While story-telling is used these days as a means to help children come out of their shell, several trainers and therapists have discovered its uses when it comes to counselling or training adults. Counsellors, psychologists, social workers and in some cases, HR managers and IT consultants, attend story-telling workshops to learn how the medium can be used in therapy and management.
Sudha Umashanker (58), who attended story-telling workshops and is currently working with the corporate world, says, “I feel that there is nothing like a story to make a point. And when you teach certain life-skills to adults, stories work in a way that lectures or power point presentations rarely do.”
Life-skills like communication, articulation, self-motivation, self-improvement and moving on are some of the most important issues that trainers tackle with story-telling. “And you have so many stories that you can cherry-pick from, for issues like these,” reiterates Sudha. Everybody knows about the Tortoise and the Hare and how perseverance helps you win your goals. And who can forget the fabled Ant who stows food away for the winter, while the grasshopper lounges around, ultimately teaching us about preparation?
“Stories like these are just the tip of the iceberg. You have so much potential in training and therapy with the art of story-telling,” says Sandhya Ruben from Eloquens. And since it involves communication and an expression of the self, everybody wins.
Fifty-nine-year-old A Mangayarkkarasi is a retired teacher. After having taught English to restless kids and disinterested teenagers for 31 long years, she decided to tell stories after her retirement. And like everything else in the city, she found a workshop that taught her how to tell stories – how to narrate a story, make things interesting so that the kids don’t get distracted, how to make up stories and most importantly, how to have fun while doing it all. Now half the way through her workshop, Mangai practises whatever she has learnt, on her seven-year-old grandchild at home. “Once the workshop is over, I want to visit local schools and tell stories – help kids break out of the monotony,” she says cheerfully over the phone.
Mangai is among Chennai’s increasingly growing population that is taking to storytelling – as a profession, as a hobby, as personal recreational activity – you name it. From housewives who merely want to brush up their storytelling abilities for their young kids to school teachers who want to do something innovative in their classrooms, the city’s folks are learning to tell stories and how?
“It has something to do with the increasing awareness about storytelling and its benefits,” says storyteller, trainer and therapist Sandhya Ruban, founder of Eloquens. “People are waking up and realising that storytelling not only helps the listeners, but also benefits the teller in many ways.” Sandhya, who also attended several workshops prior to starting Eloquens, a storytelling-cum-training company, adds that she has definitely seen an increase in the number of interested adults wanting to participate or be associated with storytelling in some way or the other in the past four years.
The majority of the people who walk into such classes are housewives with children who are old enough to take care of themselves, stresses Eric Miller, founder of the World Storytelling Institute. Eric has been organising regular story-telling workshops for adults for the past five years and adds that these are women who have worked before but had to give up careers for their children. “Now that they're reasonably older, they want to re-join the workforce in a part-time, freelance capacity of sorts,” says Eric. “Then there are others who have little kids at home and want to tell better stories to them,” he adds.
If there is a trend of people taking up storytelling for whichever reason, every one of them will be swallowed into the workforce, says Eric. “They either freelance at birthday parties or other kids functions or take up jobs as part-time story-tellers in educational institutions – like what Mangai wants to do,” he says. But both Sandhya and Eric agree on one point – that it is a very small percentage which goes on to become full-time professional story-tellers. “It doesn’t pay much, especially when you start out,” adds Eric.
The gradual disappearance of the traditional household with the myriad aunts, uncles, grandpas and grandmas who used to entertain the kids with stories at dinner time is also attributed to the rise in demand for such story-tellers. “After all, how are your kids going to learn about such stories,” says Mangai with a smile.