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Stories on the Way – a Q&A with our Apprentice Storytellers

Daiva Ivanauskaite, Debbie Cannon & Jan Bee Brown

Scotland has a vibrant group of new storytellers, honing their skills and developing their craft with the help of the Centre's Storytelling Apprenticeship, led by Janis Mackay. On Saturday 4 March, the group will perform their favourite tales at Stories on the Way, a showcase of the skills and stories they've developed over the course of the programme.

We spoke to three of the apprentices - Debbie Cannon, Jan Bee Brown and Daiva Ivanauskaitė - about what brought them to storytelling, their favourite tellers, and which stories they'll be sharing with us on Saturday.

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What brought you to Storytelling?

Debbie: I'm an actor and writer so I think I've always had a desire to tell stories. I did both Starting with Stories workshops at the Storytelling Centre a few years ago but never took it further. I'm now working on a solo show which I've written for performance in the Fringe, and that gave me a push to come back and try storytelling again. That and the fact that storytellers are lovely people to be around.

Jan: Working on a WW1 project with Callendar House in 2014 I was inspired by working with storyteller Allison Galbraith. I worked with Allison again as Reader in Residence at The Scottish Book Trust in Falkirk 2015/16 - roaming the Forth & Clyde canal finding fantastic stories.

Daiva: I love art and film because of the visual qualities of storytelling. But performing arts and dance have a special place in my heart. My body loves to move and I can't sit still if I hear a rhythm. I was brought up engaged in youth theatre in Lithuania, where I learned about being true and honest on stage. The stage was like a sacred space where we were taught to love and believe in stories, but also remember that this is just a game, a play, not real life. My mother has collected a huge library of world tales and these were the books I grew up deavouring. I love fairy tales and folk tales, imagination, symbolism and surreal worlds. These books had a massive impact on me. Both my parents are amazing singers, my mother still sings in two choirs and when I was a child she travelled all around Lithuania and abroad with the traditional music ensemble she was part of. So folk songs also formed my worldview.

I consider myself a quiet person and never thought I would have this call to tell stories, despite working as a history teacher for five years and telling so many historical stories, before later moving to filmmaking. Real inspiration came from my experience in the creative education project, Creative Partnerships, where I worked as a creative agent. Being on a Mastership programme for learning facilitators, one social night I told a personal story about my relationship with dancing. I involved the audience and they embodied my friends, partners, became singers and did sound effects. It was such huge fun and joy. After this I heard a few people saying, "Daiva, you should do this, you should tell stories".

What was the first story you remember telling - to one person or more - and who did you tell it to? 

Debbie: I remember subjecting family and friends to a telling of 'The Little Match Girl' when I was very young. Teddies were involved.

Jan: My own zombie apocalypse scenario inside a kelpie’s head to Grangemouth Primary. That set me off telling stories in primary schools and volunteering during the summer at the Museum of Edinburgh.

Daiva: Probably the first story I told was in body language, my own choreographed ballet piece for my parents while I was still in nursery. The most memorable play was 'Puss in Boots', performed for many audiences (mainly families and children), and my first storytelling experience was in 2013, when I told my personal dance story (coming of age story) to the other Lithuanian creative practitioners.

If you could pick anyone to swap stories with, who would it be and why?

Debbie: Someone from back in history. An ancestor from centuries ago would be fascinating. But basically anyone, because I've a lot to learn and everyone's interesting!

Jan: The Brothers Grimm, because I speak fluent German and love their gruesome tales!

Daiva: I love sharing stories, and I have a couple of stories that are inspired by other storytellers like David Campbell, Kate Walker and Alette Willis. David has introduced me to the world of Celtic stories and magic, and Alette opened up the amazing world of Native American stories. I like stories with a strong elemental aspect in them, full of empowerment and wisdom. Recently I was enchanted by another storyteller from the apprenticeship programme called Catriona Hamilton (who is also telling on Saturday), as she has such a thoughtful and playful way of telling. That’s the direction I would like to go in as it’s so natural and close to my style. I also admire Jan Blake and Mara Menzies because of their energy, self-esteem and natural talent to transfer listeners to the world of the story.

What can we expect to hear from you on Sat 4 March?

Debbie: 'How Bear Lost His Tail' - a story of pride coming before accidental tail removal.

Jan: 'The Juniper Tree' - a Grimm tale of love, hope, loss and magic with a wee pinch of cannibalism and manslaughter.

Daiva: 'Raven's Engagement'. This Baltic folk tale from Estonia explores the importance of listening to stories in successful relationships.

Stories on the Way takes place at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Sat 4 March, 7.30pm.

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Image: LtR: Daiva Ivanauskaite, Debbie Cannon & Jan Bee Brown