‘Choosing the best stories to tell about a certain place can be a storyteller’s biggest challenge. However, if you want to create an event that is grounded in a location, or specific culture and you are willing to give some time to investigation and research, then you will find this type of storytelling venture one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences imaginable.
‘For many years I have had the pleasure of devising place and culture centred storytelling programmes, for numerous organisations, in diverse locations throughout Scotland.
‘My approach is to begin with the hard facts and historical evidence – this is the nitty-gritty research part of the process. Then after all the historical evidence has been uncovered, you can begin to identify good storytelling material. At this stage you immerse yourself in the creativity of choosing and crafting the perfect stories for your forthcoming event.‘
– Allison Galbraith
Research the stories
Firstly, whenever possible, go there! Go to your building, museum, woodland, park, city, village, zoo, standing stone, loch, well, whatever your story-place, or subject matter is, get right into the heart of it, and explore. Immersing yourself in the physical environment can be a magical experience – even if you don’t realise it at the time! Visit your location as many times as possible; this is your journey and connection.
If it is a well-known historical site, you should be able to find staff working there who have knowledge and expertise in the history and stories attached. It’s always a good idea to take a note of names and contact details of the staff who can help you, and arrange for a time and place to interview them. Taking a guided tour, where possible, is always useful – remember to take a pen and notepad – sometimes your camera and voice recorder can be invaluable, but do ask first if it is okay to take pictures, or record.
Often there will be guide books and pamphlets containing interesting information and occasionally stories pertinent to your chosen place. These are worth buying or borrowing if possible. If you are lucky, you might even find that there is a collection of local folktales written about your special place – buy them!
Local historians can be worth talking to as well. Sometimes they are attached to the local library, or the library staff should be able to let you know how to contact them. Another avenue of investigation can be the local museum. Here you will find knowledgeable folk, and often guide books and pamphlets about your place – the ones time has forgotten!
Some final tips for a successful place-centred event:
Go to your event prepared with more stories and snippets of history and folklore, than you actually will have time to tell. This allows you to engage with your audience and select the stories, on the spot, which you feel will be most appreciated by them. It also allows for spontaneity and a genuinely unique event tailored to your special place, and of course your special audience!
It’s a good idea to ask for feedback before your audience depart. Even simply asking what they enjoyed the most, can be very useful for future planning.
Below you can download the basic structure of The Enchanted Cap – a classic tale particularly good for sharing as Halloween approaches – which pops up in all manner of European and British folk collections. There’s also a document with tips and advice on adapting stories to suit your place and audience, as well as a useful list of books and online resources to take you further.