Dr. Vayu Naidu – Storyteller

18th September 2011

‘Words are symbols that crack open meaning’

I walked into this RSC workshop hearing uplifting Indian music playing which was to ‘energize’ the room. I met Vayu Naidu who is a very warm, open and generous woman. She has a company dedicated to the art of storytelling which comes from the Indic oral tradition. Its energy comes through the telling, not reading, of a story to create dense imagery and triggering emotional resonances.

‘It is not about reading a story, but telling it. It could be anybody’s story, or from anywhere, but in the telling it becomes real and touches you as a listener and shifts something in your understanding of people and the world around you. The Storyteller ‘lives’ the story to make it real for you. Like an anchor person of the news, the storyteller must connect with different parts of the world. But unlike reporters, the Storyteller must also become the characters, and report the action of the story as it is being told.’

Vayu Naidu Company’s signature of storytelling is the reliance on two things: Oral imagination and Total presence.

Vayu explained to us that words are symbols that crack open meaning; and when we tell a story to have a relish for language and a taste for telling. We learnt about RASA which means JUICE and the 9 principles which are love, anger, compassion, fear, humour, disgust, peace and wonder. Rasa is an Indian philosophy of art where the goal is that the artist and the audience experience shared emotions. So the responsibility of the performer is to be sure what it is you want the audience to feel at any given time.

To ‘clean’ the channel from the gut to the words coming out of our mouths we learnt ‘The Lion’. This is a move of the body with a guttural release of the voice. Quite extraordinary.

First we worked in pairs telling a short personal story using one of the Rasa principles. We then were asked to tell a story from either a favorite fairytale or Shakespeare play. I chose to play Lady Macbeth when she is waiting alone while Macbeth has gone to kill Duncan. She helped us tap into our imagination using all the senses and convey this to the audience with connection and presence.

Vayu talked about Storytelling and what its function was in the first place. She explained that a long, long time ago  when people developed language and formed social groups that then grew larger into civilizations, the shape of the society was like that of a pyramid. Diverse people and their functions or professions of hunting, defending, sowing and harvesting, providing and bartering were all independent strands that were held together by a Chieftain. Women had diverse occupations within these professions and storytelling was a chief way of embedding continuity and values. The professional aspect of Storytelling was taken by men who were effectively commissioned by the chieftain and the keepers of ritual. The stories of birth, rites of passage such as puberty, marriage, children, wars, victory and defeat songs, lament,  death, burial, cremation, and afterlife, were told, sometimes in song, and remembered. This is the premise of an oral tradition as early societies were nomadic or lived by rivers. In time societies established themselves through powerful chieftains and his fighting forces, and more than being defensive, societies expanded through trade, and exploration, and conquest. Today we have different traditions ascribed to the Storytelling from diverse regions around the world.

Vayu is interested in myths, folk and fairy tales from world cultures and presents them to contemporary audiences by making the past significant to the present. The storytelling here is about metaphor. What myths reflect our contemporary concerns? How do folktales enable children to understand between what is good and what is harmful? Why do fairytales tell us something about our wildest dreams and darkest fears?

I am looking forward to learning more about the art of storytelling as I endeavour to enjoy telling more and more stories.




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