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Nobody’s story is written in stone – Review of Village Storytelling Festival

Wed 11th May 2016

Adverse Camber, Review, Storytelling, Workshops

The summer storytelling festival season is beckoning, with its promise of fabulous tales, music, and marquees flapping in the breeze! To get us in the mood, Adverse Camber’s producer Naomi Wilds takes a look back at Glasgow’s recent Village Storytelling Festival which she attended, bringing two of the company’s performances as part of the event.

“Everyone has a story worth hearing, yet nobody’s is written in stone…”
Village Storytelling Centre

Some storytelling festivals happen in fields, or by the sea, and people trundle miles to visit them, in cars laden with camping gear.  Some are located in particular communities and offer a mix of performances, exhibitions, symposium and talks. Whatever the style and format, all storytelling festivals are great social occasions where you hear riveting stories from near and far and meet up with or make new friends.

Village Storytelling Centre

Glasgow’s Village Storytelling Festival is unique in my experience as the culmination of a year-long programme of in depth story work with communities in Glasgow. This work is built on 15 years of engagement with tens of thousands of people.  Both the Festival and the charity’s ongoing work are informed by Village’s core values of inclusiveness, empowerment, transparency, collaboration and creativity.

During this inaugural Festival, a series of films, an exhibition, several performances plus the final day’s Village Fete all gave voice to elements of this valuable longer term work. Strong relationships built up between members of the groups and individual resident storytellers within the Village team were tangible for all to see.

There were many diverse ways in which stories, and other artforms had been hard at work; boxes of curiosities made by kinship carers, threads of bunting marking the stories and landmarks of a group of retired women from Pollok, a film of young people telling their stories through Parkour and a film of Jack and the Beanstalk,  by pupils with complex learning needs and their teachers at Linburn Academy.  These are just a few examples of a rich tapestry of projects which enabled people’s stories and life experiences to be validated, explored and conveyed.

Background to the Kinship Carers Project

Background to the Kinship Carers Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the evidence presented, all the projects had taken place over a relatively long period, with time for each community’s ideas, input, relationships and craftwork to develop and deepen.

“We help people to find, shape and share their voices, and to tell, reflect on and reframe their narratives…”
Village Storytelling Centre

imageSome of this work had taken place in Pollok, the community in which The Village Storytelling Centre itself is based – in a converted church in the midst of a housing estate. During the week, a film documenting several projects was screened at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), the main base for the symposium and performance elements of the festival. There was a fantastic atmosphere in the packed cinema as the stars of the film were introduced to us, with a lot of hilarity, in-jokes and banter from those featured as the films played out. These films, and their sharing, gave those of us who weren’t part of those communities a window into the stories they were happy to share, as well as a sense of the much longer comet tail of the experience each project represented.

Film ScreeningComplementing this deep, ongoing work within communities, the Festival also presented five half-day symposiums focused on aspects of storytelling’s application in the world – from community action to generating contemporary audiences. A mix of showcase and discussion, exploring techniques, theory and sharing evidence, these were crucial opportunities to engage in conversation and share practice around how so many people are working with stories in different and significant ways.

Then, there was a programme of evening performances – which Adverse Camber contributed to, with performances of The Old Woman, the Buffalo and the Lion of Manding and The Shahnameh: The Epic Book of Kings. More on those in another post! Thanks to funding from Creative Scotland, we also linked into community activities, with three singing workshops in community spaces in the days before the festival opened – the three artists from The Old Woman, the Buffalo and the Lion of Manding exchanging traditional African for classic Scottish songs in return! It was great to see some of the participants at shows in the evening.

imageOn the final night, what looked to me like the biggest paying audience of the festival turned out for ‘A Circumnavigation’, a new commissioned piece by storyteller and ex-coastguard Ian Stephen, pianist Peter Urpeth and Christine Morrison, taking us on an atmospheric, aural and visual journey around the Outer Hebrides.

For some, this piece may have been the jam in the night’s sandwich and for me it was refreshing and different, very evocative of the landscape it referenced, I could practically smell the salt of the sea.  The two MC-led stints of ‘Sangs an’ Clatter’ either side offered a long awaited, highly enjoyable chance to sample stories told by those who’d been working hard through the event, from ambassador of Scottish stories David Campbell to some of the volunteers (big thanks to Gary Cordingly who looked after us so well all week) and especially the Village Storytellers themselves, Dan Serridge, Dougie Mackay, Joanne Marr and Lauren Bianchi.

CCA FrontOne more important element in this terrifically packed, but highly chilled and enjoyable festival to reflect on – the Village Fete, held during the final day in Village Storytelling Centre’s home base in Pollok. Around 500 people, surely the largest single attendance of the whole event, streamed through the centre for this entirely free event, to enjoy a mix of activities, celebration and performances. Whether it was because I’d seen films of their work earlier in the week, or Glasgow’s warm and friendly welcome was rubbing off on me, I had conversations with some of the project participants – these memories of the festival experience will stay with me for a long time.

This was the first Village Storytelling Festival in Glasgow and demonstrated a deeply engaged community organisation delivering powerfully transformative experiences for a wide range of people. The team of Village Storytellers themselves are clearly dynamic, energetic, open, thoughtful and skilled – a vote of confidence for storytelling’s future! As a practitioner working with stories as well as a huge storytelling fan, there was a lot for me to personally enjoy. It was great to hear stories and meet storytellers who were new to me and who I’ll definitely be listening out for in future.

imageWhether the Festival makes a speedy return in future years, or waits for another significant birthday before offering such a rich public interface, Village Storytelling Centre is clearly generating inspiration and delivering real change from the ground up. Many congratulations to the whole team, especially all the participants, Centre Director Emma Collins, all the Village storytellers and everyone who contributed to make the event itself and all the lead up work so rewarding!

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