Something told me that when I went to meet Shadow the Storyteller I was in for a treat … and I wasn’t disappointed.
Linda Hansen joined Timebank because of a visit to a friend, who was also a member, just before the project’s first anniversary. Watching a couple of Timebankers, through the window, working enthusiastically on her friend’s garden, she could see the practical benefits of skill sharing. She could see a community of people working for each other, helping to complete the jobs that we, individually, put off – the ones that get us down!
Linda is used to storytelling in a wide range of settings, inside and out, in rest homes, for pre-schoolers, adult and children’s parties and has even run storytelling courses. So when Hannah Mackintosh invited her to ’tell’ at the Timebank First Birthday Party celebrations she was more than happy to oblige.
Although Linda doesn’t need a complicated set – she usually purloins only a chair – she does have a decorated suitcase of treasures that help conjure up countless scenes for the imagination. Forty minutes is an average length for her story sessions, with extra time for warm up and conclusions. During a session, Linda senses when her audience, if very young or very old, needs a break and passes the treasures around for them to hold and think about.
Costumes are a real advantage in helping establish atmosphere and it’s also obvious that when you have one on, you’re the storyteller. A great benefit to Shadow and, ‘Where else do you get to dress up in sparkles!’
She discovered early on how important the sense of touch is to the imagination, and enjoys the connection when older people smooth their fingers once again over a wooden darning mushroom, for example. She creates a ‘magical zone’ with coloured cloth, placing her treasures like the cow’s horn pictured below, for the children to see but not yet touch, creating expectation and anticipation. Monkey, her glove puppet, is also a winner.
When I asked Linda about the skills needed for such an art, she said that although she always plans and prepares carefully, she knows she must pay attention to what happens in the moment and maybe change a story. She has a good memory and although we may recognise echoes, she rarely tells tales her audience will have heard before. Many are adapted especially for the event.
Whilst she can’t choose a favourite audience, she enjoys the total engagement of the elderly and young children, particularly those with autism. She particularly likes it when older children are captured by the experience, despite their expectation that “storytelling is for babies.” The intimacy shared with an audience often allows both teller and listeners to be moved.
I wondered what had charmed Linda into the world of story in the first place. She told me that she had attended a two-roomed, remote, rural school and had never grown out of the rich diet of myths and legends that she found there in a dusty old set of encyclopaedias. She now visits such schools, saying that if a travelling storyteller had ever visited her school, she would never have forgotten it.
As Linda left with her many treasures, I couldn’t help thinking that there had been no need for a travelling storyteller to visit that school years ago, for, in fact, one was already there! I also wished that a little boy called George, living on the other side of the world, could have a visit from Shadow the Storyteller - it would be something he too would never forget.
Story by Sue Jenkins