Part 1 – Pre-schools
After an enforced absence of 4 yrs (due to carer responsibilities) I am at last getting back to work as The Tintagel Storyteller. It seems a good moment to start a Storyteller’s Blog.
Of course it is back to square one when it comes to finding bookings. How can I get my name out there once more?
Thinking about my previous experiences, I am aware that I love telling stories to adults; enjoy telling to schoolchildren; and am terrified of trying to tell to the tiny tots – but every time I tell stories in public, some of the audience ignores all the publicity saying ‘ages 5 to 95 yrs’ and assumes that storytelling must be for small children.
As I see the eager little ones in amongst the schoolchildren and adults, my heart sinks. I know they won’t understand my stories – they cannot appreciate the subtleties and humour – they will get restless and distract everyone (including me!) – the parents will blame me for not being the sort of storyteller they expected….Time to change my approach… and this blog can track my progress.
I have volunteered to be the Resident Storyteller at the local pre-school, telling stories to a small group every Friday afternoon. I will let you know how I get on!
I arrived early, of course… and started to make myself at home in the designated storytelling area – a soft-play corner with lots of cushions and beanbags. My story props were hidden in a little Fortnum & Masons hamper (the initials F&M on the basket could easily stand for Folk & Myth)
As I was drinking a welcome cup of tea, the door opened and the children made a hesitant entrance – only 6 of them, plus a couple of staff members.
It seemed sensible to start with an old favourite tale, Father Mouse, which I was sure would work for this age group My white mouse puppet is a firm favourite and, as expected, the children immediately wanted to touch him. I explained that he was going to help me tell a story and one girl said, ‘He’s going to turn the pages.’ I tried to explain that I wasn’t going to be reading from a book, but it was clear that they just couldn’t understand…
….so I started telling the story and it worked pretty well. It held their attention at least, but there was no magic spark between us.
In my preliminary discussion with the school manager, we had agreed that it would be good to include the standard fairy tales in the programme and amongst all my props I had found a Red Riding Hood doll that converted into a grandmother and then became a wolf in Granny’s clothing. Again the story worked pretty well and the children were intrigued by the doll… but still no magic.
The last story of the session was Mighty Mouse, about a little mouse who sets out on a quest to find the deed that she can do to prove to the world what a mighty mouse she really is. For this story I have a really tiny, silky-soft, grey mouse and, at last, there was a hint of magic as they all focussed on the little mouse and followed the story closely.
With relief I bade them all goodbye until the next week.
This time I took BumbleBee in with me. She is trained to lie at my feet while I am telling stories and she loves children. She behaved perfectly – greeting each child and then retreating to her quilted pad at my side and went fast asleep.
I had warned the staff that this session might be more difficult than the first. In the theatre the second performance is usually a bit of a disappointment after the adrenaline-fuelled First Night.
I was right – the children were very distracted. Lots of toys had been left lying around and they wanted to play. The staff said they had been like this all day. But when the most distracted boy was taken out of the room, he was desperate to return to hear more stories.
The girl who, last week, had insisted that my mouse puppet would help me turn the pages, this time informed the whole group that I didn’t use books, but just ‘told’ the stories.
Sleeping Beauty was the first story, followed by The Empty Pot – a story about the Emperor of China choosing the right boy to adopt as his heir. Then one boy asked to have Mighty Mouse told again. He turned his back on me while I was telling – but I think he was still listening.
I was exhausted and stressed by the end, but knew that from here the only way was up. I was learning – just feeling my way – and the staff understood that. I had lots to think about in planning the next session.
A much better session! BumbleBee came with me again. She hates to be left behind and she will now be with me every time.
Because of the distractions last time, the staff had tidied away all the toys and I had brought with me some small Tibetan cymbals to create a magical Story-Starting sound. It worked wonderfully!
The first story was The Magical Blue Feather, given to me to tell by the great storyteller, Papa Joe. I had found a sweet, soft, girl doll with cropped auburn hair and a surprised, stressed expression – perfect for the role of Amber. And there was a beautiful blue feather.
This story held the attention of all but the youngest of the children – it is quite long but very dramatic.
Then a silly ‘jump’ story – The Dark Dark Cat – followed by The Christmas Spider.
I left feeling much more confident. Still much to learn, but I am improving.
Feeling a lot braver about this now and prepared to try a story I have never told before – Chaucer’s Chanticleer & Pertelot – the fable of a cockerel who unwisely believes the flattery of a fox.
My large collection of soft props revealed a lovely colourful rooster, a pretty hen and a gorgeous fox, so it became instinctive to use them as simple puppets to illustrate the story. The children were completely held!
Then back to an old favourite, The Cracked Pot followed by another new one about the creation of butterflies from fragments of an emperor’s embroidered robe.
The magic story sound from the Tibetan cymbals really does work well in getting the attention of even the most distracted child.
A sudden request for Mighty Mouse yet again – and again the boy turned his back, but was obviously listening.
I tried to finish the session after that, but they wanted more, so I told the simple Sun Sisters story that explains why we must never stare at the sun.
And yet another request! A girl who had not spoken so far suddenly asked if I could tell Red Riding Hood again. I asked her to remind me next time as we really had to finish now.
Half Term Thoughts
In just 4 sessions, I can feel my style has already changed – I am much more relaxed.
With Chanticleer & Pertelot I did not feel the need to to study and rehearse the story. I simply made sure I knew the bare-bones, fixed them as a series of images in my head, and made sure I had found some attractive soft props – then I trusted that I would be able to improvise the story. And it worked!
Now I am looking for more stories for this younger age group. Normally it is quite difficult to find a new story that I love and really want to share with an audience. The plot, the structure, the twist, the ending… they all matter so much. But not for this age range. The stories that are working are much simpler. They have hardly any plot, no subtle irony or humour – just good clear characters and lovable soft props/puppets.
Remembering to use my little Tibetan cymbals was a brainwave. They make a loud, magical reverberation that changes as I move them around. The sound catches the attention of even the most distracted child so that we can all be ready for the next story to start.
The children do not seem so frightening now. Of course, going in every week, I am getting to know them as individuals, which would not happen with a normal performance, but I think I will find it much easier to relate to such little ones from now on.
Already I am planning how to use this new skill in a public performance. My thoughts so far… when the session has been publicised as being for adults and older children and yet there are several tiny tots in the audience, I will explain that the first two stories will be special ones for the youngest listeners. After that, the stories will be for the rest of the audience. The tots will be welcome to stay if they are interested, but if they become restless or unhappy, then I would hope the parents would let them leave.