‘Stories are like painkillers’

Vinaya Patil
Thursday, 1 February 2018

Seung Ah Kim from South Korea, who is set to narrate beautiful stories to kids at the Sakal International Story Telling Festival 2018, tells us about her journey

Seung Ah Kim, who is the founder of Arirang Storytelling Concert and counts herself as Korea’s first professional storyteller, narrates folk stories in a dynamic and interactive way that is engaging for audiences of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities. Here’s more from her...

What, according to you, is storytelling?
Last year was my 10th anniversary of becoming a storyteller. I made a poster and put my word about storytelling. It says, ‘God gave us tears. Luckily he taught me how to turn my tears into tales’. Storytelling has been a sacred journey to turn my tears into tales which give me hope, strength, and wisdom. And I am sharing them with my listeners to spread hope, strength and wisdom.

You combine traditional Korean folktales and mythology with contemporary stories from your life. How and why do you do this merging?
Once you take a look at old folktales, some parts are already missing. It is because they had been passed on verbally until they were written down. In the process of translating, I have to find the missing parts. I feel like I became a detective who solves a mystery with only a few clues. It is not easy and sometimes takes a lot of time. But it is a lot of fun. 

In the process, I have to communicate with all the characters and situations. Then it makes me reflect on the past years and present times of my life. I strongly believe that storytelling is a way we can make a conversation with the people in the past and continue it with our present story.

You are Korea’s first professional storyteller? How does that feel? And why is there a dearth of storytellers?
To make it clear, I prefer to say I am the first professional global storyteller, as an artist, not as a teacher in Korea. There are many teacher storytellers in Korea. They use storytelling to teach languages such as Korean or English. I am the first artist storyteller who makes money from my art. 

Language is one of the most important and distinguishing characteristics of humans. I was fascinated by the art of storytelling because I thought storytelling is one of the highest levels of language art. It was beyond teaching. The way we express beauty through stories is so beautiful.

How effective is storytelling vis-a- vis other mediums, especially at a young age?
Storytelling is a lifelong, spiritual and natural process. That’s why it is so powerful. Looking back on my childhood, the first storyteller in my life was my grandmother. I realised that storytelling is my destiny, my passion, and my love after my grandmother passed away. She became a widow at the age of 33 and never remarried. She read books to soothe her loneliness. When I was an infant, my grandmother would give me a piggy back ride and sing lullabies to me, and would tell me stories that would make me stop crying. If crying expresses the pain in our life, then storytelling can be a painkiller. It teaches us to overcome adversities and turn them into blessings.

How much does the culture of a region play a role in its storytelling?
A lot! Since I am on a K-Storytelling World Tour to share Korean stories and culture with 1 million people to establish a K-Storytelling Centre in Korea, I have visited many countries and learnt about other cultures too. Also the characteristics of the people of each region create different energies when I tell stories. It is as if we have different chemistry with different people.

Further to that, how different is it performing in South Korea and other countries. What are your experiences of performing in India?
Usually, I perform Korean folktales in English to non-Korean people not only in Korea but also in other countries. And I tell stories from other countries to Korean people in Korean language. Nowadays K-Pop and K-Dramas are getting more popular outside of Korea. I think it will be the same for other storytellers. We are more appreciated in other countries when we share our own culture. I love Indian audience. They are friendly, interactive and even playful. That’s why I am back to India. I am very looking forward to meeting people in Pune.

How according to you will storytelling survive in the age of technology and internet?
Storytelling is a heart to heart communication. In the age of technology and internet, we lose many opportunities to keep an eye contact with our family, friends, and even ourselves (in the mirror) when we communicate with them. We have already faced the side effects of technology and internet. Storytelling is one of the solutions. Also storytelling is the best and oldest sharing of ideas and feelings. I think storytelling will survive as long as human beings survive.

If you were to list two unique aspects of storytelling, what would that be?
Storytelling is an art of love, an art of sharing. As a storyteller, I have felt how stories can make people happy and heal them. Also I’ve learnt so much. It makes me feel blessed and rich. The sixth and later the last Premier of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, Baekbum Kim Koo, who was one of my ancestors, said, ‘The power of culture both makes us happy and gives happiness to others’. 

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 - 6 pm. For registrations, visit Sakal Times office, Near Sakhar Sankul, Shivajinagar, between 10 am and 6 pm.

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