The Telling…Told Storytelling and the Telling of Stories projects.
A concept for a story telling project for school classes from the 5th grade upwards.
There can be no doubt that storytelling is, at many levels, an important tool for learning. Within the story a protagonist, easily identifiable with, takes a voyage, a journey in which he or she discovers much about the world around them, the nature of life itself and the human condition. We, the listeners, do so too. Thus the story archetype can easily be seen as a map for our own journey through life. One which encourages us to overcome social and psychological repression. A process which encourages us to grow and develop as we embrace the unknown. The oral folk or “wonder” tales provide us with a platform to discover the concept of life as a learning process and this understanding empowers us to prosper. No matter what is thrown at us.
As the mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote. “The mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming.”
The “Telling…Told” project looks to the reasons we tell stories, how they have served us for millennia and aims use this understanding to reconnect us, with a creative engagement, to the life and knowledge within them.
The project aims to delve deeper into the art of oral storytelling with the intention of deconstructing the stories to understand their form and to use this knowledge as the basis for story writing.
Without losing sight of the oral nature of folk tales, as opposed to written stories, we will follow dual paths towards reaching the goal of encouraging and empowering children to formulate, develop and tell their own stories in a form, whether it be written or spoken, that suits their own capabilities.
We will begin by building on the experience that the children have had listening to the stories of, and engaging with, a professional storyteller. By recalling, and reliving, the stories we will look for patterns in both the characteristics within and the delivery of the tales thereby creating a broad overview of the story as an art form.
To examine the significance of stories and the tradition of oral story telling with a regard to their relevance both in the past and today we will look at the subject matter of the stories. We will discover both the historical and cultural backgrounds of storytelling, such as who it was that told these stories and to whom.. the why’s and the wherefore’s.
By examining the structure of folk and wonder tales we will begin to recognise the correlation to the structure of written stories.
Using both the traditional western structure of the "story mountain”, espoused by Gustav Freyburg in the late 19th century and, by way of contrast, the oriental “Kishōtenketsu” structure, which still determines much of the way modern narrative, specifically Manga and video games, is written, we will learn how to create a map and a guide for the students to use while writing their own stories.
While the Freyburg principle aims towards a conflict driven narrative the emphasis of the Kishōtenketsu structure is upon contrast. Children have a much closer connection to the condition of contrast which is far more present in their lives than the concept of conflict; young/old, rich/poor, small/giant are obvious examples, and they are therefore able to recognise and engage it with, as they begin to write, within their own narratives easier than they can with the notion of conflict.
Rather than emphasising contrariety we are encouraging comparison. This sits deep in the D.N.A. of oral folk tales.
“Tell me”. Said the queen. “Who is the fairest in this land?” Contrast rather than conflict sits here at the heart of this very well known phrase.
We will examine the importance of the three legs of narrative; character, setting and action.
Each student will create a character. A protagonist, a hero-to-be. While we will examine the meaning of this concept from the Greek myths up to the super heroes of today we will not lose sight of the hero who began the story as a very ordinary human being. One of us.
The journey, and therefore the development, of the protagonist is directly determined by character. Their condition, needs and desires. These elements drive the protagonist along to the stories resolution and, as we will discover, the condition of the hero will change but his character never does. A poor but sympathetic Jack will become a rich sympathetic Jack.
We will discover and emphasise the importance of simplicity within the action of the story. The students will be encouraged to avoid overloading a narrative with extraneous elements such as characters that appear from nowhere late in the story or sudden changes in scene.
“Keep it Simple” will be a key phrase throughout the project. The need to avoid over complication. and allow the listener or readers imagination space to climb into the narrative themselves. That is, after all, the essence of storytelling.
To further the development of the project after the students have gained a thorough understanding of both the written and spoken form of storytelling we will move on to the practical part of the project by creating a cross-curricular art project through the illustration of the stories and the presentation of the stories to an audience of peers or parents.
Here we have many possibilities dependent on the resources and time available for the project.
The students will illustrate their stories using 5 pictures depicting the action at specific points within the narrative. This will depend on which form the student adopts. But generally the use of 1. The initial setting. 2. The rising action. 3. The “twist”. 4. The falling action and 5. The resolution, would be an ideal guide rather than the rule as the work must be tailored to each students work.
The illustrations will be used in an eventual book.
Another possibility would be the use of the Japanese Kamishibai boxes and pictures.
Kamishibai began in the 18th century in Japan. It is a form of street performance using storytelling and inspired by the techniques of animation used in the magic-lantern shows. The performer would tell his story using boxes, often mounted on bicycles, containing pictures painted to represent the scenes of a story.
The students, either in groups of 4 or 5, will create and Kamishibai box, draw the scenes and tell the story to an audience. The stories will not be read. The emphasis will be on the group being “one voice”. That is to say, that instead of an individual learning a specific part of the tale they will tell it as a group, collaborating to drive the narrative forward rather than waiting for their own parts. They will not speak all at once, obviously, but in turn and all will have to think at once, each student able pick up where another stops according to a rhythm rather that a preconceived plan. Thus encouraging team work and cooperation. As well as staying awake and aware!
An alternative to the Kamishibai would be “Hero Boxes”.
Each student will invent a character. A hero-to-be. The student will give the character qualities to which they might identify. The student will then make a model, a rod puppet is the easiest form to adopt and, after making a shoe box theatre, the student will create a situational story in which their character will become a hero. This will help to explore the concept of a “hero” and how that relates to ordinary people, rather than the block-buster movies. This will then be presented to the class.
To enable the project to reach its full potential we would be looking to create a collection of short stories. Fully illustrated, edited, printed and produced by the class. The cross-curricular nature of this will have combined many skills and the students will have had ample opportunities to have discovered where their own strengths and weakness’ lie.
Finally, and not least, within the project we will also have devoted much time to developing presentational skills. The students will be working with a storyteller, a professional speaker. The tricks of the trade will be at the forefront of the work that will be done. The telling of stories, is after all, what it is all about.
The aim here is to empower the students to stand up and speak out with confidence and a style of their. A vital skill for their futures. This will be encouraged at each and every step and the techniques required to do this will be explored in depth as they work on speaking skills including fluency, intonation and engagement with an audience.
Those who cannot, those children who are less “alpha” and more “wall flower”, will be encouraged to find their own ways to express themselves.
Fun will be ever present.
This project is not a competitive challenge but an exploration of possibilities.