Singapore International Storytelling Festival 2011

I recently attended the Singapore International Storytelling Festival (SISF) 2011 as a presenter and performer. In the hot humid weather of Singapore, storytellers and listeners from around the world converged between the 1st and 4th of September. Funded by the Book Council of Singapore, the festival is dedicated to the art of storytelling in its diverse applications. There were performance evenings, concurrent workshop sessions, full day focus sessions, keynote speeches and short performances offered daily. For a relatively isolated Australian storyteller these festivals are a nourishing experience, in particular I was taken by the performances. What a feast for my eyes, ears and heart.

Showcase storytellers 2nd Sept

I was involved in the showcase performances – where the invited tellers from a range of nations would tell one story each. These were a wonderful chance to see the varying styles, story choices and in particular the humour (how cultural it is!). Although I must, even though I was a part of these performances they were not the most memorable experience for me. The thing that blew my storytelling mind were the first and the final performances – storytelling of traditional epic tales.

How I would love to have lived in a time and place where this was the culture of the day. Where history and stories were told to us by people considered to be important and worthy of the task. One the first night Abbi Patrix and Ruth Kirkpatrick performed “A Journey of Stories”. Two extremely different tellers performing to this theme. Abbi came on first.

This French, Dutch man told an audience of Singaporeans, Indians, Malaysians and Chinese stories from an old Indian text – Panchatantra tales. He had developed a wonderful script – or holding story that detailed the friendship between a Crocodile and a quick-witted storytelling monkey. We did not get to see the entire repertoire and what a shame that was!

I believe this is one of the best storytelling performances that I have seen. Abbi is a 30-year veteran of storytelling; he played the frame drum and mbira while telling. He integrated strong measures of humour and movement throughout the performance. Importantly Abbi has created a modern day version of this epic – we followed the friendship of monkey and crocodile with delight in all its twists and turns. This friendship created many moments for monkey to tell crocodile stories, fun, adventurous, witty and moral stories. He drew on the Indian text for the smaller stories. It was a wonderful, accessible adaptation. Apparently the Panchatandra are the most widely known stories in the world with over 200 known versions of them. While I had heard some of the smaller tales I was ignorant of their rich source/history.

What are other common examples do we have of the holding tale when storytelling – the first that comes to mind is 1001 nights. You can read the full text of 1001 nights at http://www.bartleby.com/16/

The holding story is of a king gone mad by the betrayal of his beloved wife. He becomes a madman after killing his first wife and from that day vows to take a new wife to his bed every night only to be slain in the early hours of the morning. The smaller stories come from the clever female – Scheherazade who postpones her death by telling the king nail biting stories that he must hear the end of, he therefore must keep her awake and alive through the night and into the next day. She always starts a new story before she can be killed.

Many many cultures have such an epic tale where smaller stories are revealed and savoured. A small taste is provided in this list;

The Canterbury tales by Chauser; http://www.librarius.com/cantales.htm

Homers Iliad and Odesey (and many others) http://www.openculture.com/freeaudiobooks

The Irish Epic of Táin Bó Cúalnge by Joseph Dunn http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/16464

My question to you is when was the last time you got to listen/interact with a series of tales?

As a child I was absolutely transfixed by Monkey Magic. My brothers and I would spend hours playing out the characters or various storylines in the back yard, sometimes inflicting broken bones and always collecting bruises in our fantastical efforts. Did you know this TV series was created from an Asian Epic tale called the Ramayana? In Singapore, for the first time I got to see an adaption of this Epic. Six Asian storytellers performed an adaptation written by Kamini Ramachandran. Each teller had distinctly different telling styles, each were entertaining and informative and had me, and a couple of hundred others, totally captivated.

Not the least because the Ramayana involves the wonderful character of the monkey king – (Hanuman / Monkey) but because the tale was so fantastic. Traversing topics of love, desire, fear, jealousy, faithfulness, friendship, war, gods, death, demons and kings. I was desperately waiting for the stories of ‘monkey’ and was slightly disappointed that no one storyteller could cloud fly! I feel privileged that I could travel to Asia and see this epic told in such wonderful format.

The festival had many sweet storytelling moments on offer but it was the rediscovering of the epic that was most magical for me. To allow myself to become lost within stories that sat within stories… this is something I plan to make a habit of. I hope I can share it with you one day 🙂

4 responses to “Singapore International Storytelling Festival 2011

  1. So pleased you had the opportunity to hear an epic or two. To be immersed in an ancient tale is a joyous experience, and a rare one, as there are not many epic tellers. And their accessibility is another matter. I am pleased your storytelling soul has been nourished so you can continue to feed others.

  2. Lilli thanks for sharing such an amazing experience with us all. Story telling and listening to stories told has always been a precious means of escape to fantastical places for me and my child within. I can credit my wee Scottish grandmother for nourishing us with her epic tales of an impoverished childhood in Scotland and always finding a way to survive with her great humour and ingenuity. I also relish my indigenous heritage for tantalising me with mesmerising creation myths like a whisper in my sleep from the lips of my Cherokee ancestors. A favourite of mine is the tale of Grandmother Spider who calmly watches a slew of ego maniacal animals try to grab the light from way up high in the sky. It is Grandmother Spider who through great patience and humility weaves a basket to capture the light and illuminate our world from the darkness. Just like the Cherokee story of the tiny grandmother spider it was my starry eyed grandmother Caroline, my mum’s mum, who taught me how wisdom can overcome ignorance. Today I pay homage to my grandmother Caroline. Even though it seems we have lost those who we love they come back to us through the telling of a story.

  3. So beautiful and true Cally. Thanks for sharing. These moments are so precious to all of those of privileged enough to have been told stories. I will love that grandma spider story as well 🙂 I also love the fact that when we scratch the surface we find similarities in our stories, loves, likes and characters. How much this can teach us 🙂

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