What makes our Storytelling Festival so special?

Storytelling 3

There are plenty of reasons to explore Edinburgh – its distinct and beautiful geography, interesting history and culture, thriving nightlife and unique local cuisine – but it really comes alive during its festivals. As Hallowe’en approaches, Scotland lights its seasonal storytelling hearth and welcomes all peoples to its festive glow. This year the Scottish International Storytelling Festival takes place 13-29 October 2023 and here are a few reasons why you should join us for 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 visit Edinburgh.

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. The Centre is the heart of Storytelling in the city 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. Each year the Festival invites storytellers from particular countries and for example, the 2019 edition focussed 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 kids but this festival believes that everyone loves a good story and 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. One of the most popular events in recent years has been the ‘Enchanted Garden’ day for all ages 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.

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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 breathtaking 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. Rcecent Festivals have celebrated old traditions and new connections, showcasing how music, dance and story communicate shared experiences - such as in Stories Without Borders which demonstrated how stories have the power to cross boundaries, transform perceptions and bridge division, and Festival of Dreams which explored our ability to dream something different into existence, acknowledging the power of storytelling to lift you out of time and place with the liberating power of imagination

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!

The Scottish International Storytelling Festival will launch its 2023 programme on 12 September and you can find further information about the festival HERE.

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