To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, storytellers Rachel Smilie, Julie Dawid and friends told stories and sang songs at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. HMD commemorates the day that Soviet soldiers liberated Auschwitz-Bikenau in 1945. The anniversary is used in the UK to mark the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur as well as the Nazi-perpetrated one.
The stories told included the tale of a young Jewish man’s seizure on Kristallnacht and eventual internment in Dachau, Rachel’s German friend Helga’s memories of being a child during WWII, and a traditional Rwandan tale. Songs included one composed by concentration camp prisoners, a Romany song about “the devouring”, and a few contemporary peace songs.
I was moved by the stories and the songs, but also by the respectful quality of listening by the audience, which included a few children. The evening reminded me of the importance of telling and listening to “difficult stories.” It is these stories more than any others that have the power to break down the barriers between us and them, between home and elsewhere, between what is admitted and what is only tacitly known.
American storytellers Elizabeth Ellis and Loren Niemi have written a book on the subject of telling difficult stories called “Inviting the Wolf In”. It is a book every storyteller should have on his or her shelf. It asks what stories are we not telling and why? And offers advice on how to craft and tell challenging stories so that they offer the potential of transformation to both teller and listener. It includes some examples of such stories.
It is difficult stories more than any others that open up possibilities for social change. Julie and Rachel put together a powerful set of difficult stories that compassionately brought listeners through horrors and into hope.
More information on Julie Dawid and Rachel Smilie can be found on the Scottish Storytelling Centre’s Website.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is the organization in the United Kingdom that organizes events and publicises Holocaust Memorial Day.
Julie Dawid sourced a number of the songs performed from the United States Holcaust Memorial Museum’s Music Collection.
“Inviting the Wolf In” by Elizabeth Ellis and Loren Niemi is available from August House Publishers.
It’s an exciting time to be involved in arts for social change with so much going on. I recently found out about a group in Liverpool called Collective Encounters that uses theatre as a tool for social change. Professional actors and community members collaborate to create dramatic pieces that explore lives and issues that are rarely depicted on the stage. Consumerism, for example, is the issue that their youth troupe is currently working with.
Collective Encounters also aims to bring theatrical performances to new audiences and new spaces, exploring the psycho-geography of the city. Their current project Streetscapes is transforming stories told by people who live and work on the streets into an opera which will be performed in doorways of downtown Liverpool.
Overall, since their debut in 2004 Collective Encounters have engaged over 750 community members in “creative research” about their lives and the issues closest to their hearts and has produced eight performances. Their aim is to entertain, to stimulate debate over and critical thinking about key concerns facing British society, and ultimately to create positive change in the lives of people and communities.
Transition Town Totnes, in the south of England, has also hitched story to imagination in an effort to change the course of their community’s future. Seeking creative ways of coping with the twin specters of peak oil and climate change, they have hosted a series of storytelling workshops with adults and children both in schools and in the community. At these workshops, participants are aided in imagining a future in which the challenges posed by peak oil and climate change are being successfully met. Participants then write, tell or act out stories about specific people set in this future.
Rob Hopkins, in The Transition Handbook, describes the use of Transition Tales and provides examples of stories people have written such as a 2014 article about the success of a local hemp building materials business and a 2029 story about Victoria and David Beckham moving into their cob retirement house to pursue their hobby of growing heirloom vegetables.
Since The Transition Handbook was published, The Totnes Transition Tales project has expanded their work. Now, they even have a channel on YouTube, where you can watch newscasts from Totnes in 2030 AD put together by Year 7 students from King Edward VI Community College. (To give you a sense of what they’ve achieved, I’ve embedded one of their videos above.)
The Transition Tales re-storying process provides individuals and the community with a positive view of a low-energy future to work towards. The process of creating stories also helps people to deal with the feelings they have in the present about the prospect of peak oil and climate change.
As Richard Heinberg says in the forward to the Transition Handbook, if it is to be successful the transtion movement needs to be “more like a party than a protest march.” In Totnes, Transition Tales have been a key part of this party.
For further information and up-to-date news please check out the Transition Tales Project website.