A month ago I was in Singapore for the Singapore International Storytelling Festival. This tiny city-state has changed since I was a regular visitor in the late 1980s. Cutting edge architecture, street sculptures and a thriving youth culture have brought more zing to the city. The Singapore International Storytelling Festival is part of the push towards deepening cultural expression. Its current artistic director, Kamini Ramachandran, curated a rich festival this year under the umbrella of the National Book Development Council.
Gene Tagaban, Len Cabral, Muriel Bloch, Clare Coburn, Sigmund Pecho, Amihan Boniface-Ramelete at one of the performances
As there are so many different styles of storyteller and ways of using story, it was wonderful to be amongst so many people who love using and exploring story. I was so involved in running workshops, giving the keynote address and performances that I didn’t have much opportunity to sample the other events but the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Gene Tagaban offered quiet wisdom and a charismatic presence. Len Cabral, also of the US, brought the Anansi tales of his Cape Verdean heritage to life with verve. Ng Kok Keong from Malaysia was a charming teller while Muriel Bloch from France offered unique interpretations of traditional fairy tales. A pair of gifted shadow puppeteers from the Phillipines, Amihan Bonifacio-Ramelete and Sigmund Pecho, used gesture, their own bodies and puppets to tell their folk tales and creation stories. I very much enjoyed a performance by talented local tellers, including Rosemarie Somaiah and Blue Mountains/Singaporean teller Kiran Shah in a memorable tandem telling.
Rosemarie Somaiah and Kiran Shah
with group members at the master class
The festival was focused around the Asian Congress of Storytellers held in the old Parliament House, now a glamorous and comfortable venue. I gave the keynote address in the old council room, walking between the red leather benches of the government and opposition towards the public gallery. I spoke on the role of imagination in fostering empathy and suggested that as storytellers we worked not in IT but WT—wisdom or wonder technology. I also offered a workshop on working with thresholds in stories and in our personal lives, and a master class on the power and peace of listening. The feedback was extraordinary and affirming. I am very grateful for all the participants in the workshops who engaged so thoroughly and offered their own wisdom so generously.
speaking passionately at the keynote
The outreach program included performances in the extraordinary libraries which are a feature of this nation. I was hugely impressed by the UNESCO listed collection of traditional tales at the four-storey Woodlands Regional Library—23,000 volumes. I went back to fossick through the collection after the festival and would love to visit again. This is a culture that values literature and story. Outreach also involved working with support organisations. I ran a lively workshop based around story in listening and communication for beneficiaries of the philanthropic Tan Chin Tuan Foundation.
In keeping with renowned Singaporean efficiency, the festival was extremely well organized. As a participant I appreciated the deep respect and care offered by Kamini, festival manager Celine Chow, members of the Singapore storytelling association, the volunteers and all the many others who were involved.
Artistic Director Kamini Ramachandran
On the final evening of the festival, tellers, volunteers and sponsors gathered for a thank you dinner. As a special gift to all involved Ameen Haque, a storyteller from India, shared a tale in traditional style. Kneeling with a white handkerchief carefully knotted around his head, he told in Urdu. Ameen offered us a brief synopsis, but this was almost unnecessary for his voice, gesture and the feeling he conveyed were eloquent. In demonstrating the power of story to move our souls and connect cultures even beyond language barriers, it was a wonderful end to a fantastic festival.
More festival highlights
The festival’s facebook page features lots of photos and links