Published: 06th February 2018
Storyteller Cathryn Fairlee fuses culture, dynamic characters and folk to create a change
Discover the stories and traditions of cultures around the world with Californian storyteller Cathryn Fairlee, a performer of traditional tales
People sometimes think that female characters in folktales are often passive, waiting to be awoken and saved by a prince. Cathryn Fairlee, a professional storyteller from California, shows us that this is not the case by telling stories that she has gathered from numerous cultures about dynamic female characters. She was in the city for the opening performance of the sixth annual Chennai Storytelling Festival 2018. We caught up with her to talk about folktales, storytelling and the festival. Excerpts:
When did you take up storytelling?
I started storytelling 35 years ago. I have travelled around the world gathering epics, myths, legends, histories, and folk and fairy tales from the folk. I work with other storytellers whenever I travel; even in Chennai and Kanchipuram, I've worked with a few of them. I have travelled and learnt about different cultures and I've gone back to the US to share them with others. I like the fact that one can give people therapy and teach them how to listen and enjoy the entire experience. It's not lecturing or commanding them to agree with you. It's about helping them enjoy and learn something.
What is an important skill a storyteller should have?
My family used to do this back in Ireland five generations ago. I think Irish people are famous for talking non-stop. (laughs) So, I'd say that it is important for every storyteller to inculcate the skill of listening. Sometimes, you only want to talk and not listen; you don't pay attention to your audience and you often don't know what is important to them. So, listen to your audience, ask them questions and pay attention to their responses, include them in your stories, and talk with them and not just at them.
Special connect: Cathryn specialises in telling stories to teenagers and adults
Why did you choose to narrate folktales about strong and clever girls and women from around the world?
Well, I tell stories from around the world and a lot of the time, I specialise or focus on women who are strong and who are appreciated and respected by the masses. I will be narrating folktales from Ireland, China and Africa that will talk about how women are treated and how they deal with it and how they make things better for everyone. I will also be singing in the local languages as a part of the storytelling.
How does storytelling help in healing?
I believe it is storytelling that gives you answers. If you have a particular problem, say your husband died, you're bound to be depressed and unhappy. Now imagine listening to sometime talk about when their husband died. You might connect with the storyteller and that can help you understand how she deals with it and changes her life. So, you can seek lessons and also give answers, make them happy and take their mind off their misery or problems.
Smiles all around: Chennai Storytelling Festival was held from February 2-11
Is there any story you are inspired by?
Many. I've told about 500 stories; I really can't pick one. But I'm deeply inspired by the Mahabharata. I find it to be a very unusual story. I have it on a CD and that allows people to learn about India. I enjoy how the characters tell each other stories and so much more.