The Story 2015: A masterclass in the telling of tales

The Story 2015 promised to be ‘a celebration of everything that is wonderful, inspiring and awesome about stories, in whatever medium possible’ MEC UK Strategy Director Kate Ivory tells us her own tale of the day….

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‘If only the Grimms had known Alice…’ began George Oats at the beginning of her talk on the gender flip zeitgeist at ‘The Story’2015’. A fitting sound bite to a day where storytelling, both medium and the method, was open for examination.

Of course, stories have always been intrinsic to humans and allow us to ‘act out’ or experience things without the inherent perils involved – to learn, adapt and develop. But despite its pivotal role in all of our collective and personal lives, I doubt even the most cognisant among us spend any significant time musing on its value – medium or method alike.

However, like the mirror and camera at the back of the room from which Simon Munnary delivered his own interpretation on the subject, The Story 2015 was unique in not only exposing new and rich narratives, but also in its capacity to shine a light on the importance and art of the ‘telling’ itself.

By her own admission Nelly Ben Hayon, introduced as the ‘Willy Wonka of Design and Science’, was not easy to follow as she warned at the top of her speech. True to her word she raced through a dizzying array of slides covering everything from SETI and NASA to Antonine Artaud and the ‘Theatre of Cruelty’. An exhausting and frantic mass of images, words and anecdotal experience at a pace that was at times painful to follow, and other times just darn impossible. But, it was also utterly compelling, full of passion, personality and character – as much as to be expected from the ‘Designer of Experiences’ at SETI.

Indeed, like the “hammering technique” which Nelly referred to as her greatest weapon in getting her ambitious projects of “insatiable passion and curiosity” realised (no-doubt the same weapons which also aided her ability to get NASA to set up an international space orchestra), her story was compelling, but her ‘telling’ was truly captivating. So much so that by the time the iPhone crickets marked the end of her 20 minute slot I had swallowed the lot – aliens and all!

Chloe Moss’ account of her experience writing for ‘The Clean Break Theatre Company’ was in stark contrast to the high velocity of Nelly’s break-neck pace storytelling, but with a self-proclaimed ‘lump in her throat’ when recalling the voices of the incarcerated women, it was no less compelling.

Connection in Chloe’s storytelling, it seemed to me, was fostered through an overwhelming sense of honesty in her address of the audience.

“A meeting of experiences is where the story catches fire and comes alive,”

she said of her own connection to her subject matter. By reading aloud excepts of her own writing alongside anecdotes of the experiences of both herself and the female prisoners from her notebook, she managed to extend this sentiment to the crowd gathered in Conway Hall.

Whilst I listened to the wisdom and knowledge pouring from Nelly, Chloe, and every single one of the other ten fantastic speakers at my first ever Story, it occurred to me that what makes this project inspiring is much greater than the content of the stories themselves. It is the physical sitting of bums on seats, the actual meeting of minds in one actual physical space, and the fortitude of actually Listening (with a capital L) without the usual background hum of daily life.

Uniquely, not once was I prompted to take part in a T&A (tweet & answer) nor to don a piece of wearable tech to record my bodily reaction to the sound of a plant with a voice. And the day was all the better for it. In breaks the audience and speakers alike filled the anachronistic Conway Hall with vibrant and boisterous conversation triggered by the stories that they had heard, creating a messy palimpsest of narratives delivered, received, distorted, developed, evolved and re-told throughout the day.

It made me think that we should make more time for this sort of interaction. That we should do it more often and now and again prise ourselves from behind our screens and our twitter persona opinions and just…..Listen. Listen without agenda, without a requirement to share or share first, or best or fastest. Listen simply for the sake of listening, and learn something more than we knew before.

It is also the reason why this appraisal of the event covers little of the speakers content itself. If you are interested I urge you not to hear these stories from me but to buy a ticket for next year’s Story, or one of the other numerous inspiring live events happening across London and the UK and just go along and listen for yourself.

Certainly, at this unique and charming event, the narrative itself felt only half of the story.

If you like listening to stories and have your own tale to tell you can talk to Kate via the @MECUK Twitter handle or comment below.