At proper, modern storytelling events, you’re more likely to hear a retelling of, for example, a fairy tale, folk tale, ghost story, etc. A couple of years ago, I participated in a couple of storytelling events run by actor, director and storyteller Polly Tisdall at the Oxford Playhouse and we based our performances on the Brothers Grimm stories and then on the 1001 Arabian Nights. I have been known to dress up as Scheherazade on occasion (one) too.
Storytellers can’t just sit there mumbling a basic plot, though. You’ve got to engage your audience through use of voice (not just volume but pitch too), action (not too distracting but enough to transport your audience beyond the floor/chairs they’re sitting on) and of course facial expressions. I also love to invite the children to take part as this means they are fully attentive and involved in the retelling. They’re not passive listeners – they are storytellers too!
Today we experienced the story of The Honey Hunters, based on Francesca Martin’s picture book retelling. In this, the honey-guide (a bird) would entice creatures to follow her to find honey by calling ‘Che, che! Cheka, cheka, che! If you want honey, follow me!’ The bird repeats this refrain many times during the story, every time it meets an animal, so it gives the children an opportunity to take part and have fun (which they thankfully did!). The story is an interesting explanation of how animals became enemies of each other and of mankind (because, Once upon a time all the wild animals were the greatest of friends). What happens when the animals finally find the honey is amusing but also a little sad.
I look forward to sharing this story with other year groups when they come in this week. Storytelling, thankfully, is not a lost art and won’t be as long as we’re around to do it!