Thoughts about recent storytelling events



30 Nollaig 2012


Having been preoccupied with other commitments, I’m only just taking the time to post an update on events over the last many months.


The two highlights of the year involved collaboration with improvising musicians.


I was delighted to see Patrick McGlynn at the Milk and Cookies’ Secret Garden Party. He had brought his shakuhachi with him – a simple Japanese bamboo flute. With about 15 minutes’ preparation, we staged an impromptu performance of the Inuit tale, Sun and moon, around the bonfire.


We cleared a small area within the circle of straw bales around one of the bonfires. Patrick began to play an improvised melody to suit the mood of the piece, and I began to tell. Within a minute or so, listeners had cleared the entire space inside the circle and were watching and listening intently. Patrick made a perfect mood transition in the middle of the story. As space was cleared, I was able to move freely in a circle around the bonfire by the end, showing with raised hands how big brother moon to this day chases little sister sun through the heavens.


Enthusiastic applause ensued. Thank you very much. And they called for more! But I thought it wise to abide by the seanfhocal: Bíonn blas ar an mbeagán.


Looking forward to performing with Patrick again.


I was delighted to perform another Lost Souls show with Adam Wilson, Claire Fitch and Donal Mac Erlaine in the Odessa Club on a Wednesday night in October.


We were delayed in starting because Donal had had a minor collision en route. He was naturally a little shaken by that, but quickly set his equipment up so that we could start the show at half past eight¾the first time ever starting more than a few minutes late. The audience was very understanding.


We had devised a schedule of varying collaborations, including Mr Walker’s liver by Adam and myself without music, Through the eye of the snake by Adam and Donal, and so on.


The high point of the show was probably Adam’s performance of Balor’s eye of death in collaboration with both Claire and Donal. With just a few simple pre-arranged cues, the two musicians composed perfectly, like an improvised film score that fit the action of the story quite beautifully, with fine transitions to suit the changes in mood, rising conflict, climax and resolution.


The audience was suitably impressed. Two people have since commented that it looked as if we had spent many hours rehearsing. This is very flattering! Certainly, Adam and I have spent many, many hours over the last few years preparing and rehearsing our repertoire, and we have performed most of our repertoire with either Claire or Donal once or twice before, but that’s about it. I think great credit is due to these two extraordinarily talented composer-musicians, that they make their improvised compositions look so polished and so well suited to the tale in live performance.


As Adam is moving to London within the next week, I am planning new collaborations with other storytellers in the new year. I have already approached a few practising tellers, and they seem to be keen.


Out with the old, and in with the new! 




27 Feabhra 2012


I was delighted to be commissioned to perform at the Interaction12 conference at the Conference Centre Dublin at the start of the month. I confess, I had never heard of interaction design before this, but I soon found it defined in Wikipedia as follows:


"In design, human-computer interaction, and software development, interaction design, often abbreviated IxD, is "the practice of designing interactive digital products, environments, systems, and services." Like many other design fields interaction design also has an interest in form but its main focus is on behaviour."


This was the first time for this conference to take place outside of North America, and about 750 people flew in from the US, Canada, continental Europe and Australia to attend. So I considered it a big deal to be invited to perform at it.


I did three shows, the first in collaboration with cellist Claire Fitch, the second solo and the third accompanied by Claire and also guitarist Donal Mac Erlaine. For each show, the audience chose stories from a menu with headers such as Ancient Ireland and Middle East, and individual stories identified by flavour alone. For example, The island of the choir was listed under Ancient Ireland and identified by the flavours wonder and sorrow. Shahrazad's tale was listed under Middle East and identified by the flavours beauty and fear. The birth of Gesar was listed under Cental Asia and identified by the flavours outrage and wonder.


Our audiences were wonderful: very keen to engage, and appreciative of the outcome.


I have edited The island of the choir and put it up on Soundcloud here:


And The birth of Gesar is here:


On each day of the conference, I also spent most of each morning inviting people to play a storytelling game with me. I had prepared an envelope containing slips of paper reading one of the following: fear, pity, outrage, disgust, magic, triumph, something funny, contentment. Participants drew a slip and told me - or each other - a concise anecdote to convey the appropriate emotion. People turned out to be very skilled at this, though I sometimes took several guesses to identify the emotion, which was often conveyed with subtlety.


I was delighted with the beautiful music that Claire and Donal improvised at our shows, and am further delighted to discover that one of the members of the audience wrote an article about the first show for Core77, which is an online magazine dealing with industrial design.


Please see that article here:

IxDA Interaction12: Storytelling in the Emerald Isle


I have reservations about being associated with the Leprechaun Museum, as I think the tale of the leprechaun is best suited to children and tourists, but I'm very pleased to feature in a prominent industrial design magazine.


My most recent storytelling circle at the Funky Seomra took place on the 18th, and it went very well. With the help of Adam Wilson, Joe Govan, Arthur Sheridan and Danilo Tomesani, the tales flowed round and round without a break for about two hours, with a round of applause after each one. Early on, people sat all round the room, thinning out later. For the best part of the last hour, I had people drawing slips of paper from an envelope and playing the same game as participants at Interaction12. This went to two rounds of the room, and produced many interesting anecdotes of less than one minute's duration.





Satharn 3 Nollaig


Commissioned to perform for a hen party on a Saturday evening in December, I could think of no better tales to tell than Wolf lady and Shahrazad's tale.


"It will be interactive," my client warned me, and so it was, in the bawdy way that hen parties are known to be.


"Where's her fur?" somebody asked when the wolf lady was abducted.


"Exactly," I replied. "Where's her fur?"


And they all gave a wolf chorus when she returned in her rightful garb.


There came a point during Shahrazad's tale when the bride-to-be persisted in bawdy interruptions while several of her friends literally sat on the edge of their seats, waiting to find out what Shahryar would do, having seen the djinn's wife betray him. Noticing the dynamic, I allowed the bride-to-be to chatter on while the others grew steadily more restless.


"What can I do?" I asked them mischievously. "If the bride won't listen?" 


And the group called itself to order to hear the end.


Happy clients!



Lost Souls Electronic Cellist was a Halloween show that took place on 9 November, i.e. well after Halloween itself, but still within the time frame of the Innovation Dublin festival: This was planned as a variation on earlier Lost souls shows, with some of our old favourites and some new additions to our repertoire.

Adam and I were delighted that Claire Fitch agreed to perform her usual Ambiencellist magic with us for the occasion.


Bookings trickled in over the few weeks before the event, and then more rapidly over the last couple of days, until it was fully booked and over-booked on the evening of the show itself.


I gave Claire a play list including hints as to what mood to strike for each tale, and cues as to where to enter and finish.


Several people sat on the carpet in the beautiful Victorian antique that is the Library Bar Extension. Others arrived in late and stood by the door until the interval.


Joe Govan made a very strong debut at the club with three highly polished tales of five minutes each: macabre wee gems about cadavers real and imagined.


Adam and I performed Mr Walker's liver as a duet - now a standard item in our repertoire. The audience gave a delighted laugh at the end.


Adam delivered Maqo very strongly, with Claire improvising wonderful, haunting music, and this turned out to be the favourite for one group who lingered in the bar afterwards.


This is one of the most intriguing tales collected by Knud Rasmussen on his Greenlandic expeditions, combining narratives of the fox wife, insects speaking as persons, reincarnation through a sequence of different animals and rebirth in human form again. The similarity between this tale of rebirth and the one that Rane Willerslev recounts in his forthcoming autobiography, On the run in Siberia, is striking. Did this tale perhaps travel all the way across the polar north from Siberia to Greenland? Or did it arise spontaneously in separate locations in response to independent experiences of reincarnation?


Having performed Mr Walker's liver and Miss Crozier as two grisly jump tales, I performed Blubbery lips to close the second half. Two jump tales, and so a third - with a twist. This worked perfectly. I can't say any more without running the risk of spoiling the surprise for a future audience.


All in all, the show went very well despite a couple of technical glitches. Claire had a loose connection somewhere, so that her pedal board wouldn't loop for her during the first half. Despite this, the music she composed on the spot was very fine and perfectly suited to the intent of each story.


Adam and I used a radio mike, which worked well most of the time, but gave some feedback towards the end of Miss Crozier. I'd like to try again with a different mike next time, in case the issues arose due to some specific fault or deficiency in the gear we hired.


We used my Zoom to record some of the stories. The amplitude turned out to be very low when I played the tracks back afterwards, but I have managed to use Audacity to boost it to a level where I can enjoy the magical interaction between tellers and cellist. Now I need to select some of the best bits to share with the world on Soundcloud.


The organisers of Innovation Dublin held a closing ceremonywith readings by Dermot Bolger, music, wine and networking. Adam and I went mingling, and the first two people we approached turned out to be organising an innovation conference in Dublin next year. I have agreed to submit a proposal with view to performing for the international audience that will attend.


I'm looking forward to the Milk and Cookies: Christmas Jumpers show on Tuesday 13 December.



16 Deireadh Fómhair


Eight people turned up for my workshop at Open Learning Ireland's "unskool" at the Dublin Contemporary exhibition on Saturday 15 October. The concept of the unskool is to create spaces where learning is non-hierarchical, interactive, inspiring and fun.


This was a very international group: One red-haired Irishman, an Irishwoman, two young Brazilian gents and four young ladies, from Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.


They enjoyed the laughter yoga, then exchanged anecdotes according to "bhava" - i.e. emotional responses. They played the liars' game so successfully that I guessed wrongly for both groups of four. Finally, each one drew a storyboard and told a folktale.


I invited three of them to take part in the storytelling circle at the Funky Seomra next weekend. Each one is already skilled in telling both personal anecdotes and folktales. Mícheál Rowsome did a very good job of telling King Lindorm, so I'm looking forward to seeing him perform again.


By the way, I looked up lindorm in the Danish dictionary atwww.ordnet.dkand it seems that "lind" is an old Norse word for a snake, and the "lindorm" is a mythical beast reminiscent of a large snake or lizard. Why the folktale is known as King Lindorm in English, I don't know - perhaps just because King Serpent doesn't sound so intriguing?



14 Deireadh Fómhair 2011


Excuse the long delay in updating the world on my movements.


The story of how I crashed my car in the snow near the Kilcullen exit from the M9 on 1 December last year was a distressing experience, but I have since turned it into a favourite in my repertoire.


When I first told it at Milk and Cookies in February, complete with montage-inspired flashes of other people's crashes, it got a mixed reaction. One guy said it wouldn't have been worth telling if it weren't true. Somebody told me the flashes broke the illusion. But a guy I met at Upstart's poetry-wrestling slam night said quite simply: "It blew me away." Who to believe? Heh, I reckon controversial is a good place for a story to be.


I told the story again at a pathological liars' evening (Lystløgneraften) in Copenhagen last Friday night - now without the flashes - and 23 out of 41 people in the audience preferred to believe my tale of mushroom soup rather than this strange tale of misadventure. Perhaps it was the emergence of the rook out of the snow at the end that struck them as implausible.


In recent months, I have started a new venture, holding astorytelling circle at the Funky Seomra. Catherine Brophy, Emily Collins and Joe Govan have made admirable contributions.


But more about that another day.


I was delighted to be invited to write about storytelling - and of course I mean real actual live storytelling - for a very snazzy writers' website. Laying aside the temptation to simply reply that I can't see what it's got to do with writing, I presented some suggestions as to how these two very different art forms might relate to each other, along with an explanation of the fundamental difference. The article appears here:

The Live Art of Storytelling Performance


Milk and Cookies on Tuesday 11th was on the theme of Heroes and Villains.


Adam Wilson took the opportunity to tell the tale of how he ingeniously avoided getting married in Thailand by getting stuck in a toilet. Inspired by Tom Rowley, he says.


I had asked him to tell the story of Johnny and the liver, so that I could be the ominous Mr Walker again, same as we did at the first ever Milk and Cookies two years ago, but since he wanted to tell his own story, we agreed that I would tell the story and Adam would give us the part of of Mr Walker. I was delighted to see two mikes in place for the show. Adam and I were sitting off to stage left, so I gave him one of the mikes to hold, still sitting in his seat, while I started the story. Adam came in right on cue and gave us his best zombie voice, cue by cue, to the end.


I enjoyed telling the main part, which I have never done before, but of course I know the story inside out from rehearsing with Adam. It all went very smoothly. Mind you, I didn't see anybody jump at the end.


Dani says she was listening nervously in the foyer, knowing that we were going to make her jump, so at least somebody appreciated it.


Danny O'Leary did his usual fine job as sound engineer, and told us again his story about getting into a fight in Sidney. It's been a full year since the first time he told us that story, at the Truth or Fiction show last year.


I can hardly believe that Milk and Cookies is two years old. What a phenomenal way to make the years pass!