Guest Interview: April Nicolle on Oral Storytelling

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4Mothers is delighted to present the following interview with April Nicolle as our guest for this week’s topic of Bedtime Stories. April is the Storyteller in Residence at a Toronto District School Board school where she tells stories to children from kindergarten to Grade 8 as part of their curriculum. She also is a storyteller at Evergreen Brick Works where she shares stories of the history and adventures found in the Don Valley. April can be heard at various other locations throughout the city, including many of the local libraries and other schools including the Waldorf Academy. April is an executive member of Storytellers for Children.

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What inspired you to become a storyteller?

My sister Heather was a puppeteer and a Waldorf teacher, and oral storytelling is an important component of Waldorf education. I’d attend storytelling events with my sister and was an active listener for ten years before telling stories myself – I had a baby so had more reasons than ever to start.

What were your favourite stories as a child?

My grandfather was Irish, and I’d have to say that the Irish folktales are probably my favourite.  I always believed that little people existed; they are so magical and mystical, especially as they lived in the wild.

Do you have a favourite stories now?

I’m rediscovering the Brothers Grimm stories.  They are fascinating, and as my daughter gets older, they’re helping us on the journey from childhood to adulthood – for my daughter travelling that journey, and me as a parent to that transformation.  Through the stories, we can talk and acknowledge the challenges, which are not necessarily bad, but they are there.

Usually I tell these stories rather than read them (although I do read to my daughter also).  I’m actually in the process of writing modernized versions of the Grimm stories for adults, and share them through festivals, Toronto Public Library programs, and different seasonal programs.

What are the differences between storytelling and reading stories, and why is storytelling important?

With a written story, it’s only told with one voice – the author’s voice.  You can bring in more elements to an oral story, including things from your own life so there is more scope for personal participation.  Oral storytelling connects directly to everyone’s imagination and a whole inner world of dreaming and understanding.

I’m also doing research on lost and forgotten stories, and you can take pieces from different storytellers and create a story from that.  Oral storytelling can open up and address the omissions in written stories, so that a girl can be the hero not always the princess who is saved.

Storytelling can tell the stories that publishers don’t publish, the stories that have been overlooked or excluded.  There are so many fables that haven’t been shared.  For example, Leonardo da Vinci had his own collection of fables – in his time period he was known first as storyteller before an inventor or painter.  Then there are the fables of Eastern cultures and animal stories found in Aboriginal cultures, which are easy for children to understand and adults to relate to.  Shorter stories are easier to start with and you can expand from there.

Culturally, we don’t take the time to sit and listen to stories.  I’ve been teaching for almost 10 years at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre, an Aboriginal post-secondary arts school – I teach technical theatre and stage combat there.  I can sit and listen to the students and Elders tell stories in their languages.  As a listener I can still understand the story through gesture and facial expressions, and I am happy to take away from the story what I can.  An oral story can be told to an audience different ages and based on their different life experiences, people will take away different things.

Has telling stories changed for you over time?

Yes, very much so.  I started telling more traditional children’s stories, lap rhymes, and finger plays.  When I became involved with opening a school focused on holistic education, the value of oral tradition was recognized.  The teachers brought forth their curriculum and I would create a complementary oral storytelling component and help deliver it.  Through workshops and observing me, many of the teachers now tell stories themselves in the classroom.

What advice do you have to adults who would like to try oral storytelling?

Go for the familiar.  Look around the room.  If you’re lying in bed at night, maybe the story starts with, “There was a boy named [your son’s name] and he looked out of the window and saw stars. He decided to take a trip on one…”  Then go from there.  Ask your child to help you – they love to participate.  As parents, we tell stories all the time. It’s not as foreign or as separate as we make it.

What advice do you have to children who would like to try oral storytelling?

They don’t need advice – they know how to do it.  Just expose them to as many stories,  in written or in oral form,   as possible.

Where can I learn more about oral storytelling?

Storytellersforchildren.ca – hosts Friday night storytelling every fourth Friday of the month at Pegasus Studios – everyone in the circle gets to tell a story.  The next one is on November 28th.

* The Great Big Afternoon of Storytelling at Riverdale Farm – Saturday June 6th, 2015.

* Three Wishes Festival Toronto – June 12-13, 2015 – offers family workshops and lots of storytelling events.

StorytellingToronto.org – A storytelling school in Toronto that run workshops for storytellers and hosts the largest two week storytelling festival in Canada – March 20-29th, 2015.

* Open Door at St. David’s and Mosaic Storytelling Festival – a storytelling festival held in the winter months at St. David’s in the east end of Toronto

* Parent-Child Mother Goose – runs good programs in west end Toronto

Sally Jaeger programs

* And check out your local library for special storytelling events

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