Preview: London Storytelling Festival 2011

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London’s first Storytelling Festival launches on Saturday (1st October), and promises to celebrate the collaborative exchange of tales through a diverse series of events hosted at the Leicester Square Theatre. The festivals programme includes three individual shows from New York’s acclaimed writer and performer Martin Dockery, as well as a storytelling workshop run by the man himself, an evening of music and comedy in the form of Story Jam, plus a closing-night Gala featuring appearances from comic yarn spinners Mark Thomas and Phil Kay, as well as The Simpsons and Spinal Tap legend Harry Shearer. I spoke to artistic director and performer, Sarah Bennetto, about what we can expect from the first Storytelling festival.

What made you, as a team, decide to organise the festival, and how did it come to be?

Coming at storytelling as stand-up comics, as myself and the other organisers do, means that this is an exciting experiment for us. In the past, there wasn’t anything in the way of comedy clubs that celebrated ‘story’. You could certainly sneak a tale or two into your comedy club set, but until I started Storytellers’ Club, there wasn’t a place where comics could regularly come and tell stories as the rule (as opposed to the exception). The London Storytelling Festival feels like the logical next step for the movement. I’ve seen so many powerful and funny raconteurs pass through our club, and witnessed some really breathtaking narrative-based Edinburgh Fringe shows. So we wanted somewhere to celebrate it all in earnest, under one banner, so that more people could join in and see what’s been going on.

What made you chose to focus on oral storytelling?

The London Storytelling Festival is a week of live events, giving a voice to performed storytelling, and we hope to bring a really intimate ’round the campfire’ feel to proceedings. We even have a faux log fireplace, which if anything lends a late-night romance to the shows (plus an enviable 80’s tackiness).

Which part of the festival are you most excited about?

All the shows & workshops excite us, obviously. But the closing night gala show (on Monday 10th October) will be a right royal party. We have some of the most amazing performers from the world of comedy, film and music coming to show us a different side of themselves. This is Spinal Tap‘s Harry Shearer, Mark Thomas, Phil Kay, Judith Owen, Martin Dockery: they’ve all planned a special story about their lives to bring to the night. I am genuinely giddy with excitement, and terrified as hell (myself and Deborah Frances-White will be hosting the whole spectacular shindig). Come watch it all explode on stage. I can’t wait.

What do you hope the festival will achieve?

If the festival brings people together in celebration of shared stories, then that’ll be brilliant. The thing about the story projects we’ve run in the past, is that people always rave about the friendly and sometimes magical atmosphere. An evening spent in the tales of another human, is a really wonderful experience, so we’re hoping a week of such events is an unforgettable joy – one that people may want to repeat next year!

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Elizabeth Sankey of pop duo Summer Camp was also kind enough to let us know a little about what audiences are in for when she and Emmy the Great will appear at Story Jam to pay tribute to the much beloved Sweet Valley High books. The evening will also feature performances from comics Isy Sutie and Gavin Osborn. Here’s what she had to say:

Emmy The Great and myself will be performing as our alter egos The Wakefield Twins. We come from a town in California called Sweet Valley and we’re forever stuck in the 90’s. So, as you can imagine, we’re quite overwhelmed to be on exchange this summer in London, Paris. I’m Elizabeth Wakefield. I’m a really serious journalist who completely adores books (I own over 7), so for me this is a great chance to influence some super clever book people with all of my knowledge about Shakespeare. My twin, Jessica, isn’t that interested in Literature but she’s an aficionado of fashion and culture – she’s just bought a new leopard print jumpsuit from a shop called ‘Out There’ so she’s really excited about wearing it at the festival. She had a question though – where should she put up her tent?

I personally can’t wait to sit amongst loads of fellow literary gems, and just imbibe the knowledge and cleverness that will be seeping from their pores. It’s going to be so fun for us to watch loads of other shows and see if they’re as hot/clever as us, and if they’re not judge them for it. I think Jess is most excited about seeing the Backstreet Boys. What day are they playing?

London Storytelling Festival runs from 1st-10th October.

The Wakefield Twins

Rob Fred Parker 

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