Commissioned Stories - The Bard / Storyteller as Artist

Posted in Bard Craft and the Use of Stories, Working as an Artist

As a storyteller I have been commissioned to undertake both specific pieces of work and specific stories, this involves the storyteller / bard as a creative artist. 

Obviously the storyteller, as ‘Storyteller’ rather than reader or a recitalist,  is always creating in their work, and there is a great satisfaction in hearing your version of a story, your creation, then being retold by another storyteller, continuing the age old cycle of creating and telling anew stories passed from one teller to another; from one generation to another; from one culture to another; from one time to another.  Stories passed from ancestors of craft to descendants of craft.  But in taking on a commissioned piece of work then the ‘Art’ of the artist is applied somewhat differently.  I’m going to give three examples of this sort of work:  The first being to choose a traditional tale and tell it for a specific purpose; the second being to collect stories of a group of people to give voice to their story; the third being to collect the stories of a place and its people to give them continuance.

1. I was approached by the manager of a mental health day hospital for older people.  As part of their service they provided a psycho-educational group for carers of people living with dementia.  There were a number of people going through processes of loss, two caring for people who were at end of life and two where the people they cared for were at the point of no longer being able to be cared for at home.  I was asked to tell a story that reflected the journey and experience of the carer.  Eventually I settled on the Swan Princes, with the sister, who in order to rescue her brothers, spends years, forbidden to speak, sewing shirts from thread hand rolled from nettles she had picked, becoming inured to the stinging.  Undergoing a number of trials within this and unable to speak and express the truth of what she was experiencing, and then in the end, unable to completely finish the last shirt, she looks at the one brother, still with one swans wing, and asks herself, as carers often do, “could I have done more? Should I have done more”.   I have been told by another storyteller that he has used my ending so the piece of work continues.
2. I was approached by the chair of the ‘Birmingham Advisory Council for Older People’ (BACOP) to tell a story at the BACOP AGM, he wanted a story that would paint a picture for the invited audience, which included providers and commissioners of service for people living with dementia, of the experience of carers.  I interviewed a number of carers and combined their stories of their experiences to then tell a story that gave the audience an insight into the lived day to day experience and emotional life of a ‘carer’.  I had a number of carers come to me after the performance to thank me for having heard their voice in the room.
3. I was commissioned by a NHS Trust to tell the story of a local, ex workhouse, hospital that was closing down with the service moving to an expanded regional hospital.  This piece of work was funded by the Arts Council.  I spent an amount of time in the hospital, its grounds, its tunnels and tower.  I interviewed people with generational links to the hospital both as patients and as staff.  Eventually I gave a performance in the dining room of the hospital before walking with hospital chaplains, who carried a sapling from the grounds, and with staff, to the regional hospital, we were carrying the spirit of the old hospital to the new one.  The sapling was planted and I again told the story of the old hospital, so planting its legacy within the new.  The performance was recorded by the Trust and when I was subsequently asked to do the performance again for those who had missed it, when I arrived at the hospital I heard my voice coming out of the speakers in the waiting area as they were playing the recording.

These are three examples, there are many others: being asked to tell stories as guest speaker at regional Age Concern AGMs, with storites that promote specific themesor messages; performing at 'No Planet B' festivals in Stafford with stories to reflect messages of sustainability; telling at a Forest school with stories to promote self reflection; telling in dementia settings, using the 'magic' of the storytelling art to connect and engage with people who have impaired cognitive abilities.