Travel theme for 2010 Scottish International Storytelling Festival

Travel theme for 2010 Scottish International Storytelling Festival

Japanese strand and Festival-on-Tour among themes

Niki Boyle examines the Scottish International Storytelling Festival programme with festival director Donald Smith

Following on from 2009’s ‘Homeland’ theme, which explored the tales of the Scottish diaspora, the ‘Eastern Routes’ strand of this year’s Scottish International Storytelling Festival surveys storytelling from India and beyond, including the effects produced by Scots travellers.

‘The Japanese strand is particularly interesting,’ says Donald Smith (pictured), director of both the festival and its spiritual home, the Scottish Storytelling Centre. ‘We’ve got the senior storyteller of the Ainu coming, who are the indigenous Japanese people. They believe that that they were saved from extinction, as a culture, by a Scot called Dr Munro. He became a champion of their culture, even married into it, and now they’re coming over and doing events in Moray, where he came from.’

The Ainu event is also a good example of the type of mixed-media activity the festival wishes to promote: the storytellers are accompanied by log-beaters, who provide a rhythm for the narrative, as well as creating a sort of ‘forest ambience’ (the Ainu, who nowadays are predominantly rice farmers, have a historical link with forestry), while the Filmhouse will be screening two new manga animations about the Ainu. Other events at the festival combine storytelling with music, dance, song and food, resulting in a more immersive experience for the audience and the storyteller.

‘It all goes back to the Scottish tradition of “ceilidh”, which was not just dancing, as we understand it now,’ explains Smith. ‘It was an event where people would gather together, and there would be hospitality, singing, storytelling, music, and OK, maybe some dance. One of the big artistic objectives that we have over the next couple of years is doing more events that cross over between music, song, story and dance – what’s sometimes called the “traditional arts”. That synergy between story, music and dance is going to be a big part of where we’re going in the next two to three years. That’s the theme, if you like, that underlies all the programming at this year’s festival, regardless of whether it’s coming from Scottish or visiting artists.’

The final theme underlying the festival’s programming is the Festival on Tour strand. ‘There’s a lot of diversification within Scotland and Scottish storytelling tradition, and that’s the whole idea behind Festival on Tour,’ says Smith. ‘It’s a two-way thing: firstly, we’ve got the Scottish artists that we work with all year round, from all around the country. The main event there is Tell-a-Story Day, when we’ll have various places around the country hosting their own local storytelling events. Then we’ve also got these visiting storytellers, who get to go out, meet people, see different parts of Scotland, which in our experience they love. That’s something we’ve really developed, that’s become part of the package for visiting storytellers over the past few years: wherever they’re coming from, they’ll have the opportunity to go to another part of Scotland, to spread these oral traditions, which is very culturally important.’

The Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Fri 22–Sun 31 Oct.
Full listings at

Scottish International Storytelling Festival

A celebration of live storytelling and imagination uniting Scottish and international storytellers and musicians. Performance, workshops, talks and children's events radiate out from the capital with guest storytellers from across the globe.

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