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Sarah Rundle.
Sarah Rundle.

Moving performances

The UK-based Sarah Rundle will perform stories at the Kathakar festival starting Friday in the Capital

Golden Horde Storytellers is a UK-based group of four trained actors partial to a good-old tale. One of the founding members, Sarah Rundle, will be in India as part of The Art of Storytelling tour organized by the British Council—she will perform at the Kathakar International Storytellers Festival being organized in the Capital from 30-1 February, and will also conduct a storytelling workshop.

In an email interview ahead of her performance at the festival, Rundle spoke to us about how performing artistes are trying to infuse new energy into retelling old folk tales, and some of the stories she’s developed as performances over the years. Edited excerpts:

What are some of the storytelling traditions you’ll be showcasing at the Kathakar festival?

One set of stories will be folk tales from Britain, and the other set will be stories from along the northern branch of the Silk Road: from Japan, China, Mongolia, Iraq and Turkey.

The folk tales from Britain may include stories of wilful girls—Molly Whuppie, who stole from a giant; The Dauntless Girl, who outwitted a ghost; or Captain Murderer’s Seventeenth Wife. Or it may be tales of ridiculous foolish people, like The Three Sillies, or The Pig And The Pliers. Or there may be more mystical stories, such as The King Of The Black Art, which is based on the ancient Welsh epic, Taliesin. Or maybe it will be spooky tales of ghosts. I’m going to bring all these tales, and discover what the audience enjoys most.

Tell us in some detail about any one of the stories you plan to tell at the festival in New Delhi.

The Silk Road Stories started out 10 years ago, and over the years it (the show) has simplified: I’ve made it shorter, with less convoluted stories.

The frame of the show is simply a little bit of the history of the trade route itself: starting in prehistory with barter, and ending with how an anecdote that originated in Sanskrit, as part of the life of the Buddha, was passed into Arabic, Greek, Latin, Italian, and finally got as far as Yorkshire in northern England. Inside that frame narrative, I have a lot of shorter stories, generally involving travel and trade, money or love.

The show changes with every telling, simply because every venue has different requirements. One festival will want a 1-hour show: For them I use slightly shorter stories, like the Prince Of Kermanshah And His Unfortunate Accident. Another theatre will want a 90-minute show, so I might take out the Prince Of Kermanshah and substitute a longer story from Palestine, about two lovers, Sahin and Jasmin.

Ten years ago I used longer stories—from China, I had a huge detective tale based on a real Tang dynasty magistrate. But these longer stories meant that the show was about 2 hours long—too long for most venues. And having enormous long stories from several different cultures left the audience exhausted by the end. So I’ve gone for simpler tales.

What to you is the most important aspect of telling a story for an international audience?

The first important thing is to actually be able to see the audience—the expression on their faces. This is the same as when I’m performing in Britain—I need to see how the audience responds. Some arts venues have very strong lighting on the stage, and very little light on the audience, so you can’t see their reactions. So the first important thing is for me to see the audience and to build a rapport with the audience.

The second thing is for me to think about my material beforehand, and not to use references to things like TV series that were only broadcast in the UK, old advertising jingles, etc.

Will songs and riddles, and other fun elements, be part of your stories?

I hope so! I am still working out which stories I will be telling….

Podcasts like ‘The Moth’ have changed the way we tell (for grown-ups) and consume (online) stories. How do you engage with these media as a storyteller?

The Moth has started running events in London, but tickets sell like hot cakes so I’ve not yet been (to any event). Part of the reason people are attracted to The Moth events in London is that they’ve been using celebrities: It will be interesting to see whether they are still sold-out when they start using more ordinary people.

These events say they use personal, real-life, non-fiction stories rather than folk tales.

Personally, I like the old folk tales best: My life is very humdrum and I would struggle to come up with enough interesting real-life material to fill a show.

Podcasts—no: I already spend too much time at my computer. I want to interact with real people when I listen to stories, to share the experience with the audience around me. Also, for traditional storytelling there is a triangle of interaction between the storyteller, the story, and the audience. All of that interaction is missing with an online podcast.

I would say that one way the storytelling scene is evolving, at least in London if not in the rest of the UK, is that more young storytellers are coming along who have previous experience or training in acting or other performance skills. When they tell stories, they give a performance with a lot of energy and focus. If we can marry the energy of these young tellers with the depth of knowledge of the old tellers, it will be great.

Sarah Rundle will perform at the Kathakar International Storytellers Festival on 30 and 31 January, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, 1, CV Mess, Janpath, New Delhi (23388155). Timings vary. For details, visit www.ignca.nic.in/invitations/Kathakar_program_20150130.pdf. She is also conducting a workshop on 1 February, at the British Council, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, New Delhi. Workshop fee, 3,000, and 2,500 for library members. For details, visit www.britishcouncil.in/events/art-storytelling-workshops-performances. Rundle will also travel to Chandigarh and Kolkata as part of The Art of Storytelling tour.

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