One Small Voice: Roger Jenkins

Published on 16 February 2016

Telling stories is more than just reading off a book. It is an art form, as professional storyteller Roger Jenkins discovered.

INTERVIEW BY DAPHNE ONG

I recently asked some teenagers, “Do you tell stories?” They said, “No.” I replied, “Nonsense. When you came back to school yesterday after the holiday, and your friend asked you what you did, you told a story. And why did you tell that story? That’s the way we bond and build friendships — by exchanging our experiences and finding things in common.”

Stories are how we define ourselves. One of my favourite quotes about storytelling is: “If you keep telling the same sad story, you’ll keep living the same sad life. If you want to change your life, change the stories.”

I started in theatre as an actor, director and teacher before discovering storytelling in the late 1990s. I had no idea there was such a thing as a professional storyteller until I met author and storyteller Margaret Read Macdonald in 2002 and found out she did precisely that.

What I love about storytelling is the direct contact you have with the audience and the immediacy of it. The wonderful advice I got from Canadian storyteller Max Tell is to speak off the top of my head and from the bottom of my heart.

The biggest difference between theatre and storytelling is that in theatre, you’ve got to stick with a script because your co-actors depend on you giving the cues. In storytelling, you can tailor a story to suit a particular audience or situation.

The art of a good storyteller is the ability to ‘read’ your audience and then choose an age-appropriate story from your extensive repertoire to share. It appeals to the sense of spontaneity, playfulness and creativity. I always feel that storytelling is something that can appeal to multi generations. Kids and their parents enjoy the stories at different levels and both are meaningfully engaged. Stories have this power to touch people in different ways.

I’ve worked with grassroots leaders to use storytelling in the community. What is the power of telling a story that prompts people to step back and willingly consider a different perspective? When people tell a story, we respond on both emotional and intellectual levels, and it engages us. The human brain is hotwired to listen to stories and we don’t feel threatened by a story. A story helps us to turn something abstract into something concrete.

One of the joys of storytelling festivals, like last year’s 398.2 Storytelling Festival, is that with so many storytellers, there were so many ways to engage. A seven year-old told a story she’d heard me tell, related and connected to it in her own way, and told it brilliantly. You don’t have to be a wonderful speaker to be a good storyteller. It’s about finding your voice, what works for you as a storyteller.

It’s the best job in the world and I will keep at it as long as my voice and memory keep going.

ROGER JENKINS is a Singaporean who has been a professional storyteller since 1998. Winner of the Best Storyteller Award at the 16th Kanoon International Storytelling Festival in Iran, 2013, he is a popular performer/trainer in schools, libraries and at community events. He has performed throughout Asia as well as in Bahrain and on the fringe of the Edinburgh Festival. Last year he founded the 398.2 Storytelling Festival, Singapore’s first independent festival dedicated to showcasing Singaporean storytellers. Jenkins trained as a drama teacher and his theatre background is evident in his stories which incorporate masks, improvisation, puppets, magic and even sign language.

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