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The Storytelling Forum’s Apprenticeship Scheme

The Scottish Storytelling Forum (SSF) is a membership organisation, dedicated to keeping the art of live oral storytelling alive and growing in Scotland – a diverse network of storytellers and individuals supporting Scotland’s vibrant storytelling community.  It’s facilitated by Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) and based at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

The SSF blog series hopes to introduce you to the many different strands within the storytelling scene in Scotland and beyond.

This month we hear from storyteller Janis Mackay who co-ordinates the Storytelling Forum’s Apprenticeship Scheme.

‘Hello dear storytellers, and those who like to hear a good tale, sing a song or tell a joke! All welcome around the fire, and all welcome, as the ceilidh tradition goes, to put a log on the fire!

‘I would like to share a little of what I have been busy with (these past ten years!) helping to foster the storyteller’s apprenticeship.

‘For this to have been, and to continue to be, in any way possible, I want to thank the Scottish Storytelling Forum, and the Scottish Storytelling Centre, for giving us a home for our gatherings, and a beautiful stage for our sharings. Likewise for the financial assistance given to support programmes such as mentoring.

‘Lots of people are interested in the apprenticeship; in finding out what it is, and for some, on getting on board.

‘It is perhaps worth saying that everyone is a storyteller. It seems to be what us humans do. It is a way of sharing, making sense, learning, having fun. Stories at the bus stop, stories to a child at night, stories to soothe a friend, stories down the pub.

‘And then there are some who feel the pull to take the art and craft and world of storytelling further; to learn everything they can about oral traditional storytelling. To craft a story. To build a repertoire. To make this something they might one day do professionally. I suppose the meaning of that word implies one is getting paid for something. And we can then imagine, to take it to this level, the storyteller has decided to invest hours, weeks, months, years, in honing the storyteller’s skills. In getting out and about and telling stories to people, in as many different settings as can be found.

‘So, taking storytelling to this level is not for everyone. And oral traditional storytelling is not the only kind of storytelling. When I meet with people to introduce them to the storyteller’s apprenticeship I often give the image of a daisy. I like a daisy, it’s humble, plentiful and robust. Like stories I give the image of the yellow in the middle as representing the oral tradition – that is our centre, to honour and tell the old stories, to pass them on, to penetrate their wisdom and depth. Then there are the white petals; they represent the many other aspects of storytelling, and the many other ways in which a storyteller (being centred and grounded in the oral tradition) may then also take storytelling in other directions; spontaneous storytelling, puppetry, acting, story and song, tour guiding, history, writing and performing your own stories, running storytelling workshops – on a variety of topics. There are lots of petals in a little daisy, and so many ways a storyteller can do their art.

‘When someone expresses interest in the apprenticeship I first of all suggest, if they haven’t already, taking time to really get to know the world of oral traditional storytelling. Do some workshops. Attend storytelling events, festivals, performances. Test the waters and see whether you really are able to commit the time and energy to this.

‘At present there are around fifty people taking part in the storyteller’s apprenticeship and it is a vibrant and creative group, many of whom get together and share stories and support each other in their development.

‘Three or four times a year I hold apprentice days. We had one a few weeks ago here at the Storytelling Centre. 26 people gathered in the library to share skills, tell stories and learn about – making props, bibliotherapy, and self care for storytellers. Based on a peer to peer development model I invite apprentices to run workshops. This gives people experience in running workshops, and widens our skill set. Also as part of these lively days we have story crafting groups where people meet in groups of four or five, tell a story and give supportive feedback to each other.

‘Last autumn some of us headed up to Highland Perthshire and stayed in the lovely Jessie Macs hostel for a weekend of stories, ceilidhs, workshops, walking, eating…and a little drinking too.

‘Part of the core of the apprenticeship is building community and to also give people, working in their different ways, to become professional storytellers, a sense of identity, and peers to grow and share with.

‘We have also been lucky to have a mentoring programme. Huge thanks to David Campbell, Jean Edmiston, Margaret Bennett and Jess Smith for mentoring wisdom and kindness.

‘Twice a year apprentices take to the stage to share stories, and also to gain experience on stage, and on building a fluid programme. Next evening is on Friday 6th March at 7.30pm and here we will be invoking elves, faeries and wizards for a bit of enchantment.

‘Of course, most of the development is up to each apprentice storyteller; to hone their skills, to find audiences, to take and make opportunities to tell stories. We generally recommend that this journey will take around three years. Sometimes it is four. Sometimes five. There is no rush. Just like telling a good story, to pace it well.

‘We also would like to spread wings and run an apprentice day outside of Edinburgh, and hope perhaps in the autumn to hold an apprentice day in Glasgow, thanks to the good folks at the Village Storytelling Centre.

‘If you want to learn more about the storyteller’s apprenticeship feel free to get in touch.

‘Happy storytelling!’

To find out more about the apprenticeship scheme, visit the Storytelling Forum’s website here – How to become a storyteller

The apprentice storytellers will be performing at the Storytelling Centre on Friday the 6th of March, visit the Storytelling Centre website here for more information.

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