Thursday, October 4, 2012

Niki Pidd. Finding a new audience for an old art. 2012

By Oisín McKenna

Over in Abbotsford, a relatively new storytelling event has charged ahead and is getting full houses and fantastic feedback every month.

‘Enchanted Evening’ takes place at the Abbotsford Convent – in the Bishop’s Parlour, no less – and is the brainchild of storyteller Niki Pidd.

Niki has been working in theatre and as a storyteller since the early 80s, when she started studying literature and drama at Rusden.

She charted a course through part time study and teaching, community theatre, and then more study with John Bolton in the early 90s.  After that, she set up Soulworks Theatre, writing and performing mainly solo commissioned works.

‘I moved to a studio at the Convent in July 2011 and wanted to establish something there because it’s a natural place to hold a storytelling event,’ she said recently.

‘It’s a place is full of history. It resonates, it reverberates with stories.
And it was also a place where I knew I could make storytelling visible.

‘There are already regular storytelling events happening at Trades Hall, Rocket Clock Story Slam and Willow Bar hosts Willow Tales, but I wanted to do something a little different. I wanted to focus on traditional stories and create an opportunity to develop relationships with other storytellers, with the support of the Convent because I could create the space.’

She is delighted that the Melbourne storytelling community is growing rapidly at the moment, and wanted to support that.

‘It was also a great way to find out who was passionate about traditional stories.’

Among her participant tellers in 2012 have been Clare Coburn, Monica Tesselaar, George Filev and Ashley Ramsden from the UK.

‘There have been lots of people more than happy to participate,’ she said.

‘And the Convent is very happy. It feels like it has legs as an ongoing event.
We’ve sold out five shows in a row and people have given very warm feedback.’

While Rocket Clock and other events have taken off as competitive storytelling events, Niki is interested in doing something different. She used to do Theatre Sports at the Athenaeum and disliked the competitive nature of that. She admits to being a bit of a ‘purist’ and not particularly interested in the competitive side of ‘slamming’.

Although she’s not particularly a purist about separating storytelling from theatre.

‘They are part of the same animal, because theatre arose out of storytelling.

‘I have a particular passion for Jungian psychology and for the workings of the soul, and to me traditional stories are containers of the inner workings of the human soul. When you unlock them the insights in those stories are extraordinary. They’re treasures that belong to all of us, and if we don’t keep telling them we’ll lose them.’

‘One of the good things about the Convent is that the audience is not the regular storytelling audience. A new audience is discovering and enjoying traditional stories.’

Niki has maintained a presence on Facebook and Twitter to keep that moving along, cultivating her followers.

‘Among them, there are 20- and 30-somethings looking for community, eco-friendly, home-spun entertainment,’ she said.

‘A lot of people are going to poetry slams or spoken word events, and storytelling is an extension of that.’

Her family has historical links to the Convent, going back to the 1920s, so it is significant that she has a studio there now. ‘Telling stories in the Bishop’s Parlour feels like inviting people into my lounge room. I feel very at home there.’ She says the place is mysterious, which may add to its attraction.

‘There’s a long waiting list of people wanting studios. There are writers, visual artists and animators who do storytelling via other mediums.  But the Convent has a policy on diversity, and they have been very supportive of what I have done there. It’s a very supportive place to be.’

‘People walk away from Enchanted Evenings saying “I feel so nourished”,’ she said.

‘Having directed a lot of theatre productions and taught a lot of workshops I’ve had an incredibly rich training for storytelling. It’s like a ripe field I feel I’m harvesting.’

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