2013 Tales Of . . .

Nov 1-3  Congratulations to the team at Commercial Press for organising the Hong Kong Storytelling Conference, which attracted 100 delegates from a wide cross-section of schools, including a contingent of teachers from Shenzhen.  It was held in the Law Ting Ping Secondary School in Tai Po - their magnificent library, astonishing for a school, was worth the trip by itself! I had the challenge of presenting three keynotes (on using storytelling in language teaching; for values education; and to promote Creative Writing) as well as conducting two workshops to boost the participants confidence and telling skillsets. The enthusiasm and participation by all the teachers was most encouraging, and I hope to hear reports of teachers working in stories to their lessons in the weeks & months ahead.  The Conference had kicked off with my 90 minute solo performance at Commercial Press' flagship store in Tsim Sha Tsui which drew an enthusaistic audience of 50, mostly adults, much to the surprise of the organisers. It was a great way to begin.

The Conference was barely over before I was on the MTR and racing to Hong Kong Island where I gave a performance to 80+ teenagers from three Harrow International schools as they sat on the promenade at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park. I was their 'literary surprise' during their Shakespeare camp and shared Asian stories as a helicopter buzzed back and forth overhead and ferries chugged across the harbour not 30m from where I stood. The students were great and two volunteers, Sisi and June, stole the show from me when I invited them up to help me tell the Oreo (black-and-white) story.


26/27 I had the pleasure of performing at the 4th PINKS (Penang INternational Kids Storytelling) festival over the weekend. What a great little festival it has become! Twelve tellers - including the lovely Dr Wajuppa Tossa, and Jen & Nat Whitman from the US, plus tellers in Mandarin and Bahasa (from Malaysia & Indonesia) - kept kids, parents and teachers entertianed for 5.5 hours in five different rooms all running concurrently. And it's FREE for the public! The organisers have obviously learnt from past experience - the festival has come on by leaps and bounds since I participated in 21011, and given the parlous state of the Singapore festival, which is playing to ever smaller numbers, and the cancellation of this year's KL festival due to lack of sponsorship, PINKS can hold its head high as a promising festival with lots of potential.


22-26: Summer camp in Xi'an.  I spent 6 hrs a day conducting storytelling workshops with groups of engineering students at Chang'an University.  They were remarkably attentive listeners and had a positive atittude about participating, practising their own telling skills and doing some creative still image/tweeting sequencing of stories like Chipo and the Magic Gourd and Yuuki & the Tsunami. I filmed three students sharing personal stories inspired by the 'magic mirror' exercise, and their animated dleivery makes up for the few grammatical mistakes in their speech. I was lucky to have 5 or 6 students from the Hong Kong poly University assisting me as part of their work epxerience project and as a result was never short of students bringing me to find places to enjoy delicious dumplings etc.  Visitng the Terracotta Warriors on the final day was of course, a marvellous way for me to end the trip to Xi'an.

16:  I had the unexpected pleasure of performing Talking Body Language in TANAH MERAH PRISON to over 200 inmates. They were a terrific audience - attentive, quick to laugh and very engaged with the Masks.  Discipline is of course very tight and they were impeccably behaved throughout.  The six volunteers selected to improvise with me in this extended version were all good, animating each of the Masks with such confidence and individuality that I was able to improvise for much longer than in the usaul school setting. In fact, their response was so strong that now I've been asked to develop a proposal for a Mask workshop that will lead to a performance in 2014. The atmosphere within in the prison during my hour-long visit was very positive and I would have no hesitation about returning to work with these guys.


6   Every evening this week I've been conducting a Mask workshop with 14 teenagers on the Creative Arts Programme, housed at Kent Ridge Hall at NUS.  Considering that none of them have any experience of drama, let alone Mask, the quality of their work is astonishing - especially as kids on the Gifted Education Programme are often far more comfortable talking/thinking than getting themselves on thier feet and expressing themselves physically.

4  Performed in the wonderfully intimate setting of the Library at One World International School as part of their Book Week celebrations. the kids in the first set (aged 3-6) were hugely responsive and had great fun going on a Bear Hunt and helping Elephant remember the name of the magic tree (Awongaleema!) The second set (7-11 yr olds) were a very attentive lot who joined in from the outset (Crocodile trying to catch chicken) and then kep me long past the finish time with their barrqage of author-related questions.  The Year 4's had produced their own book which they proudly shared with me - I was delighted to see their writen and art work so beautifully presented. As the school is very close to home, I'm hoping I'll be back there soon!

June 1  Catherine Sng and her seniors' drama group, THE GLOWERS, staged a 30 minute performance of poems from my book, FROM THE BELLY OF THE CARP, at the Arts House as part of the SDEA Conference. Sadly I missed the show (I was conducting a workshop on Bonding with your Child through Storytelling for parents of Eunos Primary) but I watched a rehearsal and loved the way they brought my monologues of the Singapore river to life - the use of dialect for some of the characters was spot on (and very effectively translated for the audience by the chorus of cast voices).  As a result, I did some brisk sales when I visited the Conference on the Sunday, and thamks to conversations with two teacher, I am now committed to producing a version for schools, featuring 75 of the original 96 characters. (I've taken out the Thai prostitute and the governor's mistress, which are both too sexual for the classroom!)


10   As my project at Kent Ridge Secondary came to an end today, I was treated to some wonderful storytelling by members of class 1E4. JOLENE LOH KAR INN and WONG YAN KAI were both outstanding - I'm glad they're only 13, otherwise I'd be looking over my shoulder and fearful of the competition! They are both animated, confident tellers, able to bring a story to life with their own details and comic touches.  They weren't alone however, and there were several other highly engaging young tellers, among whom Nurul Zulriah and Leila Tolari caught my eye, for their charming and vivacious versions of their stories. With a bit of luck, 2023 should be a bumper year for storytellers!

My team and I have also been visiting Yusof Ishak Secondary. One of their students gave me a wonderful off-the-cuff reply when I asked him why he thought his teacher had sent him to a storytelling workshop? He said, "So that when I talk, my audience will be curious about what I'm saying, will be interested in my story, and be entertained by it." That's one of the best answers I've ever received - if only more speakers would focus on their audience, rather than thinking about themselves!

1   Thank you to the 200 plus people who came to REMEMBER TINA, a memorial for the wonderful Christina Sergeant, who passed away most suddenly on 17th February while I was in Iran.  It was good to hear your stories and relive some of the wonderful times we spent in her company. Something Isak Dinesen wrote has been in my mind this week:  "There is no sorrow or pain so great that it cannot be borne if we tell stories about it."  I was glad that I could share a few stories about our time working together as Phizzog Mask Theatre, running STARS and the Youth Theatre Singapore, and of course The Madhatters Comedy Co. Thank you SDEA for organising the beautiful evening.  I miss her deeply.


25 - 28: It's Book Week at The Garden International School in Kuala Lumpur and what a celebration it was!  I enjoyed a wonderful four days telling to all levels from Nursery to Year 11. The kids were great and I particularly enjoyed the way the primary kids (and many of their teachers!!) got into the Dress-Up as a Character competition, giving the judges a tough time selecting the winners.

Having 60 minutes  to tell stories to Years 9 - 11 was a special treat, as teenagers are rarely asked to sit and just listen - but listen they did!  In corridor and lift conversations in the days afterwards, various students told me which of the stories was their favourite:  The Blind Man and The Hunter, William Kamkwamba (the boy who harnessed the wind), The Story Not To Be Told (about two friends and a stolen horse), and The Thieving Monks were the most popular. I was also given a rave reiew by a Year 10 student - thank you, Joy! My thanks to librarian Siobhan Roulston, and to HOD English (Secondary) Darren Pacey, for organising my visit/looking after me so well. special mention to all the Yr 4 kids and their English teachers for their creative writing during my workshops with them! I shall remember grumpy gorillas, rampaging rhinos and the ramming shark for a long time to come. Also, thanks to the teacher (Marcus?) who gave me a wonderful one-liner gag to add to my Balinese story about the monster Kala Rahu trying to catch the princess-in-the-moon, Dewi Ratih.

16-19 February: I was in Iran for the 16th Kanoon International Storytelling Festival, telling alongside 10 other international tellers (from Australia, Colombia, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia - my good friend Mama Tok, Peru, Portugal, Russia and Spain) and almost 40 Iranian tellers. What a feast of storytelling! I told the story THE WOODEN SWORD - and was delighted that the panel of judges awarded me the prize of the Best Storyteller.  

Two big projects at Crescent Girls and Kent Ridge Secondary, both with the entire Sec 1 year level, are keeping me and my team of eight fellow-tellers very busy.

Jan 2013: after a long holiday in Thailand, I had a fascinating fortnight of work that saw me do a professional development workshop for the enthusiastic staff at Eton House kindergarten at Mountbatten 718; a day -long workshop with volunteers from the People's Association who are looking to enliven their reading clubs; a workshop for a multi-national group of designers from Proctor & Gamble; a 40 min show for the men of the mess at SAF Chong Pang camp; and three sessions of storytelling that covered all six levels of Yew Tee Primary. A storyteller's life is anything but predictable. I love it!!


Chekhov’s The Bear

with Christina Sergeant, 1988


1955 - 2013

Tina’s sudden passing on the 17th February was a devastating loss to her family and to Singapore’s theatre community.

She was my best friend for 30 years, my best man(!) at my wedding, and my performance partner and collaborator from the days we first began creating comedy together as Phizzog Mask Theatre in 1983.

She was wonderful actress with the most astonishing range: she could play fearsomely powerful high status characters, then switch on an instant into the most incompetent and appealing clown.  

In improvisation she combined a razor-sharp wit and ability to connect the most distant of ideas, with the mime’s gift of physicallising offers into action and gesture. When she was on fire, it was hard to keep up, because we were laughing so much!

We were due to start rehearsing with our good friend Marco Luly, for a production of The License by Pirandello.

I shall miss her creativity , her comedy and above all, her caring - she smsed me birthday wishes on the 16th when I was in Iran, just a few hours before she collapsed.