Sara Arámbula is an oral writer; a narrator who writes the majority of the stories she tells. A graduate in Pharmacy and based in the south of Sweden, in the region of Skania, in 2006 she decided that she wanted to write her own story as a narrator. She is currently president of Berättarakademin BRAK, an association of Swedish and Danish narrators whose aim is to explore and develop modern oral narration as a form of artistic expression.
Through her answers in the second interview, Sara reveals some of the details regarding her work, and brings us closer to the figure of narrator in Nordic countries.
First I am going to ask a few questions in order to better understand your professional profile:
What type of audience do you usually work with?
Adults and children of all ages, but not younger than 4 years.
How many years have you been working as a storyteller?
Professionally - supporting myself on my work as a storyteller - eleven years.
Have you seen significant changes in the public during your time as a professional?
Not in my audience, except maybe more people come now that more people know my name.
There has however been a change in the general awareness of storytelling as an artform in our society, I think. More people come to festivals, and there are more big events with storytelling and more small ones as well such as story telling cafés.
The organising of storytellers in nationwide networks had happend during my time as a storyteller, Denmarks organisation (FIDA - Forterrere i Denmark) is just a coupple of yeras old. Swedens (BNS - Berättarnätet Sverige) is probably more than 10 years.
The word storytelling is used more often now, also outside of the original context. It is used in branding, marketing and making oneself more attractive for a job/partner/finacial investor etc.
Have you told stories in other Nordic countries? If the answer is yes, have you noticed any differences between audiences in the five Nordic Countries, and if so, in what specific aspects?
Yes, I have told stories and given workshops in Denmark, Norway and Island.
I also participate in a Nordic storytellingseminar for storytellers that ambulates between the Nordic countries, being held in a different location/country every summer. I have also tought there a coupple of times and will again this summer when Sweden is hosting. There I have heard and educated storytellers from all Nordic countries.
I think Sweden is the country where most new things happen in storytelling here. In the other countries, tradition and traditional folktales have a stronger impact on the storytelling community, I believe. Particularly Island and Norway are very focused on the old tales and traditions. In Sweden there are people doing that as well - fairytales, myths, folktales - but there are a lot of storytellers who tell life storys and fairly many of us who tell our own stories.
In what language do you prefer to or usually tell stories? In what language do the public prefer to listen?
Swedish of course numer one in Sweden for both teller and listener.
In other nordic countries they would prefer their own language, but can understand when I speak "nordic" - a mix of swedish/danish/norwegian.
I have no problem telling in English, which I have done, but of course ones native toung is the most flexible and detailed.
In the event that you do sessions for adults, is the audience very demanding? What do you think the adult public are looking for and expect from a storytelling event in your country?
When they come to my shows they expect and want my kind of storytelling - warm and drastic stories that I have made myself. Sometimes I tell of historic people, sometimes about my life but more often I have made the stories completely up myself. They come to be entertained, to be in the magic of the listening world, to dream together.
If they were demanding, they would have the right to be so, but I do not think they are. They want but come full off good expectations and are open to what I will bring. I think they are wonderful and greatful. They want quality and a good story.
In the event that you do sessions for children, how do you define and set the age groups when performing at a storytelling event?
I do tell for children. In schools the agemixing is no problem, here you have full control at the booking. I generally do every age separately, but on occation as much as 3 coherent ages together there.
Public shows for example at a library are mor dificult, the booker want to appeal to everyone, and the parents bring sibblings outside of the age range. I usually do not make the scoope more than three years apart, for example 4-6 years, 6-8 years. I talk to the person selling ticket aabout how to tackle parents questions. If on the day people bring children of "wrong" age I talk to them before the show. I don't prohibit them from beeing there, but place them close to the door and talk to them about how we will handle if the child gets restless etc.
What sources do you use for your sessions: the oral tradition, contemporary tales or your own stories? In the event that you use the first two, are the stories exclusively Nordic or by Nordic authors, or do you also use material from other cultures?
Mailny my own material.
On the few occations that I do use preexisting material, I do not care where it comes from as loong as it is a good story and I have the legal right to tell it (the auther being dead more than 70 years, or public domain as for example folk tales). I have told african or japaneese stories, but most have probably been told here.
Apart from the word, do you use anything else when telling stories? If that is the case, what do you use and how?
For very small children, sometimes props in the form of puppets for example. But I usually do not tell for children that small.
Now we are going to take a look at the general context regarding the storyteller in your country:
Is the role clearly defined, in other words, is there no confusion with other professions that may seem similar?
People in the profession are not confused.
People outside the profession sometimes, on hearing that I am a storyteller, ask me if it is like stand up comedy och maybe poetry slam or spoken word, and most people think it to be like monologuing theatre.
What are the most common venues used for storytelling in your country? Libraries? Bookshops? Schools? Theatres? Others?
Theatres, libraries, schools ad also föreningslokaler (In sweden almost everyone is involved in a förening/organised group that does dancing/fishing/carpenting/sports/other. Theese groups have gettogethers where they want entertainment, ofthen hey have their own house, and they sometimes want me to come tell stories).
Oh, and storytelling cafés at cafés are popular.
We would very much like you to describe the traditional figure of the storyteller (professional or not) in your country... Traditionally, who has played this role (men or women, old people, someone who had an important role within the population or region), when specifically did they tell stories ( at a specific time of the year, within the family, in taverns, etc.) and what were the most common stories and characters in their repertoires. (For example, in Spain the wolf is a character which often appears in traditional tales from rural areas)
The traditional picture of the storyteller is an old woman sitting in the one big room, close to the fireplace during the loong, cold, dark winters. Everyone spent a lot of time in that room, doing carpenting/textile work, and the winter was loong and boring. She would tell stories for the adults and the children listened too.
Another figure is the wantering storyteller. He (because of the times it probably was a he) walked from place to place begging or getting a bit of work. Because of him beeing good at telling stories and having stories they hadn't heard before, he was wellcome everywhere. Sories being told in the evening, after work was finished.
Traditional characters would be stupid farmhands, clever girls, priests that were made fun of, trolls of the mountains, the little man who took care of the farm (Tomten) that should have porridge every christmas, the dangerous woman of the forrest (Skogsrået) that had no back and wanted to lure men into the forrest, sories of trolls exchanging their babies for human babies...
If you want to know more about the Swedish traditional storytelling you should check Sagomuseet, the Fairy tale museum, in Ljungby. I would not be surprised if they have information in Spanish, and I know they have in English. They have recently been named Immaterial World Heritage by UNESCO, and deal in preserving and keeping alive the old Swedish storytelling tradition.
How is a storyteller trained in your country? Is there any specific training aimed at our profession. If that is the case, is it public or private training? Is this training regulated, or is it unofficial?
If you want to be a storyteller, you have to make your own way.
Storytelelrs give workshops and people attend.
There are some courses at some universities, but they are small and generally not very practical.
Noone in Sweden would ask another storyteller "where did you get your storytelling education?" because there is no Hogwarts for storytellers ;)
Is there an association of storytellers or other similar group in your country? If yes, what is its main aim?
The national organisation is called Berättarnätet Sverige, BNS.
The aim I guess would be to connect and organise the Swedish storytellers and work for our benefit in the country.
Are Storytelling Festivals or other significant gatherings which involve a lot of storytelling held in your country? If yes, can you tell us which of them you like the most and why?
Yes. The oldest one (over 20 years I think) is Ljungby storytelling festival organised by the fairytele museum I gave you the link to above. I go there every year. They have also workshops and international guests.
Another one more recent but growing and very well organised is Skellefteå berättarfestival, the Skellefteå storytelling festival.
We are now going to look at whether or not it is easy to work as a storyteller in your country? Is it possible to make a living from telling stories in your country, in other words, are there adequate economic conditions and sufficient demand to be able to work as a storyteller full time? Does the profession of storyteller have legal status? Is it difficult from a bureaucratic point of view to become and work as a storyteller both legally and with respect to tax obligations?
I have lived on beeing a storyteller for 11 years.
i don't know how many others can, but I think we between 10-20 fulltime storytellers if I would have to guess (population of Sweden 9 milion).
I am not sure what you mean by legal status, but then I would think not???
You can start telling storys and getting paied for it whenever you want, but you have to pay taxes off cours. If you earn over a certain (small) amount you have to register a business, and then you pay taxes through that. It does not cost anything and is easy, but you have to do some bookkeeping.
And a couple of final questions regarding something that is happening in my country:
In Spain there is increasing demand for sessions aimed at babies (1-3 years of age). Is that also happening in your country?
Not that I am aware of. But I do think storytelling for very young children at librarys 2-4 years maybe, may have increased. i see a lot of notes about it.
And finally: in Spain we are witnessing a phenomenon in libraries that is of great concern to storytellers; the children who come to storytelling sessions are getting younger and younger, from 4 to 5 years of age, even when the sessions are recommended for children up to 9 years of age. Children from 6 years of age upward do not usually go to libraries or other venues to listen to stories. Is this also happening in your country? If yes, what do you think this is due to?
It is not my area of expertise. But we have more paternity/maternity leave than most other countries. So parents home with child number two or three would probably take all their cildren to storytelling at the library. Older children would not have anyone to take them during day time.
Thank you very much, Sara
This interview to Sara Aránbula was made by Beatriz Aguado
It belongs to the 61st Bulletin: The aurora of the words.