Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Research talk at York Festival of Story

I am greatly looking forward to the upcoming York Day of Story (see www.yorkfestivalstory.co.uk for full programme details) where I've decided to contribute a performance/workshop based on my research so far with adolescents.  The audience, I hope, will be anyone who works with, lives with or is intrigued by the possibility of storytelling with, adolescents.  I am by now so used to the quizzical or anxious looks people give me when I tell them I work with teenagers using storytelling, that I want to give the audience a flavour of just how receptive and generous they can be.  Tickets are available at http://www.skiddle.com/whats-on/York/Friends-Meeting-House/Storytelling-with-10-18-year-olds-Tales-from-the-Front-line/12287409/

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

An opening statement - towards a performance around gender

In every story I tell, indeed in every episode of every story I tell, the decision as to how to represent the characters’ relationship to their gender is posed.  It is never unproblematic.

I have realised that you cannot just let stories ‘speak for themselves’; you are always, as a storyteller, making decisions and editing; you hold power as the one in control of the narrative and with this power comes responsibility.  This is particularly so with young audiences growing up in a world of towering gendered performativity, hypersexuality, girlification, pornification, competition, scrutiny and judgement.  The vulnerable young people I work with are lightning conductors for these difficulties, perhaps extreme sufferers of their impact, but nonetheless they highlight issues of relevance to all young people.  They have to come to terms with, accept or reject the strictures of 21st century gendered life. 

My storyteller’s decision of how to represent gender is thus paralleled by young people’s equally constant decision matrix as to how to perform their own gender, what relationship to hold to it.  This is something I can show dynamically in a storytelling performance.

The performance should show different ways of being a woman / a man.  It should move towards allowing the audience to get some critical distance on society’s gendered expectations – to externalise things that feel like tumultuous internal pressures.  It should (perhaps above all) show the story-ness of these stories – that the characters’ relationship to their gender is a decision made by the storyteller and can be told other ways. 

A new year's moment of 'breathing in'

I think one of the risks with practice as research in applied arts is that you can end up spending much of your time doing stuff (facilitating, storytelling, leading workshops - and all the related preparation and reflection) and less time learning from how others do stuff.  Your own practice can take on a primacy that might be dangerous. 

Thus at this point, after a very busy 2014, I feel the need to regroup, backtrack, and contextualise my practice in various ways. 

For example, although I am working in secondary education, I have hardly ever witnessed a 'normal lesson'.  I don't really know what pedagogies are habitually employed by teachers - I make deductions and assumptions based on staffroom chat and official National Curriculum policy.  How can I know then in what ways pupils experience the sessions I lead as different?  And most particularly, how do I know what modes of communication dominate between teachers and pupils, and whether storytelling is one of them?  So over the next few weeks I am going to spend some time in the English Department, just observing teachers' practice, helping out a bit where feasible.  And to get a bigger picture, I am going to meet with one of the programme leaders of initial teacher education at the University of York. 

I hope to gradually get a better sense of:
* whether and how storytelling (in the widest sense, as a mode of communication) is already employed in secondary teaching;
* whether it is counter-cultural or supportive of currently dominant pedagogies.
(Behind the second question is a shadow question: is 'pedagogy' even a salient concept for teachers in these days in which they are increasingly trained 'on the job'?  And thus, by what roads could storytelling be further explored and introduced?)

The same 'breathing in' and contextualisation needs to happen on other fronts too.  So in the mental health setting I work in, for almost the first time I will be joining in some sessions led by the professionals who work there, as a participant, rather than leading sessions myself.  And in my research for a performance around the idea of gender in adolescence, I will be visiting a group of 16-18-year-old youth theatre students to plumb their expertise on the subject - through drama of course. 

Practice as research is a demanding discipline - you're a pendulum ever swinging.