Ever since the time when moving pictures were achieving widespread acclaim at the cinema and, a little while later, on our television screens, performance art has tended to be viewed as a slightly elitist form of entertainment. Visiting the theater is, for most, something of an occasional treatment as opposed to a regular outing. Without the necessity for the artist to be present at the performance itself the cinema has the obvious advantage of ease of use and convenience, and as such is, simply put, a cheaper day out.
Although the relatively recent growth of video streaming and catch-up television has inevitably had something of an impact on cinema attendances, notwithstanding the tension there has been towards a multi-screen which has created a good deal more variety, and economy, in the world of moving pictures.
Although the stage does sometimes like to bask in its elitist aura, there are those, conversely, who object to the sidelining of their art. Given a level playing field, they would suggest, there is substantial capacity for a popular revival of the live arts.
Whilst one would typically associate stage art with theater and acting, another genre with a similar potential capture the attention of a live audience is storytelling. The storyteller is a trained performer whose talent is for evoking strong human responses from an audience – from laughter to tears, from compassion to fear, from empathy to suspense.
The storyteller narrates the story in the same way that the actor ports it. He or she is a performer with the ability to hold on to the attention of listeners and to incite the dynamic response that is required from them by the storyline.
Live-performance storytelling is an acquired art in very much the same sense as is film acting or theater. Its magic is contained in the unique combination of the tale and the delivery. It is the new bardic collaboration of the artists involved in tying together the storyline in a way that enthrals and captivates that is the key to its success and which harvests its present untapped potential.
If storytelling induces a vision of tiny children all imprisoned attentively on the floor around their teacher, who is reading patiently from a book or reciting a tale from memory, it does not necessitate a great imaginative excursion to move on from this vision to one in which it is the adults who are being entertained, with accused tales from tradition and history infused from time to time with conspicuously adult themes.
Innovative storytelling brings to life old stories, and entertains in such a way that holds interest even in topics and themes that may not under other circumstances inspire us.