‘The bubble of magic a story creates can so easily burst, my job is to ensure that it doesn’t’

‘The bubble of magic a story creates can so easily burst, my job is to ensure that it doesn’t’

By KARAN CHOUDHARY | | 13 February, 2016
Giles Abbott
Giles Abbott, one of the three British storytellers performing in India, speaks to Karan Choudhary about the intricacies and challenges of being a professional storyteller.

 Q. How did you come to be a part of such an unconventional profession?

A. Well, I came to it in very unusual circumstances too. In 1998, I suddenly started losing most of my useful vision from Multiple Sclerosis, I could no longer read a book, drive or even navigate with ease. I needed something which I could do, and that’s how I got into storytelling. I absolutely loved how it let me express myself without being able to do any of these things.

Q. How do you source your stories? How do you form this fund of stories?

A. Well, there is no one source. A lot of these stories are passed on, and you get them from other storytellers, some you have read somewhere. Now, of course, you have the internet which makes access to these stories fairly easy. And from all these stories, you pick up the ones which appeal to you most, these are the ones you add to your oeuvre.

Q. Stand-up comedy is quite similar to storytelling, because stand-up is in essence only telling funny stories. Why then, do you think that dramatic storytelling does not share stand-up comedy’s appeal?

A. I think that may be due to the fact that storytelling works through idiom. Stand up comedy has a man talking about life as it is lived now, it is very modern in its content, and is therefore instantly relatable. Storytelling refers to life it is lived now through a reference to life as may never have been lived. It works through metaphor. I don’t believe that the stories I tell ever happened, I don’t believe that the Celtic druids could perform magic. The medium of storytelling isn’t literal. That may be a stumbling block for its popularity.

Q. What sorts of audiences do you like performing for the most?

A. Well, all audiences are great. I love performing for children, I love doing big shows. But what really gets me excited is when a dedicated audience of adults show up. When the only reason they have come is to listen to the story specially. Then I can really fly, go places. This is the sort of audience which is most involved in story, and that makes telling the story all the more fun.

Q. Do you have a set of stories? Those which you perform most regularly? Any favorites?

A. Yeah, yeah, I have that. There are some which I tell most often. Some which I’ve been consistently telling since I started doing this. But the thing with storytelling is that these stories have so much to discover. You keep on finding new tidbits of information, and the story keeps getting newer. Besides, each retelling of the story is different. Since there is no script involved, the story is presented differently. The stories which have a variety of emotions are the ones which I enjoy telling the most. I don’t like those which focus on just a few emotions. One of favorites right now is the Marriage of Gawain, again because of the myriad emotions it involves. Another one which I enjoy telling is a Welsh story which is based on the theme of love between old people. I really love that one! I mean, why should love stories only feature the young?

Q. How far do you improvise during a telling? How far do you allow yourself to go from the most accepted version of the story?

A. I take a lot of liberties with the source material. I make all the improvisations that I feel are needed to address the mood of the audience. I deviate from the accepted form very frequently. Sometimes, this also happens through the manner in which parts. My focus is to explore the theme of the story fully, and I take all the liberties needed to do that. But to do this, I need to ensure that I know the story properly, so that I never lose track of the story while I’m telling it. It is this mastery over the ins and outs of the story which enables me to improvise.

The bubble of magic that the story creates is very thin, it can so easily burst. I have to ensure that never happens due to my experimentations with the story. I owe a duty to the audience to not let that happen.                                                                                                                                       

 

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