Fighting fear through storytelling

Teodor Reljic speaks to Giuliana Fenech about ‘Of Fairy Tales and You’ – an upcoming workshop for kids forming part of this year’s edition of Żigużajg, and part of Fenech’s wider initiative, Lignin Stories, which attempts to harness the eternal power of traditional storytelling while adapting it to contemporary realities

First off, how would you describe the ‘function’ of fairy tales in today’s context? And is the pedagogical or didactic dimension of fairy tales the most interesting aspect of them for you, at least for the purposes of this event?

Fairy tales have been present in literature and popular culture for hundreds of years. Their setting in a faraway land and time is appealing because it allows us to project our desires and fears onto a landscape that we only partly recognise.

Over the years, and through the various retellings and adaptations, the tales have morphed to reflect changing cultural constructions of childhood and in contemporary culture they are a good reminder of how powerful magic, hope, and courage are.

In this workshop for children, we return to the fairy tales of Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Andersen, and Wilde for inspiration. They provide a blend of familiarity and strangeness that allows children to relate to the stories but also leaves them free to create their own version. Rather than turning to the tales for pedagogic or didactic purposes, we use them to ignite the imagination, empowering children to see themselves as storytellers and storytelling as a way of connecting with others.

Which aspects of the fairy tale ‘genre’ do you hope to make use of during the workshops, and how do you think they would be beneficial for the young participants? Many children are familiar with the cinematic versions of the tales, for example Walt Disney’s adaptations, but during this workshop they get to know the original stories, which are more poignant. Andersen’s little match girl who freezes to death outside a stately home, Wilde’s selfish giant who understands loneliness and giving too late, and the wonderful musician and his encounter with the wolf in the Brothers Grimm tale are among the characters we work with. Each child is left free to associate and work with any character from the stories and to explore what would happen if the character made different choices. Using various storytelling techniques, they tell and retell the stories to one another until they feel ready to share them with their families and the broader community.

How will the event be structured, and why did you go for this structure in particular? ‘Of Fairy Tales and You’, endorsed by the Scottish Storytelling Centre and the Centro Storytelling Italiano, is part of the Żigużajg and Spazju Kreattiv programme. I wanted the children to have the opportunity to experience an intensive workshop, to really dive deep into the material and have the time it takes to build confidence before speaking and storytelling in public. An open call will see a group of 12 participants, aged 8+, joining. We will meet in the afternoon of 3 November, all day on 4 November and in the morning of 5 November. Throughout this time, we will workshop various storytelling skills that also help public speaking, creative writing, and general self-confidence. Each participant will then workshop one story to tell to an audience during the Żigużajg festival, at the Auberge de Castille vaults.

Finally, how would you say this event fits into the overall ‘mission’ of Lignin Stories, and what’s next in the pipeline for Lignin after this event?

Lignin Stories is a storytelling platform for people of all ages, nations, and beliefs. The founding ethos is to create a space for paying it forward, sharing personal experiences, knowledge, and resources in order to foster connection, inspiration and soulful change, unbinding the unrealised potential in every person and every moment.

Storytellers know that when people come together in a circle, each equal and valued, they are able to connect and inspire one another. In traditional societies this circle, often formed around a fire, symbolised cultural heritage and belonging. It allowed the young to draw upon the wisdom of the elders and the elders to lean upon the strength of the young. Each person, harnessing the energy of the circle, is able to grow and like the oak tree, draws sustenance from the Earth to stretch up to the sky, overcoming personal limitations and fears. In ‘Of Fairy Tales and You’, children experience a storytelling circle, discover that they are worthy, and that what they have to say matters.

Over the coming months, Lignin Stories will be running a series of workshops for children and adults and will be collaborating with various organisations in community storytelling projects. Ongoing between October 2017 – June 2018, ‘Parallel Universe’ is our Culture Pass storytelling programme, designed for schools in collaboration with Esplora and the Malta Arts Council. ‘Points of Contact’ is the next adult storytelling workshop, organised in collaboration with FPM and the Victor Pasmore Gallery, taking place in December 2017 and again at various points in 2018. A research project titled ‘Widnet il-Bahar’ will be launched in spring 2018.