Let Me Tell You a Story

Published on 11 May 2015

The art of storytelling holds its captivating magic — over grown-ups.

TEXT BY PAMELA HO

The mic crackles. The hum subsides. The audience sits up and collectively leans in. As the speaker takes the mic, you notice just a flicker of apprehension. After all, he’s not trained in the professional craft of storytelling, he’s an ordinary person like you and me. But when he opens up, and you empathise, an instant connection is created between strangers.

“The whole idea of Telling Stories Live (TSL) is that everyone and anyone can tell a story,” says Petrina Kow, co-founder of this monthly free event held at The Fabulous Baker Boy café’s That Spare Room. “So far, we’ve had writers, artists, students… all kinds, really!”

Founded in September 2014 by Kow and Shireen Abdullah, TSL has since featured about 30 speakers over eight sessions. “We ask them to tell us a personal story, but we do try to get them to ‘craft’ it a little so that it doesn’t become one long rant or therapy session,” Kow says with a chuckle, adding that each speaker is given 10 to 15 minutes.

POWER OF PERSONAL STORIES

TV host Anita Kapoor shared her story in March. “I talked about losing my dad in a plane crash and grappling with my mum’s health. But really, it was about how it made me a better person. I think that is what tragedy is for: not to depress you or to take your life’s meaning away. It’s there to make you square up to fear, pain, death; to the responsibility of living.”

Fiction writer, Alison Jean Lester, who has shared twice at TSL — on the significance of her NETS personal identification number and the enduring love of her parents — says, “Live storytelling by amateur storytellers is an antidote to all the airbrushed communication going on around us,” she says. “Listening to someone share a story makes us realise how often we judge others by their looks, and creates immediate connections between people who’ve just met.”

Josiah Ng, a creative consultant, revisited his experience in the military and told the tale of how he sustained a broken spine as a result of his own folly. “Crafting my story became a process of self-exploration,” he reveals. “It made me slow down, reflect and appreciate life. It helped me find strength again in the darkest places.”

Faridah Haji, who is a regular at this event, was new to Singapore when she stumbled upon TSL on Facebook. “I went because I love to hear stories, and it was free,” she says. “But what keeps me going back is that I feel it’s a great way to start reviving human connections again. Here, people actually talk and listen to each other, and don’t stare at their phones!”

The monthly TSL sessions are open free to the public. The next session is on 10 June, 8pm. To find out more or to share your story, visit www.tellingstorieslive.com.

BARING OUR SOULS  Stephanie Chan, Anita Kapoor, Irene Jansen and Brendon Fernandez shared their personal stories at TSL in March. (Right) TSL founders Petrina Kow and Shireen Abdullah with their April speakers, which included Dim Sum Dolly Pam Oei.
ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH Fiction writer Alison Jean Lester, who has shared twice at TSL, says there are still more stories left in her!

REVIVAL OF AN ANCIENT ART FORM

The moment you step into the Play Den at The Arts House, you feel like you’ve entered another world. At the end of the dimly-lit room sits a beautiful lady dressed in churidhar kurta (a traditional Indian outfit) surrounded by colourful throws, pots and spices. This is Shakti: Women Behaving Badly — a storytelling session based on tales of Indian folklore.

The lady in question, Kamini Ramachandran, is a professional storyteller and co-founder of MoonShadow Stories, set up in 2004 to promote the lost art of the oral narrative tradition. Her repertoire ranges from folktales from around Asia to stories handed down by her grandfather.

“Since ancient times, storytellers have been passing on ‘tribal’ cultures and ways of living. They are educators and tradition-bearers,” she explains. “My calling is very clearly linked to reviving an art form, to telling traditional tales that are dying, and my focus is adult audiences.”

A misconception many people have is that storytelling is for children. But Shakti, for example, carries an NC16 rating. “Another misconception is that storytellers do not need to be paid because anyone can tell a story,” she reveals. “But I think the industry now understands that a good storyteller is an artist and has a price tag attached!”

TRADITION BEARER  Professional storyteller Kamini Ramachandran says her calling is to revive an art form and her focus, adult audiences.

On the process of preparation, Ramachandran discloses, “I believe a story will call to you to be told. And I listen. I research my stories, think about how to tell them, how I can breathe life into them. I don’t subscribe to simplifying and ‘tidying up’ my stories to suit the audience. It is the artist’s responsibility to expose the audience to the unfamiliar, in order for art to open their minds.”

Whether it be personal stories or folklore, storytelling unites people. “If we come with an open mind and listening ear, we can create a more communicative and compassionate society through storytelling,” TSL’s Kow reasons.

Ramachandran concurs. “For a moment, we’re all connected by the storyteller’s web of words and we’re all travelling on the same journey. This is a deep act of bonding and provides a sense of common ground.”

Catch Kamini Ramachandran in Secrets of a Storyteller at the Esplanade Rehearsal Studio, 17 May (tickets via Sistic), and Folktales of India (for ages 4 to 8 years), Indian Heritage Centre, 23 May. To find out more, visit www.moonshadowstories.com.

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