Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Performance’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Stars

Saturday, August 11th, 2018

How fantastic it can be to see stars whether in the night sky or on stage. Stars in the sky are a thrill: as you look, they seem to call you up to the sky to join them. On stage, stars give out a similarly thrilling kind of brightness. This week, I saw and heard some very special ones at the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, the Welsh National Eisteddfod in Cardiff. What was especially exciting about the particular three I’m thinking about right now is that they were all under 21 years old.

Eisteddfod is an interesting word. Eistedd in Welsh means sit or sitting. Bod (mutated here to fod) means being. So, to me, the word eisteddfod immediately summons up the sense of people sitting together, being together. It brings with it a strong feeling of community and also a big sense of expectation. What is going to happen? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Stew

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

Last week this blog was a pot-pourri. This week it’s more by way of a stew.

Item 1:

Item 1 must be my new book which will be out in only four days’ time. Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years will be available to buy on my website and I’ll say more about it here next week. I do hope it encourages early years staff and parents (and what about grandparents?) to realise that, next to food and love, stories are vital to the growth of healthy children. In fact, they are part of the food and the love. It seems that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, agrees. A few days in advance of this year’s World Book Day, in a piece in the Sunday Express that was in turn reported on the BBC and then re-reported in the Guardian, she described how much joy it gave her as a child that her father had read stories with her. She went on: “Reading to our children and our grandchildren is something we can all try to do every day of the year. Not only does it give us pleasure but it leads them on a voyage of discovery and enrichment that only books can bring.”

Item 2:

Item 2 has to be about the personal tale. On the 10th March, the word ‘storytelling’ appeared in another piece in the Guardian. Of course, it caught my eye. The piece reported former President Obama’s senior adviser, Eric Schultz, having told the New York Times: ‘President and Mrs Obama have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire. Throughout their lives they have lifted up stories of people whose efforts to make a difference are quietly changing the world for the better.’

And why was Eric Schultz saying this now? Because, evidently, there’s a possibility that Barack and Michelle Obama might be on the verge of signing up to present a series of high-profile shows on Netflix. Hence the connection with storytelling: ‘As they consider their future personal plans, they continue to explore new ways to help others tell and share their stories.’

On Tuesday this week, the Obamas’ possible plan came back to my mind during a visit to St Peter’s School in Hammersmith. As twice before, I was there to do a day’s storytelling for their Arts Week and it felt very encouraging  that lots of the 300 children I saw in the course of the day remembered those previous visits. Until this year, however, I’d never made a conscious choice to tell a personal story in any of my sessions. This time with Years 5 and 6, it was a spontaneous but very conscious choice. I was planning to tell two main stories, each somewhat scary in its way. One was going to be that Indian story about the barber and the ghosts that I recently told in this blog. The other was going to be the strange and thought-provoking story by Richard Hughes, The Glass Ball. (You can find it in my blog for November 29th, 2014.) A story about war – and, yes, the Year 5 and 6 children were very aware of war from the TV – it begins with the ever-present fear war brings of being trapped and hurt or killed and the wonder of it when peace is found.

£8.50 (£10 inc UK postage)

On the hop, because I’d be telling these two scary stories and felt suddenly aware of the scariness ahead – I began with the story that comes first in by book of personal tales, A Long Run in Short Shorts. The experience, as I explained, had been a bit scary for me. For as I’d started down that hill in Wales, on my own and, as daylight darkened, not looking forward to shaded places on the road back home, I’d initially been very startled by the sight of those two strange men coming up the hill towards me. Jowly faces, thin bare legs, very short shorts, knobbly knees: who could they be and why would they be coming up that hill towards me at that time of the evening? And would I have to be following them on my way home?

After my personal tale, I went on to the barber story and then suggested a minute’s visualising to the 60 or so young people before me. A scene from the barber story was what I proposed they choose. And when, after a minute or so had elapsed, I invited anyone who wanted to report what they’d ‘seen’, quite a lot of children put up their hand But only one  described a scene from the barber story. All the others for whom there was time came up with something personal, something a bit scary that had happened to them. It was a real reminder to me of the power of the personal story and the importance of including our own lives in the wider context of storytelling. It was also a lesson to me to perhaps make more time for that kind of telling with that age-group in future.

Item 3:

The third item in my stew again involves reference to a Guardian piece (you can tell it’s the paper I read!) This was the three-page obituary of Stephen Hawking that appeared there on Thursday. Written by his colleague Sir Roger Penrose, the majority of the piece was about Hawking’s scientific thinking and the extraordinary advances he made in the science of space.

Alas, I understood only those parts of the tribute that referred to Hawking’s life and personality. But the stuff about his science brought back to mind the last session of my day at St Peter’s.

That last session was with the 7 to 9 year-old in Years 3 and 4. It included a telling of the West African story, How Sun and Moon Got Into the Sky. You know the one? (If not, you can find it in my blog archive for January 14th, 2012.) Briefly, it tells how Sun and Moon once lived down here on earth. They were married and in the house where they lived, Moon used to do lots of polishing (for of course, these were the olden times before female emancipation) whereas Sun used to go out to chat with his friend Water. On one occasion, Sun inquired why Water never came to visit him and why he, Sun, always had to go and see Water. Water’s response was to enquire whether Sun had enough room in his house for him. ‘After all,’ said Water, it’s not just me. There’s an awful lot in me. (Fishes, sharks, seaweed … the story gives lots of space for participation).’

So Sun went and extended his house. (Again, the idea of extensions gives plenty of room for contributions). Finally, the invitation was confirmed. Water would come to tea. On the appointed day, Sun and Moon were ready. They heard Water coming. But of course the results were truly world-changing.  As Water flooded into the house with all that was in him, Moon followed by Sun had to run upstairs and climb out onto the roof. But even that wasn’t going to be enough. Soon Moon was saying, ‘I must go, I must jump.’ And when she did, Sun said, ‘Wait for me!’ So that’s how they both got into the sky and, of course, they’re still there (though some of us do say that, in the immensity of space, they still meet whenever there’s an eclipse and others remark that they had lots of children, namely the stars).

The response to this story on Tuesday amazed me. How much those children knew about space! It all came out in questions and comments. Wouldn’t Water have got evaporated by Sun when Water came to the house? How did Sun and Moon manage to jump into the sky considering that gravity would have held them back? Considering that Sun is so massive, how could Sun have had a house big enough to live in here on earth?

Naturally, the awareness of science those children showed, together with their capacity to think about it, came back into my mind yesterday when I read the obituary of Stephen Hawking in the Guardian. What an astonishing mind he had, a mind as big as a planet. And reading about him, I felt very aware that all that thinking had to have started somewhere. Conceivably the challenges provided to a modern mind by an ancient West African story can help such thinking to begin.

PS: Illustrations this week speak for themselves. Hope you enjoy the stew!

Storytelling Starters ~ Pot-pourri

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word pot-pourri in its first recorded usage in 1725 referred to a stew or a hotch-potch. Not long later in 1749 it was being used, as now, to describe a mixture of dried petals of different flowers mixed with spices. But of course it can also have the figurative meaning of a musical or literary medley. (more…)

Storytelling starters ~ We are painters

Saturday, February 10th, 2018

Fascinating how what is true in one art form can have such meaning for another! On Wednesday, we went to the Wigmore Hall in central London to be in the audience for a Masterclass given by Thomas Quasthoff with four young baritone singers.

Quasthoff is a bass baritone of extraordinary eminence, all the more extraordinary because he was born with such severe birth defects as to make him under 5 feet tall. Also his arms are severely foreshortened. These defects result from the fact that when his mother was pregnant with him, she was prescribed thalidomide, the drug which was afterwards realised to have such horrendous effects. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Breaking the rules

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

This week, I’m owning up to breaking what has always seemed to be a rule among storytellers. When first I fell into storytelling, it was the early days of the storytelling revival. At that time, as I wrote in this blog a while ago, even such a thing as including a poem in a storytelling session was regarded as not allowed. Ever since, I’ve also felt aware that, as a storyteller, I should never expect or be expected to read something in public. No. My role, I felt, was to maintain the distinction between reading and telling and to bring to the fore the art of telling without a script.

Doing readings:

So let me admit to breaking that rule on two London occasions (and also, I’ll now admit, a year ago down in Pembrokeshire too).  The second London occasion happened last Sunday evening; the first had taken place in December a year ago. On both these London occasions, my husband Paul was giving a concert at Clapham Omnibus Theatre in aid of Crisis, the homelessness charity. Paul does the singing with his friend Steve playing the piano and this year, I’d say, they outshone what they did last year and in their first Crisis concert the previous year too. It was during this year’s event, as during last year’s, that I did readings. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Settling into a story

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Roses 3Do stories need explanation? And what kind of explanations might be needed for a story from an unfamiliar culture? I did wonder a bit about these issues while preparing The Tale of Farizad of the Rose’s Smile for telling to the older children in Wolfscastle School this last Monday. No wide cultural diversity there except for that between Welsh and English. Probably little awareness of Muslim culture. No great variety among children’s names. Certainly nothing like Farid, Faruz and Farizad.

But what explanation does a good story need? I plumped for just going ahead, telling the story without explanation. First I’d told the wonderfully daft story of Shemi and the Enormous Cabbage. Older they might be but they enjoyed that a lot. Then I came to the Farizad story. This is in a very different vein and how it begins is rather a shock. For it tells how, over the course of the three years following the marriage of the King of Persia to the youngest of three sisters, the king is told that his queen has given birth to a dead dog, a dead cat and a dead mouse. Can this be true? No, these are just lies. The queen has actually given birth to three babies and it’s her jealous sisters who have made up the stories.

Would they stick with it? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Haunting

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

Encouraged by comments on last week’s blog – that the poem was haunting and so, so sad – I reached down my box-file labelled Songs, Poems, Sayings. In it, I found much I’d forgotten and much I felt I’d like to share – rhymes for Early Years children, chants and sayings to introduce storytelling sessions and also several other haunting poems. Here’s one of them: Green Candles by Humbert Wolfe.

P1080300Green Candles:

‘There’s someone at the door,’ said gold candlestick;
Let her in, let her in quick!’
‘There is a small hand groping at the handle:
Why don’t you turn it?’ asked green candle.

‘Don’t go, don’t go,’ said the Hepplewhite chair,
lest you find a strange lady there.’
‘Yes, stay where you are,’ whispered the white wall,
there is nobody there at all.’

‘I know her little foot,’ grey carpet said:
Who but I should know her light tread?’
‘She shall come in,’ answered the open door,
‘and not,’ said the room, ‘go out any more.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Three Sisters and a Great Occasion

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

IMG_20160805_142445_resized_20160805_070831215Today, I’ll be doing something I’ve never done before – telling a story at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. Two storytellers who live in Wales, Marion Oughton and Cath Little, have invited me to join them in the storytelling session they’re giving in the Welsh Learners’ tent on the Eisteddfod field. This will be a pleasure. The National Eisteddfod is an annual event, held in a different part of Wales each year and oscillating between the north of the country and the south. This year it’s being held in Y Fenni (known in English as Abergavenny) and it’s proving extremely well-organised and highly successful. In the two days I’ve been here already, I’ve loved it.

My story: Three Sisters

The story I intend to tell – in Welsh of course – is a story about three of Wales’s best-known rivers. At the start, we meet three sisters living on top of a mountain in mid-Wales (and therefore not far from Y Fenni). They make their clothes out of birds’ feathers. They wash in the limpid pools of water left on the mountain top by the rains. When they look into the distance they can see the sea and sometimes they get a scent of it. They fantasise. What would it be like to go to the sea?

Fantasy in this story turns  into a definite plan as the sisters decide that the very next day they will go and visit the sea. What will the seashore be like, the oldest sister wondered. Will the sea shine? the middle sister asked. Would they see silver fish in the waves asked the youngest.

In the morning, the eldest sister woke early and decided to go some of the way down the mountain at once to see what the journey would be like. She dressed and washed and then, putting her feet in a pool of water,  drew the water behind her as she started down the mountain. But the countryside around her was so lovely,  she completely forgot her plan to return for her sisters and, instead, went smoothly on. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Attitude

Saturday, April 9th, 2016

COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_Tableau_vivant_Nederlands-Indië_TMnr_60050223[1]Our local cinema, the Ritzy in Brixton, has a  giant noticeboard above the entrance with names of the films it’s currently showing. Occasionally this noticeboard shows a birthday greeting, presumably to someone local. At the start of this week, there was a quite different message. It was:  

IF YOU’RE GONNA TELL A STORY, COME WITH SOME ATTITUDE, MAN.’

Of course, that message caught my attention.  I wondered if it could be a quote, perhaps from the great jazz artist, Miles Davis. A documentary film about him was due to be shown with a Q and A session to follow. Then the message persisted in getting my attention whenever I thought about it during the week.  Attitude is a word with so many connotations. Often, it’s used with ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to convey a suitable or unsuitable approach, especially from pupils, students or persons at work. It can be feisty, even threatening. ‘Don’t give me that attitude.’

Attitude: a theatrical form (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Best story ever (for young ones)

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

DSCN5231For any storyteller, it’s a heartening moment when you learn that a story you’ve told has succeeded in engaging a child. It’s even better when the story has become part of a kind of chain. You told it to a group of adults and it’s one of them that passed it on to the child concerned.

This week I had one such moment when I received the following message from Hilary Minns at Warwick University. Hilary has for many years been running a module on Stories and Storytelling for people pursuing Early Childhood studies. The story she refers to is one I’ve told there a number of times.

Hilary’s message:

A little story: one of my students has a group of seven children with special learning needs. Among them is a 6 year old autistic boy who, she says, dislikes stories intensely and who wriggles and squirms around at storytime. But she told him Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle, complete with actions, and he was transfixed. He then asked her to make the characters into Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle and said they had to change houses. At break time she observed this boy retelling the story to a friend!

  (more…)