classroom I am told of this child or that who has never before sat so still, listening; and
1.4.4 The ‘dialogic’ chronotope
Hughes and Ruding describe the beginnings of a shift within applied theatre in criminal justice settings, away from social realist personal storytelling, ‘to a more direct embracing and exploring of the metaphorical or fantastic’ (2009:220). This growing appreciation of distant or mythic material, and its often unresolved meanings, seems intertwined with the recent broader recognition within applied theatre practice that artistry and ‘affect’ may be as important as messages, solutions or ‘effect’ (Thompson 2011).
Within storytelling performance for – or by - young people, a similar trend of blending the personal or ‘real’ with the fantastical, and traditional oral storytelling with other genres, can be detected. Jack Dean, a 26-year-old storyteller who ‘grew up with’ hip hop, describes his latest show Grandad and the Machine as ‘A brand new steampunk fairytale for grownups, mixing
vivid storytelling with a live original score’ (Dean 2016). At Storyknowing, theatre student Megan Hardcastle’s performance Her (2016) fabulised her increasingly problematic
relationship with a childhood friend, allowing the friend to disappear in a mysterious flutter of white feathers evoking a Grimm fairytale. Matt Harper’s plays for young actors (including The
Holding Place (2016), also performed at Storyknowing) start with issues such as family
breakdown or the refugee crisis but use embedded retellings of Greek myths to explore the dramatic emotional landscapes of these situations, rather than suggesting answers to them. This less anxious relationship of contemporary experience to the traditional heritage – neither slavish nor rebellious, but mutually nourishing – is likewise evident in place-making storytelling projects such as Wilson’s Clay Stories project in Restormel, Cornwall, in which young people gathered memories and local legends from members of the community of all ages, for performance and publication. Wilson writes that this was not a ‘preservation’ of a vanishing heritage, but a ‘celebration’ of an evolving oral culture (1997b:151) in which young people’s personal stories were woven together with the more ‘hallowed’ material of the past. That young people can readily grasp the syncretism involved in dialogic storytelling was revealed in ICAN’s multi-artform storytelling workshops based on traditional stories. As Reason and I (2016) document, a significant proportion of participants spontaneously ‘transposed’ the stimulus story to incorporate their own personal, political or metaphysical perspectives; my experience as co-facilitator of these workshops was that this was markedly truer of adolescent participants than younger children. Similarly, Christine Garlough’s study of the storytelling of both teachers and students in US Indian diasporic schools found that they used traditional Indian stories as ‘inventional resources’ (2013:143) for ‘rhetorical work and critical play’ (149) to reflect on current issues, gender roles and changing identities within their communities. Garlough notes that teachers told the old stories not to reinforce the mother culture’s authority – indeed they ‘actively attempt to disrupt […] a nostalgic, diasporic gaze back to India’ (147) ̶ but to be enriched by it.
I suggest that a differently inflected chronotope is becoming evident in such projects and the writing of storyteller-theorists like Blake Cave (2016), Ryan (2008), and Tom Maguire (2015), giving rise to approaches to storytelling which negotiate with both the magical and the dynamic but place a new emphasis on the dialogic. There are many senses in which the word ‘dialogic’ applies to this work:
The dialogue between fantasy (or traditional repertoire) and reality: the storyteller’s role arises from a conscious desire to put elements of myth, folktale, history or personal experience at the service of listeners as they construct new narratives for
themselves. The central metaphor is not the story as wise text, nor the story as an archetype to be subverted or knocked down, but the story to be jointly (re)constructed in and for the moment.
The dialogue between enchantment and action: the storyteller has the potential to be both magical transmitter of wisdom and dynamic agent provocateur, employing both connecting and distancing devices. However, it sees the impact of the storyteller’s words or actions arising not in her own will but in the dialogic space she inhabits with the listeners.
The dialogue between storyteller and young person: rather than according undue dominance to the authority of the storyteller (as in the magical chronotope), or to the right of the young person or participant to be given voice (as in the dynamic
chronotope), dialogic work recognises that they are mutually nourishing. A storyteller with no predetermined agenda of either enchantment or empowerment, but an awareness of both and a sensitivity to the listeners’ desires, must necessarily work in this space between teller and listener.
This chronotope undoubtedly has many roots. My choice of the term ‘dialogic’ is made in conscious acknowledgement of both Grant Kester’s (2004) conceptualisation of ‘dialogical art’, and Dwight Conquergood’s (1985) of ‘dialogical performance’, as well as the practice with young people referenced by each. Conquergood’s thinking is further discussed in Chapter 2.3.2, Kester’s in Chapter 5.1-5.2. The storytellers I reference in this section would doubtless follow Kester in seeing participatory art as a means of facilitating an open and responsive dialogue between individuals or groups whose social roles would normally hinder them from empathising with each others’ perspectives. Notably, one of Kester’s first examples of such work is Suzanne Lacy’s 1994 work The Roof is On Fire, which brought together 220 young people and 100 police officers for unprecedented conversations in cars in a rooftop car park (Kester 2004; Lacy 2010).
Dialogical storytellers might also be sensitive, like Conquergood in his work with Hmong refugees and young gang members, to ‘the complex ethical tensions, tacit political
commitments, and moral ambiguities inextricably caught up’ (Conquergood 1985:4) in the work of dialogue with different others. There are balances to be struck between identity and difference (acknowledging participants’ difference but not making it exotic), between
detachment and commitment (showing solidarity with their difficulties but not claiming them as one’s own). Held in the tension between these poles is a stance he calls ‘dialogical
Figure 1.1 Conquergood’s ‘dialogical performance’ stance (1985:5)
However, while Kester and Conquergood focus on practice which engages propositionally with the issues affecting participants, work within the dialogic chronotope of storytelling conducts dialogue through the narrative track of storyknowing. As such, it is further informed by a line of thinking, provocatively expressed by Jacques Rancière in The Emancipated Spectator (2009), on the creative meaning-making role of listeners, readers or spectators. Rancière critiques the Marxist idea that audiences must be catalysed into political consciousness and agency either by works about the contradictions in society (such as Brechtian theatre), or by works which rely on their overt active involvement (such as participatory theatre). Empowerment, for him, is not orchestrated by the artist but claimed by the audience member, even the apparently passive audience member responding to an apparently apolitical artwork. It is bound up in ‘the realization of a capacity that belongs to everyone’ (2009:81) and potentially, can be developed in relation to any artwork, any story. While Reason suggests that the concept of the emancipated spectator is ‘too easily idealistic’ (2015:275), he and Kirsty Sedgman (2015) perceive a need for a shift in focus from artists’ intention to audience reception, to analyse ‘the manners in which actual audiences engage with different kinds of audience-performer
relationships to produce different kinds of experiences’ (275). Dialogic storytelling is aware of this complex co-production, and the fact that a storyteller’s choice of story for a participatory artistic process will influence but cannot predetermine the themes or meanings which participants might find in it.
Dialogic storytelling also draws on developing understandings of how story mediates the complex relationship between the past and future, and as such is undoubtedly related to a hermeneutic understanding of truth. That is, to repeat, an account is never either objectively true nor wholly fictional, but the structuring of reality into something that addresses the questions of, the current moment. The mechanisms and strategies by which storytelling achieves this are becoming the subject of interest to authors such as Maguire (2015); he discusses the ‘metaxic’ devices by which the past event represented in the story is overlaid onto the present of the storytelling event, the meanings of the past with the needs and interests of the listeners or tellers in the present. For example, the footballer-storytellers in Ryan’s Kick Into Reading project pull listeners in and out of the storyworld with their physical re-enactments of moments in their footballing careers: ‘Their actions and styles are not mimetic, but dialogic, used to suggest and involve rather than enact and distance’ (2008:8). My review of recent developments in practice with adolescents indicates that storytellers working within a dialogic chronotope have first become aware of, then sought to cast off, hardened views about what story ‘is’ or ‘does’. In Chapter 6 I will explore further the idea that such storytellers are reclaiming some of the values of the everyday chronotope, albeit in a conscious and knowing way. Their work is fundamentally syncretic and catholic, aware of all the roles and functions story has fulfilled within other chronotopes and seeking to make them all available in the moment, should dialogue between storyteller and young people need to draw on them.
Figure 1.2 Chronotopes of storytelling with young people
The dialogic chronotope is also about bringing to the fore storytelling’s potential to provide an additional channel for dialogue between young people and adults, in a time when many of the others available may be congested, over-mediatised or ridden with other goals. It is the particular relationship between this chronotope and work with adolescents which will be further developed throughout this exegesis.
The reader will often have noted throughout this practice review that, concurrent with the practice of storytelling with adolescents by adults in every chronotope, exist adolescents’ own, ‘indigenous’ storytelling practices. Storytellers’ practice takes account of these and interacts with them in different ways in each chronotope. I therefore conclude this review with a necessarily brief overview of the diverse ‘grounded aesthetics’ (Willis et al 1990) of adolescent storytelling.