Lucy Lill: Good morning
Alys Torrance: Good morning.
Lucy Lill: Good. Let’s keep it formal. So I’m going to ask you about Stir It Up.
Alys Torrance: OK, sir/madam. Fire away.
LL: This Thursday is the last in the Stir It Up season, isn’t it?
AT: Yes. The autumn season is only 3 months. But that’s allowed us to programme something quite radical.
LL: Radical in a political way?
AT: Well, we invited a list of storytellers to tell stories which, essentially, address the stories in the news, the big issues that trouble us all.
LL: So does that mean people are referring directly to current affairs?
AT: They can do – Nick Hennessey did last month, really quite directly at times. Emily Hennessey’s Kali spoke about war, Sarah Rundle talked about alternative states. What do you think?
LL: What do I think about what Stir It Up is? It seems to me to have two purposes. To get our audiences passionately involved in stories that have a lot to say about the here and now, or the hear and now, even…
AT: Uh-hu…
LL: and to give our tellers the opportunity to flex their muscles and look for stories which have something specific to say. I was interested that both Nick Hennessey and Sarah Rundle told stories around the Civil War.
AT: Yes. Very different nights, but that – what do you call it? – people’s history, chimes with lots of us.
LL: So does that mean it’s all been very dour and serious?
AT: No! We’re here to make good nights out for people. Serious intention doesn’t mean it’s not been entertaining.
LL: I think you’re right about the Civil War and the idea of people’s history. That’s where stories come in, isn’t it, because they belong to everyone?
AT: That’s the theory.
LL: And actually there’s been something very uplifting about both evenings…
AT: Do you think we’re reaching people who haven’t discovered storytelling before?
LL: I think we’ve had people through the door who haven’t come before, they’ve been encouraged by their friends who have come and loved it. How have tellers responded to being asked to do something so specific?
AT: I think it suits some and others have said that it’s not for them – and some we couldn’t squeeze in but really wanted to take part. And that’s the way it should be. I hope that it’s getting people thinking – audience and storytellers – about what they’re in the room for. That sounded arrogant – I didn’t mean that.
LL: Not at all. The tellers who’ve come have been quite excited about it, I think.
AT: I used to have a job which included going round the country and watching shows for selection in a festival. I had to give feedback/helpful comments to the director and company afterwards, and nearly always it boiled down to this: ‘What have you got to say that is so important that you are asking people to give you their money and several hours of their time, sitting facing front and paying full attention?’ Not everyone knew. The best work is when people are clear why they’re doing it. That doesn’t have to be a political agenda.
LL: Clarity is everything. And I think that the audiences and the tellers have all felt the importance of what we’re trying to do. Maybe that sound arrogant?
AT: I’d say the stories are enriching the conversations we’re all having.
LL: I think one of the things our audience likes about Story Jam is that mixture of the important and the silly. We will talk about life, death and the other stuff but quite possibly while wearing cardboard beards.
AT: Ha.
LL: Tell me a bit about who we’ve got coming this week.
AT: Sef Townsend and Nell Phoenix. I hadn’t heard Sef tell until I went up to Festival at The Edge this year. I heard him tell two long sets – I got a bit obsessed…
LL: I won’t tell him that
AT: Please don’t. He did something that was very gentle and almost invisible – he told his stories disarmingly chattily and then I found myself in tears at the end.
LL In which case i’ll pop some tissues in my bag.
AT: But not because I felt manipulated. It was like walking down an everyday street and turning a corner and there in front of you is a breath-taking view. He’s also funny and charming. I can’t wait for people to hear him. Nell on the other hand…
LL: I think Nell is an extraordinary presence on stage. She has a lot of gravitas and is compelling but there is also a seam of ribald humour running through her work so it’s weighty and funny at the same time. Is ribald the right word?
AT: Definitely. She can be proper naughty.
LL: I can imagine her being outrageous in salons in the 19th century.
AT: 18th century! She’s a woman who’d have done well alongside Johnson and Boswell and naughty kings’ mistresses!
LL: It should be quite an evening.
AT: You know she and Sef are friends?
LL: Yes, and that makes for a great night too – when tellers know one another there’s more of a through line, I think?
AT: Chemistry and conniving together are great.
LL: And is it top secret or can you say something about next season?
AT: So. We’re inviting tellers from other clubs around the country…
LL: Yes. Cross-pollination
AT: Cross-pollination, exactly. Or, to put it another way, forging links – saying to the storytellers who are connected to Hebden Bridge or Brighton or Birmingham and so on, come and tell to our audience. And we’re inviting some of the tellers we love who have new work, and we’re doing another running story –
LL: – The runner was a great invention.
AT: Now we just have to find what it’ll be this time. – Stories and ideas always travelled along trade routes – take the Silk Road as a prime example. So they spread, and change as they spread. So we’re doing a season of Trade Routes.
AT: Time to stop? I had a question for you, but I think you have to get going, don’t you?
LL: What’s your question?
AT: You, like me, came to storytelling from a theatre background. Is this just another way of doing the same thing? That might be too big a question for now.
LL: That is a big question. The short answer is no. There’s no doubt that it’s useful to be able to stand in front of an audience but the role of the actor and the role of the storyteller are very different. What do you think?
AT: I agree. It’s a big topic. I think we should probably save it for now, actually. You were right to end with the new season.
LL: Ok. Thank you very much Alys Torrance.
AT: Thank you very much, Lucy Lill.

If Not Now, When? With Nell Phoenix and Sef Townsend
Thursday 10th December, 7.30pm
Tix £8 / £6 on the door from 7pm.
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