Festivals, summer 2015
Festivals – Day 1
Well… not really a festival. It was a weekend camp for people with special needs, their families and carers – and I really didn’t know what to expect.
I packed the story-basket with stories and props suitable for primary schools plus a few of my favourite pre-school tales and this proved to be just the right mix.
Usually I ask audience members to select the next story from the basket, but thought that on this occasion I would need to choose the stories myself once I had a chance to see who had come to listen.
As usual – I was wrong. The moment I uncovered the basket someone was leaping up and pointing to the small bunch of flowers I use for The Empty Pot – so that was the first story. From then on everyone was eager to choose a story, ending, after an hour, with Turtle of Koka, which had everyone (all ages – all abilities) laughing and joining in.
This has boosted my confidence. I feel that I now know what stories to take to the festivals. It was a really helpful start to this summer season.
Festivals – Day 2
This was essentially a small music festival some 65 miles away – which meant allowing 2 hours for the journey as the roads are narrow and the holiday traffic can be heavy.
I was a bit nervous as I really had no idea what to expect but the advance information seemed very thorough – and I would be working with 4 other storytellers. The schedule said I would be doing 3 sessions of just 20 minutes each over a 5 hour day – a really easy task.
The traffic moved smoothly… so I arrived early, which was helpful as the storytelling marquee was not in the place listed in the advance information and no one seemed to know where it was. Eventually a map of the site was found and the marquee identified – not far away and quite attractive with one side wide open and plenty of rugs and cushions scattered around – but it was quite a distance from the car park so I was glad I had packed everything into a large basket on wheels.
One of the other storytellers was booked to do walkabout stuff and had his own marquee, so we never actually met. Another was an author who needed to get away early – so the schedule was already useless. That left 3 of us and it worked beautifully… we took turns to tell stories or sing songs and all 3 of us stayed in the marquee together most of the time.
It was very relaxed – a constant flow of small groups of audience, both children and adults – and I thoroughly enjoyed having a chance to meet and work with other tellers – but…. this was a music festival!
The main stage was on the other side of the field,
ut the volume was so loud it made it very difficult to tell stories and before long my head was pounding and my throat suffering from trying to compete.
Festivals – Days 3 & 4
Another festival – this time it was about food and crafts – in the grounds of a small stately home 65 miles away again. I was not scheduled to start until 11am, but if I wanted to get my car onto the site I needed to arrive before 9.30am – so a very early start!
I had no idea what to expect… all I knew was that their usual storyteller couldn’t do these two days and that I would be the sole storyteller and expected to tell stories until 3.30pm, drumming up an audience with walkabouts.
Once again the traffic was kind and I arrived early and was permitted to park in a tiny space hidden behind a marquee – but where was I supposed to be telling?
It was a wonderful, prominent site – at the top of a sloping lawn, under a great chestnut tree, in front of a high garden wall. There was a large display of plants for sale nearby, so most people came up to have a look at them.
There was a small stage and amplified music… but I couldn’t hear it from under the tree.
Arriving so early allowed me time to walk the dogs, explore the stalls and have a cup of coffee. Then it was time to drum up an audience. I was told the usual storyteller used a conch shell, or something similar, to summon an audience to him, but that is really not my style.
I took my lovely Great Horned Owl puppet, Archimedes, for a walk around all the stalls – everyone wanted to talk to him as he blinked and bowed and swivelled his head, which gave me the opportunity to announce quietly that storytelling would start in ten minutes.
By the time I had put Archy back to bed, sorted out the dogs and picked up my storybasket, a small crowd had gathered under the tree and the stories started – and went on and on… some people would leave after a few stories, but others would take their place. It was fun to watch adults nearby pretending not to listen as they inched closer and closer. And there were always some behind me, listening but not part of the crowd.
I did manage a very brief lunch break and then had to drum up an audience again, but I was telling stories, almost non-stop, for 4 hours!
The next day took exactly the same shape… but with more people and an even shorter lunch break. I sold several books and CDs and had lots of compliments.
The selection of stories in my basket is now just right. There are stories for all ages and even the simplest, silly ones intended for the pre-schoolers seem to work for everyone (much to my surprise!)
I am very tired. These three festival days have been long and exhausting. There are two more days to do this week, but I do know what to expect. I shall be in a tipi and they have promised that it will be in a quiet spot away from the music. The venue is only 35 miles away and I don’t have to start until 1pm, finishing at 5pm.
I will let you know how I get on.
Surprise! A late night email from the organiser of that food & crafts festival asking me to do another day next week… no explanation… perhaps the other storyteller cancelled… perhaps he had good reports of my storytelling… but I am delighted!
And, I forgot to mention a lovely moment under that chestnut tree – A cheeky, silly joke/story had been selected from the basket, one concerning pirates and a brave captain donning his red shirt. Only children over the age of 10 get the punchline unaided and, as it implies uncontrolled bodily functions, I no longer offer to explain it myself. (I was once severely reprimanded by a parent for daring to explain!)
This time not one of the children got the punchline – but an eavesdropping father nearby was convulsed with laughter. So I asked him to explain… but he would only agree to whisper to his daughter. She then collapsed in giggles and agreed to whisper the explanation to her friend… and so the explanation travelled like Chinese Whispers along the length of the line of children until every one of them was laughing out loud. It was magical!
Festivals – Day 5
The Met Office said it would be a few scattered light showers – I wasn’t worried… I was going to be telling at a PlayFest in a tipi in a quiet corner and had a special parking permit to let me park fairly near at hand.
Really! There was no parking space nearer than a good ten minute walk away. As I parked, the rain started. I packed everything neatly into my large, wheeled, wicker basket, put on a rain coat, gathered up the dogs and set off along the wet grass.
As I turned a corner onto rough ground, the wind got up and blew the cover off the basket and several of my soft toy/props scattered into a puddle.
After gathering them up and trying to make the basket secure, we struggled onto the playing field – despite the rain it was packed with children, stilt walkers, clowns, dancers etc amongst all the stalls – and amplified music everywhere.
No one knew where I was supposed to go… but I recognised the tipi at the far end of the field and made my way across. The entrance was so small, I had to get down on hands and knees and then try to drag the big basket inside without spilling everything again.
By now I was wet… the dogs were wet… my props were wet… and the tipi flaps were open, so the inside of the tipi was wet – and the amplified music was blasting out close by.
No matter – I set up and put out my sign and chalked the start time onto the little slate – and the rain washed it straight off again.
The rain never stopped all afternoon – a steady, drenching, wind-blown rain.
But soon the audience arrived, eager to get out of the rain – only to find it was raining inside the tipi. They all managed to find reasonably sheltered spots – I was the only one fully exposed to the elements.
Despite all this, the stories were warmly received and we managed to have some fun. Eventually someone came to close the tipi flaps, I found a stall that could provide a cup of tea, and the damp storytelling continued. Everyone gave up finally and the event closed down an hour early.
The forecast for tomorrow is a lot better.
Festivals – Day 6
After an evening spent drying all my clothes, costumes, papers and props it was a relief to wake up to some sunshine and I set off feeling quite optimistic.
This time I found a sensible parking space – though still at the wrong end of the field.
In the sunshine it was mayhem – there seemed to be at least a thousand children playing, dancing, watching – trying all sorts of new skills and generally having great fun! It was quite tricky manoeuvring basket and dogs through all the crowds, performers and stalls.
Once at the tipi, I worked out how to increase the size of the entrance to make it easier to get inside – and I had had the sense to bring a large plastic sheet to cover the wet grass and bits of carpet that had had no chance to dry out overnight. Then I discovered how to open the tipi flaps to let some air inside as the day was getting pretty hot.
Before I could set up, the audience was already arriving – all ages from babes-in-arms to the occasional grandparent – and throughout the afternoon, as soon as some people left others came in to take their place. It was non-stop stories for 4 hours! Though I did manage to sneak out with the dogs for 5 minutes – just long enough to find a cup of tea.
Now my efforts with the pre-schoolers really paid off – so many times it was those simple stories that got chosen from the basket – and there were always some toddlers in the audience. As I am becoming more confident at handling the stories so I am finding they really do work for everybody. Pocamondas, The Old Woman and the Piggy, and Turtle of Koka were much in demand and had everybody laughing – even the teenagers. And then I found that, after a simple story or two, many of the toddlers were able to sit and listen to the more difficult ones. Quite clearly they didn’t understand everything, but they were prepared to listen.
I am finding a different kind of confidence too… when noisy newcomers interrupted a story, I would simple pause and wait for them to settle down. When some pre-teen girls were dragged away from their friends, they kept on returning to say their goodbyes again and again, with lots of hugs and kisses – and I stopped telling and asked them to leave. When the amplified music suddenly reached intolerable levels, I went out to the music stage to ask the volume to be reduced – and it was.
And… a real confidence booster… there was a teenage boy who had heard me telling last year and now had come specifically to hear me again – he stayed all afternoon. Several other people came because they had heard of me – and many of them came back several times during the afternoon to hear yet another story, despite all the other exciting attractions going on.
So, by home time, I was tired and my throat was sore from competing with all the ambient noise – but I was happy!
Festivals – Day 7
Back again to that lovely venue, sitting in the shade of a great tree, by a high garden wall, at the top of a gentle hill overlooking the marquees and knot garden below.
The atmosphere was different this time – instead of crafts and food this was a design fair and there were very few children around. There was still a children’s craft tent, now sitting close to me at the top of the hill, so parents and children did wander my way, but it was much quieter than the previous occasions.
The stall-holders, too, were different – as I walked with Archy, the great horned owl puppet, he caused quite a sensation as the quality of his design was appreciated just as much as the animation.
Several of the stall-holders had brought their children with them – and this was the third day of the design fair, so the children were already bored and eager for something new. They formed my core audience for the day, returning frequently to demand another story.
Mostly these were pre-teen girls who seemed more sophisticated in their approach than I am used to meeting. At one point, instead of choosing a story from the basket, they asked me to select a story that was funny but not silly… I can’t remember what story I chose, but they seemed satisfied. Then they asked if I had a sad story – so I told Papa Joe’s ‘The Magical Blue Feather’ which really held them gripped.
That group of girls then ran off to be replaced a few minutes later by another group demanding to hear about the Blue Feather as their friends had told them it was such a good story.
The day progressed in a steady flow of listeners – sometimes just a couple of adults – sometimes a mixed group of parents and children – sometimes a group of those pre-teen girls. I did manage to get a half-hour lunch break, but that was all.
Having started at 11am, I was scheduled to end at 3.30pm but at that point I had a group of slightly younger girls clamouring for ‘just one more story!’ – and so the session ran on for another half-hour. They still wanted more, but I pleaded exhaustion – justifiably I think.
And that is the end of my summer season of festivals. Unless some late bookings come in, I have nothing now until the beginning of October, when there is another two-day festival.
It has been a good season. I have learnt a great deal, built up my stamina and my confidence.
Now I must start to learn how to get more bookings to fill up my new, empty diary.