\Wat is Storytelling\Theater Lab?


The Storytelling Theatre Lab is a production laboratory of theatre performances made by (semi) professional theatre makers with a culturally diverse background. The use of storytelling is the starting point for all the performances.


Every year three to four projects are produced, one or two 'full evening' performances and a project with several short performances (portraits). In addition, we make one (small) international co-production every year; because we find it important to share the knowledge we develop here with other theatre makers elsewhere in the world.


Arjen Barel (until recently also artistic director of the Amsterdam Storytelling Festival) is in charge of the artistic direction of Storytelling Theatre Lab. He is advised by a number of experts in the field of storytelling (Sahand Sahebdivani, Raphael Rodan and Hester Tammes) and in cultural diversity in the theatre (by programmers of various theatres including de Meervaart and Podium Mozaïek in Amsterdam).


What does storytelling theatre mean?

 Storytelling is an interactive form of performing arts. We could define (traditional) storytelling as follows:


Storytelling is an art and form of communication that creates internal images in the listener's imagination, rather than showing or dramatizing visible images. Traditional storytelling takes place as an open and direct two-way communication between the narrator and the audience, enabling interaction between those present.


This definition is very much focused on narration as it has developed in the Netherlands in recent years, under the influence of the storytelling revival that occurred twenty years ago in Great Britain. This is often based on a single narrator, whether or not accompanied by a musician.


A number of storytellers, usually young, have been looking for other forms of storytelling for some years now, in which the power of stories is preserved but the form is more exciting. They look especially at theatricalisation of the work, in which authenticity remains most important. Music often plays an important role in this, which goes beyond accompaniment. The music demands a role, gives colour to the story, supports it, but sometimes also tells its own story.


In addition, other theatrical means are used, particularly in the field of acting. At times the narrators get more into a role and in the dramaturgical construction the relationships between different characters, which are represented by the narrator, are taken into account. This can also lead to a dialogue between the characters, in addition to the dialogue with the audience.


Yet there are essential differences between 'regular' theatre and storytelling theatre. An important aspect is authorship. In the case of storytelling theatre, these are always the performers (m/f) themselves. There will never be any use of pre-written text. The texts originate in the working process and are at most arranged by a dramaturge and written down if necessary. But often there is no fully-written text on which the performance is based.


This also leaves room for improvisation. Storytelling is seen as a team sport, an art that is created by the performer and the audience. This also means that the reactions of the audience have an influence on what happens on stage. The performer must be able to respond to this. That keeps the performances alive. In this case, storytelling also borrows techniques from Stand-Up Comedy and Cabaret. Techniques to let the audience participate and play.


The working method of developing texts during the work process described above is extremely suitable for incorporating personal stories into the performances. After all, the material is often the performer himself. This does not mean that there is no room for other stories in storytelling theatre performance. Existing stories (folk tales, legends, myths, fairy tales) are often extremely suitable for placing current themes in a (metaphorical) context.


Another difference with regular theatre is that the performer in a storytelling theatre performance will never completely transform into a character. He can step in and out of a role, but it is and always will be mainly the performer himself who communicates with the audience. This sometimes limits his possibilities, but on the other hand it increases the authenticity and the natural connection he enters into with the audience.


This makes that the performer has a flexible attitude. This flexibility is sometimes extended further. We strive to ensure that the performances to be developed are simple in design, so that they can also be used flexibly. Theatres are always suitable, but ideally you can also play in other rooms, with or without theatre light, with or without an advanced sound system (although not amplified playing is always preferable). Moreover, because of the connection the performer wants to make with his audience, storytelling theatre does benefit from a certain intimacy. Ideally, it should be played for halls with a maximum of 250 spectators, and a somewhat smaller number is often even better.


The role of the director in storytelling theatre is smaller than is usually the case in the theatre. Making a tight staging or working on role perceptions and filling in characters does not fit within the natural form of storytelling theatre. As a result, the director is more of a coach who guides and provides feedback to the performer. Next to that, the task of the dramaturge (who can also be united in the role of the director) is also important. He or she works together with the performer on the line of a performance and gives it more or less direction.