Storytelling is… #6 The Spendlow Lectures Part 2 Chanters Stool
Storytelling is… #6 The Spendlow Lectures Part 2 Chanters Stool
Right, I am going to get strict now.
Storytellers must always tell traditional stories which they have learnt by listening to another storyteller. They must sit and not move and they must never ever utilise items – the sinful prop! Sit still and tell old things rigidly.
Well there we have a whole set of rules to be broken. I certainly break them all. It is a school of thought though, an old school of thought.
There is a vision of the teller in a big chair and everyone hushed and still looking up in awe. It does happen. These are moments to cherish.
My first thought would be, where to put that chair.
Put yourself in your space. Find the place where you feel right.
I like to get there early. I step into that school hall and I guess I am getting the vibe, I most usually walk straight to a spot, “I would like to stand here”. It isn’t always where they expect you to go.
It is the same on a ship, in cave or on a stage. Put yourself where you need to be.
“Can you put my chair here please?”
“And my table here if you are using ‘the dreaded prop’.
The inner translucent layer of a mammoth skin has been draped across near the rear of this cave, with a small fire behind, you step out of a hidden side alcove when they are distracted and you beat a hollow log with your talking staff; you are suddenly there, a misty figure in front of them.
And you have your place.
Your place in history.
Step around into the open and stamp your white staff to the ground. Stay silent for a moment while they take in the carvings and the natural twist leading to the gleaming crystal.
Play a little on your cave harp.
Or say but three words then lift up your bone flute.
If you are more modern than this you may be wishing to commune with Odin. Your fur-covered Chanter’s Stool is brought out for you and you flick your cloak as you sit.
The large seat.
The shamanic drum.
The soft toy – well, that is me.
Rocky the Dragon gets very sad because he never gets any kisses.
I might be better getting a white wood staff.
And so to sit.
Or both. I tend to be out of my chair most of the time but starting things off sitting seems to work for me. I am a bit all action and cannot keep still.
Silliness seems to happen. In among the gripping and the scary a bit of silliness too.
‘I have lived in the land of fairy – and I have never been the same since.’
Being trapped in a fairy ring causes one to have to dance and for all people laugh they are intrigued. For all the silliness of stories of meeting and even marrying beings from the realm of the Fey I tend to attract people who hang around to tell me of their real-life experiences of meeting or seeing creatures from the mystical lands.
You have to remember who is out there. I will look at the idea of being a ‘Skald’ in a little while, let it be said there is always a sense of ceremony. The way we conduct ourselves, be it at a ritual or on the content of our set lists should always seek to be inclusive. In your audience is someone who happens to have come along, a tourist who wants to see how we do things, a historian, an Odinist or Asatru who follows the ways of the old gods, a person of another religion.
Respect. Respect mixed with entertainment.
Art is always a compromise. There is the viewer the one experiencing the art. They are to be considered. And yet one must maintain their own integrity.
Yet you must always do what it says on the tin. If it says chocolate milk we don’t want root beer coming out into the glass.
Many circles are spontaneous of course. Chiefly though, you have been invited. The audience have come along because of what the publicity said.
The publicity has been written by the inviter, they wrote it after talking to you, but they also put their own needs into it.
You must try and fit with this description.
You might always try and describe yourself slightly differently from the last time.
What does it say on your tin?
We have talked a little of the oral tradition; that the content and possibly style of our ‘show’ come from the past.
If we talk to a ballad singer, someone from the folk world or perhaps a shanty singer, we will come across the school of thought; traditional means that nobody wrote it. An old song has gone through so many singings, been passed from one singer to another, that the version we hear now is no longer anything like the first song which somebody actually wrote.
The shanties or other work songs have been created by the group to fit a rhythm or a need so have really evolved and developed.
We do live in a modern world where information is available to all. So it is possible to go back to the root or at least dig deep.
We are also freed up a little by this information availability. We can ‘tell’ in our own way. As long as we are respectful to the story.
Some of the records of folklore etc are a little clumsy, they are a record for posterity, not a classic novel.
This is where that second storyteller by the universal fire comes into things. Making the story better, more fun, gripping, relevant to the original concept, getting it all across is a skill. A developed skill. This is just as much a tradition as passing along the accuracy of the tale. We are all somewhere in the middle of this quandary, this long drawn out ‘story’. That innovative storyteller is a tradition.
Take the responsibilities with you but bring that tale alive. It deserves you. It deserves you to be your very best.
Embrace the past in your own way.
Where are we in the timelessness of storytelling and can we become our self back then as if we are there.
There are old stories. They were not always written down, as they are now, yet they survived. The enjoyment of them survived. So, although we can be glad of those who recorded them and of those who share them today, it was never meant for such a rigid thing as text. Never let it be so.
Tens of thousands of people may have told of that dugout canoe the first people survived in before and spider taught written signs to any tribe.
(I am not too sure how the canoe got to every single nation in the world – but I have heard of it wherever I go!)
I cannot tell you what to do. I don’t know how your mind works. I do know one thing; every individual’s mind works in a different way.
Go with your failings.
Mine is names. So I allow myself to forget. I think of ways. His brother. The tall giantess. With a flick of her hair. You know; avoidance, distraction.
You might want to force yourself to digress. Or to get back onto topic quicker.
I’ve talked of being a collector. Here is an aspect which can make the whole audience die of groaning or can fill hearts with soaring fire, (not to be sexist, but I think I am talking blokes); details.
Factual information. I struggle here in the same way as I do with names to be honest. I did, however, experience a split of reactions recently.
My father drove steam engines. You can already see where this is going. I have told great stories from his experiences for many years. Before a recent performance I thought I should have a refreshing look through his book. There was all that information; fourteen-foot fireboxes, that sort of thing.
Then here among it all was, 40302.
Engines always had a number like this. To me it is just a number. Then I read in my own father’s book that there is a reason behind this number; a sense to it. It refers to the wheels; 40302. There are four axles, a space, three axles, a space, two axles.
I look quickly now at my (currently virtual) audience and half of them are raising their eyes at an obtuse angle and half are achingly keen to hear more of such things which will fill them with inner bliss.
Where do you sit in this factual quandary?
How are you going to challenge yourself!
(Or cope with yourself.)
To be fair to myself I managed to play on that division within my audience and they laughed as they re-enacted their reactions.
I actually challenged an audience member, (it was in a chatty circle event were sharing was encouraged – and there was beer.), “How can you be so sure?”
“Oh,” he replied, “I file all my memories in date order”.
We are all different.
Shout out a date, another friend of mine can tell you not only what day of the week it was but every little thing about what happened. I gave her a date from the seventies and she described the embroidered flowers on my yellow large-lapelled suit jacket.
Another friend cannot pick and choose she has to scroll. She can recall every single thing which happened to her from the age of three, every feeling, every sound, smells, the works.
Will your mind allow you to be spontaneous?
Find a way.
The Skalds did poetry. Bards too. Many say poetry is a means of remembering something. I say do not memorise poetry. It will rattle along like a maraca in a samba band.
Poetic works need the meaning emphasising not the rhythm, beats or rhymes.
For me, I have written thousands of poems, I have two I can do from memory.
Set me on with storytelling though.
I have worked a full week of six hour days and finished the story just in time to clock off.
(It was a queue constantly streaming into a museum so I had to be sure and make every element work alone.)
I am quirky.
Not being believed is another failing of mine. The whimsical way I portray tales makes people think I have made it all up, I think it is my cheekiness. The fact that I have spent hours on research and finding new ways to think are lost in the gag.
“You have made that up.”
We are quirky.
You are and you need to deal with it alright.
Reinterpret, research, reconsider, posit, discover.
Hours of research go into one snippet; a gag from hours.
This is a concept I have real difficulty explaining. There must be a word for it. There must.
Like there is for what Jung did. To posit. He explains how he was asked how the brain worked and he didn’t know. So he said there were two parts; the conscious and the unconscious. Now there is. There really is. He posited.
Say how something is and therefore it is forever so.
Edward De Bono reckoned that we posit all the time; especially politicians.
It is one aspect of what I mean.
I’ve described this idea in detail to someone whom was writing a thesis for academics to assess and she said what I meant was historical research.
That doesn’t seem quite right to someone plodding along in their own way hoping for the best.
If you talked to anyone going to a museum they would describe it as ‘the point’ because every single person who goes in an old place has a point to make. It is more important than looking to see what is in there. They have researched. They have thought. Here is the thought!
I am full of such thoughts.
(I try to address my stories with such things.)
I slip them in. I am the only person in history of Vikings to give the Gods surnames. Well, Patronyms. It took me ages to think about it and then I do a story and say Odin Borrsson and nobody notices. ‘Ah yes, that is his name.’
This is an inspirational talk so you can go away and not be motived either.