Story Jam managed to corner Chloe Bezer, audience member and Toe-Dipping workshop participant for a chat.
Lucy Lill: Thank you so much for doing this! Let’s start by me asking what brought you to Story Jam.
Chloe Bezer: Ok, taking deep breath… I am just getting back into making theatre/performance work again after a break of about 5 years. I’m trying to be kind to myself and not take on too much, so I thought the best project to start with was one that I felt I’d never quite completed to my own satisfaction. It was suggested to me by my theatre mentor that it was, in essence, a story-telling show (with a bit of projection and live music thrown in). So I thought I’d better go and watch some real story-tellers in action! Whilst googling ‘story-telling nights, London’ I came across Story Jam, which I realised was only up the road from me – I’m lazy, so that was a big bonus. I also suddenly had to google Alys, because I was sure I’d seen her somewhere before. I realised that about 7 years ago I’d been to one of her clowning workshops up in Bradford, and I was immediately sold on Story Jam.
LL: Ah, that Alys, she gets around! Your project sounds really interesting – having seen Story Jam was your theatre mentor right? Is it a storytelling show with traditional material or are you writing it from scratch?
CB: Ha-yup, remembering Alys’ workshop was great, great-not least because I was reminded of who had taught me about the 7 states of tension (is that right?), which is how I now describe having little children to anyone who doesn’t have little children: someone continually tap-tapping you on the back of the head… Anyway, yes – I hope my project will be interesting, we’ll find out in good time, I guess… I’m not sure now what I think about the different classifications of performance, where one starts and another begins: `is it story-telling, or is it theatre’…? Sometimes I wonder if it has more to do with how to sell your show to a venue, so that they know where to place it, and also preparing the audience with an expectation of what the experience will be like for them. I think, on reflection, it may well be a story-telling show, but I hesitate to call it that because of the long history and pedigree of story-telling. This show is only about reminiscences of my childhood, and (I think) how it’s important to hold onto those things which make us happy, even if they can be painful sometimes too. I intend to spend a little time using one of the exercises from the toe-dipping workshop to try and strip back the story to its bones. I’ve been struggling with that from the beginning!
LL: I think the phrase ‘storytelling’ means many things to many people and there are lots of places where theatre and storytelling intersect. At Story Jam our performers use traditional material but I’ve seen some fantastic shows that meld forms together. Stripping back the stories is really hard – or at least I find it hard – but I also think it’s a technique that’s useful for any creative process – whatever you’re creating you always need to ask yourself what its bones are. Are there particular stories you are drawn to, or was there one that you heard when came to Story Jam that particularly resonated with you?
CB: Yes, I agree about that (always needing to ask yourself what the bones are) otherwise you run the risk of style over substance and you’ve nothing to cement your decisions in. As for being drawn to a particular story, I seem to be pretty happy to listen to anything, what does it for me is the delivery. Perhaps that’s where I see the overlap from theatre to story-telling. But if I’m compelled by the performance from the story-teller, I think I’d listen to almost anything. The one that I have particularly enjoyed was Sarah Liisa Wilkinson telling The Girl With No Hands. I was utterly gripped from beginning to end. And I think I may have done a little cry when her hands shot out of the ends of her arms to save her child. It gives me a lump in the throat just thinking about it! Yeah, the performance is really important to me in enjoying the story.
In general I like gothic, dark fairytale stuff. But I find a lot of that more difficult to stomach since having the kids. I’ve a very low tolerance to horror/cruelty at the moment, which complicates things when I’m trying to get back into seeing more performances (of any kind).
LL: Sarah Liisa’s great, isn’t she? What I find interesting is that there are the storytellers whose personas are a big part of their content and those who get ‘out of the way,’ so to speak. I can think of great performers in both moulds.
CB: I see, yes – I don’t think I’d thought of that distinction. Perhaps to clarify, the performances I like most are when I feel like I’m in safe hands. I don’t need to ‘worry about’ the story-teller…?
LL: I love the dark gothic stuff too but I think it has to be in the hands of someone who really knows what it’s all about – those bones again! I should ask you about the workshop I guess. So I have two mini-questions. 1. Do you think the workshop did what it said on the tin, i.e. provide an opportunity for people to dip their toes into the waters of storytelling? Did you feel as a performer that it was pitched right? Oh gosh, now I sound like a feedback sheet, sorry.
CB: The workshop was incredible. What I find amazing is how people (you and Alys in this instance) can be so positive, so effortlessly. Is it easier to be positive for other people’s endeavours, are you harder on yourself when you ‘tell’ or develop work…? I found the dynamism so energising too. I’m a real procrastinator, I’ll sit on a thought for days and days, writing and deleting some really innocuous sentence or other. I know I do it because it comes back to those old bones again: the reason I can’t make the decision is because the skeleton isn’t jointed properly. And I have no set end-point. Also, whilst I like my own company, it can be hard to move forward when you’re the only person in the room. But the workshop was just a wonderful breath of air, moving from one exercise to another, without lingering too long and allowing fear to over-complicate the matter. (Disclaimer: I could have easily had another couple of hours I think, just with that material, partly because you two were so funny, it was a performance in itself!) And that brilliant group of women (I have to say, I was really excited about spending that creative time in an all-female environment. I’m not sure why, but it did feel like a very safe place to fail. Which I mean in an entirely positive way!)
It was pitched right, in my opinion. Without patronising us, making us stretch but without over-reaching. Maybe, as there were a couple of us in there who had some experience of performing/telling (to whatever level, as performers or teachers) that is why I say it could have been longer. Maybe if you really have never, ever thought about story-telling yourself you’d want to keep it to just two hours… But I suspect that having done the 2-hour workshop, you’d be back pestering Story Jam for a ‘Thigh High Story-telling workshop’ soon enough.
LL: Good, we wanted it to be a safe place – though I think Alys and I would both be clear that there was no failure of any kind! It is no effort to be positive in a workshop – it’s such a pleasure to work with people who are excited about storytelling! And yes, it’s a totally different thing developing work yourself. I am a queen of procrastination – I’d rather do literally anything else than prepare or rehearse. And my background is theatre, so I was used to being told what to do by a director. Just answering to myself is really hard!
CB: Aaarrggghh, yes!!! Having left my director/theatre partner up in Leeds I’ve totally lost my compass!! I’ve no idea whether what I’m doing is any good at all! It’s awful! I’m such a pessimist! Gosh, this interview is really taking a turn for the worse…
LL: One final question before I let you go: could you sum up Story Jam for someone who’s never been?
CB: Summing up Story Jam. It’s an intimate evening of story-telling, and you’ll leave wondering how on earth all those worlds managed to fit in that tiny room…
Thanks Lucy, I hope I’ve been helpful. I’m going to have to find nonchalant ways to slip into conversation that I’ve ‘done an interview, you know…’ And thanks again for the brilliant workshop!
LL: You’ve been super helpful, thank you! Hope to see you again soon.xx