Interview with Forest Schools Storyteller Daru Mcaleece

Daru - Publicity Shot3

1) What inspired you to become a storyteller?

 My earliest inspiration was Fantasy Roleplay Gaming, where I created characters and acted them out through stories and campaigns  – when I look back I now see there was a dramatist and storyteller hiding inside me! This led me in my 20s to join a community drama troupe, where I gained confidence and the basics of improvisation and performance, learning how to work with my body as a performance tool.

 Through my personal journey with nature I discovered the Druid path and community – the most outrageously wonderful forum.  With so much room for experimentation, there I found the space where I could be inspired by amazing contemporary tellers and have my early skills nourished.  This led me to believe I could take storytelling seriously as a path. I became involved with the Scottish Storytelling Centre and a mentoring group with Michael Williams—a small, deep, precious group that has been the cornerstone to my becoming a professional storyteller.

2) What feeds your creativity as a storyteller?

My creativity is fed by my background as an artist.  I am deeply affected by William Blake’s epic combination of poems and illustration and by graphic novels by artists and writers such as Dave McKean (for his incredible mixed media work) and Neil Gaiman (especially Sandman). Right up there is Alan Moore and Watchmen.  Moore’s reinvention of the DC Swamp Thing series gave me my first glimmers of ecological awareness, depicting a man transformed into a Plant Elemental who championed nature.

Other big influences – the Beat Poets (especially their spoken word performances), and stunning visual authors such as Piers Anthony, Stephen Donaldson, Charles De Lint and David Zindell. Their work inspired me to breach the walls between 2D art and narrative.  The 50 year, non-linear, multimedia body of work, Doctor Who also feeds and fires my imagination. I never tire of the impossible modern Trickster who renews himself and travels across space and time in a magic box, crashing into known narratives, reminding us of the magical dimension of story.

Music too! Music! … there is so much that feeds me, I can’t even mention it all… I am constantly seeking out new works to feed my ‘story monster’!

3) What are some of the projects in which you’ve used storytelling?  What was the best moment for you in using storytelling in a project?

After setting up a couple of regular storytelling sessions, and supporting a yearly woodland-based story gathering in the Scottish Borders, I initiated Bardic Grove. Bardic Grove is a storytelling journey group where participants are supported to explore their personal relationship to myths and stories through meditation, visualisation and story making.

Recently I ran a series of 1:1 workshops for adults with Autism in their own homes. I worked with each person to discover what kind of stories they wanted to create, change or hear and helped them to make those tales.  This project culminated with staff and residents celebrating through a woodland story session.

One of my best moments happened last autumn with an organisation called Youth Vision, working with troubled teens getting involved in outdoor activities. I remember being in their cottage by the hills, sitting by the open fire with the teens, telling and creating tales – the power and joy of their experience became part the stories we were weaving – a simple but potent and timeless moment.

4) I know you have also been using storytelling in Forest Schools.  What has been a key learning for you in this setting?

 The most important thing I’ve discovered storytelling in a Forest School context is to be fully responsive not just to the participants, but to the moment, to the aliveness of the environment, to surrounding nature, animals & birds, the materials I’m using and to myself.  We are usually in woodlands or on a beach and those different environments bring their own sensory experience, the stage setting, which is changed moment-by-moment by the weather, which is akin to the lighting and atmosphere. The participants can feel very involved as sessions are designed around their interests. The experience of really listening and responding to them can bring about a deeper sense of inclusion.

5) What does storytelling help you achieve that other activities or mediums do not?

Interesting question! I would say storytelling allows me to bring the images that are alive in my artist’s mind to life, to physicalise them through movement and dialogue in a living way. Any story that I read stimulates very vivid pictures for me.  I enjoy having the ability to capture through my body, pictures that punctuate strong story moments.

Working on a piece of visual art is a subtle experience that has its own beauty, but it is usually carried out alone. When working with a physical performance, storytelling and improvisation, I love the fact that I not only have the free space to create and present images via word and body right there in the moment, but that work happens in collaboration with other people – THAT is a possibility which is always exciting to me and makes storytelling a very alive medium.

6) Where do you find the stories you tell?

I find most of my stories by spending time with storytellers in Scotland at sessions and workshops. I also spend a lot of time at outdoor camps, Moots (Anglo-Saxon word for gatherings) and campfires across the country, where I love listening to other storytellers live. I travel to events with Druid organisations like the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids (OBOD) and the British Druid Order who run regular camps in Oxfordshire and Shropshire during the Celtic Festivals, and include two assemblies a year in Glastonbury where some of us perform on stage. Here communities of people and families gather, build a camp and live together whilst sharing workshops, and especially Eisteddfods – open spaces where we share music, story, poetry and performance. These gatherings bring together an amazing cauldron of figures such as Robin Williamson, as well as story performers from all over Europe, and talented people within the camps, from whom I always get inspired, especially whilst listening to them in a yurt under candlelight warmed by a wood-burning stove. Nothing compares to hearing a story told to you live.

7) What’s a favourite story for telling in Forest Schools?

One story I work with a lot during Forest School sessions is Jack & the Dancing Trees, which I first heard from Stanley Robertson. It works well with many age groups.  With very young children,  they really get into dancing like dainty birches and gnarly oaks.  With older teens, they really get into the relationship between the main characters. The story is a good teaching tool, a lot can be included about nature, details about trees, how birds communicate, ecology.  The plot is strongly placed in the environment, so it’s easy to incorporate the setting where the story is being performed into the tale itself.

8) Tell me about your dream gig/project?

 Burning Man, Nevada Desert! This would not be a usual gig, as Burning Man is not your usual festival.  It’s actually a living, functioning city that is managed by volunteers.  It appears and disappears leaving no trace. I would journey as a Troubadour in the old style to the imaginary city, to the Faerie Mound in the Otherworld. I may have one character, or even a range of characters that I take on and walk with  and be open to see what comes of the quest. I would document the journey, gather tales along the way, paint, draw and blog it.

You can hear Daru Mcaleece tell Jack and the Dancing Trees at Soundcloud

For more information about Daru Mcaleece, like how to contact him, see his listing on the Scottish Storytelling Directory.

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