Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Workshop techniques’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Looking and Seeing

Saturday, June 6th, 2020

‘This is the first time I’ve ever looked a white person in the eyes.’ It was a young black guy that said this to me and him saying it has stayed with me ever since, both in the fact of what he said and that he felt able to say it. I felt proud that the situation we were in – an adult storytelling workshop in Cape Town in South Africa – had made it both possible and comfortable for him to say such a thing.

I’d been asked to run that workshop by Alan Kenyon, a wonderful man who believed in stories and their power to enable things to be said and heard that need saying and hearing. Sadly Alan passed away a few years ago. He was a science teacher-trainer whom I’d originally met when he turned up at a storytelling course I’d been asked to run in an Adult Education venue in South London where I’d never previously worked.  No-one other than Alan turned up, a disconcerting circumstance which had the wonderful consequence that I was able to begin getting to know him there and then. At that time, he was in London for a while to try and learn how to use storytelling as part of the teaching of science and maths. After he’d returned to his work in South Africa, this interest of his eventually led him to put together the storytelling trip to South Africa which he asked me to come and do. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Walking

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

Ever tried it? You think of a walk you like to take. Or one you regularly took in the past. Then you take the walk again, this time sitting in an armchair or lying down. To start, you summon up a sense of where the walk begins, the moment you feel aware of what lies ahead. Then you continue, envisaging the next bit and the next and the next. And so you go on, also thinking about the pausing points – the meadow where there are sometimes cows and the part that’s often wet underfoot so that you have to negotiate your footsteps, the smells of the wooded part of the walk with its wild garlic and soggy leaves and also such sights as that of the strange fairy doll that must have been pushed by someone, who knows who, into the hollow trunk of a fallen tree.

So you continue and when you reach the long tangle of intertwined boughs just before that stone pillar, remains of a long-ago project that would have created a vast harbour here, you know you are now within the  smell and sound of the sea. So as you reach the narrow path that leads down to the pebble banks, you are full of anticipation, eager to see what kind of waves there will be and whether anyone has left some strange tower of stones somewhere along the length of the beach as a kind of tribute to the wind and the weather.

Once again, you fill with gratitude as you realise that this is one of your places. Gratitude for the walking and the being able to do it, gratitude for the fact that the place is still here, gratitude for the memory that enables you to recall it at will if you want to on any of the days that you’re actually there. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Looking up

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

P1070076Here’s a story I remember with laughter and delight every time I think about Laugharne, the place where the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas lived and wrote and also where the novelist and story-writer Richard Hughes had his writing-room high up in the castle walls. This story was created orally by a small group of 11-year old children.

The story:

Merlin was watching over the wall of his castle. Beside him was his favourite seagull. As he looked down, Merlin saw a family of parents and children, obviously tourists, walking along the foreshore of the estuary below. All were munching – crisps from crisp bags, chocolate from wrappers. Then as they passed, one by one they dropped their plastic wrappers onto the ground. Merlin was horrified. When the family had gone by, he sent his favourite seagull down onto the shore to bring him something else that was messing it up. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Crucible of Story

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

P1070464A castle, wherever it is, is a story in itself. When was it created? Why? By whom? Inevitably the story continues to the people who have lived there, the conflicts they may have provoked or suffered, the enmities and love affairs its silent walls may have witnessed. And so it goes on, suffering ravages of time and weather as decisions are made to extend, rebuild, refurbish or abandon until eventually, it reaches today and the people who decide to go and see it in its old age and those who have become its carers now.

Carew Castle

Carew Castle is a staggeringly beautiful creation. It has existed in one form or another since 1100 or shortly thereafter…., first as some kind of stone tower with wooden palisades, in Tudor times taking on aspects of a mansion, today almost completely floorless except for a couple of large rooms. Several of the participants who attended the storytelling training day I ran there on Thursday for Pembrokeshire Coast National Park are people who do guided tours around it. What a huge story it provides for them to tell! Architectural, archaeological, historical, social, Welsh, English, the story has so many aspects, including what visitors add. I loved what one young woman said to me about it as our training day concluded and we were walking away. ‘It’s a crucible we have here,’ she said. ‘Every day it’s different, always transforming. Whatever you put in, there’s always more. It’s always changing.’

On reflection, I think these could be very good words for describing stories and storytelling. Whatever you put into the crucible, it’s always changing, it’s never full, and for that reason it’s life-enhancing. It  leaves you with new perspectives and new questions. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Ground of our being

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

P1040896This Thursday night, I attended an event in a fine old house in Hackney. The house was Sutton House, a Tudor manor house that now belongs to the National Trust. The event consisted of two authors, Rob Cowen and Dominick Tyler, talking about their relationship with nature and landscape. Some of what Dominick said was personally recognisable to me: I’ve known him since his childhood in Cornwall. What both authors said about the impact of nature made me recall an important theme in story work I’ve done.

Rob Cowen’s book, Common Ground, is about the Yorkshire edgeland near where he grew up. One of those strangely absorbing places on the fringes of towns and cities where you can still find yourself immersed in the world of nature, he rediscovered his childhood edgeland as an adult. In Dominick’s book, Uncommon Ground, you see remarkable photos of landscape features and read about the terms for those features that have fallen almost completely out of knowledge. Finding the terms and the places which illustrate them was Dominick’s way of reconnecting with nature for behind his book, as with Rob Cowen’s, was his strong realisation of how much he’d lost in becoming urbanised as an adult.

And so to stories:

In story work I’ve done in schools, it’s always proved productive with pupils in the 10 – 13 age-range to ask them about places they value. I start with an invitation: ‘Think about somewhere you’ve enjoyed going to play, somewhere you like to lurk about.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Without Words

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Cloud from PaulLast Thursday evening, I went to see the English National Ballet in a performance of Romeo and Juliet. The Royal Albert Hall was the venue and the fact that the performance was in the round, not on the normal proscenium-arch stage, made a fascinating difference. Lost were the usual sight-lines and symmetries but with such a large, free area for movement and wonderful enactment of the roles, there was huge intensity of emotion. 

Here was storytelling without words. It brought out strongly the enmity between the two families, the Capulets and Montagues. It emphasised the desperate plight of the two young lovers.

The Romeo and the Juliet were unbelievably good. They showed all the freshness and joy of young love, its amazement at its own good fortune, its passion and ultimately heartbreak. At various points, diaphanous cloaks were used. As they swirled about, they looked a bit like the cloud in my photo.

Without words – the workshop technique

Storytelling without words? It reminds me vividly of how much can be gained from a special workshop technique. With adults or children, after you’ve told a story, get them into groups of four or five and invite them to retell either the whole story or a part of it but without using words. OK – single words can be allowed if you like, but only as exclamations or as part of a rhythm. For of course there’s also what Karen Tovell and I used to call Voice Jazz where the emphasis is on retelling only using sounds.

Doing without words doesn’t half bring out the underlying currents, shapes and emotions of a story – the enmities, journeying, embracing, excluding, finding, losing … All find new strength of expression when there’s only movement or sound. It is as if wordlessness reveals a lot about the underlying meaning of words.   (more…)

Storytelling Starters – Pick a Card

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

Making up stories is something many people are nervous of doing. Yet, as I hope my blogs over the last few weeks have demonstrated, there are lots of painless ways to practise. And anyway, what does it matter if your story isn’t the best that’s ever been created? The fun lies in the doing. And the doing teaches you an awful lot about the way stories work. 

Story Cards

This week I’m writing about story cards as a beguiling way to play with stories. (more…)