My Storytelling Journey –Part 2

Singapore 1999-2001

We’d attended a storytelling course and our teacher Cathy Spagnoli left to return home. We were so inspired to continue but where do we start, what do we do?  We needed to learn and practise our stories. Not wanting to lose momentum, Sheila and I decided to start a story circle where we could meet and share our stories in a warm, supportive environment, starting at my apartment. We invited all the participants from that course. That first meeting was most memorable, just 4 of us around my dining table. The other two who came (Irene Wang and Rosalind Tan) confessed they were there for my masala tea!!!!

We didn’t give up and held another meeting and soon our monthly meetings became quite popular (it helps to feed people with food we lovingly prepared!)

In late 1999 our storytellers’ circle became a Special Interest Group of the Society for Reading and Literacy, of which Sheila was an executive committee member, a relationship that was felt would benefit all concerned. That circle grew and in time its members formed the core of the Storytelling Association, Singapore that was founded in 2006 (more of that later).

Sheila and I started telling stories anywhere we could, often on a volunteer basis. Before long people were starting to call us professionals before we thought ourselves to be so! We both stuck to our other freelance work to help pay the bills- Sheila as a speech and drama teacher and myself training early childhood teachers in language and literacy and as a bookseller selling quality children’s literature (showroom in my apartment). Cathy had also introduced me to Tulika Books, a publisher of children’s books in Chennai, India, and a relationship was formed, one that continues to this day in Australia. From selling children’s picture books to stocking storytelling resources was a natural step and all the storytellers in Singapore in the early 2000’s have all been wonderful customers and remain great friends to this day.

A pivotal moment in our storytelling journey was when Mr Ramachandran of the Book Council called Sheila and I in for a meeting in 2001 after we’d continued organising yearly storytelling courses for them with Cathy. He told us that we had to start an organisation and even suggested the name: Storytelling Academy. We weren’t too sure about an academy but we finally came up with a name, Asian Storytelling Network which was incorporated in December 2001.

The professional journey begins………

Storytelling Beginnings – Part 1

Singapore 1997

I attended a storytelling session featuring Beulah Candappa. I knew nothing about the oral tradition coming from a background as a social worker, then as a preschool Montessori directress, comfortable in reading to children and then as an early childhood educator.

Almost 20 years later, what did I remember of that first exposure to storytelling? Not the Asian stories (she grew up in Burma, now Myanmar) but her long dark hair, her compelling voice and that lift of that eyebrow. There was an aura of mysticism that she exuded.

A year later, the National Book Development Council of Sinagpore (NBDCS) invited Cathy Spagnoli and she opened up a whole new world for me.

Firstly, this American of Italian-German heritage, married to an Indian artist Shivam, introduced me to the folktales of my Indian heritage which I knew very little about then!

Secondly, discovering that she made a living out of storytelling! I remember thinking, “I’d like to do that!” But how? I roped in my good friend Sheila Wee (we’d gotten to know each other through our work in early childhood) and told her we had to bring Cathy back. Sheila was happy to join me and then we were very fortunate to have the support of Mr Ramachandran, the Director of the Book Council and together we organised and participated in the first 34 hour storyteller’s course in 1999 with Cathy teaching 16 hours (we had others doing children’s literature, voice, drama etc) with about 30 participants.

Cathy opened up to us the world of Asian folktales and we used her book Telling Tales from Asia as our text. Her other book Asian Tales and Tellers was the second storytelling book I was introduced to.