September 16, 2011
Trip Report: Singapore International Storytelling Festival & Asian Congress of Storytellers
I am back from Asia, and my time attending the 2011 Singapore International Storytelling Festival & Asian Congress of Storytellers. I spent four days inside the National Museum of Singapore-- actually, four nights taking in a variety of performances, and two full days of workshops, keynotes, and even more performance! Top that off with my determined city exploration before, after, and in & between every nook & cranny of open space, and you can bet I was a tired guy! The entire trip was such an amazing experience.
First off, there were the performances. The first three nights featured an array of tellers from Australia, France, Scotland, Singapore, Spain, and even as far away as the United States, showing the true diversity of storytelling. I don’t usually get exposed to such marathons of storytelling, and it was a pleasure to experience the variety: pathos, tragedy, comedy, ballads, rhyme, freneticism & absolute calm. There were bits of style that I recognized as somewhat similar to my own, and certainly many other styles that were quite divergent. To take them all in & consider them, I feel, was a growing experience.
The fourth evening of performance was a departure from the first three; it was a storytelling performance of The Ramayana, the Indian epic tale. One story, two hours, six storytellers—it was truly epic! A high point of the entire SISF for me, it showed how a variety of people with very different styles can collaborate on a single project & make it a huge, unified success. Some of the tellers were more of the “narrator” variety; others leaned toward big movements and character voices. The tale was customized & cast in such a way that the whole thing really came together—and I wish that I could sit through it again! Very inspiring.
The day sessions—the Asian Congress of Storytellers—cleaved quite close to what is familiar to me from attending conferences here in the U.S. pertaining to reading and early childhood education. The mornings started off with keynote events, after which we as attendees could choose from a menu of topics for the two remaining sessions each day. I attended seminars on the following: helping struggling readers; storytelling for babies & toddlers; improvised stories; and character education through storytelling. As with most professional development events, I found much of the value across the board to be in refreshing previously-held knowledge, benefitting from outsiders’ perspectives on common practice, and gleaning a few bits of fresh research. There were many interactive exercises throughout the sessions, and I was interested & amused to observe that this group of teachers, storytellers, parents & volunteers—primarily from Singapore & Malaysia—was throwing themselves into the experience much more than attendees of similar gatherings I’ve attended back home!
From the breakout sessions mentioned above, and from the Festival & Congress as a whole, I gleaned so much, from information I can practice right away in my own storytelling & storytimes, to little bits over which I can slowly ponder as how I might incorporate them in my own fashion. A huge lesson I got, from exposure to these people from around the world, is that our situations are so much more alike than anyone might have us believe. The values of reading, and the oral tradition of storytelling, are recognized by researchers & professionals for their unique & substantial individual benefits, but getting that information out to the world is & has been a constant challenge. The encouraging news is that there is a large & growing global community of storytellers at every level, each sharing their passion in their own way. I feel very lucky to have been able to make this trip, and get a peek at this global view. I certainly hope to continue on this path!