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.
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.