Nell Phoenix, who performed a story and also conducted a workshop in the art for the Pune audience,shares her theories on the art of story-telling
* The English countryside with its castle, church and cave came alive because of your performance today. Why is performance so important for a story?
I am a performer first and so I simply cannot read aloud a story from a book. I first began performing a story for kids when the teacher of my son's pre-school asked me to do something for the class. I asked her 'what' and she said 'tell a story.' So I came prepared with a white sheet to create an impression of winter. I told them the story of Oscar Wilde's A Selfish Giant. They got very involved and the teacher was suitably impressed to refer me to other pre-schools and then primary schools. Children are entranced by images and that's the cure for short attention span.
* You have been hopping from Ahmedabad to Delhi and now to Pune, to share your stories with the Indian audience comprising adults and kids. How do you decide which story will charm the very different audience?
Well, I have a vast repertoire of stories to depend on. What matters most is the space and the mind-set of the audience. In this session, at The British Library, the audience was mostly adults and younger kids, so I had to keep everyone happy. I decided to choose a story in which children could participate, and take adults back to their childhood. This was an informal setting, so I could move around, interacting with the kids. In Delhi, it was more formal setting. I had also come with the impression that the Indian audience might be more reserved, but that was an incorrect notion.
* In India, it is widely believed that the stories for kids should teach them values and morals. Comment.
Not just Indian audience, but people on the whole are looking for meaning in the stories they hear or read. We are by nature, curious, investigative and always looking for a sign. Stories have to establish a human connect and so I would say the lesson or teaching have to be imbibed by everyone on their own. It has to come naturally. What I take away from the story, might be different from the way you related to it.
* What makes a good story then?
A story is considered good, if it engages the audience. If the story is meant for children, then I would say that it should offer balance. They should not go back home with the thought that their world is in disorder. I have often been asked why should children stories begin with 'Once upon a time..' or 'Long, long ago' and end with, 'They lived happily after.' I would like to clarify that these are not cliche. They offer a differentiating point – whatever unpleasant things that occurred in the story, happened long ago. The gore and violence highlight the fact that it is evil and will always be overcome by good. Teenagers prefer something dark and for adults any story that suspends their critical faculty is good.
* Most parents today don't have time to read aloud stories to their children. Do you think story clubs or public performances that involve both children and adults is necessary to keep us more rooted?
Stories have to be shared. In England we have seen a revival of oral story-telling. We have several story-telling clubs; I also started my own club 6 years ago. Earlier, we were booked for four nights a month and now we perform/tell stories almost every night.
I am not against the idea of reading aloud from story books. But, on some nights, parents could keep the book aside and just dig into their memories and share something original. This could trigger an exchange between the two generations and the elders might learn of some incident that took place in school. Some thing that was not mentioned at dining table.