British performance storyteller Emily Hennessey was in Mumbai recently, and opens up about the art ands science of telling a good story and how she got hooked on to the Pandvani form of storytelling
You call yourself a performance storyteller; how different is this form of storytelling from the rest?
In storytelling, the world of the story unfolds in the imagination of the listener unlike in theatre or cinema where we watch the story take place before us. The storyteller improvises the language of the story, which means that the story will change every time it's told, responding to the audience, remaining live and alive.
How did you get involved with the Pandvani form of storytelling? You spent time in rural India learning about it. Tell us a bit about the experience.
I was introduced to the incredible Pandvani epic singing tradition from Chhattisgarh by UK storyteller, Ben Haggarty from the Crick Crack Club. We have a UK-based ensemble of storytellers and musicians who tell stories from across the world, including Norse mythology, Greek mythology and Hindu mythology and epic, all inspired by the form. Thanks to the music, use of rasa and a Ragi who interjects, asking questions and encouraging the storyteller, the performances are bursting with raw energy. It's incredibly exciting!
We have been lucky enough to work with the renowned Pandvani storyteller, Ritu Verma when she came to perform in Stockholm. My husband and I also visited Ritu and her Pandvani troupe last year and watched a mind-blowing performance at a village temple. I'll be traveling to Durg (Madhya Pradesh) to visit her again next week, and can’t wait to see her perform at Beyong the Border international storytelling festival in Wales this summer! She's a huge inspiration to many of us UK storytellers.
I’ve also spent a few months at the Kattaikkuttu School in Tamil Nadu – a fantastic, unique school where children as young as four learn to tell stories from the Mahabharata through storytelling, dance, music and song. Working with the children was a huge inspiration.
In today's digital era, how crucial is the art of physical storytelling? It must be a challenge to engage kids who are constantly hooked on to their iPads and smartphones...
Children, and adults, love a good story - if the story is good and well told they will forget all about Facebook! The live, shared experience of listening to a story is something that we need more than ever – it feeds our souls and minds in a way that digital technology cannot.
What were you experiences in Bombay/Mumbai in this current trip? Are you planning to travel a bit to find new stories hidden somewhere?
I’m having a fantastic time in this incredible city. It’s an honour to work with British Council India and to part of the Kala Ghoda festival! My performance in the gorgeous Kitabkhana bookstore last weekend was a roaring success – it was packed, filled with children and adults eagerly listening to and joining in with the story. I was told it was spellbinding, wild and moving, which was touching. Such a great audience! My workshops have been going well too. I’ve not had a chance to explore Mumbai yet (although I’ve eaten some great local food!) but can’t wait to explore this wonderful city when I get the chance.