Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Well I must say what an adventure I have been on since I last blogged.

Crown of Feathers and Fins has been soaring around the country capturing people’s imagination, and getting some great feedback. On the back of such success, Chris and I have been collaborating on a couple of other projects which we hope to unveil over the coming months.

Crown of Feathers and Fins poster with Red Phoenix and Chris Secker

Crown of Feathers and Fins poster with Red Phoenix and Chris Secker

There have been international trips to perform at festivals, lead workshops and visit schools, whilst back in Blighty there have been tellings in local community events, schools, museums, prisons and supportive housing, MCing at Festival at the Edge (UK’s biggest annual storytelling festival), a spot of living history acting and even running a music festival!

Lois Barrett playing at Stable Stock 9th August. Yes I play the cajon now too, opened my own music festival... the hat helps stop my head from expanding too much :D

Lois Barrett playing at Stable Stock 9th August. Yes I play the cajon now too, opened my own music festival… the hat helps stop my head from expanding too much :D

Throughout this year I have been working with Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, to bring to life the amazing lives and conditions that the code-breakers during WW2 endured in order to work around the clock deciphering the German and Japanese communications. I was working with 4 actors to welcome visitors to the park to the world of 1941, rations and all. In June it lead to performing to Princess Katherine at the royal opening of a new visitor centre.

Red Phoenix steps back into 1941 and becomes Thelma Orton

Red Phoenix steps back into 1941 and becomes Thelma Orton

In other news the biggest change is that Red Phoenix HQ moved. The rolling hills of Hampshire were left far behind for rather flatter but no less picture-esq landscapes of Buckinghamshire. The history and beautiful old coaching town of Stony Stratford is now home, and Red Phoenix has made its nest in the top of York House Centre, a place of arts, creativity and community. It has taken a few months to settle in but it has been a warm welcome and there have been lots of local festival to get involved with, I have even created a Stony Story Stroll exploring Stony’s history through tales and poetry with local poet and Bard (2013) Richard Frost.

Lots more is coming up in the next few months, with new shows in the pipeline, events from Sheffield to Portsmouth and loads of places in between, and working with new creative partners. Exciting times lay ahead, watch this space!

The Gathering (Catch up part 2)

On Saturday the 13th April, at the Resource for London venue in Holloway Road, the  Society for Storytelling celebrated its 20th anniversary at the annual ‘Gathering’, quite literally a gathering of storytellers and all those dedicated to supporting storytelling in the UK. This it was only a one day event, unlike the usual two or three days, but it was filled with such community spirit and lively debate I am pleased to have been involved with the organising of it.

SfS 20th anniversary cake

This 50 x 50 cm cake was designed by yours truly, baked and iced by my Mum, and I hand-painted the lettering and phoenix.

 

I wasn’t meant to be, having just stepped down from the Young Storyteller of the Year committee due to a combination of personal reasons, I was attempting to be free from commitments aside from work for  while. Yet in January whilst chatting to Tom Goodale (of such notable fame in the UK storytelling and folk communities) all that was about to change. After having organised the Gathering in 2012 at Chester, Tom was worried no one had stepped forward to do one for 2013, especially as the SfS (Society for Storytelling) always holds in AGM during the Gathering. So Tom was just beginning to plan how and where to have the AGM. I happen to mention, that after doing the Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, I had a number of questions on how the UK community viewed mentoring, and a personal interest in the relationship between storyteller and dramaturg and wondered if I could have some space during the day to interview people about it. I just imaged being tucked into a side room. Yet Tom instantly started talking about panel discussions and a full day of events, and who would be on my wish list of people to talk about these subjects. Within a three hour conversation we had planned the Gathering, set a timetable and I had picked my wish list, and pretty much that timetable didn’t really change massively. I looked at some initial ideas for venues, but after getting very ill had to pass that mantel on to David Harry who did a super job, and Honor Giles organised Katrice Horsley as our wonderful keynote speaker.

I was lucky that nearly everyone I asked agreed to be on the panels, and on the day Ali Quarrell, Polly Tisdall, Shonaleigh Cumbers and Mike Wilson all gave excellent views on mentoring which spawned a great discussion, and has resulted in the creation of a mentoring special interest group, which I am in the process of setting up. After Katrice’s keynote speech (and that was an impossible act to follow) we had the panel on storytelling and dramaturgy, hosted superbly by Sarah Rundle and upon which I, Simon Heywood and Mike Wislon spoke. I was surprised at how well it was received and the comments it prompted. when something starts off as just a personal point of interest, it can be hard to image anyone else feeling it is interesting, or even worth discussing. Seeing how successful both panels were no one was more surprised than me, or more pleased.

To round the day off we had the Taster Tales, which has become a Gathering tradition now, and Honor, Tom and myself had the hard task of picking just six from the influx of applications that came in. Our Tasty Tellers were, Abbie Palache, Annette Armstrong, Phil Okwedy, Mark Steinhardt, Nicola Grove, and Stella Kassimati, all who came in on time and in that room I saw some of the most beautiful tellings I have seen in a while, I have no doubt these will be among the names to watch over the next couple of years.

I had always got the impression that organising a ‘Gathering’ was hard, and many who have done it talk about the experience with a ‘never again’ attitude. But I have to say I loved it, and it was easy, maybe that was because I was working with such a wonderful team of people in Tom, Honor, David and Pippa Reid who gave so much support; or perhaps it was because it was just one day, or maybe a bit of both. I am genuinely sad it is over, the most stressful part of the experience was getting a 50cm x 50cm anniversary cake, with another in my backpack up to London from Petersfield, by train, whilst coping with Labyrinthitis and trying not to fall down or be sick or both, or maybe it was delivering my talk on dramaturgy with a brain that felt like treacle (I did something unthinkable at a storytelling conference, I had to read my notes otherwise my mind would have drifted off topic, but also I remembered why I don’t usually read aloud, my dyslexic brain doesn’t like it – D’oh!). I am so pleased I stayed upright all day, no falls, and only slight sickness (a big thank you to Pippa and her sea sick tablets!) and I am even more pleased someone has stepped up to organise next year’s and that the community seemed to show by numbers, and through comments that the SfS has valued, and is valued and we as a storytelling community care about our development, our future and our traditions.

Coming out of Hibernation… (Catch up part 1)

So finally I am coming out of hibernation from this bleak winter both seasonally and in regards to my blogging goes.

 

Well at last we spoke I had just finished my first week of the three year Walking the Wildwoods course under the supreme supervision of Shonaleigh Cumbers. That week in Halsway Manor was beautiful and such a learning curve, since then I have been working with the tools I learnt, and creating a lot of origami cranes which brought calm in some pretty tempestuous personal storms.

 

December was very quiet, and January although seeing the start of two month school residency also bore witness to the lost of two full weeks of work due to the snow. Much of the work was in relation to the National Storytelling Week, which is celebrate every year in the week containing the 1st February, which is also St Bridget’s day.

St Bridget is a Christianized version of the old Celtic Goddess Brigid who was the Goddess of fire, fertility, the hearth, all feminine arts and crafts, martial arts, smithing, healing, inspiration, learning, and poetry among other things, and is perhaps as close to an ancient deity of storytelling as can be feasibly recognised.

Losing all that work was not only financially hard, but heartbreaking, by able to really bang the drum for storytelling during National Storytelling Week is vital to raising the profile of storytelling in the UK. As a storyteller we work hard all the time spreading the word about storytelling, encouraging audiences, and people to tell. Over the past 11 years since NSW has been running we see each year more and more schools, businesses, groups and individuals take notice and organise events, and so to lose out by the bad weather was saddening. However, Del Reid, organiser of NSW reported at this year’s Society for Storytelling ‘Gathering’ of record hits on the website, so its not all bad. I was lucky half of the work I had booked for NSW got moved to World Storytelling Day around March 20th, and with Book day, or rather week as it increasingly becomes, March proved very busy indeed. In the space of a week I had flown around the through stories on my flying carpet five times, been dressed as a pirate telling pirate and smugglers stories in a Naval town, told cat stories at a Naval base, and secured another storytelling residency, going bi-weekly to a home for disabled adults to tell stories.

 

Red Phoenix and the amazing flying carpet ride

Red Phoenix takes listeners around the world through stories on her amazing flying carpet.

Talking of resident storyteller positions, as well as the weekly one I have visiting a home for profoundly disabled adults, the one I start in January was an amazing project. It started one snowy morning walking around a sculpture park with four groups of year 3s. There were sculptures of every size and type and material at the park near Farnham in Surrey.

one of the wonderful sculptures at the Farnham sculpture park.

The School in Bordon, working along the Phoenix Arts Centre (also in Bordon, Hampshire) had put together a project to create their own sculpture park in the schools grounds (and at two other sites across Bordon, the Phoenix centre and the Eco centre) so that the children could create stories to tell to other children and their families. We started with workshops looking at the sculptures we had seen and building character types from these ideas, and also based in other familiar stories the children knew… We had a lot of werewolves and wizards. Then after picking the top ten most popular characters from the four groups, community artist Rob Turner came in and developed how the children thought these characters might look, and handed these images over to an amazing Chainsaw artist, Jona, how created the images straight from the page.

One of the sculpted characters by the children of Bordon Junior School

Whilst the characters were being carved from huge logs, I came back to do more workshops, this time on how to create, develop, learn and tell a story, and to help the children create their own stories using the sculpted characters. I was also commissioned to create a new story using all the characters and locations involved with the project, which was recorded and put onto MP3’s. Finally everyone came together for a community day at the school to unveil the sculptures, visitors could pick up one of the MP3’s and listen to my story as they walk through the grounds discovery the sculptures, or watch Jona do a chainsaw demonstration. Unfortunately the project ended as it had started, in snow, which meant Rob couldn’t get across from Kent to run a junk sculpture workshop on the day, and my walking tours through the sculptures meant a very chilly 2 hrs outside, and where we had planned for the children to tell their stories outside it proved too cold. We moved the storytent inside and whilst everyone enjoyed hot chocolate and cake, I and the children told stories to warm the heart and soul. It was such a great privilege to be able to spend that amount of time working with the same children on storytelling, and the teachers reported back that it had made a huge difference to their work and attitudes. I just love how when people get the chance to experience the magic of storytelling and the improvements it can offer, without fail they say, ‘why don’t we use this more?’ Indeed a good question, unfortunately the answer is usually found in ignorance and finances.

 

I was lucky to be so busy, but it came at the worst time physically speaking, because in February I was struck down by a virus which aside from attacking my heart showed no other symptoms. I had started to feel a lack of energy, which I put down to the long winter, but as it worsen and I start to feel dizzy and start collapsing it was obvious it was something more, when I finally got checked my blood pressure was down 88/46 at one point and my pulse was so low I was rushed to hospital, hooked up to an ECG and tested for everything. Finally it was concluded that it was a virus, which was also causing ‘Labyrinthitis’ which unfortunately had nothing to do with David Bowie in tight leggins, but rather causes an imbalance sickness placing the body in a constant state of sea sickness. I’d never been sea sick in my life and I have been out on small fishing boats in full on gales. It was terrible, sometimes not being able to move without being sick. After a while the virus stopped attacking my heart, and moved on to attacking my hearing. Although I am still suffering from the Labyrinthitis (they say it can take up to 6 months, to a year to recover) I was given the all clear a few weeks ago that the virus has done no permanent damage. However, they are not so sure about my hearing, the virus has damaged my mid range (where the voice registers) and although it is hoped that no, or minimal, damage has been caused, it is being monitored, until I finally get over it completely they won’t know for sure. In the meantime I have had to cancel a number of events, and even my holiday as I am not supposed to be driving, (a big thanks to my parents who have been ferrying me around to various gigs and workshops) even going on the train with its sideways motion has been troublesome. Good news is apart from the odd comedy prat fall, I am getting better and energy levels this last week have significantly improved.

 

Which was just as well because I helped organise the Society for Storytelling’s 2013 ‘Gathering’ on Saturday the 13th April 2013, and that took a lot of energy, to find one more on how it went, check out my blog post on it ‘The Gathering’.

 

Red Phoenix Here, Red Phoenix There, Red Phoenix, Red Phoenix Everywhere

Well it has been a busy couple of months, and so I have been somewhat lacking on the blog updates, but my time has been well spent…

October began with the annual ‘Pint Pot of Fire‘ storytelling competition, which brings together writers, speakers and storytellers to compete for the converted ‘Pint Pot’. I was back for a second year as the Storytelling Judge, and this year we judges (Rita Wheeler and Bryan Harrison) were treated to an extremely high quality of stories and both Judges and Audience had a hard time choosing the winners: 3rd Charlotte Comley (‘The Trouble with Arthur’ a tale with a zombie twist), 2nd Belinda McKenna (Yes our lovely associate storyteller, who told an amazing autobiographical story about how her life heart condition has made ‘Every Second Counts’), 1st Alison Moulden (‘Deep Fried Mars Bars at the Jungle Food Café’ which chronicled a strange visit to Edinburgh Zoo and the Penguin parade.).
The following night I ran a storytelling workshop in Alton as part of the Alton WordFest. It was well attended by beginners and seasoned tellers. Some wonderful stories were created and shared, it was a lovely evening.

A couple of days I found myself on a flight back to Canada, for 25 days of story-tastic times. I headed back to Toronto, and revisited the women’s group at ‘The Stop’ telling stories and giving a 2.5hr storytelling workshop, and even treated the after school group to some spooky stories for Halloween.

Red Phoenix telling Spooky Tales at the Canadiana Backpackers by Vera

Red Phoenix telling Spooky Tales at the Canadiana Backpackers by Vera

I even nipped back to the Canadian Backpackers to do a set of spooky stories as a warm set before I headed to Ottawa to be the featured teller at the ‘Once Upon a Slam‘ which got a good write up. It was lovely revisiting the lovely ladies and lads of the Ottawa StoryTelling community, especially Ruthanne Edward, Gail Anglin, Catlin Paxson and Martha Singh, I was also really touched that some of the members (Kelly, Debbie and Gary) of the  Bodhran Expert Platinum Group with whom I have been learning for the couple of years, turned out to see me tell. Thanks Guys!!!

Soon I was heading back to the UK and straight into a busy week of Halloween stories telling lots of Gruesome Grimms Fairy Tales, while Belinda returned to Marwell Wildlife Park for the third year running to bewitch crowds with more Grimms Tales (anyone would think its was the 200th Anniversary of the 1st Edition of the Grimms Fairytales being published… Oh hang on… IT IS!!!). And whilst many other were celebrating Bonfire Night I was on a train up to Edinburgh for a few days to discuss future storytelling projects and to visit my former lecturer, Dr Ksenija Hovat, and university Queen Margaret University where I was a guest lecturer, and whom have recently written an article on my progress since graduating in 2007. Dashing back to the South of England I had a wonderful morning telling dragon stories and being a Dragonologist answering questions on all types of dragons and help them investigate the strange Dragon sightings and clues left in their classrooms.

Red Phoenix telling Dragon tales suitably dressed to deal with any wayward Dragons

Red Phoenix telling Dragon tales suitably dressed to deal with any wayward Dragons

Later that day I was dinning in the Houses of Parliament as part of the WCMT annual dinner, what ever your political views, it was hard not to be impressed by the beauty of the building both inside and out.

A few days of rest and washing later and bags are packed once again, this time to head off to Somerset to take part in Shonaleigh Cumbers‘ ‘Wild Woods’ course, for which I have been excited about starting for over a year.

So as a said a busy couple of months, and with an international festival on the horizon early next year it doesn’t look set to calm down… Did I say I love my job!!!!