“Those who tell stories, rule society,” was Plato’s opinion but in Ancient Greece storytellers weren’t competing with smartphones to hold society’s attention. Some 2,500 years later, does the age-old practice of telling tales still hold as much clout?
“Nothing can take away the power of being in a room with a live storyteller listening to a great story well told,” says Sita Brand, director of Settle Stories. “Since ancient times we have evolved to learn and communicate through story. Our need to engage with story is universal and enduring. Stories define who we are, where we have come from and where we are going.”
The daughter of a librarian, Brand spent her childhood in libraries and bookshops. After her drama degree at Exeter University she began working as a storyteller. But she isn’t a spoken word purist and the programme for the seventh edition of Settle Stories festival reflects this with a series of shows proving technology isn’t the enemy of storytelling.
“In modern times storytellers use different mediums. Our diaries have become blogs, Facebook and Instagram posts,” says Brand, pointing out that these new media affect how we consume stories – something the festival will explore with talks on interactive fiction, workshops on digital storytelling and stories shared through theatre, photographs, tapestry, song, and virtual reality, alongside oral tradition.
“In the 21st century so many of us are addicted to our mobile phones, myself included, and digital natives like all of us are often consumed by new technology. The world is changing so why should storytelling be any different?” says Brand, pointing to programme additions such as WiFi Wars – a comedy game show where participants log in with their smartphones to compete – and the virtual reality experience And The Birds Fell From The Sky, which casts participants as the central character in the story and is not for the faint hearted (recommended for ages 14-plus).
“Our core audience is adults. People are often surprised by this as they associate storytelling with children but this really isn’t the case. At this festival more than at any other we’ve increased the number of adult workshops so you can learn from world-class artists and develop your own skills in not just storytelling but also photography and clowning,” says Brand.
There is much on offer for children, however. The Queen And The Jester features stupid songs and some sensible stories, Little Man Jack is an immersive session for little ones and stealing the show is a 50ft whale in Settle Market Place. Children venture into its belly to hear tales from all-female performance troupe Circo Rum Ba Ba.
There will be plenty of interactive activities too, with children able to make dolls with artist Martina Attille before recording their own stories about it, join a lantern-making workshop before parading creations on a candlelit story walk, and go on a teddy bear’s picnic.
Settle is the perfect setting for all this to unfold, believes Brand, who grew up in South India. “When I came up to Settle 10 years ago, I fell in love with the enchanting landscape and decided I had to move here. I wanted to return to my storytelling routes, hence Settle Stories came into being. I wanted to bring great arts and activities to the area and to celebrate story in all its forms in this beautiful rural community.”
Settle Stories is on 6-8 April, various venues (settlestories.org.uk). Big Issue North is proud media partner and will be hosting a talk and drop in sessions over the weekend, with a vendor on site too
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