Frequently & Infrequently Asked Questions
We get asked questions. All sorts of questions about all sort of things – what we do, the artform, where to get training. Here we’ve answered some of those questions – in no particular order!
Our vision is a world where everyone knows where to find stories and storytelling performances. The vast international canon of oral narratives; related intangible heritages, and their associated motifs and imagery are common cultural currency – a visible part of our cultural life; known and used.
Traditional narrative is the fundamental foundation stone of all other arts, and these foundations should be exposed, valued and honoured. Its richly metaphorical content explores the fundamental themes of what it is to be human, and contributes to the ‘inner furnishings’ necessary for audiences to become consummate livers of life.
The Crick Crack Club is a champion for this diverse, oceanic content and the artform through which it is most effectively transmitted. We continually push the boundaries of the artform and the wider live arts sector in which we operate to make the art and artform more visible.
- We set a quality bar for the artform; continually work to raise standards, and strive to demonstrate best practice for the sector.
- We create unusual, distinctive events presented with a sense of occasion
- We respect and value the unique skills and creativity of storytellers
- We challenge, innovate and take risks
- We make strategic interventions to build and professionalise the sector
- We are generous with our knowledge, our skills, and with our hospitality
We certainly can – please get in touch! We have long-standing relationships with the storytellers we work with. We know them well. We know their repertoires. We know where they thrive.
We programme performance storytellers in theatres & festivals, in community settings, in educational contexts, in health and other applied contexts, and more…
Nope. Most of the work we programme is performance storytelling, but we also work with musicians, visual artists, academics, filmmakers, dancers, magicians, puppeteers and all sorts of other artists – especially when we run building take-overs, museum lates and festivals. However, what they all have in common is that they work with, or are inspired by the content of traditional narratives.
The work we programme is extremely diverse. The performers all have different styles of work, different repertoires and different approaches. Each venue we work in has its own ‘feel’ and its own audience and we tailor our programmes and how we present those programmes for each one.
When we programme storytelling, our primary aim is (usually) to serve the audience. Generally, we’re trying to bring a particular kind of work, or particular content to an audience, and we select the work that is going to do that most successfully. Of course there may be another agenda at play – we might be trying to test some boundaries, or bring on some new voices, or experiment with something completely off-piste – and then our programming decisions shift accordingly.
The most important quality a storyteller can possess is their relationship with the material. Our real specialism is performance storytelling, and performance storytellers, so we have a particular interest in artists who have the skills to work on stages and perform crafted storytelling ‘pieces’ for audiences of between 100 and 250+ people who are paying members of the public (i.e – an audience of strangers). We never programme storytellers whose work we haven’t seen.
If you’d like us to come and see your work, then please do invite us to a show, and if we can, we certainly will.
Most years we offer a mixture of 2-day workshops and longer residential courses. You can find them here…
Our best advice for storytellers who’re just starting out, is to go and see as many shows as you possibly can. You’ll see things you like and things you don’t like. Try and work out what it is that you enjoy and what you don’t – it’s a great place to start and something you should continue to do for your entire career.
The storytelling clubs that exist across the UK are an amazing resource for emerging artists. They’re all very different, but what they have in common is that they give new storytellers an opportunity to cut their teeth on real life audiences, and on audiences who will be kind to beginners. To become a storyteller, you need to tell stories. You need to build up your ‘flying time’ in front of real live people, and the more divere those real life people are, the better. You need to have the chance to fail. And of course you need the chance to succeed!
We sometimes have the funding to run mentoring programmes. Please check the training pages to see if we have anything running right now.
‘Tell’, ‘talk’ and ‘tale’ are terms from the vocabulary surrounding orality and the spoken word. The spoken word is something far, far older than writing and is guided by very different principles from those established by literacy. When the Crick Crack Club speaks of ‘storytelling’ we are not referring to the reading of texts aloud, nor to the recitation of memorised text – and indeed (while some storytellers may use writing as a tool within their compositional process) there are generally few tangible ‘scripts’ in storytelling.
From our perspective, storytelling is an immediate, living, ‘mantic’, performance art. The inclusion of the physical co-presence of an audience clearly distinguishes the work of a storyteller from that of a writer. It is a communal, rather than solitary, art. The act of storytelling can only occur when a story, storyteller and audience come together. The relationship between the storyteller and the audience is constantly reaffirmed and renewed by what is known as, ‘Crick? Crack!’ – a call and response. The call and response is by no means always verbalised as directly as this, but is nevertheless subtly maintained in terms of interrogative remarks and gestures that ensure the complicity of the audience in the performance.
The stance of the storyteller is one of being poised between two worlds – the world of the story and the ‘here and now’ world of the event. The storyteller is a mediator between the story and the audience. It is important to grasp that the ‘story’ being told is separate from the ‘words’ used by the storyteller. Form exists to serve content: The story is what happens. The words are used to communicate what happens. The story exists as a series of events, ideas, metaphors and images. The storyteller knows the narrative sequence and translates this into words to tell the story. The audience translates the words back into images and ideas so that the story is understood and imagined. The absence of a fixed text allows freedom, spontaneity, improvisation, and the possibility of fresh insight to enter the telling of the story. Consequently, in storytelling, stories are rarely told in exactly the same way twice. However it is inevitable that stories which are told very often by a single storyteller, will gradually establish repeated phrasing – though, even then, the delivery, in terms of performance and play, will always remain variable. The dynamic power and appeal of storytelling lies in this constant renewal.
In an average year we work with around 20 performance storytellers – they’ll be a mixture of world-class established performers and the most promising new talent. The vast majority are UK based (and we limit the number of flights we support for overseas artists).
We work with storytellers who have proven their competencies as performers: artists who have mastered the secrets of expressing their individuality whilst respecting the narratives they’re telling; artists whose work is entertaining, full of vitality and intelligence; artists whose presence can command both stage and audience; artists with quick and ready wit.
To answer this question in a broader sense – we are all storytellers. We are Homo Narrans. We tell stories in the course of our daily lives. We share our experiences through narrative and we use narrative to make sense of our experiences. It’s something that defines our species. The storytelling of our daily intercourse is not self-conscious, but the work of professional storytellers very definitely is. A performance by a skilled, professional storyteller may seem very natural, but none of it is haphazard.
The Crick Crack Club almost exclusively promotes performances which are based on, or inspired by, traditional stories: folktales, fairytales, epics, myths and legends, of which there is an oceanic repertoire. These are stories that have been created and authored by entire societies, communities and cultures. It’s the wild, rich content of this material that interests us and so this is what we work with.
A storyteller may tell a straight version of a traditional narrative (generally composed of multiple versions and variants recovered from collections from different cultures, or having been ‘repaired’ or been altered, recreated and recomposed by the storyteller), or they may tell a narrative that is inspired by and draws on the patterns, imagery and motifs found in traditional narrative material. They may combine it with true stories, original material or biography.
In some parts of the world oral narrative traditions survive, but they are rarely thriving, and are usually under threat as development urbanises rural communities and the increasing dominance of screens terminates talk in the home. The general situation in the developed world now, is that mere (but tasty!) crumbs from the feast of stories remain in oral circulation, in the form of urban legends, jokes, conspiracy theories and vaguely remembered local legends. To get a glimpse of the full continuum of the riches lost, one has to turn to published collections of folktales and mythology – both in paper form and on-line. Paradoxically, it is thanks to writing that so many of these stories have been preserved; yet most sit uncomfortably on the pages of a book. Being born of orality, traditional narratives deploy language and structure in ways quite different from the customary narrative conventions that have evolved with literacy, meaning that most collections of folktales function best as reference books rather than as a ‘good read’.
The vast range of traditional tales offers extraordinary opportunities for artists to find a means of expression – expression that serves the needs of their own self, the needs of the story and the needs of the audience. Remembering that there is no such thing as an original version of a traditional tale, each teller, both in the past and today, is at liberty to renew the story they are working with, making it their own. In fact doing so, is part of the storyteller’s job. An experienced storyteller has permission to omit, change and add details and episodes, combine different versions, add new material, and colour it with their own understanding and values. In this way, a story becomes a new work of art in the hands of a contemporary artist. This is what storytellers have been doing since time immemorial. There is no such thing as the ‘right way’ for a story to go – it is quite simply up to the teller to make that decision and the audience to validate it.
The sharing of stories involves a certain etiquette – an honour amongst thieves – as, while no individual owns these traditional stories, part of the storyteller’s job is to rebuild, recreate, recombine and adapt a story for their own performance, and some stories are the signature pieces of particular storytellers. It is the responsibility of all professional storytellers to ensure that they do not simply steal one another’s artistic compositions – but go back to primary source materials and make their own versions – their own art.
Fairytale, folktale, myth and epic address issues and ideas that have always been contemporary. They essentially deal with what it is to be a human being. They confront the difficulties and questions that have always surrounded human kind. They explore justice, crime and punishment, desire and greed; they question the use and abuse of authority, the relationships between people, trust and betrayal, fate, destiny and accident, death, responsibility, etc. Some are moral, some cautionary; others aim to be exemplary while still others are intentionally, delightfully, or shockingly ambivalent . They deal with these ideas through myth, metaphor, magic, comedy, tragedy and the whole range of human emotion. Not everyone will enjoy every story, and what a particular story means, will differ from person to person, and at different times. Many (though not all) traditional tales are set in the past – or perhaps more accurately, in a time that is ‘once upon a time’, which may never have been at any time. This means that the imagination is immediately called into play when listening to them.
The vital business of wonder tales, epics and mythology is emotional truth: though the stories may evoke fantastical phenomena, the losses, sufferings and joys of the human characters correspond to those that we may have already faced or are yet to face. Such stories exercise and feed our emotions.
Audiences are the most important people in the whole performance storytelling sector. Without an audience, a storyteller and a story are worthless.
Crick Crack Club audiences for performance storytelling are extremely diverse. Audiences for performance storytelling are shared with those who attend theatre, fringe, literature festivals and other performing arts events. However, one of the most notable features of a storytelling audience is that, in most contexts (and to a far greater extent, when we work outside of formal venues), our work attracts audiences who do not engage with other live narrative arts. Oral ‘literature’, that is, fairytales, folktales, myths and epics, are historically, and effectively, truly popular literature. Audiences don’t need any pre-knowledge, or a specific level of education, or have come from a specific culture or have a particular socio-economic background to enjoy storytelling performances. This accessibility gives it huge potential.
Storytelling appeals to the huge audience of those interested in people, in society, in what it is to be human, in the humanities, in history, anthropology, literature, film, games, the imagination, popular folk culture, etc. As the style of each individual performer is unique – many performance storytellers develop a fan club following. Different venues attract different audiences. Some people come for a shared experience of imagining. Some people are attracted by the nature of the material being told, the cultural background of either the storyteller or the story, or the themes to be explored in the programme. A proportion of the audience might be teachers, psychotherapists, writers, librarians, film makers, theatre directors. Many people who come to our shows are engaged with people on a daily basis, such as nurses & hairdressers. And then there’s everyone else from physicists to florists, builders to biologists, lorry drivers to lawyers…
Just as ‘literacy’ refers to reading and writing, so ‘orality’ refers to speaking and listening. The authority of literacy is so dominant that we rarely pause to consider whether its development and the growth of printing technologies may have changed the nature of narrative and also the experience of receiving narrative. Some would go further and argue that the hegemony of literacy has probably changed the nature of the functioning of the mind. Those interested in this question might enjoy ‘Orality and Literacy’, by Walter J. Ong and also ‘The Other Side of Eden’ by Hugh Brody.
An immediate difference between the world of orality and the world of literacy is ‘physical co-presence’ – the presence of the speaker’s physical body and the physical presence of the responsive listener. The body can colour a sequence of words through the qualities of the voice – tempo, tone, pitch, inflection, volume, accent, elongation etc, – and through supportive gestural, postural and facial expression. The body is organically rhythmic, powered by breath and pulse, thus true orality revels in meaning that is supported by the rhythmic play of the physicality of words – alliteration and rhyme are clear examples of this and belonged to the world of orality long before they were absorbed into the world of literacy. A global wide study of playground chants, clapping and skipping rhymes etc, rapidly reveals the building blocks of orality. In the long history of the growth of literature, first the advent of the printing press and then mass literacy, lead to the spread of silent reading and the subsequent emergence of more intimate literary styles. This meant that the properties of physicality had increasingly to be suggested entirely by the words on paper resulting, for example, in written narratives that are far more dependent on adverbs and adjectives than spoken narratives. It can be argued that as a model for spoken language development, purely literate language risks triggering a divorce between the mind and corporeal reality. Traditionally, professional storytellers are also praise singers, called to formally honour people and to mark rituals and events with spontaneously composed oratory and verse. Storytellers are expected to know riddles, proverbs, axioms and epithets; again, all linguistic genres with a primary emergence in orality. Paradoxically, contemporary performance storytelling would not exist today without literacy, because the stories have (in the main) stopped being passed orally and the artists need to be able to read to access them.
Storytelling is the primal progenitor of theatre. A myth is first told, then ritualised, then dramatised. In the transition from ‘story told’ to ‘play performed’, the narrative journeys from an imagined event in the inner world to a manifestation in the external world. The crucial difference between theatre and storytelling that needs to be understood is that, with a theatrical performance, the drama is observed unfolding on the stage and with a storytelling performance the drama is observed unfolding in the imagination. Theatre needs spectators; storytelling needs an audience. Theatre requires eyes turned outwards; storytelling requires eyes turned inwards. There is certainly plenty to watch in the work of a storyteller, but although the storyteller is suggesting characters, objects, space, size, direction with his or her physicality, it is a physicality that indicates rather than demonstrates: the viewer is invited to marry these gestures with the words being spoken and complete the scene in their own imaginations. The storytelling audience experiences the story through the individual subjectivity of their imaginations, whereas spectators, watching a play collectively, experience an objectified event. Both art forms are extremely powerful, but in different ways. To watch the storyteller as one watches an actor’s carefully considered, crafted (and then often fixed) performance is to risk missing the point. In performance storytelling, it is the story that needs to be watched.
The storyteller must be three-persons-in-one working immediately and simultaneously; mastering three different sets of skills and making decisions at great speed. The storyteller is: the author/adaptor/composer of the language in which the story is being told; the performer of the story, and the director of both the stage performance and the way the story unfolds in the listener’s imagination Therefore, whilst the storyteller has to draw on some of the skills of the poet and some of the skills of the actor, storytelling is actually an entirely different art from either of these two. Indeed as a storyteller once said ‘ The thing about being a storyteller, is that you open your mouth and whatever comes out, you have to deal with it…’
Another significant difference between a storyteller and an actor is the question of repertoire. A storyteller is almost defined by the permanent repertoire- the library – of stories he or she carries. They are the researchers, the creators, the directors, the dramaturge, the producers and performers of their work…and they’re generally pretty obsessed with stories.
Golly…there’s no short answer to that. Here’s something to get started with.
We’ve worked hard to define the techniques and strategies that a storyteller can study and master in order to have them available in the moment of improvisation. The resulting assessment criteria makes for a pretty daunting read! To summarise, the greatest skill of a professional storyteller is the swift accessing of communicative language to convey the story as it is revealing itself in the moment and to combine this with all the dynamic energies of the body to make the story heard by the listeners. All this can only happen if the storyteller is deeply familiar with the stories, their levels of meanings and their patterns.
The Crick Crack Club reckons that it takes between seven and ten years of constant practical experience before the emergence of a storyteller’s real mastery of their art – and then there’s always room for improvement!
Our history is a long one – too long to give more than a summary here.
Founded in 1987, the Crick Crack Club was the first Performance Storytelling organisation to be established in the UK. This was a ground-breaking move by Artistic Director Ben Haggarty, and a significant milestone in the revival of storytelling in Britain.
Having established the first ‘clubnight’ open-floor storytelling events in 1981, Ben Haggarty organised Britain’s first ever storytelling festival at Battersea Arts Centre in 1985. The success of this led to a second festival at Watermans Art Centre in 1987, and a third at the South Bank Centre in 1989. This 15 day third festival remains the largest international storytelling festival to have been held in the Europe, and is recognised as a significant event by UNESCO in relation to their work on intangible cultural heritage.
When the programme for the third festival was being considered, questions arose as to whether there would actually be enough UK based performance storytellers with the skill to hold large adult audiences for a whole evening with appropriate material. This concern led Ben Haggarty to found the Crick Crack Club, Britain’s first dedicated performance storytelling club. In the autumn of 1987 the first season of 26 weekly events was launched in a pub theatre in Ladbroke Grove, with the expressed aim of trying out new artists and providing an opportunity for established artists to develop their skills and repertoire for adults. Many of today’s leading British storytellers first cut their teeth on adult audiences at the Crick Crack Club.
We have an extraordinary track-record spanning over 30 years. It includes programming monthly events at the South Bank Centre from 1989 to 1999, and at the Spitz from 1995 to 2001. From 2003 to 2009 we ran 3 mini-festivals a year in the Barbican’s Pit Theatre; from 2006 – 2012 we had an annual residency at the Unicorn Theatre; we programmed the performances for the British Museum’s 250th birthday celebrations; programmed the storytellers for Cheltenham Literature Festival for years, and from 2009 to 2019 we ran a monthly programme at the Soho Theatre.
In 1993 Ben Haggarty met David Ambrose, the then Director of St Donats Arts Centre in Wales, and together they founded the original Beyond The Border International Festival of Storytelling and Epic-Singing, set in the magnificent grounds of St. Donats Castle on the South coast of Wales. With Ben and David as co-directors (from 1993 – 2005), the festival rapidly grew into an annual, weekend-long event with a worldwide reputation. The festival continues to this day, in a new venue and with new artistic direction.
More recently we’ve taken over the Bargehouse behind London’s iconic OXO Tower for two week-long fairytale festivals; we’ve broken the Wellcome Collection’s box office figures for their ‘Friday Late Spectacular’ events; we’ve toured our Fabularium Festival to city parks, village greens and farmer’s fields, and we’ve collaborated to create a huge digital storytelling installation in Hull for Absolutely Cultured. We currently programme between 65-110 events per year, with hotspots in London, Bristol & Dorset.