Thursday, 20 March 2014

World Storytelling Day by Verena Tay

World Storytelling Day logo
Today, March 20, is World Storytelling Day, an annual celebration of the art of oral storytelling.  Here Verena Tay, a founding member of the Storytelling Association (Singapore), and a co-founder of MoonShadow Stories, a group promoting live narrative art forms, talks about oral traditions in Asia, and how you can help to keep them alive.
If you are reading this blog, you are interested in the written word, texts and stories. But how did people communicate before the invention of writing? Through the spoken word and through oral storytelling, of course.
Even though we now live in an age where there are so many forms of visual communication to take up our attention, we are still hardwired as humans to listen to stories and gain much satisfaction from the experience. Remember as a child how you felt thrilled when an older person told you a story, be it a folk tale or some family anecdote or history? And what better way to bond with friends and family as an adult than to sit down and chat and swap stories? Nothing beats that direct, heart-to-heart, one-to-one bonding that comes with sharing stories.
Oral storytelling had an honoured role in times past in all parts of the world. Often the designated storyteller was the repository of community knowledge and culture and the stories that he or she told helped to pass down that information from one generation to another.
Within Asia, some examples of storytelling transforming into a performance tradition include:
·  storytellers who told stories in Chinese teahouses, various regions of China developing distinctive styles of telling;
·  the Japanese rakugo storyteller sitting alone on a stage and entertaining audiences with comic stories;
·  wayang kulit in the Malay archipelago where the dalang told stories often based on the Ramayana with the aid of shadow puppets and a whole ensemble of musicians.
Within recent history before the age of television and the Internet, Chinese immigrants brought their love of storytellers and storytelling along within them to Singapore. Click here for a poignant photo in the online National Archives of Singapore dating from 1960 of working men gathering along the Singapore River one evening after a hard day’s work just to hear stories from a traditional storyteller. From 1938 to 1982, the famed Cantonese storyteller, Lee Dai Sor, thrilled listeners with stories over public radio on a regular basis.
Far from being an archaic art form, there has been a global revival of oral storytelling since the 1980s. This wave of interest reached Singapore during the late 1990s. Individually and as part of MoonShadow Stories, I am part of this growth of contemporary storytelling as an art form here in Singapore and have particularly promoted storytelling for adult audiences.
One of the regular activities that MoonShadow Stories conducts is celebrating World Storytelling Day in various ways since 2005. On 15 March, we carried out Dragon Tales and Monster Stories and Stories of Faith at The Singapore Arts House for World Storytelling Day 2014.
The idea of World Storytelling Day was first developed in Sweden during the early 1990s to commemorate the art form on March 20, the day of the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere and the autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere. Throughout March this year, World Storytelling Day is being celebrated in Canada, the Netherlands, Greece, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Kenya, the USA, Hawaii, Argentina, the Philippines, Croatia, Venezuela, India, Ireland, Spain, Denmark, the UK, and of course, Singapore. Click here for a programme of events worldwide.
Anyone can celebrate World Storytelling Day. You don’t need to be a professional storyteller, an arts group or a production house to do so.
So today, March 20, all you have to do for World Storytelling Day is turn to a loved one, a colleague, a family member or a friend and share a story, any story, with that person. Go on! Make that person’s day and your day as well. Just tell and have fun!