helping me prepare and "own" my story.

CreditsThe photograph of the clay plaque of Patrick Geddes was taken by Gary Thomson. The photograph of a painting of Tenochtitlan was taken by Steve Cadman. The picture of a small representation of the market was taken by Senor Codo.

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Monday, 1 June 2009

Flesh & Bones: different types of macrostructures

I attended on Saturday at workshop at the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. The workshop was called "Connecting with stories". It was an interesting workshop conducted with Sarah Perceval. Throughout the workshop we were presented with different ways of connecting with the story which we had chosen to tell.

I have often been puzzled by the constant tugg of war between learning by heart every minute detail of the story or the opposite approach, which is to determine the basics of the story and then depending on your life experience and the audience, let your imagination embroider around the story. The workshop addressed these tow questions in a useful manner although the topics got explored somewhat indirectly.

Deconstructing the Story. The workshop leader distributed stories to read and then made us select what she termed "the bones of the story". "Bones" are those elements without which the story would collapse or make no sense at all". "Flesh" are those elements that add context, or meaning, or embellish the story. I find the analogy of bones and flesh rather confusing becuase a squeleton would not be able to walk if the muscles would not be there to prop-up the bones.... but... nevermind. Each team had to work together to select the "bones" and the "flesh" and to our amazement, there was often quite abit of controversy over what was considered "bones" and what was considered "flesh". Some people felt very strongly that some "bones" were actually "flesh" and vice-versa. It also became very clear that depending on the audience, sometimes, "flesh" would be turned into "bones". All this discussion exemplified very clearly to me the need to work throuogh your story quite thoroughly and adapt it before presentation to an audience.

Storyboarding. After the discussion of "Bones & Flesh" we moved into representing the story linearly through storyboards. It was quite interesting to have the linear representation converge (or not) into the skeletal elements of the story. Several elements of my story for example fitted into just one or two main skeletal branches. The discussion then centred on the extent to which a storyteller can tap into personal experiences in order to unpack these "fleshy-contextual-embroidery" elements to an audience. Some people felt that the story had to have fidelity to factual elements. For example, if the story takes place in an an onlive grove and we feel that this embellishment is appropriate to the story and we have never been to an onlive grove, is it appropriate to use experiences of a Scottish pine-forest? here is where adaptation comes into play. I tend to favour throughough research. Having been both in olive groves and Scottish pine-forests, the experience is quite different in both, so although we are speaking of masses of trees, both experiences are definitely not interchangeable.... None-the-less, I found the use of storyboarding and "flesh & bones deconstruction" quite useful in helping me connect not just to the story, but to an audience.

Visualisation. Finally, we worked on visualisation of one of the elements of the story. This helped quite a lot becuase suddenly the imagination came into play and sensory elements like sound, taste, and feelings came into play. All in all, I thought that visualistion provided an emotional way of connecting to the materials within the story, and storyboards and "skeletons and flesh" techniques provided an analytical way of connecting to the story and the audiences.

Credits. The picture of the skeletons was taken by Wonderlane.

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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Searching for stories

I have not written for a while, mostly because I have been busy attending workshops at the Edinburgh’s Storytelling Centre, and also because I have been busy looking for stories to tell my audience of children and adults during my children’s address time.

I have looked at a number of websites and have become member of a number of podcasting services like Brother Wolf (which is wonderful) but I have not yet found my ideal combination of short, meaningful stories. I have been working on some of the stories of the Lion’s Book of Tales and Legends and I think I can indeed use some of them, but I would love to be able to incorporate stories where the meaning is indeed more subtle. I find it difficult to locate stories that can capture the attention of children and adults, convey a thoughtful message and do not sound moralizing. I suppose it is an exercise of constantly being in search of stories and creating a repertoire.

Some weeks ago, I attended a storytelling workshop where some participants were speaking passionately about working with a story for years. I think this is a wonderful idea, because the story, like good wine will mature an grow on you. I can see that you can develop different ways of telling the story and experiment with emphasis on different parts of the story. However, if you have the same audience every month, or every two weeks, how can you let the story work on you? Can you develop the story over time without an audience? How can you do that…. The audience participates so much to any storyteller… they provide ambience, interest.. etc. I wish I could find a way of developing and working on my stories without having the need to have an audience. I currently rehearse on my own, or go to the garden and speak the story out loud, however, nothing beats trying things out with a live, responding audience.