Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Posts Tagged ‘Creating atmosphere’

Storytelling Starters ~ In the City of Rome

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

Ideas can sprout like potatoes – which is why, this week, my photos include a potato that sprouted in my vegetable rack, plus a red cabbage I neglected too long which has by now put forth such beautiful tentacles that I thought it deserved some photos too.

A storytelling game which definitely encourages ideas to sprout is the one called In the City of Rome … Goodness knows if that’s the game’s real name. But that’s the way I’ve remembered it and that’s the way I’ve played it.

Who’s it for?

It’s suitable for fairly small groups, maybe up to about eight people.

How does it work?

In the version of the game that I remember, there is a fountain at the beginning. So the first person starts off with ‘In the City of Rome, there was a fountain …’ and then offers it to the second person to add something on. That person once again begins from the beginning and again adds something new. And so on and on until the story is brought to a conclusion. As with the other games I’ve been describing here in previous weeks, the group may need to be reminded – or to remind itself! – that stories have a need of endings. An ending may need to be prompted.

Why does it work?

I think the success of this game comes from the repetition that is required as each participant takes up what has previously been said before adding his or her own contribution. The repetition makes it different from the much more common version of the ‘Add Something …’ game where people do not start from the beginning each time but simply add to what’s gone before. ‘In the City of Rome …’ is, in my view, easier and more fun to play. Repetition gives time for gestation. It also nurtures confidence, inspiring new ideas to burst forth. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Reflections on Telling and Writing 2

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

It’s frog time. During the week, I saw several in the garden – one in a bucket of water and one in an empty pot right next to the kitchen door. (I hope you like my portraits of them below.)

More frogs!

One evening during the week, another frog was spotted sitting on its haunches in our study, looking for all the world as if it wanted to talk. When and how it got into the study we had no idea. It was me who was deputed to be the one to remove it. So I performed the usual trick of fetching a plastic bowl, popping it suddenly over the frog, then sliding a piece of card underneath, thus temporarily trapping the frog inside. Out in the garden, it hopped quickly away.

Next day my email inbox included a message from the artist who runs the Drawing Club in my local park. This week’s session, she announced, would be at the pond where we could have fun drawing the frogs: ‘Always the best session of the year!’

So frogs became the theme of my week. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Magic of Objects

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

…how the idea began


A few weeks ago on an impulse, I dragged my story-bags from under the shelves where I keep them. For the first time since last year (lymphoma!), I opened them up and began taking out the contents. As I looked at each one, arranging them around me on the floor, I felt enormous pain and pleasure. How I’d been missing sharing these things. That’s when this new idea surfaced. Since I’m not yet ready to get back out on the storytelling road in person (recovering!), I began to wonder if a new series of blogs could do the sharing for me.

Storytelling Starters – the plan

Storytelling Starters is meant for anyone who loves stories and storytelling and is keen to develop ways of sharing them with others.  Maybe you work with children in a school or nursery or after-school club. Or with adults in a community group. Or maybe your interest is because you’re a parent. Or perhaps you are just interested. And though the blog is not intended for ‘performers’, maybe if you’re a performer, you can get something out of it too. Since many of oral storytelling’s techniques are also applicable when reading aloud, the blog may also be useful to you if you don’t (yet!)want to put the book aside.

My plan is to put up a weekly piece, starting today on October 1st – just in time for Children’s Book Week. In each piece I shall aim to tackle something that might help you get involved with storytelling and the first series is on The Magic of Objects. It’s about ways of creating a good storytelling atmosphere through drawing on the evocative power of objects and their capacity to attract attention and nourish imagination. After that, if all goes well, the blog will go on to talk about such issues as how you can develop your memory and imagination to help you familiarise yourself with existing stories and maybe make up new ones. Then there’ll be ways to put stories across, including techniques for developing participation. And that’s just for starters. So here goes.

Series 1: The Magic of Objects

The magic of objects is that, through showing and sharing, you can begin to establish a storytelling atmosphere in which you can start learning to listen. From my point of view, that habit of listening is fundamental for anyone who proposes working with either children or adults in a creative or educational way. The members of your group may not actually respond by speaking – or at least, not yet. But you need to nurture their thoughts. You need to inspire their imagination. And you can see it on their faces when it happens.

So once a week in this first series of blogs, I’ll put up a photo of one of the objects I’ve used in my storytelling and say a bit about it – where I got it (if I remember!), what I do with it and the kinds of things people have said in response. Where it’s appropriate, I’ll also say a bit about particular stories with which I connect it, myths or folktales or personal stories. But the initial idea is to draw attention to the sheer fascination of objects and the way in which they can succeed in taking our minds on journeys. It’s to encourage you to think about objects that tantalise you, evoking memories and dreams. It’s also to show in a practical way how such items can be employed to engage the listener.

Objects can create their own sense of story. I hope that, whatever the item I focus on – and this week, it’s the Story-Bag – you’ll get something out of it that might be of use to you. You might track down a similar item. You might make or find something equivalent. You might settle on something altogether different that is entirely to do with you. Whatever the case, I hope you will discover a way to share it in your work, whether that’s with children or adults, or maybe with family or friends. With luck, it will bring you the same sense of communication and pleasure that it has brought to me.

Item 1: The Story-Bag

My story-bags are extremely useful. They are colourful, they focus attention and they draw forth questions. ‘What have you got in that bag, Miss?’ ‘Well, what do you think is in it?’ Children usually guess that it’s going to be books. After all, I’m a storyteller, aren’t I? So the idea that I haven’t brought any books but keep my stories in my head is extremely fascinating to them. And that’s a very good start. For if there’s no books, what’s in the bag?

Well, it somewhat depends on the occasion. For a particular theme in a school – it could be animals, Africa, the seaside or space or any one of the myriad topics that different classes focus on – I’ll have sorted through the stuff I keep at home to select items that could help me introduce or illuminate particular stories I might tell on the day. In the bag too, there’ll be my standard kit, items that assist in creating what I consider to be the right conditions for storytelling whether in schools or with community groups. These include my story cloths, the bag of stones for my sea-tray, my magic music pipe, a fan that isn’t really a fan  – all are objects that help me get the atmosphere going, set the scene, invite my listeners into the world of stories. I’ll be writing about these in subsequent weeks. (more…)