Recently, I went along to the Open Mic Storytelling event at The Landmark Arts Centre in Teddington.
The Landmark is an independent charity whose aim is to support the local and wider community arts scene. The centre is housed in St Alban’s Church, an architectural gem, dating back to 1889. St Alban’s provides a magnificent setting with soaring ceilings and lush, stained glass windows. What better venue for a four-day festival of stories (2-5 March) that included Open Mic Storytelling, a comedy slam, and afternoon tea with Wendy Cope, one of the UK’s best loved poets. The festival was curated by Alison Hill of Tiger Moth Media who helped to organise the events.
The Open Mic Storytelling event on 4 March consisted of performances by Surrey Storytellers, who used elements of pantomime in the telling of simple folk tales. The stories were more geared towards children than adults, but well constructed, and the stage antics worked well.
It’s good to see the oral storytelling tradition being revived, a tradition that’s common to all cultures. In Ireland the practitioners of the art were known as the seanchaí, (bearers of old lore). The seanchaí went about from town to town delighting their listeners with gossip, folklore, history, song and verse, often in return for a night’s lodging.
In keeping with the grand old tradition, the Surrey Storytellers’ method is strictly vocal, no reading allowed, and (unbeknownst to me) this was a non-reading event. How embarrassing clutching my three sheets of A4 after such energetic performances, but the organisers were gracious in allowing guest storytellers from the audience to read from the page. On I went, and inspired by the virtuosity of the storytellers, I recited my text with gusto!
Luckily for me, Surrey Storytellers run a coaching and practice group ‘for those who want to learn how to tell stories’ and they complement the practice group with a storytelling circle in Ewell. The circle offers a 5-10 minute, open floor, storytelling spot – no reading allowed (naturally).
Catherine Paver was Mistress of Ceremonies at the event. Catherine is an awesome vocalist who sings English and Celtic folk songs. She has a pure and fluid singing voice in the tradition of Joan Baez – her melodic interludes were enchanting and brought lustre to the proceedings.
How lucky we are to have the Landmark in our midst! In a time of diminishing returns on our taxes, where arts funding is under continued threat, the town of Teddington is extremely fortunate to have such a benefit. Arts Centre Manager, Lesley Bossine, does a brilliant job of ensuring that the Landmark remains a viable focus for the arts with a fantastic line-up of events throughout the year. Long may it continue.