Lucy Lill: Sarah Liisa, thank you for agreeing to this. You are a bit of a Story Jam stalwart. What drew you in to storytelling?
Sarah Liisa Wilkinson: Hi Lucy, thanks for asking me!
I saw Abbi Patrix at the Crick Crack Club when they were at the Barbican and that was really my first experience of storytelling, the way we are talking about it. And that was a really exciting thing for me to see a) cos he was/is incredible as a performer, and b) I don’t remember seeing anything like that before, in terms of the traditional content, and the mix of improvisation and crafted/rehearsed material. Afterwards I went away and was saying to lots of my friends again and again (in a kind of trance-like way, I think) ‘they don’t learn the words, they don’t learn the words’. Which, for me at the time, was a really big thing to take in. Then I just started going to see as much of it as I could. I became – and still am – quite the groupie.
LL: Well, it is a pretty rock and roll art form! What kind of stories particularly draw you in?
SLW: When you say ‘kind’ do you mean do I like myths more than folk tales? or stories about particular things, or…?
LL: I suppose I mean are there particular stories that ‘hook’ you in – I love the epics, but I don’t feel particularly comfortable telling those huge, weighty myths. Is there any pattern in the kind of stories you find yourself telling?
SLW: I started off with quite light, funny/funny-ish folk tales (and this still applies cos in many ways I am still very much at the start). I really love a good folk tale that has a bit of a trick in it, or a really good (funny) pay-off. I remember coming across Soria Moria Castle, which is a longer wonder tale that I tell now, after I’d bought my first collection of stories after doing my first ever workshop, and knowing I really wanted to tell it, but that took me years to start work on. I’m just as drawn to ‘weightier’ fare, I think, I just find it harder. Not that the lighter stuff isn’t hard. I actually find it all hard! In a good way!
LL: It can be hard to get started on a tale can’t it? I’ve got a notebook with a page of titles I want to get round to at some point – but there’s a right time for each story I reckon.
I saw you do Soria Moria Castle at TailSpin at The Miller. What I particularly like about your work is that there is a huge amount of detail but it doesn’t derail the narrative. That’s quite tricky to pull off. Do you find your background as a writer helps or hinders the process?
SLW: Oh yes, it can be really hard to start. I’m terrible without a deadline, as in knowing that I am going to have to get up and tell this in front of people by so and so time so I better start or terrible things will happen. I’m very motivated by fear in general, I reckon.
Umm…I don’t know writing-wise. It’s always surprised me that I don’t write much down –if anything –when I’m working on a story. I would have expected me to do it much more than I do, though any time I have done it, it’s done me no favours at all so I try not to.
I realise that’s not what you asked, is it? Or is it? Writing feels like a very different thing to me, though I’m sure there are similarities in what I do. I’ve tried to use techniques I use when working on a story when I’m writing actually –more than the other way round.
LL: That’s interesting. So it informs your other creative pursuits? Going back to what you were saying earlier about liking ‘lighter’ stories (I paraphrase) A Girl With No Hands doesn’t come into that category, does it?
SLW: No, it doesn’t! And I have found it – rightly so I think – a ‘heavy’ story to work on. But it’s a wonderful story, I love it, and I think it’s one I – hopefully – will be able to live with, and work on for years. It isn’t ‘light’ but there is magic in it. That was a really good note I got from a couple of people when I was working it up: ‘to find the magic in it’. That was very helpful.
LL: And, I hope you don’t mind me bringing it up but I happen to know you’ve just done a course on melodrama – has it had an impact on your performance style?
SLW: I don’t mind you bringing it up at all… but I have to say I honestly don’t know right now. It was – as you know – with Philippe Gaulier, and I don’t believe it’s ever his intention that students go away and start acting in melodramas or even in that style. I always get a huge amount from doing workshops with him but it’s just as much from how he teaches as well as what, I think.
LL: Some tellers are just interested in putting across the material and some have more of a persona which is integral to their performance. Do you feel like your teller’s persona is different to you?
SLW: Hmm… I know that when I started I found it very hard to stand up as just me. I had performed before when I was acting but it felt very different. More exposing, I suppose. I think I still find that hard but I’m getting more used to it. Am I different when I’m telling than I am in the bar afterwards and I don’t realise? God, do I have a different accent or something? Tell me, Lucy!
LL: Yup, I barely recognise you! I reckon you’re you but a bigger version. Not wider, just a bit, bolder. You’re very funny and I think you’re funny in real-life too but much more self-effacing. Which is good – no one wants an apologetic storyteller.
My final question – where do you see your storytelling going over the next couple of years?
SLW: I’d just like to do lots more of it. Get better at it. Discover more stories. Be able to adapt stories quicker to different audiences. Go to Story Jam lots more times!
LL: Well you are always welcome! Can’t wait to see the story. And you!