Storytellers Get Ready

Mara Menzies CAP

There are plenty of reasons to explore Edinburgh – its distinct and beautiful geography, its enlightening history and culture, its amzing food and drink – especially when the streets come alive during our festivals. And as Hallowe’en approaches, Edinburgh lights its seasonal storytelling hearth and welcomes everyone to its glow. The Scottish International Storytelling Festival takes place 15-31 October 2021, with the programme due to be announced in late September - and here's a few reasons why we think you might enjoy a few stories.

1. Our Oldest Artform

Many older stories are originally traditional folktales. They represent the richness of oral patterns of telling and are the product of a community experience, as well as the art of individual storytellers. The oral tradition is strong in northern European cultures in general and Scotland in particular, through the great Gaelic traditions. The storytelling festival gathering – in Gaelic, the ceilidh – is seen as art and hospitality combined, so its the perfect time to explore Edinburgh, whether you're a resident or a visitor.

2. The Human Touch

True storytelling happens when the story is told person to person, live, without print or technology.  The stories at this festival have colour, texture and sometimes even taste! You can hear the crunching of leaves as they are being stomped on or smell the smoke of the fire. Although each event has a structure, there is always an improvised element, which is the beauty of live storytelling, echoing the old Traveller proverb that ‘a story is told eye to eye, mind to mind, heart to heart’.

3. A World First

The Festival has its home in the Scottish Storytelling Centre, which is situated on Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile and became, when it opened in 2006, the world’s first purpose built centre dedicated to storytelling - an appropriate accolade in a city which was also the world's first UNESCO City of Literature. The Centre is the heart of Storytelling in the city throughout the year and there's always something going on during the Festival!

4. Rooted In History

The Storytelling Centre incorporates John Knox House which dates back to 1470, making it and the attached Moubray House, the oldest, original medieval building surviving on the Royal Mile. The house is associated with one of the most dramatic and turbulent times in Scottish History – the Scottish Reformation – which resulted in the outbreak of civil war and the abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots

Storytelling Centre

5. Connected To The World

The Festival is one of the most admired storytelling events in the world and encompasses a wealth of cultures, traditions and styles. In most years the Festival invites storytellers from particular countries and the most recent in-person edition in 2019 had a focus on Canada, exploring story, dance and song inheritance, with storytellers from across the country including from the Cree First Nation, Mi’kmaq and Acadia.

6. For All Ages

Many people think storytelling is just for children but this festival believes that everyone loves a good story and as a result, it has more events for adults than children. It sees stories as always fresh, some comical, some deeply serious, dealing with adult themes such as love, loss, betrayal but also timorous beasties. Recent years has seen the Festival tackle some weighty subjects such as in 2015 when that year’s theme 'Stories without Borders' saw the remarkable show 'Iran vs Israel' take audiences by storm.

7. Out And About

Although the festival has its hub at the Storytelling Centre, its events take place across Edinburgh and are often found out and about in the hidden spaces and open places of the city. In previous years one of the most popular events has been the ‘Enchanted Garden’ which presented storytelling at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, with sessions in the Botanic Cottage as well as story journeys amongst the beautiful autumnal surroundings.

Storytelling 2

8. The Hallowe’en Connection

The final days of the Festival, in accord with Celtic tradition, lead into the Feast of Samhuinn – the basis of Hallowe’en - when the boundaries between this world and the Otherworld were blurred and could more easily be crossed. The Samhuinn Fire Festival takes place on the same night as Hallowe’en [31st October] and marks the onset of winter with acrobatics, drumming, fireworks, beautiful costumes and performances in the heart of Edinburgh.

9. Annual Theme

Each year the Festival has a theme which celebrates our common humanity with stories and songs that connect across the continents. Past editions have covered everything from islands to dreams, from journeys to borders. The most recent in-person festival in 2019 celebrated old traditions and new connections, showcasing how music, dance and story communicate shared experiences that are ‘Beyond Words’.

10. And Finally

If you’re lucky, you might catch a performance from one of the two storytellers who’ve performed in every festival since it’s foundation in 1989, Seoras Macpherson and David Campbell, who often tell their stories on the sites where the stories occurred; on hill or moor, by the sea, river or loch, continuing an ancient tradition of Celtic storytelling. And if you’re inspired by their tales you could always become a storyteller yourself!

Find out more about the Scottish International Storytelling Festival HERE.

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