Festivals, Festivals, Festivals!
Often, only when you start planning for something do you see the sheer range of work that is already out there. Organising next weeks Village Storytelling Festival has led us to explore so many of the wonderful storytelling festivals around the UK and further afield. Many of them have caught our eye but it was the festival that appears on the horizon just as ours winds down that piqued our interest. Settle Stories starts the Friday after our festival finishes and we could think of no better opportunity to link up with this beautifully situated festival perched high in the Yorkshire Dales. We decided to have a chat with their Artistic Director, Sita Brand.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, what’s your story?
My story? I was born and brought up in India and I came to live in the UK at 15. I loved stories ever since I was a little girl, in fact my mother used to be worried that I either wasn’t able to read or had difficulty reading because I would constantly say, even into my teens, ‘please tell me a story, tell me a story’ and I loved being read to and I loved listening to stories and then when I left University I saw a job advertised for a storyteller and I thought ‘oh perfect, I can do that!’. So I applied for the job and got it and that was about 25 years ago, no more than that actually, 30 years ago, oh bloody hell, I got old! I’ve done lots of different things in my career but have always used story and then when I moved up to Settle I did more straight storytelling and that’s how I got here.
Why Settle on Settle?
Well, I came up here to visit an old family friend, a women who used to visit us when we were in India. I just fell in love with Settle, I thought this place is magical, like a whole other world. I loved the hills, I loved the dales. My mother comes from East Yorkshire or rather her ancestry is in East Yorkshire, her mother’s side of the family and I felt like I was coming home so ended up here in this very beautiful, magical part of the world.
What are your favourite stories?
I love stories with strong female characters, I love Indian stories and I love ghost stories. More recently I’ve got into developing things that mix fact and fiction. So my new storytelling show, Memories of an Indian Childhood uses my own story growing up in India intertwined with folk tales. At the festival I’m doing a new piece called Down the Rabbit Hole, which is based on Lorina, who is Alice in Wonderland’s sister. She goes down the rabbit hole and we here of her adventures with the creatures she meets.
Do you ever feel like Alice in your real life?
No I probably feel a bit more like Lorina because she’s a bit more bolshie! Alice in Wonderland is a book I loved as a child and I do love the sense of magic and being in a different environment where the things are not what you expect and a bit odd. I think that’s my idea of happiness.
If you could be any classic story character who would you be and why?
That is a difficult question. I don’t know. I can tell you a story I adored as a child and the character I wanted to be then. I loved Rapunzel; I desperately wanted to have long golden hair and to be carried away by a prince. Now that I’m older I’m not sure that’s the story that I want for myself. I think probably I would rather be a character called, Tenali Raman. Tenali Raman is a South Indian trickster character a bit like Anansi but he was very clever and a courtier in the kings court and he would do clever things. I liked the idea of being clever so I’d probably choose a clever trickster character.
Who or what are you really excited about for this year’s Settle Stories?
I’m very excited about Martin Shaw, who is coming up and doesn’t come up North very often and he’s a fantastic mythteller. I’m very excited about Alfie Moore. Alfie is more a comedian, a different type of storytelling and he’s a Copper turned comedian. He’s very funny and makes me laugh a lot! I’m also excited about the political and more contemporary element of the festival, we’ve got a talk called Storytelling for Change with Alia Alzougbi from Lebanon and Githanda Githae
from Kenya. They’re talking about how storytelling makes change and how it can change the world. I think that it’s a subject that is very important to me and close to my heart. Those are my top three.
Since the festival began, can you identify one or two favourite performances over the years?
The first time Jan Blake came was very exciting. Settle is a very White area and I was very keen that we brought something from a cross cultural perspective and every year we make sure that the festival profiles artists from different cultures. This first time, when we had Jan, people would say, ‘we don’t usually have Black artists here’. It was a very good performance and you could hear a pin drop in the audience, it was really very special and brilliant. The second time was when, we first came up with our regular event Hunt the Storyteller. So we came up with this idea that the people would go looking for a storyteller and exchange some magic beans. So with your bean, you’ll hunt down a storyteller with a gold hat and you’ll exchange your beans for a little story. Having loads of families and kids, over excited and running around and telling stories to one another was a real delight, a wonderful experience. I find it magical when I think about the distances people travel to come to the festival and how they’ll queue in the rain to come to events. The first time we hosted an event in the library there were queues around the block and to experience people queuing for the library, they’d never had so many people in the library at one time before. That for me was very important because it was getting people close to books and stories in a myriad of forms and for that I feel proud that we can make a small contribution. We are always looking for different ways for audiences to encounter stories. We find this year that the animation workshop is drawing in people who have never been to the festival but they are very interested in animation.
We’ve covered the past and the present and now it’s time to look ahead, what’s the future of Settle Stories?
We are following on from our theme of different ways of doing things by being involved in a large interactive digital storytelling project. We’ve been exploring digital storytelling for the last few years, holding storytelling events on Google hangout, rented realities, QR codes to kick off bits of storytelling but we are now going to take this one stage further. We are working with some app makers, writers and artists to create a digital interactive storytelling experiences. So its not a film, not a book, not a storytelling performance as such but there’ll be a range of ways for people to engage with storytelling and the festival. We are also about to start a training programme called The Storytellers Art, for 5 lucky people to train and develop their storytelling skills. We’re hoping to expand on that in the coming years, looking at ways in which we can support storytellers in their own professional development and those who are newer to the profession to enter the profession. There’ll also be more eclectic events coming up in Settle and we want to start using mindfulness to help people develop their story. We are still trying to work with a broad section of the community across different media and ultimately trying to bring people from different walks of like to engage with storytelling and to make storytelling more popular for all of us!
Settle Stories takes place between April 1st and 3rd 2016, get your tickets here