Monday, September 15, 2008

StoryTree to Tasmania (2008)

from Jenni Cargill-Strong

In 2006, after hosting a workshop by therapeutic storyteller and author Nancy Mellon in Byron Bay, Nancy asked me what my big dream was. I replied “A storytelling foundation in Byron Bay.” Thus the idea for a storytelling workshop business called the Story Tree Company was born. Full of optimism and determination, I invested money on a new website, a logo, flash flyers and planned six workshops for 2007. By the end 2007 and I wanted to take over as primary breadwinner, so it had to work.
I did most of my work after the kids went to bed. I spent two months on publicity and administration for each workshop. It was crazy and exciting and rewarding and exhausting, but financially it made me no money at all- not even a wage. By the end of the year my naturopath warned I was so exhausted- next stop could be chronic illness.
When the NSW Guild decided to postpone the 2007 Conference, I was very disappointed, but I completely understood! A few people rang to suggest I could host it in Byron. I did dream of doing more to help expand storytelling, but knew it would have to wait until my kids were bigger, my energy was stronger and until I had attracted an energetic band of storylovers to help.
Some months later came the call from a very enthusiastic and vibrant voice: Ivano Delpio in Hobart asking if I’d be interested in performing at a Tasmanian Storytelling Festival. Ivano had been to the Edge Storytelling Festival in the UK and came back totally inspired. He wanted to run something along the same model and so he invited eight friends and acquaintances with complimentary and appropriate skills to help put the Festival on. Then Donna Jacobs Sife happened to be in Hobart on tour. She met with the committee and told them some stories. They were hooked and went on to put countless unpaid hours into applying for funding, canvassing support and putting together a programme that might attract the public.
It was very, very brave of them. Two of the committee members were both professional puppeteers as well mothers with small children. I was stunned by their generosity! It never would have occurred to me to put on a Puppetry Festival for a bunch of puppeteers I had never seen. If the storytellers had been terrible, it would have reflected badly on their own future arts grant applications.
The result in my opinion was a totally new paradigm in Australian Storytelling Festivals. So far in our national gatherings, we have concentrated far more on professional development and networking, but not so much on audience development. I have been very grateful for the Conferences that others have worked so hard to put on. But I have felt for years that we also need Festivals that are predominantly about audience development.
The Tasmanian Storytelling Festival organised thirty school shows before the Festival which were shared between three professional tellers. They attracted government funding for one paid administrator (Pip Dennis), delivered a modern and professional logo, artwork and programme. They staged 25 events incorporating 25 storytellers, held in 14 varied venues around Hobart. Each venue seemed to tap into a distinct audience and the major events had packed houses. They collected feedback from the punters at each concert and the results will be collated we have yet to hear what was said.