This article was written September 2011 for CLIJ magazine, (Cuadernos de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil - Notebooks on Children´s and Young People´s Literature). It was published in the 244th issue (November-December 2011) and it is a short version (very, very short) from the study that is available on the web page HISTORY ON THE STORYTELLING PROFFESSIONALIZATION PROCESS IN SPAIN.
You can also check the entry on the blog (along with pictures) on the article´s out coming.
STORYTELLING IN SPAIN
HISTORY ON THE STORYTELLING PROFFESSIONALIZATION PROCESS IN SPAIN
Previous, there is someone telling tales
Storytellers, wanderers who carry with them stories and words, are starting once again to walk along the paths and bring loads of tales to tell in squares, libraries, schools, coffee shops, theatres,…, the old trade has reappeared and for sure many of you reading this article (perhaps yourself) have at some point heard a professional storyteller telling stories.
The trade´s revival and its professionalization has been a long and complex process that began in mid 19th century with the revaluation of the told tale by researchers, writers and folklorists.
Later, in the mid 30s of the past century, arrives to Spain “Story time hour”, an activity that had already successfully been taking place in northern Europe and America. Also in the 20th century, but by the end of the 70´s, a pedagogical renewal took place and it allowed tales to enter the classroom and the curricula. This will be a very important step, decisive, on the trade´s establishment. Thus, at the beginning of the 80´s, we can find a small storytelling group of people that were formed in diverse fields (teachers, actors, booksellers), that made of storytelling their profession. From that pioneer´s group to our days many things have changed: festivals have proliferated, marathons, circuits and (more or less) stable narrating seasons, new storytellers have appeared, recycle and training workshops, publications, associations, webs, so on; and it has also appeared a regular (and critical) audience that knows where is going when attending a tales’ session.
This path that has allowed the trade to reappear, the nowadays situation and the challenges that are yet to be faced, are the subject of this article.
Folklorists, the told tales´ revaluation
The told tale has always been embracing human beings and its presence has been a constant in their days and nights. It might be that this everyday presence made told tales be considered irrelevant or without importance. Romanticism, however, traverses Europe at the beginning of the 19th century and, it is by its hand, that the traditional tale and oral narration began to be revaluated. It is only by mid century that this literary genre, interested in folklore, arrives to Spain and it will be Cecilia Bönh de Faber (who signed under the pseudonym Fernán Caballero) who will publish the first traditional tales compilation: Enchantment Tales, which nowadays can be found published by José J.Olañeta.
Several years later, Antonio Machado y Álvarez (who signed under the pseudonym Demófilo) manages to bring a group of enthusiasts and scholars together and sets in motion the Biblioteca de las Tradiciones Populares (Popular Traditions Library), a collection that manages to publish eleven volumes, amongst which, several traditional tales can be found. But after the Machados´ father´s death the thrust comes to a stop.
We will have to wait still for several years, initiated the 20th century so that again the passion for tradition and the effort to preserve traditional texts reaches enthusiasts and scholars. This new boost comes by the hand of Menéndez Pidal and his two star projects: the compilation of the Spanish ballads (Romancero culto) and the elaboration of the ALPI (Linguistic Atlas of the Iberian Peninsula). Taking advantage of the synergy, several collections of tales appear such as the ones by Marciano Curiel Merchan´s, Aurelio del Llano´s, Constantin Cabal´s…but overall, the ones that stand out, are the two collections that even today are referent for the Spanish traditional tales compilations history. These are the ones gathered by two north Americans, in 1920 by Aurelio M. Espinosa, senior: Spanish Folk Tales (re edited by the CSIC on 2009) and in 1936 Aurelio M. Espinosa, junior: Castilian and Leones Folk Tales (also edited by CSIC in the 80s). These editions are not only important for the quality of the texts gathered but also because of the number and variety of the diverse tales´ types. They are also important because they constitute the beginning of the scientifically tale gathering period in Spain. From that point compilations will follow the Finnish School and the Folk Tales Typological Catalog classification.
After Civil War we can find some collections, but it is not until later that Julio Caro Baroja and a group of enthusiastic scholars that he brings together at the CSIC take at last a definite step in the scientific and rigorous way of compiling folklore. Scholars such as Julio Camarena Laucirica and Maxime Chevalier appear and they start the first typological catalog of the Spanish Folk tale, a titanic task that even today remains unfinished. (There are two volumes published by Gredos, two more published by CEC and two unpublished).
It was this way that traditional tales began to be noticed and became precious objects to be studied all throughout these years. This determination to preserve and study them has gone hand in hand with their steady disappearance. Tales have always been “time fillers”. They were told in the long winter nights by the fireside. The strolls at the beach were wonderful moments for the chat, for the tale and the funny stories. Today there are too many “time fillers” competitors and traditional tales, since they need an active implication of all parts sharing them (narrator and audience), languish in the old bearers´ throats, without us noticing all the other values that come along the told tale (besides filling time) and that cannot be found in the other “time fillers” competitors.
Story time hour, libraries, schools, books
During the 30s of the past century, Elena Fortún (pseudonym for Encarnación Aragoneses Urquijo), a children´s book writer, begins to story tell for kids and young audiences as well. She knew both folklore and oral traditional literature in depth and her skill narrating stories brings her to give talks on storytelling to librarians interested in this incipient activity.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Elena Fortún migrates to Argentina where she brings together her talk on storytelling and the traditional tales that she narrates (classified by age) and elaborates a book that will become the first manual on how to story tell written in Spain: Well, sir…how the tale should be told and tales to be told, published nowadays by José de J. Olañeta.
It is in this book´s prologue where Elena Fortún speaks for the first time about the possibility of this trade´s recovery: “We can find here a subject forgotten in schools, for mothers to be or as a basis for a delicately feminine profession that already exists in North America: Children´s tales storyteller.”
Years later (in the 50s decade) Montserrat del Amo, writer and storyteller, begins narrating tales at Madrid´s Popular Libraries (Bibliotecas Populares de Madrid) and in Barcelona. Story Time Hour, little by little, settles down and there are more people that show interest in it. Montserrat del Amo writes another manual on how to tell tales, it´s entitled Story Time Hour (you can find the complete version in the Cervantes Virtual Library´s web).
Oral narration is being consolidated as a strategy to reading encouragement, as a bridge that is laid between books and readers (especially children). That told tales´ virtue: path between readers and books will be essential to understand the progressive interest that it awakened and awakes this artistic discipline and to understand its reappearance.
By the end of the 60s, and especially since the 70s decade, the pedagogical renewal movement acquires relevance. Schools open their doors and windows and new synergies come together in the classrooms, it is the time for the Rosa Sensat´s Teachers School or the birth of Acción Educativa (Educational Action). And what is more, it is the time when tales come into the classrooms as an essential way to educate, entertain, to encourage reading, to reinforce what´s been learned and so on.
Figures such as Ana Pelegrín, Antonio Rodríguez Almodóvar, and Federico Martín Nebras stand out as teachers of teachers and convinced enthusiasts of the told word, tradition, tale, poetry… More and more teachers demand courses to learn what to story tell and how to do it. Tales´ flame rekindles in the classrooms.
This pedagogical renewal movement promotes the creation of reflecting groups and action, literature seminars in which teachers, librarians, children and young people´s literature enthusiasts come together… seminars bounded to Madrid´s Popular Library and Guadalajara´s Estate Public Library.
Democracy brings along the birth of publishers, such as Miñón or Altea Benjamín, that introduce books unknown to that moment in our country; and the publishing companies related to school books start caring about their children and young people´s book collections (Alfaguara, SM, etc.) It is therefore an astonishing moment in which books that were already classics in other countries and unknown here, start being published: authors, books, marvelous illustrated books…food for the heart, stories to be told.
There is a fertile breeding ground. Tale is on demand and little by little spaces for storytelling appear (especially in schools and libraries) and at the same time more and better books arrive with good stories to be told.
Demand implies updating and preparing new stories faster and faster each time and it starts becoming complicated to renovate repertoire, to prepare good tales, to put sessions together… At this moment the new oral narrators reappear: people dedicated to story tell, with a repertoire, experienced, with tools and narrative trade´s rudiments, with audiences and spaces knowledge… the trade arrives.
Oral narrators, early years
We can already find in the 80s of the past century a small group of people dedicated to story tell and they get paid for it, they are the just reborn trade´s pioneers. They come from diverse fields: some are teachers that leave the school to story tell, some are writers that combine writing and storytelling, some actors, some come from entertainment activities, some are book sellers… Most of them do not know of the existence of the others or don´t know that there are others in their same situation, they don´t even know that they are starting to make a living out of the told tale and that soon this will become their trade.
Spaces for storytelling are yet scarce: some libraries, some exceptional sessions at schools, reading conferences, book fairs, letters festivals, etc…and the idea of getting paid is, in some cases, considered senseless.
In 1984 the I National Reading Encouragement Meeting takes place in Guadalajara organized by the Guadalajara´s Children and Young people´s Literature Seminar (these meetings will be held from 1984 until 1996). Among the organizers and the attendants were some of the told tale revival protagonists: Blanca Calvo, Pep Durán, Federico Martín Nebras, Paco Abril, etc. And already in those meetings, led by Estrella Ortiz´s hand (telling as Rotundifolia Witch), oral narration had a prominent role.
These meetings and others that appear all over the country (such as Arenas de San Pedro ´s in Ávila) spread the word of oral narration´s revival and little by little Story Time´s Hour is established again in libraries.
Oral narrators, second generation
Francisco Garzón Céspedes, Cuban and oral narration spokesperson in his country arrives in Madrid 1990, and begins to give stage oral narration workshops (NOE). Over two hundred workshops given and hundreds of people interested on storytelling coming out of them.
The stage had been set for action, the conditions were well suit: there were storytellers, there were places to tell, and the revival of the trade was an issue…and people such as Francisco Garzón Céspedes or Numancia´s work added strength to the initial impulse opening even new possibilities, because the movements ´peculiarity was its insistence to conquer theatrical spaces for the storytelling shows and the search for an adult audience, two far away elements up till then from the told tale space.
On the other hand, also at the beginning of the 90s, the first oral narration festivals appear (Agüimes, Elche), the first Tales Marathon (at Guadalajara) and circuits are becoming established and spaces to tell to kids, youth and adult audiences, circuits promoted by public institutions such as libraries, theaters, etc and private spaces, such as cafes.
We can also find two important events that mean, somehow, the coming of age of the trade´s revival. It is important to point out that Jorge Rioboo, tales enthusiastic culture reporter, was involved in the organization in both cases.
On the one hand, in February 1995 Books’ Friends Association organized in Madrid the Oral Literature Conferences, in which besides a roundtable on the trade´s revival (with Montserrat del Amo, Blanca Calvo, Jaime García Padrino´s, etc participation) there were several storytelling sessions done by storytellers such as Ana Pelegrín, Estrella Ortiz, Antonio Rodríguez Almodóvar, Boni Ofogo, etc. Those who assisted these Conferences felt that a historical moment was taking place: the restoration of a trade.
On the other hand, in 1996 in Bilbao, the I Storytelling Conference took place in which a whole bunch of storytellers took over the city and reflected on the incipient trade.
During that time storytellers from other countries arrive to Spain, they settle down and add their voices to those being consolidated here (José Campanari, Tim Bowley, etc). This is interesting because from the first moment (and besides some specific schools) the styles are very diverse, there are different trends, there are many differentiated personal voices: being this the artistic part of the trade.
By the end of the 90s the good news of the told tale has spread out far away. There are many who have listened to tales told by these neo narrators and many more who have heard of it. And there are also many places where tales are told regularly which mean that this trade is known and accepted. If it is true that big events, stunning one-off events such as festivals and marathons, give notoriety to the trade and spread out its virtues and its existence, it is the stable and continuous programs that little by little arise (and stabilize), those which allow the profession and its professionals to settle down.
Oral narrators, a consolidated trade
21st century begins with the told word regaining spaces. There are no longer only a considerable professional story teller’s number (people who are self employed or hired and pay social security, taxes, etc.) whose income comes from telling tales, but also, there are more and more oral narration spaces and circuits. Workshops, festivals and marathons proliferate.
At this moment internet becomes a very useful tool for such a scattered trade (few storytellers are dispersed all over the country): a storytellers´ chat channel is born, an e-mail list (still active) and a web page (cuentistas.info) that became a referent during the years that was active (until hackers destroyed it). This web became, in fact, an essential tool for the oral narrators state encounters organization (in Arcos de la Frontera and in Mondoñedo). It is also in these years when storytelling associations began (some even in the 20th century edge) mostly territorial (Cataluña, País Vasco, Madrid, Comunidad Valenciana, Galicia, etc.) and established professional associations (one in Cataluña and another one with the aim to get together all the professionals nationwide).
Even though links between Spanish and American storytellers (specially Spanish speaking ones) are very strong, the first international net in which the Spanish storytellers collective gets involved in its creation is FEST (Federation for European Storytellers). In fact AEDA, the Spanish storytelling association, was in charge of the organization of the 4th FEST encounter in Toledo this year´s June with over 60 assistants from three continents.
Trade´s consolidation can be seen in other interesting parameters. For example, some magazines dedicated to storytelling appear: Mnemósyne, Tantágora, Revista N, El aedo… First theory books written by these neo narrators are published, for example: Estrella Ortiz and her Telling with tales (Ñaque ed.), or Marina Sanfilipo and her Storytelling renaissance in Spain and Italy (1985-2005) (Spanish University Foundation Ed.), both of them essential, the first one to know the trades basic rudiments, and the second to understand its most recent history and its nowadays situation. Another element to measure the trades´ consolidation is the birth of a storytellers´ book and tales specialized publishing house: Palabras del Candil publishing house, with over thirty books published in the past five years (theory, creation, traditional tales compilation, etc.).
To the day, internet remains a fertile soil for experimenting and storytelling broadcasting, not only because of the huge amount of blogs, web pages and storytellers and associations´ pages in social nets, but also because of the correct proposals emerging on video recordings on told tales such as “storytellers channel” (“canal de narradores”) in You tube, administrated by the story teller Martha Escudero.
But, if we set the virtual net aside, and we pay attention to more classical story transmission media (beyond voice and glances) the storytellers´ emergence on the printed world has been also very important and prominent in the last years. We are not talking about writers or scholars that at some point started storytelling and made part of their trade of it (Antonio Rodríguez Almodóvar, Carles Cano, Ignacio Sanz, etc.) but we are talking about storytellers that started in the oral path and at some point started to write and to publish books being recognized even with awards (Pablo Albo, Ana Griot, Pep Bruno, etc.).
To conclude, we will mention a reflection done by José Henríquez (from Primer Acto magazine) in the 5th Oral Narrators Encounter celebrated 2009 at San Lorenzo del Escorial (Madrid): “oral narration is not only very alive but it has more and more presence in other artistic expressions (such as theatre, dance, etc.).”
Conclusions and challenges
Seen all this, it appears that the storytelling trade is again among us. There are professional storytellers that spend their time and effort to prepare tales, renovate repertoires, explore new artistic proposals, create stories, develop their own narrative voice, etc., and there are also audiences, circuits and spaces for the narrative act to happen, that thing that takes place when someone tells and someone listens to.
However we still have important challenges in order to settle the trade down.
On the one hand, we still have to be able to distinguish the professional storyteller from other professionals or dilettantes. There is a huge confusion among oral narrators, monologue artists, humorists…or even free-time instructors and their ability twisting balloons. How to make ourselves known? How to set the difference so “the tale tellers” do not all end up under the same umbrella? Maybe finding a name that differentiates and identifies us, a name such as oral narrators, fabler, storyteller, relator…? Or maybe just with our day to day high quality work, elaborated proposals that make the difference? This last issue is not minor: it is important that those who program, hire or attend an oral narration show know what narration is about, because it makes it easier for the professional storytellers´ work, dignifies the trade and improves the narrative act. And what is more, it makes it more difficult for intruders, rejects voluntarism, and unveils frauds.
To reveal and recognize this trade walks along another question no less necessary: minimum conditions to story tell. Up till now we have to put up with working in spaces that do not meet the minimum conditions for the narrative act to take place (and make it happen successfully). The story teller is not someone that can tell anything anywhere and at any time: for communication to take place between narrator and audience an intimate space must be created and that needs a noise free context (noise understood as anything that spoils communication: uncomfortable space, people passing by, audience without chairs, bad lighting, bad acoustics, doors that open and close during performance…) Meanwhile we are still immersed in this challenge, we shall know that the path for the trade´s consolidation is still a long way off.
On the other hand we have taken up the legacy of many people that believed in this trade (from Elena Fortún to our days) and insisted that it would be launched and travel along the ways and hearts again. We have assumed this legacy and we have taken the risk to be part of this incipient profession. Maybe we should also do our bit to help for storytelling generations to come: consolidate circuits, give prestige to festivals, increase the told tales’ value, etc, are tasks that we assume in our day to day.
But there are questions on which we should reflect on for the future. Matters such as training: how should a narrator train? How can we help with this training? What routes should we go over and prepare so future narrators don´t need to clear their way off with no help or guidance? This is not a trivial issue. One of the most interesting matters that we have observed in other European countries is the interest on consolidating training itineraries that assure a good base for other professional storytellers to appear and therefore the trades’ survival. In Spain, up until now, there is nothing clear on this matter: workshops taught by some storytellers, mentoring experiences done by others, some non formal school frustrated attempt, etc. To provide good training for future storytellers is no doubt an important task to consolidate this trade. But this question is not yet explored in depth.
There are other important issues pending nowadays, for example the little or no presence in critics on oral narration, or even news on storytelling programs (complete news because in many occasions the professionals’ name does not even appear) or reflection articles on this artistic discipline. Or, for example, the incomprehensible oral narrators lack in the small or medium theatre programs. Etc.
Hopefully this article has provided you with a general vision of a trade that after many years of efforts and work, awakens and little by little takes position among us; a still fragile trade, small and which, we have to protect and take care of in this new journey. And what is more, a trade that has a long way to go in order to consolidate, to affirm itself.
These might be bad times for a profession that is sustained basically by schools and libraries (times of budget constraints). But so much persistence, so much synergy towards the told tale, so many words and hearts moments cannot be lost in the silence. Let us not forget that human beings still need tales to feed their souls, those tales that have accompanied them ever since they came down to the ground and discovered their capacity to dream and to imagine other possible worlds.
This short article is a brief version of the study that I began encouraged by my AEDA peers (Spanish Professional Storytelling Association) October 2010 and finished by July 2011. The study is much more extensive than this article (includes files, links, more contents, etc) and it is updated, complete and available at my web page, under the item “Apuntes de oralidad” (Notes on oralty).
Pep Bruno is a professional storyteller, reader, writer and editor (www.pepbruno.com)
Translated by Sonia Carmona Tapia