Performing stories – a different way to look at structure and narrative

For the last four weeks, I’ve been participating in a fantastic course run by the Oxford Playhouse on storytelling with storyteller, actor and director Polly Tisdall. It’s been one of the best things that I have done as a writer and as a novice performer.

We have primarily used fairy and folk tales to learn how to perform stories to an audience, and then within this to consider how to adapt them for different audiences. This was fascinating as it tied in with my Masters course on Children’s Literature, where we looked in great detail at traditional fairy tales. We didn’t just restrict ourselves to the more familiar tales such as Cinderella, Snow White, etc, but looked at stories from other cultures too to expand a possible repertoire. Polly told us a lovely tale called The Girl Who Married the Moon and I’ve since used this with three Key Stage 1 classes at my school, and not one group was bored. In fact, I have had requests for repeat performances! Result!

What has been invaluable to my story building and story writing is a technique Polly taught us on how to learn our stories for performance, which is done primarily through storyboarding. You take a – hopefully – large piece of paper (eg A3) and in one colour you draw the main ‘scenes’ from the story you want to tell. Then, you choose another colour and write down the emotions. Next, you move on to key  language and words you want to use (in a different colour) before writing down an opening and closing sentence. You end up with something that looks like this (but undoubtedly better drawn than my poor illustrations!):

Sam storyboard

Dontcha just love the drawings?!

Of course this probably makes no sense to you but it should – hopefully –  make sense to  me before I go into a performance. The idea is you get a book full of these drawings and scribblings that you can take with you as your portfolio. It’s a cool way of seeing the main aspects of a story, and therefore stripping its structure to the bare bones. You can also add the sort of music that would go well with it and write a blurb to sell it.

Holly was impressed with this and wanted to give it a go, so she came up with this, based on Goldilocks:

Holly storyboard

Sorry – my WordPress site is acting up on me tonight and I can’t rotate it!

Holly then told me her story based on this board and came up with her own ending, in which the three bears ate their porridge out at the shopping mall, got back, found Goldilocks and, under the urging of Baby Bear, roasted Goldilocks over a roaring fire.

Tomorrow is the last day of our course and I will be sad to finish. We are going to perform our stories to each other and to a small group of families and friends, if we wish to do so. I am stuck between a funny but very LONG Grimm Brothers Story about The Boy Who Set Out to Learn Fear and a West African folk tale called Too Much Talk. I guess only tomorrow will tell but one thing I know for certain – I want to carry on being a storyteller!



  1. Tomorrow we’re performing them at 5.45/6pm at the Playhouse in the bar! Friends and family welcome. 🙂 Am torn between the Fear story and the West African one which I have spent tonight adapting to reflect the general election. Hmm… do I go silly/scary or political (and potentially unfunny I guess if people are very seriously political?). x


  2. This sounds terrific – I’m sorry I missed your performance. As for the story boards (impressive!), do you show them in the class room or are they just cues for you?

    The high point of this post for me was Holly’s apt and thoroughly satisfying variation of the end of Goldilocks and the 3 bears. Yesss!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. when I was doing the little OU drama-writing course we were given the Three Little Pigs to dramatise. Fairytales are not as easy to recast as they may seem! Well done Holly and her new ending for Goldilocks. I struggled with my little piggies. An awful lot of pig-related puns got in there – bad puns are my final refuge when desperate.

    Liked by 1 person

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