INTERVIEW: Tell it how it is!

Have you heard about the Tellit festival?

Well…let me tell what’s it all about. Tellit is the UK’s first ever festival of true-life storytelling. At various venues across London, the festival is every chatter box’s dream. Showcasing and sharing real experiences, we are finally allowed to talk to strangers without the weird looks or back steps towards the nearest fire exits. From theatre and comedy to workshops and open mic events, it’s a true celebration of stories and the people telling them.

I interviewed Michael Kossew (Tellit’s Festival Director) to ask him more about the festival.

Michael Kossew

I love Tellit’s social element, enabling us to simply share stories and TALK or LISTEN to each other. Where does your love of storytelling come from?

I have always loved hearing people’s stories. I remember begging my parents and grandma when I was a child to ‘tell me stories about when you were young’. I wanted to know what they were like. What they got up to. Who they really were.

I think stories are a wonderful window into the world of another person. By giving someone time to really tell a story and feel listened to is a beautiful shared experience.

I also used to read and read and read when I was young. I’d go to bed early just so I could read books for longer. I then gravitated to autobiographies, which I loved.

These days I don’t read as much, but I find storytelling is able to take me to the same places that those books did when I was young.

Being the “UK’s first ever festival of true-life storytelling”, what has been the reaction towards Tellit? Feeling the pressure or just excited to launch the festival on 16 October?

The reaction to Tellit is overwhelmingly positive. Once people realise it is not simply storytelling, but the whole spectrum of autobiographical arts that are included or have the potential to be included in the future, they understand the importance and the need for a festival like this.

Tellit is “the festival of true-life storytelling”, but where does this leave our imagination?

Great question. Our storytellers will paint you a picture but your imagination will bring it to life. Every person who listens to a story leaves with a different feeling as parts of the story will trigger different memories, different emotions and bring out experiences they may have shared with the storyteller.

Tellit Best, Exmouth Market Theatre, Oct 16, 6.30pm

What are the main ingredients of telling a great story?

The main trick for telling a great story is to be present. So rather than re-telling a series of events and trying to remember what happened, re-live your story and tell your listeners what is happening around you now. Once you’ve got that ingredient you can make any story captivating.

Building your story to a climax (or turning point, or moment of change) is essential. Knowing where that is in your story is key as that allows you to build tension.

And a great way to build tension is when something is at stake. Ask yourself ‘what do I stand to lose if things don’t work out?’. These stakes should be personal and can be big or small, but if you let your audience know what they are, they will be with you all the way.

Last of all, learn your first and last lines so you can start and end your story confidently and know which scenes you want to bring to life. The rest of the story, between these scenes will change will each telling, but knowing a few points to hit throughout, allows you enough structure to have fun with your story whilst keeping it streamlined.

Do you believe in the power of spontaneity or preparation?

I believe in both powers as they each have their place in story. Sometimes you find incredible stories told spontaneously, but often the people telling them have told them to friends over and over so in reality, they have prepared for this telling. However, for a story to truly feel alive and in the moment, you need to react to what’s going on around you, so you have to be prepared to be spontaneous. You need to know your story well enough to react and then take people back into your story world. But once you have developed your storytelling skills and can figure out the ingredients of your story quickly you can jump up and tell a fantastic spontaneous story.

And then, there are just some people, who start by saying ‘this is the first time I’ve ever told this story to anyone’ and tell the most incredible story that leaves everyone in awe. How do you prepare for that? Some people are just natural born storytellers.

Tellit’s programme covers a wide scope of storytelling. From comedy and poetry to emotional and factual, what stories do you love most?

I love stories that make me cry or cringe. I want to be taken to extreme emotions from people who tell me a story – to be taken with them to their most embarrassing life experience or to be told a story so beautifully, that it brings tears to my eyes. I want a story to be raw, shocking and emotional. I want to see a vulnerability in the person telling the story, who is unafraid to reveal completely who they are and who has complete trust in their audience. A few comedic moments to balance all this out never hurt either.

What show/workshop are you most excited about?

So many to choose from. I cannot wait for The Quest: A Showcase of True-Life Storytelling. It’s given my the opportunity to hear so many stories from storytellers around the UK and to get a feel for what is happening in the true storytelling scene. It’s our most beautiful venue and showcasing members of the public, who have the confidence to get up on stage and share a story, some of them for only the 3rd or 4th time, is exactly what Tellit Festival is about.

In terms of hilarity – Mark Grist’s show is going to be fantastic. Tellit Best and Tellit Poetically bring together some of the best autobiographical artists I’ve ever encountered, who are so enthused to be part of the festival and push this art-form further. So I know the atmosphere will be electric!

And we have the storytellers at Narativ giving a personal storytelling and listening workshop, which, in half a day, will give you some invaluable tools and skills to tell your own story in a highly captivating way.

Mark Grist: Rogue Teacher, Exmouth Market Theatre, Oct 20, 7.30pm

The Tellit Quest’s theme is “Lessons”. What lessons have you learnt whilst curating this festival?

I have learned to surround myself with amazing people. Kate, my co-founder, Jacob, our producer and Tim, our social media whizz, and Sophie and Hermione as Production Managers, have been amazing to work with, get things done with, bounce ideas off and create something together.

I’ve also learned that having a strong vision is very important to bring people on board. Focusing the festival on ‘truth’, has given us a very clear remit for the shows and performers we have asked to be part of Tellit.

I think my biggest lesson however, was letting go and learning that I do not need to have control over every show. I was told this early on, in one of our first meetings, and it has allowed the festival space to grow organically and become more than even I thought it could be in our inaugural year.

The Quest Round 8: Tellit Festival, Camden Comedy, Oct 19, 7.30pm

Why should people come to the Tellit Festival? What will they gain from the experience?

Connection. Sharing stories is a wonderful way to connect with the artists on stage and everyone in the room. It’s different to other art-forms as you are completely yourself on stage. You’re vulnerable to the audience and it’s through that that we can connect to the storytellers more deeply than we can to an actor playing a role. We are seeing the true person up there. Being themselves and being honest. It’s a very powerful feeling for everyone involved. Which is why, at the right moments, you will cry harder than you’ve ever cried before and laugh harder than ever before, simply because it is all true.

I hope hearing these stories will inspire people to tell their own. We are all full of stories. And they are wonderful. And, even if you don’t think so yourself, your stories are interesting. I hope you gain knowledge of this, the confidence to do it and an amazing community to share them with.

What are your future plans or projects after the festival?

I want to run more storytelling workshops and start working on Tellit 2017. I want to galvanise as many people as possible to share their story around the country, and give them a stage and audience to do so. I’d love to take Tellit to other cities and expand The Quest into new communities. My ultimate goal is to find the best unknown true storytellers from around the world and bring them together to share their stories.

But mostly, I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Make sure you check the Tellit Festival, London, 16 – 22 October. Find out more here: tellitfestival.com. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter

Big thanks to Michael Kossew and Danica Priest from Premier

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