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‘Theatre and storytelling are poles apart’

brunch Updated: Sep 26, 2013 09:44 IST
Prateek Walia
Prateek Walia
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

As an actress, she has performed in theatres around the globe — from the Blackpool Grand Theatre to the Sydney Opera House. The art of telling stories, however, remains her first love; despite the challenges of the profession, of course.

Like that of an Indian woman, her family too figures on the top of her priority list, but, she makes sure she makes time to live out her passion. Though on her first trip to India, she says she is already in love with the country and its food, as she adds, “While I am away on a two-week long trip to India, my son and daughter are cooking Channa Masala, Paneer Tikka and Basmati Rice to feed themselves at home.”


UK-based storyteller Nell Phoenix points out the differences between theatre and her art form. HT Photo

In Chandigarh to conduct a workshop on storytelling at the British Council, Elante, UK-based artist Nell Phoenix thinks human beings are naturally equipped to tell stories.

Quite aptly, Nell is known as the ‘chilly-chocolate’ of the story-telling world — each time she performs, not only does she inspire the audiences, but also leaves them with practical learning skills and techniques regarding the art form.

Mostly, she explores traditional stories; English folk tales that have been told in the past. What makes her different is her skill to craft and prepare with precision. She creates the magic of telling stories, both with her voice and her body; her stories are structured by the intensity of the character, rhythm, image and sound. She makes images emerge while narrating a story and creates a pool of words, to make it comprehensible for all age groups.

One might think she is a graduate in acting and directing, since storytelling comes as a cakewalk for her, but, she clears it out by saying, “Theatre and storytelling are poles apart. In theatre, it is the director’s responsibility to script a story. Then, there are elements of lights, sets and design. In storytelling, on the other hand, you semi-step a character and become more accessible to the audience.”

Been a part of the profession for the past 15 years, Nell is now teaching at one of the biggest art schools of the UK, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, but is still struggling to make people recognise this form of art. She believes there is enough talent in the UK to take this art further. However, like in India, not many people recognise it. “It would be wonderful to involve musicians and puppeteers, but funding is a great hindrance. Mostly, storytelling is not even recognised as a form of performing art,” says she.

How to tell a story…

1) Put down the book, as you already know the story

2) Tell a story you love, you will establish a better connecting with the audience

3) Remember, it is a shared experience. So, encourage and allow the audience to join in

4) KISS the story (Keep It Short and Simple)

5) Present your story as a gift to the audience