Award-winning storyteller Rachel Rose Reid has performed at the Barbican, Soho Theatre and Latitude. In 2007, she was named Young Storyteller of the Year, and this year won acclaim for her Edinburgh show I'm Hans Christian Anderson. Here she tells us how she found her feet as a storyteller...
I come from a long line of storytellers.
My family came to London about 100 years ago from eastern Europe. My great-grandfather was a cobbler and used to pass down endless stories about the land he was from. My father was a folklorist and used to take me to storytelling festivals from a very early age. I think sometimes, living in the city, we see only a stereotype of folk culture. My upbringing showed me a way of bridging that.
Growing up surrounded by amazing storytellers was intimidating. When I hit my teens I became very quiet and reserved. It took me a long time to find my voice. I started going to the Weekend Arts College in Camden which, back then, was a very open environment and encouraged people to experiment without feeling judged. As well as this I put myself through a stand-up course, not because I wanted to be a comedian, but because I wanted to put myself in the most excruciating situation possible, to help me learn and develop from it.
One day it all clicked into place. I came across a couple of stories that I suddenly had a burning desire to tell. One was an old Polynesian story about a group of people who lived on top of a sleeping giant; they tried to be as quiet as possible for fear of waking him up. It’s basically a story about the importance of making noise and being heard, so for me it was very appropriate.
I started doing short slots in storytelling clubs such as the Brighton Storytellers Circle and the Story Night at the Toriano in north London. I do wish there were more spaces for informal storytelling because it was only by doing it over and over again that I finally found my voice.
In 2007, when I was 25, I entered the Young Storyteller of the Year competition. I told the Polynesian story and somehow managed to win. Since then I have become a regular on the festival circuit and have just got back from a four-week stint at Edinburgh.
I’m always on the hunt for new material. When I’m looking for a story, I’ll always take into account what is going on the world right now – what is causing conflict or catching people’s interest, and I’ll go through my ever-increasing story book collection and try and find tales to reflect that.
When I find a story I always make sure I research it carefully. It’s one thing coming across a tale, it’s another to tell it in the manner to which it was written. It’s important to do what you can to check that you have not understood it wrong. It’s a bit like archaeology – you have to dig around a bit and contextualise it to make it make sense.
The other thing that’s important to me is to work out how I personally connect with the stories. You never just learn a story word-for-word, otherwise you might as well just sit down and the read the book. These stories are often ancient, so it’s all about recognising symbolism, bringing out patterns and seeing them through a fresh pair of eyes. In storytelling, interpretation is everything.
Rachel Rose Reid was talking to Lena Corner.