It is a truism amongst storytellers that the stories they tell only come to life (or not) in the hearts and imaginations of the audience. The storyteller’s job is to tell their tales with such conviction, feeling, and detail that their listeners experience them as real. But how can we know what is going on inside another person?
Usually the clues are subtle and we look for them in the expressions on the faces of the audience, the way they are holding their bodies, and the quality of their attention. Sometimes we get more direct feedback after a performance, when people tell us about the emotions they felt or describe the images that came up for them during a particular story.
The image at the top of this post comes from one of those very rare occasions when we get something more. It is a sketch made by artist Maxine Relton as she listened to a performance of The Storyteller’s Tale that I gave a couple of weeks ago at the Rabley Drawing Gallery in aid of a charity supporting members of the Indian Puppet Maker’s Guild.
It is a romantic tale full of action, drama and powerful imagery. My friend Shanee Taylor accompanied me on the Tampura and sang several songs she had composed based on Indian ragas. It was a magical evening: the story took off and seemed to transport us all – teller and listeners alike – back to 18th century India.
Maxine’s sketch amalgamates phrases and images from the story with details of the instruments and dress of the storyteller and musician. It is a visual artist’s response to both the story and to the art of storytelling: a combination of the inner and outer worlds of the performance that goes far beyond mere illustration.
How satisfying it is when one art form enters into dialogue with another!