The Tintagel Storyteller
At the time, I didn’t know I was ‘diversifying’… like most actors, I had always had to be flexible and accept whatever work opportunities came my way.
My career so far had included backstage work and administration as well as acting, improvisation, TIE, running workshops, some bits of TV, radio, film, fringe, small scale touring, street theatre… the usual mix. But moving to Cornwall did not seem to be a sensible career move… it just happened. Each time I came down here on holiday, it got harder to go back home to Oxford.
So I stopped going home.
For a few years the old mixture continued to work despite the existence of fewer opportunities in Devon and Cornwall. But, of course, age was catching up with me and I was entering the ‘years of invisibility’ that hits most actresses. So, of course, when a local hotel asked me to tell stories to keep children occupied during an open-day event, I said , ‘Yes.’
It was not a great success. I didn’t know many stories and the children were already over-excited – but I survived and the hotel owners were happy.
It was some months later when a new voice joined an online chat group I frequented. Her name was Barra the Bard and she had come online to tell us of the recent death of a famous American storyteller. The news seemed to hit everyone pretty hard. I had never heard of him, but I was intrigued, so I contacted Barra to ask her about storytelling as I had no idea that there could be professional storytellers.
Barra introduced me to an online group called Storytell where over 500 storytellers, worldwide, were exchanging stories, ideas, links, contacts, techniques… I was bewitched! Somehow, I knew, I was meant to be a part of this community.
After gathering together all the stories I could remember, plus a few new ones from members of Storytell, I returned to that hotel and asked if I might try telling stories in the bar on Wednesday evenings (no fee, of course!)
They agreed – I found some toys and trinkets, each one representing a story, put them in a basket and entered the bar. The basket of stories was essential – I knew that without that aide memoire my mind would go blank and I would forget what stories I actually knew.
Taking a deep breath, and trying not to shake with fear, I approached a table where people did not seem to be deep in conversation. I asked, ‘Would you like to hear a story?’ They seemed surprised but agreed – and chose a story from the basket. Sitting beside them, I told the tale. They thanked me and I moved on to another table –and then another – and another. One or two declined to have a story, but most were happy to let me tell.
Within a very few weeks my confidence had grown – there were more stories in my basket and the hotel owners invited me to move into the large palm court to tell candlelit stories by the fire. Guests were encouraged to attend and there were usually 20 or 30 of them gathered around me.
It was fascinating to watch the husbands – they had mostly been dragged along by their wives and clearly did not expect to enjoy this experience. But after they had been introduced to my lovely large, white mouse puppet, Wilberforce, and had a chance to stroke him and tickle him – they were hooked. They loved listening to stories.
Ten o’clock was the official end-time, but it rarely happened that way. There were always some who wanted more – just another story before going to bed – sometimes it was nearer midnight before I was allowed to stop.
There was still no money other than what the guests put into my begging bowl, but I was happy. I had found my true vocation. I really was a storyteller!
Gradually paid bookings began to come in as word spread. Libraries, WI groups, clubs, other hotels… almost always adult audiences – then a few schools bookings and I learnt to adjust my telling for a younger audience. Recently I volunteered to tell for two terms at a pre-school so that I could learn how to tell to even younger audiences - it was a good move. A flurry of community festival bookings last summer meant facing a very mixed audience with toddlers, tweenies, teens, parents and grandparents all wanting to be entertained… now, with my pre-school experience, I knew just how to do it.
Of course I am still an actor and would be very happy to accept acting work, but storytelling really does use all my acting skills. It is a solo performance with no script to hide behind. The audience is within touching distance – indeed, sometimes there may be children climbing onto my lap. There are no theatrical effects – no music – no lights – just my voice, facial expressions, eye contact and a few gentle gestures.
The stories I tell are simply stories that I love and want to share. Some are folktales, some are new tales, and some are simply jokes – but I love them all and my experience as an actor gives me the skill to give them a dramatic shape with an interesting beginning, strong middle and a satisfying ending. And my years of improvised theatre give me the confidence to adapt my telling to the audience – the words change while the story remains the same – without hesitation, deviation or repetition.
By now there are so many stories in my storybasket that I could tell non-stop for over 12 hours – and, as it is up to the audience to choose the next story from the basket, I never know what stories I am going to be telling.
So I can never get bored.
At last I have the role that fits me perfectly – I am The Tintagel Storyteller.