Nick Hennessey is a singer, performer, and if pushed to admit it, a storyteller. Emily Hennessey has performed at Story Jam in the past (and in lots of other places too). Nick and Alys Torrance started off talking about the title of Nick and Emily’s show, and quickly got into subversive waters…
Alys Torrance: So, Nick, Story Jam is really excited that you and Emily are coming to perform for us. To kick off, when we asked you to pick something you’re passionate about in the world around us, you came back with Re-Evolution. Why that title?
Nick Hennessey: Well when you mentioned that the theme was to Stir it up, on thing that occurred to us is that stories should always do that. And the idea of beginnings being endings and endings being beginnings Made us think of the nature of revolution.
And sometimes I think we forget to return to basics. Every moment is a revolution. Always. Forever. (I feel a song coming on) (Oh no. Hold on. It was a sneeze. )
AT: Bless you. Is there something in particular you are revolting against?
NH: Yeah. The idea that there is one truth. One story. One version. the shimmering towers of power pin themselves on it. And the base is not that strong.
AT: Is there a particular area you think we’re seeing single when we should be seeing through – what? – more of a prism, or at least through more than one window?
NH: Well my personal view is that we forget that the real power is held in the hands of ordinary us, in ordinary life. That’s where life counts and flourishes. Not in the hands of an elite. Elected or otherwise. Gerard Winstanley , in about 1649, saw clearly that something as simple as the spade was the tool to take control. To ‘turn the world upside down’. I think storytelling is a bit like a spade. With it we can look at the ‘small things’ and celebrate them. Draw attention to them, but then (because of the wonderful transitory nature of the spoken word) let go of them. What is left afterwards, in the mind of the audience, belongs to them uniquely and profoundly. Then they/we are better empowered to decipher the world.
AT: Ah, that was the word I was about to come back to you with. ‘Empowered’.
NH: Yes. It’s important. But the thing is, I can’t help feeling that the empowerment comes about through more subtle ways than the story. There is something so radical about people coming together to hear a story, the skill of the performer should always be in serving the meeting point between story and audience – to use his/her skills to point to something extraordinarily natural. In fact I sometimes think the story is not the most important thing.
AT: I agree. Increasingly we sit at home passively, without rubbing shoulders in the pub or even in the shops.
NH: Encounters. That’s what we need.
AT: We do. So, talking about encounters, can I ask you about the walls and dogs you and Emily are bringing to Story Jam?
NH: Sure. So we had a discussion about order and chaos over the breakfast table (our house is rocking), and began to talk about how it’s a chicken and egg situation: which comes first?
AT: Egg. No, chicken. Sorry, on you go.
NH: We talked about how creation stories often start with nothing but there must have been something, and Emily had begun to look at Coyote and how his acts of creation come out of foolishness and that the first act is playful but the stories of Coyote are at odds with the Norse stories of Asgaard in which order is defended but then Loki gets in. To a god the walls are a way of maintaining order
to a dog they are a restriction (or better still, something to wee on). There’ll be stories of kings and fools (A Norwegian folktale of the trickster Peik) and the endless question of order vs chaos.
AT: I was just going to say Peik. And Raven. 2 of my favourites – or maybe they’re one… So it’s an encounter between chaos and order, I suppose?
NH: Yup. Who has the last word?
NH: Hopefully. It’ll be ramshackle, rough, chaotic and fun. We’ve never told together before (I’m more than a little scared….)
NH: Emily’s formidable.
AT: You are very different – your energies are, you know, Yin and Yang.
NH: That’s good (grasshopper)
AT: Ha. Story Jam is always on a mission to attract new audience to storytelling. Because we know it’s subversive and powerful, and a great night out, too –
NH: The best of all missions!
AT: – So, here’s a really simple question; When people ask you what you do, what do you say? And how do you explain it to normal people with normal lives?
NH: I try not to, if possible. The best way is to show them. Otherwise I avoid the question and say I’m a musician, or a performer or something. If really pressed I’ll say a ‘storyteller’ and know then I have to be committed to spending the next 30 minutes undoing their preconceptions and failing. “How lovely” they’ll say, “children love stories don’t they?” and through gritted teeth I smile and say “Not just children though.” I mean, Grimm’s fairytales…for children????
AT: “Oh right,” they say, “So, do you write you own stories and read them out?”
NH: Yes, it’s odd isn’t it? That speaking can be so overlooked. Just talking. Literacy is great, of course, but it has sort of stolen the limelight.
AH: It’s controlled.
NH: exactly! It’s controlled. Leaving us unappreciative of what we naturally excel at…
AT: And we’re back to encounters – meetings of actual people.
AT: I think that’s what it is. Yours and Emily’s storytelling together is a new meeting, Story Jam’s audience and you on that one night in that one place is a unique, small, act of revolution.
NH: Fantastic! Can’t wait!
AH: We got a big ‘oooo!’ from the audience when we announced you were coming.
Nick and Emily balance order and chaos in Re-Evolution on Thursday 12th November. The show starts at 7.30pm.
Tickets £8 / £6 (concs) on the door from 7pm. There is a bar and food available – we recommend you arrive early!