It's not often when one is able to interact with someone who has been a professional storyteller for 30 years. At least, not in this selfie-crazed, iPad-inspired age that we live in. Which is why, we were curious to hear what the New Orleans native had to share about the art of storytelling.
Diane Ferlatte at an interactive storytelling session
"I heard my stories in a time when there was no television, no computers, and no cell phones. There was lots of laughing, singing and talking in my household where I grew up alongside two brothers, my father and my grandparents," she recalls over the phone lines from Bangalore.
It's been a few hours since she had her first session in storytelling in India. "Oh! It was such fun with these fifth graders. We sang, clapped our hands, and soon they were on a roll, all pumped up. I gave them permission to tell me their idea of the same story," she adds; it's easy to gauge her joy, and understandably so.
Ferlatte will conduct an interactive storytelling session in the city tomorrow as part of Kahani Karnival's sessions in Mumbai for children in the field of the arts and literature. The event will be held at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum.
Tell me a story
After all, Ferlatte is hoping that storytelling will survive, and thrive too, in this digital age.
"Our competition is with technology. It's important to listen, and to learn to connect with people. These days, a quick text is sent instead of communication with another person. It has taken the place of speaking or sharing your emotion or comment. Everything is so quick," she rues, elaborating how we are unable to stay quiet, to listen, absorb and interact with our own thoughts. And then, as if reading our mind, she summarises, "It's not good. Parents and teachers don't seem to realise the importance to talk to children. And children are keen to learn, we just need to know how to keep them engaged."
Ferlatte has travelled the globe telling her stories — from Austria to Singapore, from Australia to Colombia, Senegal, South Africa, Jamaica, and all over the United States. Yet, interestingly, she believes that audiences are "pretty much the same." She elaborates that while they might respond differently across boundaries, she depends heavily on their involvement during every session, "If they don't respond, or don't seem as if they're listening, I stop talking!"
Music on my mind
"I grew up with dance and music all around me. So it's organic to my storytelling," for the uninitiated, Ferlatte incorporates music as well as American Sign Language into her performances. Erik Pearson, her musical sidekick, often accompanies Ferlatte on banjo and guitar.
"Music helps me warm up my voice. When we sing together, we create a community," she believes. Across the miles, we can almost sense this musicality. "You've
got to embrace the story," she chuckles.
"I am constantly mentoring young storytellers because I know that a time will come when I will be unable to physically move around to tell stories. I've met so many of them. Years later, they tell me that they remember my stories. While I travel, on a train, in a bus, on a flight, I tell stories to young people around; there is a connection. I feel that I am passing it on, and this is how I want it to be. This connect is important to keep storytelling alive in our times, for the next generation to cherish and savour," she signs off.
Did you know?
Diane Ferlatte was invited to perform at the festival to commemorate the end of slavery, on Goree Island, Senegal, and to perform for President Bill Clinton at his first inauguration.
On Tuesday, September 8
At Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City, Museum, Rani Baug, Dr Ambedkar Road, Byculla (E).
Time 5.30 to 6.30 pm
>> 2008 Storytelling World Winner Award (USA)
>> 2008 Grammy Nominee for Children’s Spoken Word
>> American Library Association’s 2007 Notable Children’s Recording Award
>> Parents’ Choice 2007 Gold Award Winner (USA)
>> iParenting Media Award Winner (USA)
>> National Parenting Publications Gold Award