Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Renewables

After this last Monday, I feel renewed in my conviction of the value and interest of storytelling for elderly people.  And come to think of it, aren’t I classifiable as an elderly person myself?

The elderly people on Monday were all residents of the St Mary’s Care Home, Chiswick. About 15 women and one man joined the session  which I was doing at the invitation of a good friend, Julia Langdon, whose mother had been a resident here in the last part of her life. Julia had asked me if I would come to tell them stories.

I hugely enjoyed it. They sat in their chairs round the sides of the room and listened intently and laughed quite a bit. The woman sitting next to me leaned against her left arm throughout, head down and eyes closed. When we had a short break she apologised saying that, though her eyes were closed, she was listening to every word. With her as with the others, it felt like she was missing nothing. The woman sitting opposite me frequently tapped her arms on her knees with a kind of excited pleasure.

I told a variety of stories, including the Chinese story of The First Storyteller which I’d first come across in a book laid out on a table in a shop in Covent Garden many years ago and also a really soppy one about the Prince of the Earth falling in love with the Princess of the Moon. The latter is one I specially enjoy because I’m good at making frog noises and here it’s Frog who makes it possible for the two lovers to meet.

But I started the session by telling a story I haven’t told for a long time. I imagine it’s a well-known story among storytellers. In this version, it’s about a dressmaker but it can also be about a tailor making a coat or a jacket.

The Dressmaker:

The dressmaker in this story  was so much in demand that she never had time to make a dress for herself. But one day a very rich client gave her a length of cloth so lovely she decided she must take the time to use it on a dress for herself. The dress she made suited her well and she wore it and she wore it until …

Well you know how any piece of clothing can end up looking very worn after it’s been worn a lot. This dressmaker’s dress suffered in the usual way (a bit stained under the arms etc) until she decided to abandon the top part and make it into a skirt. Then she wore that skirt until, when it got frayed around the bottom, she made it into a pair of shorts.

And so things went on until, after she’d adapted it several more times, she ended up with just a covered button which also eventually fell apart. Nothing else could be done with what remained of the original cloth – nothing except that, with all her inventiveness, the dressmaker had made it into a story.

And, of course, she told that story again and again and it never ever got worn out.

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One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Renewables”

  1. Karen Tovell Says:

    I had to smile, Mary, when I read your sentence about the woman closing her eyes as it reminded me of the story from China of the travelling professional storyteller who arrived in a small town where he had a week of evening performances at the Town Hall organised.

    The first night he was in full flow and really giving his all to his telling of The Peach Blossom Story that ended his performance, when he noticed a particular man in the front row frowning and looking displeased – indeed, at the end the man sat with his arms firmly folded whilst the rest of the audience applauded rapturously. This upset the storyteller and he was surprised when the man appeared in the same spot the following evening.

    So, the storyteller decided to go to town with his body language and told the final story with many elaborate flourishes and impressive waving of his arms and stabbing of his fingers to emphasise every nuance of the tale. But to no avail – the man still sat stony faced, even wincing slightly, and no applause was forthcoming from him although the rest of the audience happily applauded the bravura performance.

    You guessed it! At the following evening’s performance the man reappeared in the same spot in the front row. Feeling challenged – and somewhat annoyed – the storyteller decided to enhance his story with every vocal flight and fancy that he could muster; the audience were in awe of his vocal range and use of pitch and pace! However, the man resolutely refused to applaud and looked unhappy and dissatisfied.

    By now the storyteller was getting worn down by this unwelcome reaction, let alone from all the physical effort he was making every evening, and when the exact same scenario was played out the following night he was prepared – during the day he had scoured the town’s markt and gathered many colourful and exotic props to illustrate the final story. My, how the audience loved it – all except for that particular man in the front row, who was shaking his head sorrowfully.

    It came to the final performance, and by now the storyteller was completely discouraged and drained, and so he SIMPLY TOLD THE STORY. He was surprised and disheartened to see the man had closed his eyes and apparently fallen asleep during the telling, not even waking up during the thunderous applause from the rest of the audience. However, he was even more surprised later.

    As the storyteller was packing up all his things for the last time in the dressing room, there was a knock at the door and when he opened it the man was there – he burst into the room and warmly shook the storyteller’s hand and embraced him. With eyes shining rapturously, the man said effusively: “Oh, thank you, thank you, Storyteller- from the bottom of my heart I thank you! You have made feel a happiness I thought I would never experience again. Finally, you told The Peach Blossom Story just the way my mother used to tell it.”

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