John Sheills, aka JJ – Retailer of Tales, can’t recall when his association with Storytelling Australia Vic was cemented; back in the 80s perhaps when the organization was young and known as The Storytelling Guild of Australia – Victorian Branch.
John’s attraction to stories and storytelling was seeded in primary school when he read an article in a magazine about Joan and Betty Rayner. Extraordinary women by any measure:
‘After studying in London and America for some years, they [the Rayner sisters] opened a Theatre, in Sydney, which they ran for two years. There they presented
their folk lore songs and storyettea without the aid of scenery or other
stage effects, relying solely on the ability of the actors to carry the show
through as in the days of the troubadours. They then closed the theatre
and rambled through the country districts of Victoria and. New South
Wales by caravan, playing at the various towns …’ Sunday Times: Perth WA 26 July 1931
Growing up in Orbost, a small town in East Gippsland on the Snowy River, John was fortunate to have a primary school teacher who responded to the passion that the Rayners had ignited in him for telling stories and making puppets. He created a little theatre from and old tea chest and was encouraged to ‘tour’ his show around the school.
John’s intrigue with folk tales, puppetry and theatre has never abated; ‘I like to explore the interface between puppet and puppeteer, the manipulated and manipulator – the liminal spaces’.
Over the years, he has worked with Polyglot, The Marionette Theatre of Australia and the Tasmanian Puppet Theatre. It was when he was working with Polyglot, he finally met the Rayner sisters who by this time were elderly and retired but none the less inspiring and generous. These days he can be found living quietly in Emerald. Technology averse, John has no mobile phone or Internet, and is surrounded by books, puppets and art materials. John’s knowledge of folklore is enviable; it is as broad as it is deep. I’ve heard John recite Australian bush verse, tell French Medieval Folk Tales, stories from A Thousand and One Nights, Germanic Fairy Tales, Celtic Legends. I’ve watched him tell using exquisite felts, a sand tray and overhead projector, origami, and all manner of handcrafted props.
With the advent of the PAVE Festival in Emerald a decade ago, John has accepted the annual challenge in offering a story-centered presentation every year. This has included solo shows and collaborations with other storytellers, poets, dancers and musicians.
For PAVE’s 10th anniversary season 2015, John again focused on a collaborative show – ‘a celebration in spoken word’ and fittingly advertised as a night of Literary Liaisons. This was a meld of storytelling, verse, music, dance and slide show staged in the Gem Community Theatre.
John’s cast of collaborators this year: storyteller Cora Zon (pictured), musicians John Piggott, Marg Gemell & Saskia Adams, student of classical voice Jessie Eastwood, and dance routine courtesy of Vivienne Rogis & Tashi Baiguerra.
Sadly JJ’s story Monsoon Donkey was neither filmed nor photographed. All I have are some photos from a rehearsal to share with you. However I think you can glean from these images that this mercurial artist is one of a kind and one to be valued.
Posted by Jackie Kerin