A Weekend at Beyond the Border, Part I

Although this year saw the Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival celebrating thirty years since the first event, this is the first time we’ve actually made it. (That’s not quite as bad as it sounds: the festival only takes place every two years…)

Set in its new home in the grounds of Dinefwr Castle in Llandeilo, Wales, the festival ran Friday evening to Sunday evening, with two main performance tents (each with a capacity of about 200?), three smaller performance and workshop tents (one mainly for the kids’ performances) and a covered social eating area.

View into the site — eating area and food stalls; major venue B is the tent seen bottom right

Friday night saw an opening ceremony and headline set from Tuup, with the “Mighty Goddess” set Sally Pomme Clayton performed here on the island at Rhythmtree Festival last year:-), and Sarah Rundle’s “Rosamunde” in the other main tent.

View from the “main stage” tent (round) down to main tent B (rectangular) and into the site

This was the first time I’ve seen Sarah Rundle, and her retelling of the completely new to me tale of Rosamunde, a Gepid princess from the “Migration Period” at the end of the Roman Empire was a great example of taking an account and turning it into a story. (I wish I’d jotted down proper notes on tricks/techniques afterwards, because I still need to find a story way through the accounts I’m trying to turn into a Protest Tales set… I also thought the intro and the first 10 minutes would work well in a Ventnor Fringe setting, but I think the whole set might be a challenge to a “non-expert” audience. That said, Sarah’s other sets — Women Who Bore Through Walls and Naughty Japanese Badgers, of which, more in the next post — would be a really good fit, I think, particularly Walls)

Tuup’s show was the most highly produced, and arguably the highest energy, show of the weekend (music, lit backdrop). I get why people like that sort of thing, but its not proximal to/for me and the things I’m currently interested in and can sink time into… (That said, it might be quite fun to try that sort of show in a small live music venue like Strings… but I’m not sure how we’d market or advertise it, or to whom; I also suspect a lot of people would miss it because they wouldn’t know they’d like it…)

Friday also saw a set of Gypsy travelling tales from Joe Baele, and the Welsh version of “Telyn Tales” by Mair Tomos Ifans & Sioned Webb, a set that combined stories and harp.

I’ve been wondering whether there’s an opportunity to do something with the island’s Harp on Wight harp festival, and this might be a candidate?

I didn’t see all Joe Baele’s set, but one tale I recall (I think from that set), featured a tale I’d love to tell but can’t remember the end of, and don’t recall having seen anywhere before… (A gypsy fiddler, who has found an old violin on a market stall that adds something to his playing is stopped by death, who asks for a favour: will he entertain ten thousand souls he has backed up? Gypsy agrees, plays, and sees one woman who stares fixedly at him; it turns out that Death was cheated by the luthier, who put his soul into the fiddle, so Death took his daughter instead, before her time. To release her from waiting, the violin must be broken. If he breaks the violin, can he have the girl? She would have died hundreds of years ago. A deal is struck… but I can’t remember the end? Maybe they found a young woman who was dying, the fiddler broke the fiddle, the soul was released, the dying woman was infused with the girl’s soul and they lived happily ever after?).

At some point I’m pretty sure I also heard a variant of How a Gypsy Cheated the Devil somewhere, somwhen, from someone?

Outside the main stage tent looking down the hill to glamping; ordinary camping disappearing off to the right; shard toilet and shower blocks.

Saturday started for me listening to talks from the “Mycelium Storytelling Hub”, an initiative promoted by Beyond the Border to help develop grass roots storytelling activity in Wales. The project seems to be based on giving cash to storytellers so they can pay their bills, and then giving them free rein. Lots of storytelling activity goes unpaid, and lots appears in places you don’t really see or hear about it, not least schools and libraries to kids’ audiences, but this project is about taking it everywhere. As we keep trying to stress, storytelling is not (just) for kids.

Next up for me, a Daniel Morden set, targeted at 7+. As ever, Daniel’s sets are replete with stories I always want to go away and tell. This set started (I think) with a variant of something I can’t remember (not the devil and the violin, surely?), and included Orpheus and Eurydice (which I already tell as a complement to the loss of the Eurydice (storynotes), a set I really need to tighten up; I also want to weave it into a set with Demeter and Persephone), Kaddo’s Wall (“in the town of Tendela…”, about a rich merchant who makes a wall from bricks of flour, and then falls on hard times…), and a song-and-dance routine about the “freedom bird”(my notes: nah, na na, na nah…. in which a hunter kills a bird whose song irritates him (chant), puts it in a sack (chant), plucks feathers (chant), chopping board (chant), into boiling pot (chant), buries in ground (chant), dug up and sunk in river (chant), children find it, open it, and a hundred birds fly out…)


More notes tomorrow…


Pandvani 108 at the Earthouse

If you ever pass by the village of Cranborne in Dorset, make sure to pay a visit to the Ancient Technology Centre, an outdoor living history centre with recreations of several ancient buildings, including an iron age roundhouse, a Viking Longhouse (eat your heart out, other museum cafés!), and a spectacular recreation of an iron age Earthouse.

The earthouse itself provides a 250 seat capacity in-the-round indoor theatre (although you might want to take a cushion to sit on).

The venue is regularly used by the Crick-Crack Club for storytelling performances. This week, it hosted a performance by Pandvani 108, a performance storytelling telling troupe combining stories, music, and movement/dance in the retelling of ancient myths and legends. The current line-up included tales by Emily Hennessey, Ben Haggerty, and island-based Steph Brittain, with musical accompaniment in the form of sitar and drums, by Sheema Mukherjee & Rav Neiyyer.

The troupe’s name is based on an Indian storytelling performance genre, Pandvani (Pandavani) that also drives the ‘epic shorts” performance style: a series of movement rich, 15 minute tales based on traditional myths, accompanied by music, performed by the storyteller (the “teller”) but in partial dialogue with another (a “Ragi”), who adds interjections that variously acknowledge, drive, clarify and even mock the teller.

The 150 minute set (two one-hour long sets with a twenty minute interval, with 3 main stories, one per performer, each set) was a completely new style of performance to me, but a great fit for the Earthouse (also a first visit for me). If you ever get a chance to see Pandvani 108 — particularly if we can find a venue on the Island that would suit such a performance — I encourage you to take it.


A Weekend at Oxford Storytelling Festival, 2022

Last weekend seems to have been a busy one in the world of UK storytelling festivals, with both the Oxford Storytelling Festival and the East Anglian Storytelling Festival taking place.

Tellers at Oxford included Shonaleigh, Jan Blake, Emily Hennessy & Sheema Mukhurjee, Nick Hennessey, Tom Hirons, Riika Palonen, Lisa Schneidau, and David Heathfield. Shonaleigh also featured at East Anglia, along with other half Simon Heywood, Clare Murphy, Xanthe Gresham, Dave Tonge, Taffy Thomas, and more…

From the ‘Tis Tales camp, Monty took a trip (as a punter and story-round teller on the final night) to the Oxford event at Waterperry Gardens, in search not just of telling tips and new tales to tell, but also ideas we might be able to bring back to the island in terms of performance spaces and event programming.

The venue was split between two indoor venues and several outdoor venues.

The headline venue was an amphiteatre…

Do we have a venue like that anywhere on the Island?

The outdoor tented venues were in a single grassed area, along with stalls, a food stand and a bar, and came in a variety of styles: a large tipi, a smaller event shelter, and a small but beautifully decorated tented venue.

Viewed from the side, The Little Tent of Wonders showed what could be achieved with some imagination (note the floor was actually carpeted and cushioned over plastic sheet).

There was also a fire pit, with fire point, and a pond…

The small camping field was just a couple of minutes walk away, on the flat, with an adjacent car parking field. The only quibble, perhaps, was that there were no guiding lights (simple solar charged ones would have been fine) to signal the gateway out of the field, so with a moonless night, torches were advisable.

I’m not sure how well the outside venues would have worked with larger numbers, or inclement weather, but for the event as it was over the weekend, it all seemed to work really well.