Tactile Tales

Why Tactile Tales?

My approach to storytelling, Stories in Motion, has always been committed to increasing access to the arts and education, working over the last 20 years with marginalised communities across the globe - street children, refugees, communities at war or in extreme poverty, as well as pioneering inclusive storytelling projects for disabled people. With a background in circus, theatre, dance, disability and inclusive research, I enjoy the challenge of turning inclusive theory into effective practice. Inclusion means more than being able to get into a room - although as a disabled person I do realise that this is frequently a remarkable achievement! Inclusion means equality of participation, freedom of expression, the choice to take an active part in storytelling. I realised that children with profound disabilities were not yet fully included in my storytelling - I wasn’t good enough - so I began to experiment with specially designed interactive textile props. The results were so successful that the idea of developing a way of working with textiles and tales intertwined together began to take shape in my imagination. What inspired the making of Tactile Tales? Having worked extensively across Asia, I was inspired by the Lao approach to storytelling through textiles – telling and recording stories in 2D and 3D form. Cassandra Wye with Crocodile puppetI commissioned a series of 2D and 3D props that were made to be swung, stroked, felt and shared with the audience. Not just to engage the children but to give them a means by which they can direct the development of the story. How the audience interacts with the props - this shapes the telling of the story so that no two performances are the same. The power of storytelling is enhanced by the tactile potential of textiles. Why a research project? I saw this project as an ideal opportunity to research what works - and what doesn’t - to push myself to take risks and experiment with new ways of working. What were the main constraints? A stipulation of the ACE funding was that the project had to take place out of school hours – which meant working with holiday play-schemes. The stories therefore had to be flexible enough to work with the entire age range from 4 – 19 years and incorporate a diverse range of techniques to meet the needs of all children and young people. How did I develop the project? I piloted my “old” range of stories – to evaluate what children, young people and staff thought needed to change to make my storytelling more inclusive. From that research I created a design brief with my team of textile artists. With what they produced, I began the choreographic process of devising not just new stories but new ways of telling them. As an ex-dancer, visual storytelling has always been a big focus of my work but this project enabled me to explore non-verbal communication in a lot more depth – and to understand why it worked. Did it work? In the words of one of my advisors: "I've seen many examples of stories told at children with complex needs but this is the first time I have seen stories truly shared with them - wonderful." Specialist Senior Educational Psychologist UK What did I learn? Tactile Tales made me realise how inclusive my approach to storytelling was already and why. As an ex-dancer I use non-verbal communication techniques unconsciously in a way that enables children with profound disabilities to engage and interact with the story. Tactile Tales allowed me the time and space to make conscious use of what was intuitive. With the help of a team of advisors - play therapists, physiotherapists and educational psychologists – I began to understand more deeply the theories of communication and attachment that underpin my work. It also made me realise how much more there is to learn! There can never be just one approach to inclusive storytelling that meets everyone’s needs. There are many projects around the globe, each with their own approach to meet the needs of their communities and cultures. The project has whetted my appetite to find and work with them! What are the key techniques behind Tactile Tales? Intensive interaction – observing, reflecting and responding to each child’s level of engagement. It might be a sound or a blink of an eye – but noticing and incorporating this into the performance is an essential part of the process of telling stories with children and not at them. The use of sound effects – human, musical or machine made - the more the merrier to enhance the telling of the story and the input of the children. Creative use of movement - from tiny gestures to using the whole body to offer children a huge range of opportunities to explore how they can express themselves physically and visually. Using props effectively - they need to be more than just visually striking or exquisitely made. If they are not physically and tactilely accessible for each child then they are effectively useless. Dynamic use of the voice – not being “big”. Many children responded best to intimate use of sound. Working one to one – enabled me to effectively use of all the above techniques in a way that best suited each individual person. Working with the group as a whole – working with the whole group to build a momentum of engagement and interaction to ensure everyone could participate to the full. Letting go of the concept of control – putting the audience in charge of deciding the direction of the story. For me - Tactile Tales has highlighted the power and potential present when an audience and storyteller come together to tell the story. Storytelling can be a dance where everyone is invited in. Why don’t you join? For more information, please visit my website: http://www.storiesinmotion.co.uk/tact.html. To see the video, email: cassandrawye@yahoo.co.uk Tactile Tales was funded by Arts Council England and supported internationally by British Council.