Welcome to our Spring newsletter. Three articles await you. Firstly, the story behind the course Your Journey, Your Voice which will run again in May, then a much awaited article from Louise Coigley and her inspiring work as a storyteller/ Speech and Language therapist and lastly, hot from Capetown, an action packed report from Jamie Maclaren Lachman who was with us recently on our five week course the Storyteller in the Community.
Your Journey, Your Voice
by Ashley Ramsden
The great Isak Dinesen once said ‘To be a person is to have a story to tell,’ but in order to tell a story we need to go back a step, we need first to have a voice to be heard at all and equally important we need a good listener. Where does our voice come from? What has gone into making it what it is today? Who encouraged you to speak out when you were finding your voice? Who gave you a sense of your own voice or that you had something worthwhile to say?
Although my own academic career was a disaster (my sole success an ‘O level’ in divinity) there was one light in the darkness of my education that kept me going. In my tenth year we had a poetry lesson for which the homework was to learn the verse of a chosen poem and to recite it at the end of the week before the rest of the class. Here I found my footing and here began my love for language and my first steps in finding my voice. One week it was Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias', another Lewis Carroll’s ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’, the meaning of which scholars still debate but that did not matter a jot; it was the words and their speaking that cast a spell on me and although I did not know it then, they were lending me their power, they were shaping me for the years to come.
But what if you were not born with a love for words, or did not have the opportunity to speak or be heard?
In 2009 Sue and I ran our first five week course in Capetown, South Africa ’The Storyteller in the Community’. As usual we began teaching with voice and movement but one morning in the second week I was the one to learn.
One of the participants was having a hard time standing before the others, simply to be seen, yet alone heard. Some gentle questioning revealed that the intensity of other people gazing at her was too much to bear, she felt judged. So we asked the others to close their eyes and to allow whatever she had to say to fall into the safety of a space her eyes alone could see. Into this world she could speak and at that moment we witnessed the birth of a voice that had not really been given the space to speak before.
Deeper listening revealed a whole area of research that my own training had completely ignored where the link between our biography and how we stand and speak before others is intimately connected. From this flowed a host of questions: When was the first time you became aware of your own voice? What kind of a speaking and listening environment did you grow up in? Whose voice was dominant? When did you remember being really listened to and taken seriously? Each of these questions and many others that followed unlocked stories, stories which I realised were vital in understanding the voice and psychology of anyone that has worked with us since. This has become the foundation of the course we now run called ‘Your Journey, Your Voice.’ My own voice training and many other reputable approaches concentrate mostly on breath and diaphragm control, on posture and sound projection and they do a great job but this biographical half to the voice equation often gets less attention. When these stories are told a natural voice begins to emerge with the healthy confidence that everyone deserves.
Italo Calvino once said: ‘It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.’ I love this quote as it does not make clear whose ear he is referring to, the speaker or the listener. The truth is that the magic works both ways. Voicing these stories allows speakers to sometimes hear themselves for the first time. That can be a great awakening and if you are lucky enough to witness it happening it is a gift to both listener and speaker alike. The mere fact that these stories are told and witnessed restores the strength that many of us were denied in trying to find our voice. And the shaping and crafting of those moments allows us to pass on something of what it is to be human. Perhaps, in the end, to be a person is to not only have a story to tell but also to have the voice to speak it with.
This year Sue and I will be running Your Journey, Your Voice at Emerson from Sun 13 May to - Fri 15 June. There are still some places left, do come and join us or spread the word to any friends you feel might be interested. Thank you.
Lis'n Tell and Talking Grasshoppers
by Louise Coigley
Since studying at The School of Storytelling, SoS in 1994, and following the Artemis training in Creative Speech and Drama, I have become increasingly fascinated by the links between movement, gesture and voice. Patsy Rodenburg OBE, Voice Coach to the National Theatre, says how we are often drawn to do what we fear the most. I can identify with this. I was an extremely self conscious teenager, having worn various orthopaedic contraptions throughout childhood and adolescence: leg splints at night until I was twelve and a back brace around my torso and up to my chin, day and night from the ages of eleven to fourteen. I then had spinal surgery, which fused the middle part of my spine and fixed it to a steel rod. As a young adult I was desperately shy in public, but could be raucous with close friends. I was terrified of performing in any way, and yet longed to find a way of expressing myself. I qualified in Speech and Language Therapy in 1982 and searched for a creative way of working.
Louise doing Lis'n Tell at "The Little Group Nursery For Children With Autism"
Gradually, I have developed an approach to communication development which I call Lis'n Tell: live inclusive storytelling. It involves performance and therapeutic skills to inspire children with communication problems to develop their own skills. I would not have been able to do develop my therapeutic work to such a degree, if I had not gone deeply into the art and craft of storytelling and drama.
Through the SoS and Artemis trainings, I became more and more physically and psychologically liberated. I discovered ways of moving and speaking that allowed my voice to move with my body and not just out of my mouth. It amazes me how, when speaking, if a gesture is iconically made ie its shape depicts the meaning of the word, the voice can become more expressive. I learnt how this process needs to be linked with the imagination to achieve full effect (Mellon 2003). Being taught Rudolf Steiner's Speech and Gesture exercises, which I will call pointing, negating, welcoming, thinking, reaching out, standing firm and giving up (Steiner 1924), led the way for me to free up my own communication. Words became experiences, not just concepts. The children with whom I work have many challenges, emotional behavioural problems; autistic spectrum condition; and speech or language disorders. Many of them have great difficulty learning concepts and remembering sequences. They need to learn through experience.
With the stories I tell, I involve just about anything that happens - children's responses, verbal and non-verbal. The more movements and gestures they make, the stronger their voices can become and the more they seem to understand. The latter phenomenon is backed up by recent research (McGregor 2008). The main results Lis'n Tell trained therapists, parents and teachers report to me is that they observe that their own confidence increases, and children who have not previously been observed to join in a group activity start to participate. I have analysed why this might be with evaluative research overseen by the Brighton Sussex Medical School Department of Postgraduate Research (Coigley 2005). Five of the main components of Lis'n Tell are rhythm and role, rhyme, repetition and ritual. Movement and gesture underlie them all.
A few years ago, I was asked to start workshops at The Buxton Children's Festival for children with disabilities and their families. During a story there, where a king meets a boy, I respectfully offered a long cardboard tube, covered in silver paper, to a teenage boy with autism. I chanted 'Hello' deep and low, without looking at him directly. He tilted his head, near to the tube, and called down it softly 'ah-oh'. I heard a gasp from across the circle and turned to see his mother, nearly in tears. She told me afterwards that her son never speaks at school and hardly ever uses his voice at home.
Lis'n Tell at a special school in Sussex
I feel my voice differently since training in storytelling, speech and drama. It comes from a deeper freer place. I feel less self conscious about moving and gesturing. When I used to raise my voice in an effort to have more control over groups of children, I saw their attention deteriorate. Now, I lower my voice and move it imaginatively, they tend to listen. I also love working with adults and have greatly enjoyed my role as Voice Tutor on several trainings at SoS.
Usually at the beginning of a session with children, I edge in with my techniques of building a situation where they can demonstrate their expertise, and feel acknowledged and empowered. I have been very encouraged and enlightened in this approach through my meetings with Dorothy Heathcote MBE, innovator of the groundbreaking educational method, Mantle of the Expert, (Wagner 1979).
Several years ago, a boy of about seven was brought to see me. He had been diagnosed with dyspraxia and had had lots of speech therapy. He was reluctant to communicate! His voice was quiet, his speech indistinct. I searched for a way in. I asked him if he had ever been to the circus? He had. I asked him if he had ever thought of becoming a circus master, and showed him a large sparkly hoop on the floor and offered him various toys. He stood in the hoop and exclaimed, ''Step right up folks!''. There followed a circus performance, narrated by him with gusto. At one point, he held a small plastic grasshopper in his hand and told me. ''We taught this grasshopper how to speak. We gave him language in a bottle...''. Then he said, ''We now have... the triple sideways flip – ta dah!'', and he chucked it backwards, over his head. Five sessions later, his voice was stronger and more expressive. He didn't want to leave as he kept asking: ''just one more trick...?''.
Coigley, L. (2008) What Hinders and What Helps Lis'n Tell: live inclusive storytelling. Presentation to The London Speech and Language Therapy Special Interest Group in Autism, City University, London
McGregor, K. (2008) ''Gesture supports children’s word learning' University of Iowa, USA International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology; 10(3): 112 – 117
Mellon, N. (2003) Storytelling and the Art of the Imagination, Yellow Moon Press
Steiner, R. (1924) Speech and Drama. Rudolf Steiner Press London 53-60
Wagner B.J. (1979) ''Drama as a Learning Medium’’. Hutchinson Press
Louise runs regular trainings at University College London, The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (SLT) and in schools and organisations in the UK and abroad. She teaches Lis'n Tell on SLT trainings at Plymouth and Greenwich Medway Universities.
Upcoming workshops include:
Lis'n Tell for children with autism and their families on World Autism Awareness Day at The V and A Museum of Childhood, London April 2nd 2012
''In Their Shoes'' Lis'n Tell for storytellers, parents and professionals working with children with Special Needs at The International School of Storytelling, August 2012
Lis'n Tell Part 1 for The Association of Logopedists, Athens, Greece, October 2012
''Storytelling with Children with Special Educational Needs'', edited and introduced by Dr Nicola Grove, with a chapter by Louise on Lis'n Tell, and other sections on different current therapeutic and educational approaches will be published by Routledge September 30th 2012
For more information about Louise's work and trainings visit www.lisntell.com; Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or skype: loucoig
Raffa and I are hosting this storytelling course in Israel. There are still some places ~ do join us.
Beyond Enemy Lines
Advanced storytelling for peace: a 10 days course at Kibbutz Harduf, Israel
Wed 18 to Sat 28 April with Ashley Ramsden and Raphael Rodan
Can we in today’s world use the power of stories to overcome the images of the enemies we create in our souls? In this course, located in the heart of Galilee, each of the participants will receive a folk story invoking questions related to this theme.
Through techniques, exercises and personal coaching sessions we will craft the story for a captivating storytelling performance. In this process of crafting each participant will search for the connections of the story to his or her personal life in order to bring colour by deepening the emotion in the telling. At the end of the course the stories will be preformed at a local peace festival in the Galilee. For more details visit www.schoolofstorytelling.com
The Storyteller in the Community
by Jamie McLaren Lachman, Sussie Mjwara and Annabel Morgan, Cape Town, South Africa
Sussie listening to a makhulu
In January and February, Clowns Without Borders South Africa artists (CWBSA), Jamie McLaren Lachman, Sussie Mjwara, and Annabel Morgan participated in the International School of Storytelling's 5-week course on storytelling and the community in Cape Town. Playing games, singing songs, and telling tales with 11 other participants from around the world, we explored the craft of traditional and autobiographical stories as well as how to work with stories in a community context. Throughout the course, we had ample opportunity to bring stories out into Cape Town with people on trains, children in literacy reading clubs, and, especially for Annabel and Sussie, the Cape Town homeless community.
Eager to apply these new skills directly in our community work, a week after the course finished, CWBSA spent 5 days working with a local community organisation, Ikamva Labantu (www.ikamva.com), to introduce storytelling as means of engagement, empowerment, and emotional relief with senior citizens and caregivers. Joined by CWBSA senior artist, Sibongile Tsoanyane, and course participant, Philippa Kagali-Kagwa, this project was funded by ApexHi and Europcar, enabling us to reach 147 adults (ages 36-94) in 8 senior clubs throughout Cape Town.
Below is an account from one of our days in the field!
Siyapheka Isuphu Yelitye - Making Stone Soup "I feel like the gear box has opened up..."
Sharing memories that the story and their drawings brought to light
It is a typically bright, windy morning in Cape Town. We have just arrived at the Monwabisi Senior Club in Nyanga East, one of Cape Town's poorest townships. The club is in a beautiful building with lots of natural light shining on posters on the wall describing exercise regimens, daily activity schedules, and health information. Sixteen seniors, mostly women, sit around tables drinking cups of tea. Well, more like cups of sugar with a sprinkle of tea on top! There is a wide range of ages, from 66 to 93, and physical health, some with crutches and swollen legs from thrombosis and arthritis. We patiently wait with Phumla, one of Ikamva Labantu's coordinators, until the cups have been cleared and then arrange the room into a circle. We are ready to begin!
Our session is unlike anything the seniors have experienced. Expecting a presentation or lecture on health, they are surprised to find themselves singing a children's song from Ghana (Baba La Gumbala) and dancing to old township jazz (Vuka Vuka). Even the ones who have difficulty walking manage to move their bodies in their seats to the music. After a few minutes shaking our bodies to the music, everyone is smiling. Eyes are shining. And there is laughter in the room.
We then settle down comfortably in our chairs to listen to Stone Soup or Isuphu Yelitye. It is about a community coming together to share their meagre resources after difficult times. As we alternate telling the story in isiXhosa and English, the seniors become more and more engaged. They suggest ingredients for the soup - beef stock, carrots, a goat - and begin to sing as we stir the pot together: "Masibonde, kanye, kanye, Masibonde, kanye, kanye..."
Afterwards, we ask them to use pastels to draw how the story affected them. One old tatomkhulu, or grandfather, is 93 years old and has never drawn before in his life. And yet, he finds simple joy in selecting colors and putting them to paper for the first time. Sitting in the circle and looking at the drawings on the floor in the centre was a calming experience for all.
A makhulu, or grandmother, remarks how the activity reminds her of when she was a child. We take her feedback to transition into a game, "Tomatiso," that they all recognise and insist on playing until everyone has had a chance to dance in the circle. We then facilitate a personal story exercise exploring and sharing memories from childhood. In pairs and then for the whole group, they bring the story into their own lives. One makhulu tells us of her first pair of shoes:
Annabel working with the Grandmothers
As a young girl, she loved to go to school. She pressed her school uniform with an old fashioned iron, used lotion on her body so that it shone black like the night, and proudly carried her blackboard slate each day to school. But she always was barefoot. Through primary school, secondary school, and even high school, she never had enough money for shoes. Until one day, after saving money from selling fruits, she was able to buy her first pair of shoes. How her face glowed as she told us about the joy when she shined those shoes and walked head held high to school that day!
These sessions have been like gifts of magic for everyone involved. Although the seniors carry much stress and sorrow, they also have such rich experiences and the capacity to also embrace a sense of play and wellbeing. We all feel a sense of lightness and openness in the sharing - even after only one day. As we leave, the tatomkhulu said that he could not wait to get home and share with his grandchildren what he did today. And so, the stories continue...