Pr Eddie Hypolite at Tell Me A Story in 2015.

Tell me a story

Friday, August 11, 2017

What the return of the raconteur reveals about the power of storytelling

A few years ago, on a wintry night, my husband Leighton and I invited a few friends over. We asked them to come prepared to share stories—personal stories—and an excerpt from their favourite book or author. Our lounge room was both silent and full of laughter. The words were mesmerising and devastating. The stories left us wanting more.

Of course. That’s what great stories do.

While we recognise great stories are told on canvas, in film, in song and through a plethora of other mediums, spoken word is the oldest form of storytelling. And probably the least employed in our current culture—in a formal sense. Indeed, most of us communicate verbally with our family, friends and colleagues every day. Much of what we say we say with stories. However, the idea of spending a Saturday night together sharing stories and excerpts from our favourite authors is something the Darbys had never done before.

After we began our storytelling nights and continued talking to others about them, we discovered other similar (much larger and more organised) events such as The Moth and various storytelling podcast series. It seems the genre is experiencing a revival—comedy duo Hamish Blake and Andy Lee, for example, have a television series called True Story with Hamish & Andy where Australians recount humorous true stories.

In a Christian context, we are—counter-culturally—used to listening to lecture-length orations in weekly worship services. But storytelling—in terms of its content, intention, pace and rhythm—is different. Stories don’t need explaining or have moral points drawn out. We experience them individually and find our own meaning from them.

Perhaps the appeal of storytelling is in its rarity. Hearing a person tell a story, with their own voice, facial expressions and gestures, is unique. Even if the story is not their own, the excerpt a person chooses and the inflections they use in its telling reveals a lot about them.

For Leighton and I, the storytelling night was reminiscent of a different, slower time, when evenings were spent with loved ones around the hearth, when folktales were passed from generation to generation. Aside from connecting with our friends, and connecting with stories, it felt like we were connecting with something much bigger—an important aspect of being human we’d not placed enough significance upon.

So, we organised Tell Me A Story as part of the Manifest Creative Arts Festival in 2015 and as a standalone Manifest event in 2017. The responses astounded us—full houses, unexpected calls for an encore and the sell out of a fantastic Cherry Ripe slice at the cafe. The audience members enjoyed powerful poetry, true stories that made them laugh, fictional stories that made them cry and documentary that left them reflective and inspired.

You may have heard The Moth podcast or watched True Story with Hamish & Andy, but Tell Me A Story was different. A little more raw, a little more theatrical and a little more intimate. And we think a lot more interesting.



Joanna Darby

Joanna Darby is an artist, educator and preacher. She received the Gabe Reynaud Award at the inaugural Manifest Creative Arts Festival in 2011 for excellence in faithful creativity and is a former Mosman Art Prize finalist (2008). Joanna is a co-convenor of Manifest and co-editor of Manifest: Our Call to Faithful Creativity (2013), a collection of essays exploring faithful creativity.