The power of storytelling

On Thursday night in Leicester, friends took me to the movies at the Phoenix  to watch a play – a live broadcast of  the play Behind the Beautiful Forevers that was on stage at the National Theatre. The play is based on a book of interviews with people who lived in the Annawadi slum near Mumbi airport, and the script uses their dialogue verbatim.  A  challenging play. Watching a live stage production in this way was so interesting. Rialto and Bridgeway in Auckland stream some NTL productions apparently – look out for them.

Last night, in Sheffield, other friends took me to a local production of Playing for Time, the moving story of the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz, based on the autobiography of Fania Fenelon. Having spent the last year reading about WWII, (including studying my father’s diaries) and visiting where Dad had been an escaped prisoner of war, the play was particularly poignant.

There was so much power in these two productions because they drew on the voices of real people, real stories.

Whatever it takes, the city-wide initiative to raise the literacy levels of Leicester children is consciously drawing on the power of stories to raise literacy when it hosts an annual Storytelling Week. Early learning centres focus on storytelling, drawing on diverse cultures and backgrounds. Skilled storytellers work with parents, encouraging them to tell family stories, aspirational stories, cultural legends and tall tales. Staff professional development focuses on building the confidence of staff as storytellers, and their skills at drawing parents into telling stories to their children.

Maori and Pasifika are oral cultures – how could we better utilise that strength in our endevours to raise literacy levels across the city?

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