The telling of a tale

narrative lan

The telling of a tale

Once upon a time, there was a young girl pursuing her studies in Drama at the University of Kent, United Kingdom. Though Drama was a subject that interested her immensely, she felt she needed something more to satiate the creative urge in her that was waiting for an expression.

A chance meeting with celebrated storyteller Vayu Naidu at the University helped her discover her true calling, and she lived happily ever after as a successful performance storyteller...
Well, if this reads like rosy stuff fairy tales are made of, then it’s high time Emily Parrish is brought to the scene. The short story you’ve just read is nothing but a gist of Emily’s journey into the fascinating world of performance storytelling. In her own words, “There’s nothing more gratifying than relating a good story.”

It is this burning desire to be a storyteller that led her straight to Vayu Naidu post her Master’s in Drama. Armed with an apprenticeship in storytelling, Emily worked as an Education Officer for Vayu Naidu Company, sharpening her storytelling skills alongside. And, there has been no looking back since.

Gatherer of tales

An independent storyteller today, she takes pride in the fact that she’s a part of the world that has a wealth of stories waiting to be unearthed. “Myths, legends, folk tales, epics, fairy tales — we have so many of them around us that captivate our imagination, waiting to be told,” says the raconteur who travels to different parts of the world in search of new stories.

India, however, enjoys a special place in Emily’s heart for the interesting stories it relates. No wonder, Emily has spent a considerable amount of time in India, especially in Ladakh, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu, researching storytelling traditions and techniques.

Confessing her love for Hindu mythology, Emily says, “Stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata fascinate me to no end. The many characters in the stories narrated in these epics lend themselves to innumerable interpretations, giving wings to our imagination.”

No wonder, stories of our gods and goddesses including Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Ganesha and Parvathi have captured the imagination of audiences around the world. In addition to Hindu mythology, Norse mythology has influenced Emily big time, an influence that has its roots in her childhood when her Swedish mother would tell her stories from her homeland.

“I would repeat to my younger siblings Scandinavian folktales and Norse mythology my mother would tell me, and this habit of mine has helped me a great deal now when I present my stories to my audiences,” she says.

While storytelling as an art form is well-established in European countries where storytelling clubs are very popular, it is still at its nascent stage in India. In such a scenario, isn’t it quite a task to draw audiences? “Not really. People of all ages love to be told a good story. In fact, India has a rich tradition of storytelling in the form of kutiyattam, kattaikoothu and pandavani.

The narration of a tale by a storyteller is as artistically appealing to an audience as a performance by dancers or actors,” says the storyteller who has trained at the kattaikoothu school of theatre near Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, as also with Ritu Verma, a pandavani performer of renown, and of course, with masters in the craft of storytelling including Ben Haggarty and Hugh Langston. She admires Xanthe Gresham and Nick Hennessey too.

Stories for every mood

Though relatively young in the field of performance storytelling, Emily has developed a rich repertoire of witty and powerful storytelling performances for audiences of all ages. With the creative energy she exudes, she has seized several stages across UK and India. Recently in Bengaluru as part of the British Council’s Art of Storytelling India tour, she was brimming with interesting stories from across the globe.

“It is always a pleasure to perform as no two storytelling sessions are the same. The mood of the audience, the place, the narrative — all have an influence on the storyteller. To top it all, storytelling is more challenging than acting out a character in a play as we have to engage the audience without the use of any props; it is the storyteller’s performance that brings the tale to life,” she says.

Ask the passionate storyteller if people outside India relate to her stories based on Indian mythology, and this is what she has to say — “Mythology, Indian or otherwise, has universal themes of creation and destruction, making itself appealing to audiences across the globe.”

It is this belief in the universality of themes that brings Emily back to India, every now and then. However, her love for India doesn’t end with stories alone. “I love Indian food, especially roti, curry, idli, dosa, and of course, gulab jamoon,” she says.

This young storyteller who lives and breathes stories, juggles multiple roles. She’s also the director of Scandalmongers, a storytelling theatre company based in East Kent. It sure is an interesting story, isn’t it?

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