Monday, September 12, 2011

Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle on the road home...

What does a storyteller do? In my case I tell old tales, like Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle, and many others to small children, school students, old folk, workers - a wide diversity of human beans. I tell folk tales, mostly from a Western European tradition as that is my cultural heritage, interwoven with personal anecdotes and stories. I listen to the stories all around. I listen to the stories moving around a place and in the voices of the people who are the listeners to my tales. I listen to the stories that bubble out of the children and adults who are participating in storytime. I listen for the stories that light people up and the ones that illuminate the story space and the ones that are not told, the silent stories, that inhabit the space around the told stories. I do not know these stories, because they have not been told, but I do know their absence and how that changes the stories that are present. For example, the stories that my father did not tell about his war experiences took up as much space, and at times more space, than the stories he did tell. So it is with stories and the way they move around the landscape.

I know how I dance with these stories. Every time I tell Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle, or the Gingerbread Man, or The Silent Princess, or The Galah Tree or the Glass Cupboard - I dance the words around the space where the listeners sit. The words fall around them, I pick them up and throw them back, I listen and change them according to the contributions from the audience, I laugh and add some ancient language from an old, old version of the tale, a word like 'pedlar' or 'cobber' or even a place name like Yackandandah. The listeners will add their bits too. Children just call them out as their enthusiasm overflows. They make up words or call their current favourites like 'Higgle piggle', 'Humpybong'. They play with the language and that is the point. Language belongs to us, we created it, we can play with it, change it, innovate. The story space is the place to claim language for your own - and for children to be able to play confidently in their first language is all about identity, family, culture and articulating who I am and where I come from.

So it is with everyone in the story space, regardless of age. We dance the words, recreate the story every time it is told. As the teller it is my job to give the story up for reinvention every time. To share the delight, the poignancy, the nonsense and the profound truth which rests in each of the old folk tales. Spoken story never stays the same. If it did it would never survive, except as print on a page and then it is a different story - it is written, not spoken, and will be reinvented individually by the reader. The storyteller keeps the story moving, relevant to the audience that hear it across time and make it new, each time.

Toot Toot and I go up the hill and down the hill, up the hill and down the hill, across the landscape, along the New England Highway. Ironically I have lost my voice since catching a nasty case of flu in Wodonga while staying with Kirsty and Jarrah and dancing our way through stories together. The told and the untold stories that sit with dear friends and family while we watch the delight of Jarrah, at two and a half, tell us who he is and dance his story.

Wodonga, Gundagai, Canberra, Goulbourn, Oberon, Bathurst, Wattle Flat, Ilford to Lake Windemere and Mudgee. Up the hill and down the hill, up the hill and down the hill...

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