Last weekend I was invited for a meeting day by the Dutch Storytelling Foundation. About fifty people met at a neighbourhood activity center in Utrecht to listen to stories, discuss their meaning, call out the storyteller of the year and inspire the people on the scene to grow and develop this crazy art form we feel passionate about.I had not attended any of the previous meetings, but I was informed by mail I was one of the five nominated to be storyteller of the year, and it would be appreciated if I was present for the ceremony.
Though I feel honoured to be invited and nominated, I am also worried about how storytelling is seen and experienced in the Netherlands, especially after visiting the meeting day. Almost all of the participants were over fifty years old and almost all were white native Dutch. It did not help that the international storytelling theme of the year is “the Brothers Grimm” to commemorate the 200th year of the first printing of their stories. What I experienced is the type of storytelling that I’m developing an allergy to: audience members sitting on chairs in a row, and a storyteller sitting in a chair in front of them telling a children’s story in a slow… well pronounced… way. It is no wonder young people are not drawn to these type of stories, they think it’s childish (and that’s exactly the reason why this particular over fifty crowd is drawn to it, it reminds them of their childhood in a simpler more romantic time).
I’m not opposed to this type of storytelling, if it’s considered one of the many types of stories and ways that we can share our stories, but if it’s considered the main type of storytelling I have to protest. 250 visitors a month visiting the our storytelling nights alone shows there is an interest in different types of stories: Personal stories and confessions improvised on the spot, stories that are depicted on stage by a team of improvisers, stories that switch language mid-sentence, leap from teller to listener, inform us about political and social struggles. The list of possibilities is endless. In 8 years of experimenting with the format visitors have time and again surprised me with their contributions and I’m yet to reach the stage where I can say I’ve seen it all.
When we started our storytelling nights I was sad there wasn’t much of a storytelling scene in the Netherlands. However, it also felt exciting to be a pioneer, with a small band of dedicated die-hards, creating intuitively what we felt would inspire a storytelling audience. Now that there is a scene, represented by the Storytelling Foundation, I feel I can’t relate to it.
So the question is, dear storytellers and storylisteners, do we join the Dutch scene and try to teach them a thing or two, or do we stay away from them and create our own scene? I would be very curious about what you think.