That was the Storytelling tent on Saturday in Crystal Palace Park and I mean that quite literally. With temperatures the highest of the year so far, the place to be was in a tent designed to keep out the heat of the sun and the desert. The tent filled up, but audiences also sat out in front on our greensward space in the Park, with crowds gathering at the perimeter.
Of course we who were within it thought it was cool in the other sense too. It was certainly a place where magic was made.
Zoie plucked stories from the ether, weaving together the audience’s suggestions – Mexico City, the desert, sharp claws, at sea, happiness, a crocodile, excitement, a chicken ( that one was quite testing, but a ‘magic chicken’ was the result, enabling its owner to find food where ever she happened to be ). Des created the background soundscape, rain, wind, the sea, the streets. Wonderful stories resulted, of the young fresh-water crocodile whose mother put his nest in a boat so that he would sail away and avoid the hunters; of the street-child who met a Queen and went on to rescue a dinosaur who was really a boy under a spell. Children and adults alike were totally spellbound.
Jo Clayton got the audience singing ( and doing all the actions, mostly with enthusiasm ) to a number of old music hall songs ( with words changed as appropriate ) as she told the tale of Sean, who was ‘fourteen and big and almost grown’ and his enchantment in the Great North Wood on Gypsy Hill.
The StoryPlaces team explained their App and gave ‘tasters’ from some of the stories available on it, written to be read on devices, in Crystal Palace Park, read by their, local, authors. These included the tale of a Victorian pickpocket and of a woman returning to her south London roots from abroad. They also included Mina and Abigail (aged ten and eleven respectively ) whose story told of the burning down of the original Crystal Palace.
Your blogger told ‘the story behind the story’ of how a young boy’s visit to his god-mother inspired Reconquista; how history and place worked upon the imagination ( with helpful sound effects – the sound system was, fortunately, easy to use ). Then the Beckenham Storytellers Circle told traditional folk tales from around the world. Claire began with a creation tale from the North American Indians, Beatrice told tales from Georgia and India, and Mervyn peopled his traditional tales with Trump and May and Merkl, particularly the tale of the King searching for an honest adviser.
We ended at seven o’clock ( later than billed, but everyone was enjoying themselves so…). By then Morcheeba was appearing on the Main Stage and everyone migrated to the music ( or the bars, one set up by a local micro-brewery, whose output I never did get to try ). Then this, very tired, storyteller, checked in her hi-vis jacket, picked up the stats and repaired homewards, leaving others to supervise the closing, cleaning and clearing. Tired but happy, she wandered home.
Over twenty-eight thousand people, of all ages and backgrounds, were at the Festival on Saturday, chilling out on the hottest day of the year so far. A fair number of them were prepared to be enchanted, by poetry and comedy in The Spoken Word and by tales in a Bedouin tent. All power to the imagination.
N.B. I did not get the opportunity to take too many photographs, but am promised some from the ‘official’ photographer, which I will share when received.