I love my work and everything it involves, and I also like to include reflections on what I am doing when I tell stories (and what I see others do when they are storytelling) as part of my continuous training. For that reason I have been thinking, reflecting and writing about storytelling for many years. 

I am also a big fan of associations (I took part in the birth of AEDA and the creation of FEST) and virtual networks; in fact I have been working for ten years to promote common spaces for discussing our work.

On my Spanish website there are a whole load of articles about storytelling and reading promotion. Some can also be found on my blog (in Spanish, for example on this tag or on this one). 

But perhaps the one which stands out the most is the block of "Oral tradition notes" which is on my website and which contains a complete study on the history of professionalization of the oral tradition in Spain (1850 - 2011) which is summarized here; on this blog there is also a part dedicated to thoughts on the figure of the storyteller (definition, typology, characteristics, social role, etc.) and a full dossier of files containing complementary information

Here my intention is to add translations of some of the articles I have written and that I think you may find interesting. I hope that is the case.

 

Spanish / French

Hi,

A year has passed since I launched the international flyer through which I proposed to share content I normally post on my web, and in which I reflect on the work of telling stories. It has been a year of many tales told, of many kilometres travelled, and of many wonderful moments spent in and around the spoken word. 

It is now time to send out a new flyer.

On this occasion the flyer includes two texts on the figure of the oral narrator:

1 Definition and characteristics of the oral narrator. In this article I try to formulate a definition of the oral narrator, and also list six characteristics which, from my point of view, are significant when telling stories.

2 Classification of the types of oral narrator. In this text I try to establish a classification of the types of storytellers based on two criteria, which I then set out in detail.

And an article about the importance of telling stories in these fast-paced technological times.

3 Days of living and not living

If you wish to consult any other content on my web you can see it here.

I hope you find the articles I am sending of interest. 

Looking forward to meeting you soon on one of the many paths through this oral landscape.

Regards,

Pep Bruno

 

 

Spanish / French

The other day I was speaking to Juan Antonio Rodríguez Bueno, a rural teacher at the "Ramón y Cajal" Primary School in Alpartir (Zaragoza), about the idea, fast becoming taken for granted, that that children these days are digital natives. Juan Antonio is one of those teachers who has introduced technology and networks into the classroom in an intelligent, useful way, so he knows what he is talking about when he points out that it is not true that children are digital natives, and that in his own words: 

“We do not consider them to be digital natives, in the same way as being among books does not make them readers. It is our job to educate them in digital matters in the same way as we work on reading or reading comprehension in the classroom. They do not acquire everything that the digital age implies by osmosis simply by being born into it.  Some will learn alone, as with reading, but experience shows that that this is not the case, that technological and digital education is necessary."

However, while it is easy to understand the need to be accompanied through the routes to reading, it is difficult to make many adults understand that it is also necessary to be alongside the child in the process of learning to use and take advantage of technology. Furthermore, it seems that access (unaccompanied) to technology for minors is getting earlier and earlier and, in many cases, without the application of any criteria, but simply through a plunge into various screens (1), social networks, and a high degree of unbridled consumption and entertainment.   

These days it is not difficult to see children (sometimes still in pushchairs) going along glued to the screens of mobiles, tablets or consoles (Nintendo, PSP, etc.) with the blessing of their parents. It is nothing new that parents use screens as nannies: the television has been the great nanny in many houses in recent years; adults who leave the children helpless in front of the screen so that it can "teach" them to be good consumers. It is alarming how responsibilities are abandoned by parents who, in many cases, feel that they can do nothing when faced with the technological avalanche, and say that "deep down, there is no problem". 

From my point of view the problem is not the technology nor the screens, which are unquestionably great inventions; the problem is the use we are making of these screens and the often economic criteria which lurk behind this use; these criteria do not appear to be connected with making better, more critical or happier people, but are directed towards the desire to sell more and have more and better consumers (and, as a consequence, higher profit). 

In my opinion to this lack of control in the use of screens by many children must be added the access, every day at an earlier age, and the enormous amount of time dedicated to these activities, time which the little ones are not using for something as fundamental as growth.

Children need to run in the street, they need to play with other children, touch each other, argue, engage in common projects, explore their territory, climb trees, fall over, laugh, cry, have adventures, play with sticks and stones, get muddy, wet their feet...children need to be children and go happily through childhood.  Nothing is more important than play in order to enable strategies and resources which are essential for the development of the adult. However, it is more and more difficult to find spaces where childhood can be played out in that way. Every day there are more children enclosed in their houses and indiscriminately stuck to screens.

Perhaps we are not aware of the importance of those childhood years. Traditional games help to exercise the memory, promote body development, social interaction, attention...while interaction with screens, which is so addictive and against which many children are powerless, does not help at all with the establishment of the rudiments of, for example, attention or memory.  Maybe that is why in recent years I have noticed an alarming fact when I tell stories in schools: surprisingly it is more and more difficult to tell stories to infants (3-6 years old), a group which are usually so receptive to a story, and on the other hand it is easy to tell stories to older pupils (for example those in sixth grade of primary school, 10-11 years old). I have been thinking about this question in recent months and have come to suspect that much of the blame for this new situation lies with the screens which children are coming to at an increasingly earlier age, and which do not allow the establishment of the strategies required for calmly paying attention and listening.  This does not happen with older pupils, despite the fact that many of them are tangled up in social networks and on-screen games: perhaps this is because these older pupils were still able to enjoy so many thousands of days without a screen, and had sufficient time to learn how to pay attention and experience the world calmly.

The repercussions are significant; many children who are now small will perhaps not acquire the resources to, for example, enable them to experience deep reading.  We also think that for many of us, adults with a long history as readers of paper books, the screen has also modified our way of reading: How many articles on the net have we abandoned half way through because they are "too long"?, How many posts do we recommend on Twitter or Facebook before we have finished reading them? How many times have we done what is now called transverse reading (which perhaps is a euphemism for not reading)? But the changes taking place in our times are more serious. There are those who defend this new way of reading as "more complete", although little or nothing is said about the need to cultivate deep, calm, critical reading, and in reality this is not taking place; continuous interaction is a constant yelling in our ear while we are reading, and produces in us a type of cognitive flitting. However, we need to be readers who are mindful and calm. This capacity to concentrate does not come naturally, and for that reason it is difficult to maintain and must be cultivated. 

Perhaps it would be enough for the first few years of a child's life (let's say up to 10 years old) to be spent in childhood days full of games and the street, and well away from any device which starts with an "on" or a "play". Federico Martín Nebras, one of the gurus of reading encouragement in Spain, has been speaking about this for a long time, and his discourse, far from wilting, is every day taking root with more vigour among teachers and librarians.

There is in addition another question which is far from trivial: human beings are different from animals in that they need to feed on fiction. The works of fiction that have traditionally been among the main dishes on the menu have been stories told orally, and for the last few centuries they have also been stored on the paper memory permitted by books. 

This type of fiction is nutritious, it enriches us, and it grows from the inside outwards. One can tell a story, and whoever is listening builds castles, forests and dragons in the imagination. However, the fiction that we are consuming more and more is that of the screen, a fiction which, as opposed to that of the story, is an impoverishing or, more exactly, colonizing fiction. The fiction coming to us with images is installed within our imagination, and there is no way to remove it from there. The power of these images is so strong and evocative that companies spend years trying to associate their logos with positive images (something which they achieve) installed within us. In that respect a careful reading of this book is worth the effort: Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, by Jerry Mander.

Finally, before drawing conclusions and ending this article which is becoming long, I wish to mention one final point.  Children, today as always, need to be told stories; a lot of them. Some time ago I spoke about some of the reasons for stories, but there are more, many and very interesting reasons to get back time and space for storytelling in the home, time and space for coexistence. As an example I recall Inno Sorsy who, years ago, told us at an unforgettable conference about how the internal structures of traditional tales are the same as the internal structures of human thought: the more we go through the gymnastics of telling/listening to stories, the more we are exercising our capacities of reasoning and thought.

I am more and more convinced that we have to protect childhood from interactive screens, and we have to allow the little ones to fill their first years with the street, with play, with the group, the community, songs and stories; an abundance. And after that stage (nine or ten years) we have to accompany them by applying criteria and care to the learning process regarding technology. They will be fed up of working with computers and screens, and they will be stuck to their smartphones day and night. They will be sick of seeing their reflections in screens at all hours. But if they had the opportunity to spend brilliant days during childhood they will always be able to gaze through the window and remember that the clouds are shaped like birds, or hearts, or the ship of Peter Pan.

In some talks for an adult audience I have asked if anyone knows any poetry. In nearly every case the verses recited were learned as children. However, many of today's little ones do not have the opportunity to learn poems or stories at home; they spend a large part of their day in front of the screens to which they hand over their time. What memories, what verses, what stories will they be able to remember when they are adults after these days not lived?

 

Pep Bruno
translated by Matthew Sean Robinson

Spanish / French

On types of narrators 

The most complicated issue when drawing up any classification is to establish criteria. In this case we also have the added difficulty that, in all certainty, we can find as many types of narrator as there are narrators.

However, and after looking at many varied options, and after having swapped a good fistful of emails with Juan José Prat Ferrer (folklorist and professor at the IE University of Segovia), I have settled on two criteria for carrying out this classification: the context and group.

-With respect to the context criterion. This criterion refers to time and space, and covers two possibilities: that the time/space is prepared for storytelling, or it is not.  

-With respect to the group criterion: that the group is or is not made up of peers, and in this sense whether or not any person at any moment can take the chair and tell stories. The contribution of Juan José Prat Ferrer when arriving at this criterion was essential.

The combination of these two criteria (context yes/no and peers yes/no) provides us with four possible types of narrator.

I would like to say beforehand that this classification is not rigid in the sense that a narrator is one type or another. From my point of view whoever tells stories could be in any of the four categories based on how the two chosen criteria are employed at the time of the storytelling.

And the result, in that case, would be the following:

  • The popular narrator, would be that person who tells stories among peers in a context which is not specifically prepared for narration. Traditional narrators, for example, making up the chain of those passing on traditional tales would be in this category, or social narrators (as defined by Juan José Prat Ferrer) such as those telling jokes or an urban myth the bar of a pub; or spontaneous narrators (as defined by Ana María Bovo). [peers yes / context no]
  • The instrumental narrator would be that person who tells to an audience who are not peers in an unprepared context. In this case the story is often the means to achieve other objectives. A clear example could be that of a teacher who tells a story in class (in order to exercise the attention span of the pupils), or a librarian who tells a story in the library (in order to encourage the users to read that book), or a bookseller who reads a story in the bookshop (so that the customers of the bookshop buy it), or a religious leader who tells a story to explain an idea. [peers no / context no]
  • The circumstantial narrator, would be that person who tells stories among peers in a context which is specifically prepared for narration. An example would be events in which those present are invited to tell stories: a storytelling marathon, a storytelling party in a school. Another example would be those traditional spaces where people meet expressly to listen to stories (in streets, squares, houses, etc.). Or even a mother or father telling a bedtime story to a child. [peers yes / context yes]
  • The professional narrator would be that person who tells stories to an audience who are not peers in a context which is specifically prepared for telling stories. This category is basically made up of those narrators who have made storytelling their profession and, as a consequence, earn money from that and pay taxes accordingly, just as any other professional. It is expected that in order to do that the person must have sufficient knowledge and have a command of the rudiments required in the profession. [peers no / context yes]

Perhaps the most interesting point regarding this classification is that one category does not exclude another. It could be the case, for example, that a popular narrator (a grandparent, for example) is invited to tell stories at a storytelling marathon (and thus at that moment would be a circumstantial narrator). Or it could happen that an instrumental narrator (a teacher, for example) stands out as a storyteller and is in demand from other centres, and ends up earning some money from this, and thus enters the category of professional narrator.

In fact there is usually a convergence of categories and, prior to becoming a professional storyteller, where it is expected that one can use and have a good command of the resources of the profession, the narrator has usually gone through one or several of the other categories.

 

Pep Bruno
Translated by Matthew Sean Robinson

Spanish / French

On the definition

For the definition of oral narration I refer to this tremendous text which Pablo Albo wrote in the preamble to the AEDA statutes: "Oral narration is understood to be the artistic discipline covering the act of telling stories face to face, using exclusively or primarily the word, in direct and reciprocal contact with the audience. Oral narration has its roots buried in the tradition of telling stories, and in the present day this remains the case, but within a performance context."

Thus the storyteller is that person who tells stories to an audience face to face. 

I prefer the verb tell to narrate. While narrate is limited to "tell, refer to what happened, or to an event or fictitious story" DRAE (Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy, the verb tell includes other interesting nuances: 1/ just as narrate "refers to what happened, whether true or fabled", 2/ it also processes the facts (perhaps catalogues them) and 3/ it includes the sense of "take into account, consider". This final point is truly relevant when telling stories as, from my point of view, it is not possible to tell stories without taking into account who is listening: yes, the story is told through a single voice, a single look, but taking the public into account. It is what Pablo formulates in the first definition as "in direct and reciprocal contact with the audience". 

 

On the characteristics of the storyteller

In the book, Narration, a tremulous profession (Narrar, oficio trémulo) ( Atuel), a long interview which Jorge Dubatti had with Ana María Bovo, I read for the first time the concept of the spontaneous narrator. This term refers to those narrators who handle the rudiments of oral culture naturally. A classic example is the person who in any family gathering ends up taking the chair and relating events and jokes with grace and acceptance by other family members, and in fact in many cases the group is waiting for the moment when the narrator begins to speak.  

But having the ability to tell a story does not mean that the job is done. In addition to this ability the rudiments of the spoken word have to be employed, and the tools which help sustain the story before an audience acquired.

The following characteristics, from my point of view, are important when telling stories.

  • Voice. To have one's own voice in order to tell from that voice. To articulate one's own discourse, coherent with the narrator, and thus add veracity to the act of narration and to the words spoken. It is more than a question of honesty (that also): it involves seeking and appropriating the voice.  The storyteller is voice. 
  • Looking. Looking which shows and shows us. Looking is a link between the audience and the storyteller. Through looking we see what we are telling, show what we can see, and also see who we are telling to. On this point Estrella Ortiz, in her magnificent Count on the stories (Contar con los cuentos) ( Palabras del Candil), speaks of telling stories as like opening a window. The narrator can see what is through the window and tells the audience what can be seen; which the narrator is visualizing the scene, the public is also visualizing the story. In another way Pepito Mateo, in his The Oral Narrator and the Imaginary (El narrador oral y el imaginario) (also published by Palabras del Candil) speaks of the storyteller as a cinema director who shows this or that shot from the story being told while each member of the audience runs a little interior cinema (in the mind: that is, they visualize the film). But we also speak of looking when we are seeking stories to tell (tales, accounts, events, etc.). The storyteller has to look: at the public, at the story, at life...in order to be able to tell.
  • Memory. The memory is the room in which stories happen. The memory serves both for the question of the repertoire (how many stories do we know/tell) and for questions of the weave of each story (the knowledge and handling of the internal structure of each story we tell). Equally the memory enables us to store up verses and narrative "modules" which can fit into different stories. [Further information on the story and the memory, in Spanish].
  • The game. I like to think of the act of narration as a dance; the teller and the listener dance together as one. The ability of the two dancers (or of one and the partner who is led) allows the music to flow and the dance steps to leave the established set pattern in order for the game to commence. When I say the game I want to say the capacity for improvisation, contextualization, freshness (how good it feels when air blows into the story and moves the curtains), allowing the story to flow naturally in harmony with the demands of the public, the story and the narrator. To tell is to put the flesh of words onto the skeleton of the story, and this natural flow, this feeding of the story with words, allows us to create anew each day a story with more or less variations and differences.
  • Respect. I believe that respect is a basic part of the endeavours of the storyteller; respect for each and every one of the elements that come into play during the act of narration, respect for the story being told (which implies deep knowledge, including the archetype and any variations when dealing with traditional tales); respect for the author or various authors of the text being told (which means mentioning the author of a text we are using and, when possible, asking for permission to tell the story); respect for the audience (it is obvious but it must be repeated again and again, it is irrelevant whether it is an audience of children, youths or adults, it must always be respected, which means not resorting to the simple or easy, but delving into the depths and enriching our work, being honest...); respect for the work of colleagues (which means not copying repertoires or styles but depending on one's own search and one's own voice); and respect for the work itself (respect it, dignify it, spread the good news of the spoken word, cooperate towards the successful development of spaces and an increase in audience size, etc.). Respect, always respect.
  • Reflection. Reflecting on the narrative act itself, about what one tells and how one tells, and about what others tell and how they tell, feeds the voice itself. Knowledge and reflection about oral narration throughout history and down the generations also provides food.   Reflection is continuous growth, an incessant search; it is living through continuous surprise. Reflection also implies an evaluation of the work done, which is a fundamental ingredient for the growth of the individual narrator and narrators as a whole.

 Pep Bruno

Translated by Matthew Sean Robinson

Spanish

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.

 

::o::

 

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

Spanish / French

 

According to the Spanish Royal Academy of Language Dictionary the word "network" in its seventh entry is defined as "A group or elements organized for a specific end". 

In 2009 the INTERNATIONAL STORYTELLING NETWORK (RED INTERNACIONAL DE CUENTACUENTOS in Spanish) was created initially by Beatriz Montero, up to that point a storyteller in the Trapisondas group, and her partner Enrique Páez, writer and workshop host. This article offers a critique of this framework and looks at whether it exactly meets the definition.

At the beginning, when the INTERNATIONAL STORYTELLING NETWORK (from here RIC, its initials in Spanish) it was possible to read from among its proposals that it wanted to become a platform which linked up storytellers from various countries in order to exchange experiences, to serve as a shop window and as meeting place; laudable intentions. However, after four years have passed, what is the real situation of the RIC? 

 

IT IS NEITHER A NETWORK NOR AN EXCHANGE PLATFORM

A network is a horizontal structure in which its members are interconnected via nodes which communicate in all directions. However, this does not happen on the RIC. Here we find a space made up of storytellers who take no part in decisions regarding the organization and operation of the network, as above them are the coordinators who decide everything related to the functioning of the framework. Information does not flow horizontally, but vertically from the top down, from the coordinators to the storyteller base.

Rather than a grid structure, the RIC has a pyramidal structure. And as such, the base the base of storytellers, the higher go the coordinators. 

 

IT IS NEITHER DEMOCRATIC NOR HAS PARTICIPATION CHANNELS

Any network, however modest, has governing statutes, internal structure regulations, and channels in order to promote internal participation of all its members. It is not necessary to take a look at more complex or established networks such as the Red Española de Filosofía (Spanish Philosophy Network), we can find a much closer example in another storytellers' network which has been operating in Europe since 2008: FEST Federation for European Storytelling, which by 2012 had managed to group over forty associations, schools and storytelling festivals throughout Europe. This network has agreed on legal statutes which serve as channels of participation for all members, with the full right to vote on questions put forward by the board, to voice proposals which could be adopted by the entire collective and to choose the board members, etc.

The participation of RIC members, however, is extremely limited: they can ask for their blogs to be added to the megablog (something they had to change because at the start it was not the case as can be seen here), they can follow the RIC on Facebook, they can follow the RIC on Twitter (and ask RIC to follow them), they can participate on the open Facebook group, and they can participate in activities which RIC (in reality its coordinators) propose: Short tales and Stories to change the world. That is what participation means to the coordinators of RIC.

 

IT IS NOT OPEN

It is neither open nor are the criteria for access to the list of storytellers or festivals clear: no one has debated this nor do we know the reason why this one yes and the other no. On occasions it has been requested that their operating criteria be shown, but to date there has been no reply. For all these reasons RIC is clearly not a network in which its members have a horizontal relationship, even when they participate. And when someone raises their voice to show disagreement or discontent they have been silenced. 

This is clear in the case of Wayqui, a Peruvian storyteller who was not clear about the real objectives of this framework and asked to leave. Months later he is still one more number on the list of storytellers, and when he insisted not only was he thrown off the open list on Facebook but was blocked directly. You can read about this in more detail on the blog of Wayqui.

No, they do not like criticism or voices of discord, they do not like RIC to be talked about and its ways of doing things questioned.  This can clearly be seen in an entry on the blog of Enrique Páez.

 

RATHER THAN STORIES, ACCOUNTS

The RIC is fed by numbers; this is the real objective of the network. In all RIC communications the numbers are always given: now over "so many" storytellers from "so many" countries. On Facebook, on Twitter, on the web, on the blog... even in external discussions taking place in other areas (such as for example, here, in the comments and later cited here): this is the main argument which, it is supposed, is behind the RIC coordinators and opens doors for them. The storytellers at the base are what in reality are supporting the coordinators.

And in order that these numbers stretch and grow and shine, anything goes.

Currently the count says that there are over a thousand storytellers from fifty countries. In reality this is not exactly the case.  It is only necessary to take a closer look at the database to see that the counting is not clear. Here are a few murky examples:

  • To begin with not all the files are about storytelling: Enrique Páez, writer and workshop host, is not and is however on the list, despite the fact that they state that they apply serious criteria when admitting people. 
  • To go on there are quite a lot of duplicated files. Including those of some coordinators.
  • Not to mention files with names we can know nothing about because the link provided is broken: they are just another number for the total.
  • We have found interesting cases of storytellers who tell in a group and also tell as individuals: the group has one file and the two members making up the group also have files. That is to say two storytellers have three files, or what amounts to the same thing: one plus one is three.
  • There are even files from a single storyteller which are found in two countries.
  • Finally there are people who requested removal and months later are still counted as one more storyteller. 

In any case it is very simple to check: you only have to spend a moment adding up the storytellers appearing on the RIC database to see that is does not coincide with the number on the banner. 

To all this we must add the lack of member follow-up: one can ask to be removed but another can leave the activity and do other things and forget to ask to be removed and continue to appear as one more number.  You could drop dead and still appear on the list.

There are also doubts regarding the countries total, another piece of data which is always put forward as an argument by the coordinators.

  • Practically 50% of the storytellers who appear on the RIC come from four countries.
  • Over 50% of countries have five or less storytellers on their lists. And from these over a third have only one storyteller. But it appears that one is sufficient, one lets us say that the network is international and is present in so many countries. Although this is not representative of anything.
  • Such is the obsession to add countries that one can be a storyteller born in another country (and telling in another language) and be the sole representative in a country with a huge tradition of storytellers who are unaware or uninterested in the RIC.

If we leave the areas of "so many" storytellers in "so many" countries, they also like to invite those members who participate in the RIC as followers on the house Facebook or Twitter, that is to say "so many" storytellers from "so many" countries join in through their two proposals of telling all together one day or sending videos of stories told. These numbers also count for the coordinators.

 

IT IS NOT A SHOP WINDOW FOR ALL MEMBERS (OR AT LEAST NOT WITH EQUALITY IN PLACEMENT)

On various places on the RIC web page they speak about the advantages it provides for its members. Among those they assure that it is a free shop window for storytellers throughout the world. However this is not exactly the case: from the home page to the last corner of the web page the RIC is in reality a shop window for its coordinators, the ones who enjoy this visibility. On the home page alone there are currently four videos of Beatriz and Enrique, who are the RIC.

It is true that whoever joins the RIC has a file on which they can sing their own praises as storytellers. But it is easy to imagine that in this sea of horizontal data there are a few which stand out from the rest: those who have set themselves up as coordinators and representatives of the rest.

And if that were not enough you only have to take a look at the web site: at each step there are references to books written by the coordinators, to the webs of friends headed by those of the coordinators, to the bibliographies filled with books by the coordinators, etc.

 

IT IS NOT A PLATFORM WHERE YOU CAN FIND WORK

We know of nobody who has told us that thanks to the RIC they have more work or it is important in their day-to-day lives. Well not exactly nobody; we know Beatriz and Enrique. Since they set themselves up as representatives of the RIC storytellers they have a lot of work, they fly around the world and she tells in festivals while he gives workshops. And all this does not appear to be only due to their artistic merits, but points to the stupendous construct which serves as their shop window and lets them knock on many doors: the RIC is their business card, their work opportunity.

 

IT IS NOT IN PRO-STORYTELLING: IT HAS OTHER INTERESTS 

Among the objectives of the RIC many are laudable (you can take a look at the web page, in the FAQ they are provided and in addition they will be happy because the number of visitors will increase). However, these objectives cannot be reached when the view is measured, when you only count if you are one of my gang: to include articles of reflection or bibliographies which do not contain complete lists of authors, articles, books which are basic for our work just because "we don't get on" or "you aren't one of my gang" is a strange way to create theory or to promote knowledge of this work of ours.

It is also true that on the RIC web page there is the continuous presence (which causes a lot of confusion) of written texts and writing workshops. It is surprising on a web site that calls for professional storytellers. However, let us not forget that Beatriz and Enrique built this to their own design, and Enrique and his Writing Workshop (and his students' texts) also have to fit.

 

IT IS NOT REPRESENTATIVE

The RIC does not represent us, it does not represent the storytellers of the world, and it is not even representative in the countries where it has more storytellers on its database. To give an example we all know, in Spain there are many professional storytellers who are not on their database and who do not wish to belong to a self-named INTERNATIONAL STORYTELLING NETWORK: storytellers who fill theatres, who tour the world, who form a part of the history of oral tradition of this country and many others, and who are not in the RIC.

Furthermore they do not even represent those storytellers who at some moment decided to join the RIC, simply because nobody elected them to do so.

 

CONCLUSION

For all the reasons given here we feel that the self-named INTERNATIONAL STORYTELLING NETWORK is not as it seems but is simply a construct which follows objectives which are very different to the ones they propose; a fantastic idea which has been twisted into something different, an instrument which only serves the interests of its coordinators and does not help the storytellers, the professional group or the stories told.

However, and despite all this, the RIC would come under the definition of "NETWORK" according to the Spanish Royal Academy of Language Dictionary, but not as the seventh entry cites at the beginning of this article, but under another more appropriate for the occasion, the fifth entry, which defines network as "Stunt or trick used by someone in order to attract another". 

 

Pep Bruno, Manuel Castaño and Carles García Domingo

November 2013

Spanish / French

 

Hi, 

I'm Pep Bruno, Spanish oral narrator with twenty years behind me as a storyteller.

Twenty years which I have passed in the arms of stories and in which, above all, I have told stories to audiences of all ages in a wide range of places; also twenty years in which I have dedicated a lot of time to reflecting on the oral tradition.  

My aim with this email is to share with you all some of the articles you can find on my website. In fact my idea is to send a similar email once per year; if you don't want to receive it you can remove yourself from the list at the end of this email. But before that I would like to encourage you to take a look at the content; you might find it interesting.

 

On the social function of the oral narrator. An article which ponders the role of oral narrators nowadays and which, months after seeing the light of day on my web, was published in summary form in the Chilean magazine Había una vez. It is available in English, French and Spanish.

 

A history of the professionalization of oral narration in Spain. For ten months I worked on this study which takes up an entire block on my Spanish web (and you can read it here). Two months later the prestigious Spanish magazine CLIJ published this article which contained a summary (very very short) of the whole study. It is available in English and Spanish.

 

A critical look at the self-named International Storytelling Network. In this article, written with six hands by Manuel Castaño, Carles García and myself, we analyse a network which from our point of view has more shade than light. It is available in English, French and Spanish.

 

I hope you find these articles interesting. If that is the case I hope to send another bundle next year. If you wish to receive information more often you can subscribe here to my Flyer for Storytellers (no more than once per month).

 

Regards,

Pep Bruno

 

Spanish / Italian / French

Article published in the Salamanca Network of Municipal Libraries Bulletin (web page here), in No. 55 second era (December 2011). Excellent libraries, amazing and wonderfully professional librarians, and I share the platform with Antonio Muñoz Molina. You can imagine that I feel extremely happy and very honoured. 

I hope this article is of interest (and you like it, of course).

 

THE SILENT REVOLUTION: READING AS AN ACT OF REBELLION

 

I could say that I read out of habit, because reading is a habit which took root in me when I was a boy and which I have continued to cultivate throughout my life.

I could also assure you that I read for pleasure: the pages I enjoy intensely are many, and many have provided me with unforgettable joy.

I could even affirm that I read through pure selfishness, because reading is a deep, intimate experience which feeds me and quenches my thirst. 

I could truly say all these things. And say them without lying, because I read out of habit, for pleasure and through selfishness.

But I think the final reason for my militancy in the team of die-hard readers is that reading nowadays has become a revolutionary activity. Reading is a way to rebel, an open front against conformity, guerilla warfare against grey days and cold nights.  

 

Reading against the rhythm

We live hectic lives, slogging our guts out, always racing around, and with no time to catch our breath.  These are the days they say we have been given: days of frantic weaving and unravelling, of chronic exhaustion and speed without truce.

Days in which there is no time to stop moving, to take a break or for stillness: to see how the leaves turn yellow and fall from the trees, to see how the wind takes them, to pulsate with the dusk, to sit in the street and feel how the cold tugs at the skin. To feel, to look, to stop.

Against the crashing rhythm of the days reading becomes an act of rebellion: to sit down and open a book it to stop the clock, to open a door to another age, other days, other lives.

Reading is an unusual act of rebellion, a spanner in the incessant works, a torpedo on the waterline of the machinery which feeds the conveyor belt rolling under our feet.

To read is to break the mirror, to shatter it, and to step through to the other side.

 

Reading against the noise

These days there is no room for silence: noise, all of it, lives among us. Noise in the street, noise in the houses, noise in our hearts; talking screens, rumbling motors, detuned lifts...there is not a silent gap from morning to night and from night to morning.

This perpetual noise has become embedded in our heads, and like a drill it has reached the centre of everything and there has become a constant buzzing, both severe and persistent.

What is more, this noise that we have swallowed and swallowed and swallowed now lives within us and even flows out of us. Not even under water is one capable of feeling the white steppes of silence, of perceiving the solid presence of silence, of letting oneself be caressed by the soft velvet that is silence. 

Noise is the king of our times.

And against this overwhelming noise reading becomes an act of rebellion: to sit down and open a book is to silence all those strident voices, it is to break down the continuity of noise, to put it into a sack and throw it to the bottom of a well and thus allow silence to once again appear. To open a book is to fall into a calm meadow, fertile territory to dream of stories, to imagine, to listen and to listen to ourselves.

To open a book is to fill the world with silences, those silences which are necessary for emotion, to feel ourselves breathing, that we close our eyes, that we are.

 

Reading against dogma

These are times of uniformity, times of globalization, these are times of brilliant shells and superficial depths. These are times of few questions and a lot of dogma: this is the world we have to live in, one of resignation.

And these are the days we are living, days of identical taste, identical desire, identical thought. Days in which the ideas factory turns out futile, gaudy slogans to feed our mouths and fill or dreams with prefabricated words. Desire, our desire, is in the hands of the market and on this little stage we are the puppets who are living in a dream. Or in a nightmare.

Doctrine enters through the eye and ear and latches on firmly inside. The market makes us all equal. We are visa card meat.

And against the successful indoctrination reading becomes an act of rebellion: to sit down and open a book is to feed on words, chew ideas, discuss and reflect and think and grow and criticize.

Thus reading is an enormous act of rebellion which makes us critical, non-conformist, different, inquisitive, restless.  To read is to break the machinery of identical moulds, of manipulable identities, of the meat in the market. In particular to read those books which do not feed the boilers of the market.

You can even read books free of charge which you can borrow from public libraries! Where has a more revolutionary act been seen in the kingdom of consumerism and globalization!

 

Reading against inaction

These are incomprehensible times, they tell us. These things are inevitable, they insist. We can do nothing, they assure us. And meanwhile they invite us to be seated and watch the days go by: put up with it, tolerate it, keep your head down, put up with it, tolerate it, look at the television...you are still one of the lucky ones, they remind you. Put up with it. Tolerate it.

And be still, don't move a finger, don't even blink in case the universe alters and the balance is upset, the floodgates open and the current drags you to the bottom.

Against this humiliating stillness reading a book becomes an act of rebellion: taking a book works the muscle, works the eye, works the brain, works the desire to participate, responsibility, the implication of the reader. The book makes demands on the reader; it gives a percentage of what it demands, but it makes demands. It says shut up! it says listen! it says pay attention!...and the reader takes part and becomes responsible for whatever happens while reading. To be responsible for and participate actively in what happens to us is without doubt the greatest of all rebellious acts attributable to the book.

 

Yes, I could say that I read out of habit, I read for pleasure, I read through selfishness.

But I am increasingly convinced that I read because I belong to the Resistance; because I am a rebel. And I think that there are still a lot of things that must change. With a book in my hand I am dangerous; I think, dream, ask questions, I am responsible, I live in time...I start the silent revolution which will make a better world.

This is certain.

 

French / Spanish

 

PREVIOUS

Told tales, nourishment for storytellers and audiences, add up many virtues (we have already enumerated some of them here) and benefits for those who listen to them and for the communities in which the told word inhabits. But we are not going to talk now about the value (or values) of the told stories, our intention is to reflect on the function of the storyteller in the community.

To tell stories, to carry and to transmit them it´s important in itself and implies to assume responsibilities as I will try to show in this article.

This proposal of varied functions intends to be a general frame in which the different cases of each storyteller in a concrete context will fit.

For that reason, it might occur that some storytellers will fit some of these functions whereas other storytellers will fit all of them. It might even occur that a storyteller in diverse contexts will assume different functions.

This study would be incomplete if there were any functions that a narrator has when telling stories which aren’t contemplated here. In this case, any comment or suggestion will be welcomed.

 

I have differentiated two possible situations at the time of analyzing this matter:

  • The storyteller before narrating. That is, the previous work before the actual session of storytelling, especially when it is centered on searching, selecting and putting into words the tales that are going to be told.
  • The storyteller when he or she is telling the story that is, when he or she is in front of the audience.
  • I have not included a third moment which would be the one after the session that implies a time for constructive reflection on the work done and the work to be done. I consider this implicit in the first part: thinking about the repertory, re elaborating, renovating…and in the second part: thinking about the way to narrate, new lines of action…

 

::o::

 

ON THE STORYTELLER BEFORE TELLING

As said before, somewhere else on this short study [Spanish],  the popular storyteller usually tells in the same place (his/her village, street, home) meanwhile the professional storyteller goes from one place to another, offering his/her repertory (long ago romances, tales and news, nowadays a diverse repertory), 

1 TO PRESERVE AND RENOVATE THE COMMON REPERTOIRE

The most common thing is that the first one (the popular storyteller that tells in his/her village) assumes, in a more or less conscious way the role of preserving and keeping alive the local tradition (the memory of the community) the tales that travel from grandmothers to grandchildren for generations (old wives´ tales). It also occurs that in many occasions the local storytellers are in charge of renovating the local repertory (turning  funny stories or local matters into verse which are soon known and learned by the community).

On the other hand, the professional storyteller (that goes from one place to another) often brings new texts to the places where he/she goes, done by himself/herself (to then sell in cordel literature (chapbooks) as it was done with the Romances de ciego (ballads) or in the book format as some urban storytellers do these days) or from tradition, collected from other places. Therefore this professional storyteller also renovates and broadens the local repertories, and moreover, communicates,  forges bonds and builds bridges among repertories and different communities.

It may also occur that the professional storyteller brings with him/her more complex texts, sometimes more difficult to memorize for the traditional storytellers and thus preserves texts that otherwise could not be kept orally.  And lastly, it is also possible that this professional storyteller will include tales known in the area in his/her repertory, but that, somehow, they are texts that belong to a larger community that includes this smaller one (for example a district, province or country) and that are equally to the taste of the group for its variations or basically for being part of themselves.

Whether  it is a folk or professional storyteller, long ago (as in many cases today) it occurred that these narrators would feel part of a community as it´s pointed out in his introduction (volume 1) of “Traditional tales from León” *Julio Camarena Laucirica*:

“Usually, in the oral communication chain, narrator and audiences are part of a same community and share common cultural elements: they have common interests and they share a history of personal interrelations. They take part of a common collective memory that allows them to give specific meanings or generic expressions and suggestions, and they approve and disapprove the same things.” ( Julio Camarena Laucirica. Traditional tales from León, volume 1, Menéndez Pidal  Seminary, UCM and León´s Council, 1989, page 20)

Or to take an extreme case, as Mario Vargas Llosa says in his book The Talker, the manchiguengas narrators (called talkers) were the ones in charge of the cohesion of the disperse community.

This feeling of being part of the community implies certain responsibilities for the oral narrator even before beginning to tell:

  • On the one side the decision to select traditional texts as part of the common voice, the collective memory, that he/she does for his/ her own repertoire is a decision that affects not only him/her as a narrator but also the community. For these traditional texts that he/she adds to the repertoire will remain alive on his/her lips but also in the collective memory.
  • On the other hand the elaboration of new material that will become more or less part of the common repertoire should be nourishment for the community ( whether it be for a short or long period of time)
  • And finally the previous work that is done with each text determines the survival of the common repertoire and its adaptation to the passing of time (the example is clear with traditional texts, but it could be applied equally to new texts that become part of the collective memory). I will explain myself in more detail on the example of traditional texts:

It can be observed that traditional tales come from two sides: conservation and innovation.  Conservation of the traditional texts, its survival, its air and voice nourishment, its need to inhabit lips and ears (beyond sheets of paper and eyes) is what bounds it to COMMON MEMORY, to history, to what we are. To what this community is because it has been. It is that way: we need to know where we come from to know who we are (and who we can be). On the other hand, innovation is bounded to what is happening at the moment, to what makes us change, to what can make us be something else tomorrow.

These two lines of force come together on the storyteller´s lips and become one. He or she, more or less consciously, selects the tales to be told and decides the way he/she will tell them, making those tales that are memory into tales that are alive now and giving them the possibility to become texts in the future. 

 

Nowadays in Spain, even though a rupture can be observed between the storyteller and the traditional repertoire, we can also observe urban narrators with a wide repertoire of popular and traditional texts (from diverse cultures).

This rupture between storyteller and traditional repertoire might be due to the fact that the revival of the profession of storytelling (in the mid eighties of past century) has been linked more to institutions (schools and libraries) instead of town squares; or maybe that this flourishing has occurred in the cities (hence the name of these new storytellers: urban narrators). This matter can give some light to other matters that we will have to look at closely (in another part of this yet to be published short study)

 

ON THE STORYTELLER WHEN HE/SHE TELLS

The act of narrating, the moment when the storyteller tells a tale to a group of listeners, is an act of communication and (as we have already pointed out) in order for that to happen there should be a space of enough freedom in which the storyteller, audience and context can build up the tale jointly. This peculiarity determines most of the functions that a narrator assumes at the time he/she is telling tales to a group of people.

2 TO GENERATE A SPACE OF FREEDOM

On the one hand I believe that the storyteller enables a space of freedom enough for the tale to happen. The storyteller ensures that this is the case and therefore the storytelling time is a time of freedom.

On the other hand, I think that the storyteller hosts (welcomes) the listeners´ group and invites them to be an active part of the event that is going to happen in that very moment: the told tale here and now, told by the narrator but also on the basis of the audience’s involvement in a concrete environment.

I think all of this determines the quality of the unique and unrepeatable moment in which the tale will be told, a concrete context with a specific audience in a specific time. This fleeting, elusive and unique character of the act of storytelling determines even the narrative course: This is the reason why every time a tale is told there are differences and the same tale is never told in the same way.

3 TO CREATE COMMUNITY

I think that, as a narrator, many of us are aware of the importance of creating a space of freedom when telling tales, a space that allows the audiences to assume ownership of happening at that moment. I think the storyteller has to ensure that this happens so that, in that shared moment, the audience feels responsible for the tale that is being told.

In this sense it is worth remembering Mr. Julio Caro Baroja´s study What we know about folklore in which he talks about the differences between the industrial man and the traditional man. The industrial man lives in a cinema room, in the dark, in which the play is the play, whatever he might do from his seat. Meanwhile the traditional man lives in a comedy theatre (corral de comedias) and there the audience plays an active role on what´s going on onstage: the audience can bring up a bad performance or put down a play that is of no interest.

Mr. Julio´s illustrious words encouraged me to think that tales do not feel comfortable in a “cinema room” but that they usually inhabit the comedy theatre. And the storyteller, in a way, is responsible for making this happen.

When this happens another of the storyteller’s roles comes out:  making the audience live what´s going on as theirs. What is more, making the audience part of what is going on, active and responsible for what is taking place.

And this way the told tale creates group feeling, nourishes the community, reinforces ties among people.  The told tale might be one of the few experiences that provoke emotion in a group of people, making them laugh together, feel together, and at the same time feel responsible for what´s going on. And it is the storyteller´s role to keep it this way.

4 HAVING THE WORD

It also occurs that a person in the group that is listening assumes the voice and takes the word. This is another of the storyteller’s roles: to have the word. This implies great responsibility: the storyteller takes the word in which there is an ancestral voice alive(diachronic) and in which there are echoes of the voice that will be and at the same time he/she has the voice now (synchronic). It is therefore a word that goes beyond the moment, a word spun by many voices (we could say unanimous  with all its etymological significance) and what is more, is sustained in that moment, in that context, with that audience.

Having the word could mean many things: that one has to know the word (the tradition, the text) and has to voice it in that moment (the nowadays, the context) so that it remains alive (the tomorrow).

But if we take the idea of the tale taking place in the comedy theatre and therefore it’s the audience who assumes part of the responsibility of what is going on there when the tale is told, then we find that the storyteller has the group’s word, assuming the word of the community. He/she becomes the spokesperson. But not a spokesperson that stands out above the community, but the group´s voice, the community´s voice. At this point it is useful to be conscious of the responsibility that this implies and overall, not to make use of that word for our personal promotion. There is no room for egocentricity in being the spokesperson for the community.

Being the spokesperson for common feeling is also a role of the storyteller when telling.

5 TO BE LIVING MEMORY

Having the word, as I said in the last item, implies also knowing the word, being an active part of the common memory, of its preservation, extension, and dissemination. I have already talked about this before in item 1: preserving and renovating the common repertoire.

I think an important part of being “living memory” is also the responsibility that it entails in order to articulate it, to narrate it, to transmit it, turning it into living memory. This role consists of three parts:

(a)Adapting the texts: which entails bringing closer, renovating the traditional texts for them to be able to fit to the new times and the audiences of today. 

(b) The creation of new texts for the community, that may (or may not) become texts with which the community will identify, will think of itself, will look at itself…

(c) And the way in which these tales are told: which from my point of view, means a continuous reflection on the work of the storytellers (my own and others) and continuous development. 

New stories also fit in part (b) (the ones written by you or from other authors) that can feed the personal memory and the collective memory and even become part of the collective imagination. (On this note, I remember the emotion I felt when some friends told me a tale I had invented, a tale that I had written and told for many years and that I had stopped telling many years ago, as though it were a traditional tale. This tale had been travelling from mouth to ear until it decided to come make a visit).

6 BEING PART OF THE AUTHOR´S CHAIN

This question of the adaptation to the voice and to the time, gives hints on the concept of shared authorship that is clear when talking about traditional texts (authors are a “legion” as *Menéndez Pidal* said) and that the storyteller also assumes when telling tales written by others.  I think telling a tale written by someone else implies assuming that text, making it our own. This process of putting into words must be sustained by, overall, in the respect to the rest of authors in the chain (either they would be “authors” in the chain of tradition or in the chain of text’s authors) as well as in the rudiments and putting into words  strategies that each storyteller uses in his/her working workshop.

Authorship also brings about an important question, that of artistic creation. In this role we should take care of artistic expression because the way we tell is also important.

And as artistic expression, oral narration and storytellers are part of the addends of culture, those of the small group and the greater community. Being conscious of this aspect is also important: taking care that our contribution increases, and doesn’t lessen, in the global artistic computation and culture is also a role of the storyteller.

And finally, from this point of view I think telling implies, overall, to respect: the story, the audience, the selected text author, the collective memory….

7 TO BE CRITICAL CONCIOUSNESS

This might be one of the most personal items in the whole text (actually all of it is), because I think that to have at your disposal the word being part of the community entails an added responsibility:  to be the critical word. At least, from my point of view, what is told and how it’s told must be nourishment for the consciousness of the community.

Either by the selection of texts one chooses from the own repertoire (or common) or by the way one chooses to tell them, I think the storyteller needs to be aware of this role that gives so much relevance to our trade.

For many centuries, storytellers from different cultures and in very different moments of history have been critical voices and their words have been flax tow that has set alight the common consciousness. Not all of them, of course, for there were also storytellers submitted to the established order that collaborated to its consolidation by quieting down the critical voice.

In fact, nowadays, we have storytellers that have been censored or vetoed because of their critical attitude towards unjust situations condemned by the community. It is not necessary to go back to Paula Carballeira´s   case, the Galician storyteller censored in a village because her support to the “Nunca Mais” (“Never again”) movement after the bad management of the sinking of the Prestige oil tanker, and we say it is not necessary because during that time the storyteller Ana Griott was censored in a Madrilenian village for collaborating with a critical citizen movement

In this sense Paula noted something that is not a minor point: the most interesting storytellers are those who bring about (give rise to) questions not the ones who provide answers. The more questions that are generated within the community the less dogmatic and more critical it will be. There will be more individual and collective growth.

 

To conclude, I think the storyteller needs to stand alongside the group, alongside the community because the word has been given to him/her by the community, he/she has been made the spokesperson, and that is a huge responsibility, and a great privilege.

 

 

Translated by Sonia Carmona Tapia

 

Ever since I finished my study on the professionalization of the storyteller in July 2011, I have been taking notes and putting ideas together in order to write a second block of work centered on the storyteller itself. From this second block, and on the occasion of 20M- International Storytelling Day, comes to life this preview in which I reflect on the social role of the storyteller. I hope, little by little, to publish the rest of items that are now pretty much developed.

Once again I want to thank my partners of AEDA (Spanish national association of professional storytellers) and especially  the following storytellers: Magda Labarga, Carles García, Estrella Ortiz, Virginia Imaz, Charo Pita, Manuel Castaño e Inés Bengoa for the comments on the draft of this document. And thanks to Paula Carballeira whose notes on the article have enriched it.

This short article comes from my personal thoughts and from the observation of our own work. It’s probably lacking many things, therefore any contribution or constructive thought will certainly be welcomed.

 

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