Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters – Recycling

Recycling has to happen quite often when you’re a storyteller. Stories have to be re-made, themes and ideas adapted to the present need. This is partly because motifs in stories are, by nature, constantly recycling themselves, reappearing in some other similar form, maybe in a new story you’re making. Partly, too, it’s because you’d never have enough time or energy or imagination to make everything completely new every time.

So in Session 2 of my parents’ storytelling course at Kensington Palace this week, some recycling had to go on.

Item 1: name game

First there was another name game. We’d had one last week but this week a few new parents had joined. It was important to re-establish the friendly, inclusive atmosphere we’d created in Session 1. This week’s name game was one I’ve used many dozens of times before. The first person says their name and then gives themself a describing word. (It doesn’t have to be true.) Thus: ‘I am Mary and I am musical.’ The rest of the group then repeats what the first person has said, tapping or clapping in the process. ‘You are Mary and you are musical.’ Then the next person speaks and is echoed and so on round the circle (I always get groups into a circle – I can’t abide sitting round tables.)

Oh, and there’s one other little feature which makes the game fun. To match the describing word they’ve chosen, each person makes an appropriate gesture or sound. Thus one mother this week produced a mixture of a grunt and a roar: her name starts with N and she’d said she was ‘noisy’.

And, yes, there’s something else too: everyone gets told at the beginning when the game is being introduced that if you haven’t immediately got an idea of your own, we can all help by making suggestions.

So that was the first Recycled Item. I had an ulterior motive for introducing it. Later in the session, we’d be starting to build characters from some of the unknown figures in William Kent’s mural on the King’s Grand Staircase in the palace. Describing words would be needed then too. This was a way of getting us going.

Item 2: floppy fan

Next I got out my wonderful floppy fan. Several of the women in William Kent’s mural are holding fans and since they’re all standing next to men, it is thought that, though the language of fans was not codified until later in the 18th century, William Kent may have wanted to suggest what the women could be communicatinh through the position of their fans. ‘I’m not in love with you.’ ‘Your flattery annoys me.’ Or quite simply, ‘No.’

The fan I used was given to me by a parent on a storytelling course I ran in Redbridge many moons ago. The giver said it was a piece of window-blind. It has come in useful on a zillion occasions as a way of opening people’s imaginations. This time it got passed round the circle with people handling it and, if they wanted, making a suggestion of what it could be. A skirt, a Chinaman’s hat, a peacock, a flight of stairs, an accordion – the value of such an exercise speaks for itself. On this occasion I hoped it would also act as a way of preparing participants to become imaginative when we got to thinking about those characters in William Kent’s mural.

Item 3: Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle

Item 3 was me telling and teaching that old standard of the repertoire, Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle. The parents on the Kensington Palace course are learning how to tell stories to children of about 5 and below. For them, Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle is a certain winner. Children love it. Parents find it easy to learn. Besides,  I thought it could provide the participants on this particular course with a useful way of introducing the subject of Kensington Palace into storytelling sessions they might do in the future. Part of the purpose of the course is to prepare them to share stories with small groups of children at the local library, perhaps at their own children’s school. Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle could be an ideal starter. For, having each set out to see the other and then finally met on top of the hill in between, might Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle not suggest to each other a trip they might take on a subsequent day? What about going to Kensington Palace? Ideal. For Kensington Palace does hold a story or two. And after our course, it will surely hold more.

Item 4: brainstorming new stories

Last week I was asked that very good question. How can we make up stories about historical characters? As a way to get us thinking about the problem, I told the group some of what I know about Peter the Wild Boy. (He was one of the subjects in a still unpublished book I once wrote about feral children.) We concluded that, although he might figure in our story-making, we might feel freer about basing our stories on some of the figures in the mural about whom nothing is known.

So off we went to look again at the characters in the mural – and in particular at the children. (Children enjoy stories about children.)  When we returned to our room, it was all go. Out came big sheets of paper and fat coloured pens for brainstorming ideas about one or other of the child characters in the mural – the little turbaned black boy, the very young girl in a white dress, the young girl carrying a little dog … Who knows what will happen? No doubt we’ll find out more next week.

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