Painting pictures with words
Storytellers John Mukeni Namai from Kenya and Jeeva Raghunath from India talk to us about their ideas of the art form ahead of their performances at the Sakal International Story Telling Festival 2018
‘Humans can feel stories’
Namai, a professional storyteller and facilitator from Kenya, performs for children and youth in hospitals, schools, and rehabilitation and community centres. “Storytelling is a social age-old art form whereby we share our experiences of daily encounters with life, whether cultural or personal, to our fellow humans. In storytelling, we are invited to see the world in a new way,” he says.
Known for his participatory shows, Namai says that a show where the audience takes an integral part in the telling either by verbal or physical involvement, is participatory storytelling. “The audience is part of the performance process by being in the show or adding something to it from the beginning to the end,” he explains. About Sigana storytelling theatre he says that it is a ‘syncretic’ performance art form developed over the years by contemporary Kenyan performers of African oral traditions heritage. Diverse African performance elements consisting of dramatic narration, banter, chant, recitation, song, riddling, music, dance and movement are woven together to form interactive storytelling theatre performances. The spoken word comes to life in dramatic presentations that seek to integrate performers and audiences into participatory experience of art. “We present such programmes to schools, company settings, festivals and community gatherings,” Namai says, adding, “We observe the semi circle sitting arrangements with gangways to facilitate enjoyment of tellers and the audience.”
Speaking of the strength of the medium, Namai says that children are wired to stories and it’s the only way to pass on ethics and morals. “It’s a very simple form of passing on a message because you educate and entertain at the same time in a simple manner. Stories are vehicles to teach things to the young,” he insists. They can be moulded in terms of style and content depending on the context.
“The culture of a region plays an integral role in storytelling,” he says, speaking of his experiences. “I will draw lessons from one festival in Iran that I participated in recently. Kanoon Centre in Iran has over the years organised a theme festival of which storytelling is one of the oldest arts. In the last 20 years, I have seen how the culture of the festival shapes the intellectual development of kids and youth,” he says, as he tells us about the differences in performing in different regions.
Human beings are wired to telling and listening to stories. In the beginning, there was the word and no matter how much we develop technology we will still find time to share experiences verbally, he believes. “It is like a basic need we cannot do without and hence I see great opportunities here,” he says of his profession.
“We may not be able to see a story but most humans can feel a story when narrated well,” he concludes.
Jeeva Raghunath’s storytelling style leaves her audience spellbound. She believes that she herself is the best prop for her storytelling. Her repertoire of stories includes a wide range of Indian and Asian folktales, European tales, family stories, real-life incidents, cross-culture and modern stories. It is the “language of heart to heart” for her.
Raghunath began her storytelling journey as a teacher telling stories to toddlers. After doing this for 12 years, she moved to teaching French to high schoolers using her creative teaching techniques. Later, she met her schoolmate, who was into publishing, which led to further translations and professional storytelling thereafter.
But looking back, storytelling began a little more early when Raghunath was all of five and she heard stories from her family “which I started telling to those all around me.” And how does she use herself as a prop? “My body says it all — my eyes, face, hands, feet, voice — all help me tell the story,” she answers.
Speaking of storytelling as an effective medium, she says, “It’s live! What’s more, the teller paints pictures with words in every mind.” Raghunath has represented India at 17 international storytelling festivals and has trained over 25,000 children and adults all over the world in storytelling while giving solo and group performances. “You are born and brought up in a culture and it runs in every blood vessel and every nerve. They cannot be separated,” she says when asked about how much the culture of a region reflects in your storytelling. The performance, however, is never affected, she says. “It’s not different in any way, just that I’m exotic overseas as I’m a foreigner. Whereas in India, they prefer to listen to foreigners as they are exotic here,” says the author of many children’s books.
About the survival of the medium, Raghunath says that such doubts were raised even when television and cinema came in. “If storytelling has survived till now, it will survive in the future too. Human narratives are like the umbilical cord while the others are just cable cords,” she says. Storytelling is “emotion and passion” according to her.
ST READER SERVICE :
The Sakal International Story Telling Festival 2018 will be held at Phoenix Market City (East Court), Viman Nagar Road, on February 3-4, 12 noon to 6 pm. For registrations, visit Sakal Times office, NT Wadi, near Sakhar Sankul, Shivajinagar, between 10 am and 6 pm