I am sat on a rather beaten up train, each person sat near me staring into phones, tablets and laptops, plugged into the digital world.  I’m on my way home from a Digital Skills for Storytellers Sharing Day put on by Beyond the Border in Cardiff.  Digital skills and digital storytelling is a fiery topic in the storytelling world. Some storytellers dig their heels in and have as little to do with technology as possible, eschewing mobile phones and televisions; resisting the threat of any dilution of the intimate connection of live storytelling. Most have ventured as far as maintaining a website and FaceBook page.  Some intrepid few are launching themselves into the world of live streaming, Facebook events and Skype storytelling clubs.  Personally, I think it is almost impossible to put on any event without interacting online… and as I try to reduce the plastic in my life, replacing the process of laminating posters and driving to various remote notice boards with facebook events seems like the ethical way to go (even though I know there are moral issues with Facebook!).  But that barely brushes the edge of using digital tools.  The possibilities opened by technology are huge!  While I find the prospect daunting – the time eaten by technology and the array of constant new skills demanded, I’m determined that if I’m going to enter this brave new world, there’s no point unless I embrace it wholeheartedly, play with it and make use of the myriad opportunities rather than dabbling in the shallow (on every level) waters.

Today was an inspiring day. A room full of open-minded artists sharing examples of how they have used digital platforms to support and share their work and how they have used technology within their work.  As is my usual experience of any attempt to use tech, there were glitches – the wifi dropped out, the mouse vanished from the screen, but it was a room full of positivity and possibility.  Highlights included:

Daniel Morden’s trailers through the ages – interesting and helpful to see how he has developed his style and approach to making trailers over several years and his attempts at encapsulating the feel, atmosphere and ‘what storytelling is’ into a short few moments on screen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhWxsWGIzgA, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REQY5WaV-1g

and

Tim Ralphs’ and Jenny Babenko’s very practical and honest experience of working with Beyond the Border to create an online interactive storytelling performance:

Not all the speakers are what I would define as storytellers – at least not oral traditional storytellers – there were speakers from the theatre and the BBC, demonstrating virtual reality, bespoke guided headset tours, dystopian hoax advertising campaigns and narrative street games.

What was very obvious is that while many digital opportunities maybe aren’t quite where I’m headed, there is a world of possibilities open to supporting and expanding storytelling that I don’t think storytellers are not currently engaging with – and I am definitely not making the most of.  The theme that kept repeating during the day was experiment and don’t be afraid to fail, because you will fail – failing is a good thing – fail often – you learn by failure, not success.  A very freeing message and one I intend to put into practice!

The official title of my Arts Council England funded project is ‘From Fireside to Facebook’.  There are two parts to my bid.  The side that I have talked about most so far is saving Duncan’s tapes, transferring them into a digital format.  But that is not enough, there is no point digitising the tapes if they are not listened to.  So, the tapes have gone into the School of Scottish Studies Archive, where anyone can go to listen to them and at least some of the material will end up on the marvellous online archive, Tobar an Dulchis.  I am listening to them, making notes of the contents which I will share with the archive.  However, stories aren’t meant to just sit in my head.  I have only listened to a fraction of the material and already stories are fizzing around and trying to get out!

The second part of my project is sharing Duncan’s material.  I am a storyteller.  The most obvious way for me to share stories is to tell them again – and I will –in fact I am!  I will celebrate Duncan, telling my memories of him and his stories in my own way. However, there is a joy in listening to Duncan’s stories in his own words.  His descriptions of his life and the Traveller world he grew up in should be heard in the glorious detail he uses to colour his stories.  The focus of the second part of my project is learning new digital skills to share Duncan’s material in lots of ways – and to share my journey of discovery, re-evaluation of my apprenticeship and memories of Duncan.

My vision is using this digital window to the world to create conversations.  Sometimes as storytellers we forget to share our own journey – yet when I am inspired by other artists it is always the story of their passion that makes me look twice at their work and inspires me to look at it on a deeper level.

So here I am, taking baby steps into the big wide digital world.  This blog is one of my first digital adventures, but I’m planning plenty more!  I am hugely excited by my journey with Duncan’s tapes and, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re enjoying hearing about it so far and will bear with me in my erratic postings!

Amy on computer

@artscouncilofengland, @ace_midlands, @ace_national, @artyaml, @sfs_uk @scotstoryfourm @EU_SSSA @Stories4Society @BTBStorytelling @FolkloreSociety @TheEFDSS @StoryTraditions @TadHargrave @GEECStweets @TravellersTimes

#storytellingapprenticeship, #ScottishTravellerStories, #DuncanWilliamson #Passingontradition #TheScottishTravellingPeople #DigitalBabySteps #StorytellingGoesDigital

I’ve been asked by artist Anne Marie Lagram to respond to her exciting, thought-provoking new exhibition, developed working with the story of Mitchell’s Fold and the witch who is buried there.  It’s fantastic challenge to respond to the artwork through story, I’ve really been enjoying watching the pieces develop and questioning my own assumptions about the story.

Medgel poster

The dream team are getting back together!  I’m delighted I’m going to be working with fabulous storyteller Fiona Collins again.  We have been appointed to create a storytelling garden with Year 1 pupils at Bryn Collen School in Llangollen.

I am fascinated by early years literacy.  Writing is an extraordinarily complex skill.    I have been working more and more in this area, using play, physicality and outdoor spaces to isolate and hone different component skills and processes.  This project gives us the opportunity to implement much of what I have already learned, to learn far more and to have lots of days playing and creating with a group of creative, mischevious, fun children!

During the spring term Fiona Collins and I mentored a group of year 9/10 students at Selly Park Technology College preparing them for their Bronze Arts Award.  Over a period of weeks the students explored a variety of storytelling techniques and organised a performance of stories and riddles within school.  The students all came to the Young Storyteller of the Year Competition on 13th March in Birmingham and either performed in the competition or assisted the judges and took part in the deliberation process.  The whole day was brilliant – an excellent opportunity to hear professional storytellers, perform stories in a professional theatres and meet other young people interested in storytelling.  All our students have now successfully acheived their Bronze Arts Award.

This project took place at the Bridge School with a core group of 14-18 year old students with moderate to severe learning difficulties.  The aim was to create and deliver a project to support students on a creative journey.  One week was used to introduce us as artists and our artforms, to introduce the idea of art as a way to explore and question as well as self-expression, to learn and experiment with a variety of artforms and skills, all through the key media of storytelling and visual art.  A second week focused on our students giving a storytelling performance developed during the first week to groups of primary school children (with a variety of special needs) and mentoring the primary school children on a one to one basis to pass on some of the visual art techniques learned.

This project was a wonderful success according to artists, staff and pupils.  As our key contact, Mandy James, Business and Enterprise Co-ordinator put it:

‘The journey our pupils went on through this project was fantastic.  They were provided with strategies to develop confidence, develop their communication skills and become teachers themselves. These young people will remember this project for a long time.’

For more details about this project please click here:

 

 Newport is a town layered with story and memory.  The canal remembers busier days crowded with boatmen, Chocolate Charlie bringing pocketfuls of sweets back from Cadburys for the local children and harsh winters of frozen barges. Three fish swim on gates, walls and flags, heading towards the King, leaving prosperity in their wake.  You may still catch a glipse in a window of Elizabeth Parker in her wedding dress, waiting all her life and beyond for her fiancee.  When night falls, Madam Pigott haunts the roads and lanes watchful of her chance to take revenge on any young men out alone.

Throughout September and October I worked with dancer Rose Gordon and choreographer Bettina Strickler on a fantastic ‘Find Your Talent’ and DanceXchange collaboration to celebrate the history, folklore and people of Newport. 

 We collaborated with several schools and community groups in Newport to gather, combine, retell and celebrate stories of Newport.  The project culminated in a fantastic Hallowe’en performances with two marvellous young storytelling tour guides leading audiences around the Madam Piggott exhibition and a school haunted by ghostly dancers.

This project was a collaboration between DanceXchange, Telford and Wrekin Libraries, and High Ercall and Crudgington Primary Schools.  I worked with dancers Emma Burns and Laura Dredger using Shropshire myths and legends to inspire dance with KS2 children. 

Working with dance was a new and inspiring process for me.  Our sessions were full of experimentation, using rhythms and patterns of words to evoke different atmospheres and tempos that were then interpreted through movement. 

The project culminated in a performance at Charlton Secondary School where students from both schools shared their work with each other and a very big and supportive audience!

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This project was designed to enhance a sense of community in Craven Arms and to encourage participants to share their ideas for the future of their area. 

I teamed up with Fiona Collins to work with KS2 children interviewing local elders about their memories, hopes and fears for the community with the aid of ‘fantastic faces’: faces made from vegetables with paper features on which were scribed local sights, sounds, smells, tastes and memories.  The sessions were non-threatening, empowering and filled with laughter.  Through preparatory sessions with both the schools and groups of elderly people we were able to match children with interviewees so that all had a positive experience.  Leaving the traditional clipboard of questions behind led to more active conversations, while using writing in an unusual and interesting context led to the children gaining new understanding and increased confidence in using the medium, as well as some wonderful cross-generational communication.

Project Leaders: Amy Douglas and Michelle O’Connor (visual artist and mosaicist)

Our project was to create a nine metre square wall mural with the The Bridge School at their old site to welcome them to their new school as part of the Hadley Learning Community.

We worked with14 – 17 year old students with a wide range of physical and educational special needs for a week. The theme chosen by the school was the story of the Wrekin Giant.  This story was told every morning with the aid of a specially made storysack, the students telling more and more of the story each time.  Each day focused on a different aspect of the story and included a large number of wide-ranging activities to keep attention, enthusiasm and to allow opportunity for all children to shine.

For example, one day focused on water.  I told a local flood story, and we re-created the flood using lengths of shimmering blue and green material. We then talked about different types of water – puddles, rain, streams, rivers, lakes.  With the students inside we threw buckets of water at the window so they could watch the shapes the water made.  We went outside and played with trays of water – sketching the shapes the water made when it had a stone dropped in.  We added oils to water and made reflective imprints by laying paper on the top. Using wire hoops we made large bubbles and drew the shapes of them.  We headed off on a walk to a local pool and looked at all the plants growing around the water and the wildlife in and around the pool. The sketches produced were taken the next day to Jackfield tile museum and used for ideas as our stundents painted tiles which were fired and used in the Welcome Wall. 

This was an exciting, successful project helped greatly by the enthusiasm of all the teachers and support staff at the Bridge.  The staff led by example, supported us in our ideas and extended the project by follow on work after we had gone.

This was a reminiscence residency lasting nine months, which celebrated the lives and memories of people living around the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  We included local primary schools at all stages of the process, using our work to inspire the children and empower them to influence the rest of the project.  Throughout the project we built up a memory box, which slowly filled with more and more objects, each associated with at least one story.  We used the following activities with the children, with great success:

Story detectives: children listened to stories from the memory box and played conversational games.  We introduced them to methods of interview technique.  Children interviewed each other and members of their families.  They brought stories back into class and added new objects to the memory box.

Storyseeds: children chose stories from a selection told from the memory box and we used these as seeds to create a ‘play in a day’: performances of storytelling, dance, drama and music for children, parents, governors and community members at the end of the day.

Storywalks: we took various community groups including the Country Park Junior Rangers Club on walks around the area, telling stories gathered from the community in sites associated with the stories.

‘Pontcysyllte Memories’: the project concluded in a book of reminiscences published by Tempus Publishing.   We held a grand book launch next to the aqueduct with the mayor of Wrexham presenting each contributor with a copy of the book.  The youngest contributor to the book was nine years old.  As part of the celebration, children told stories with the aid of the memory box to audiences including the mayor.

Pontcysyllte 1