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.
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 🙂