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Joe Brennan - Storyteller

Monday, 23 November 2009

Joe Brennan is a storyteller who has just returned from storytelling in India.

. Joe Brennan is originally from Wexford but now lives in Donegal with his wife Joanne and his two children.
. "Joe is a natural communicator, very much at ease with any audience. Growing up in Wexford he was steeped in stories of days and characters past by both his parents. His affinity with stories, and those who inhabit them, was further deepened through his work as a teacher and radio broadcaster, and by his experiences travelling. Joe has told stories in schools, libraries, nursing homes and communitylocations across Ireland and beyond. He has also facilitated workshops in storytelling and creative writing with a wide range of groups including school children and teachers.

He has featured in numerous storytelling festivals including Cape Clear International Storytelling Festival, Wexford Stories from the Hearth Festival, Sperrins Storytelling Festival, Ulster Storytelling Festival, Cultra, and Bealtaine.

Joe is the author of the highly successful children's play "The Witchin' Well":"

What do you think is the importance of story telling today?
In the context of working with children it's about engaging them on oral basis - it's one of the things we can do to encourage kids to talk out as it will build their confidence up and it's a great way of children to use their imagination.

With an adult audience it's very immediate and intimate and I think it's a very different encounter with stories than say with theatre or film. It has a very different atmosphere. It is very immediate.

How did you become a storyteller?
Like any good story there is more than one version of it. The short version is that I was doing a course in Derry and as part of that there was a section on storytelling - Liz Weir the teacher encouraged me to take it up.

Should parents tell more stories to their children?
Absolutely, it one of the things that I do a lot. Sometimes I work with parents that have school children and that's one thing that I would be actively encouraging them to do and to read more. I think there are a lot of kids who don't get a lot of stories told to them or said to them and you can see it in the class. It's one of those things the earlier the better.

Do you go to classrooms in Ireland to tell stories?
I do. Sometimes I go into the class and I tell stories and they listen and we have a little bit of interaction. Other times I would go in over a number of occasions and in that case I would be encouraging them to write and tell stories and I would be using drama as well.

Where do you get your inspiration from to tell stories?
There are stories that I tell quite often now as I met a young girl who's dog was called Jackie Chan and I said does the dog do Karate and she said 'no he's a dog'. I said yeah if it's called Jackie Chan it should certainly be able to do something. So went away with that for an idea for a story where the dog ends up doing karate. It comes from what people may say in passing to me.

Most of the stories I tell are short 10-15minutes. It's great for children to go on and tell stories as it's not too much for them to take in. I always say to them that storytelling is a gift and it's a gift that you can pass on to others. I hope that parents and grandparents may tell them some stories after the child says theirs. It keeps the tradition alive.

Generally the stories I tell I have in my mind but I also work in the audience when I am telling it. But each time it's told it's always a bit different.

Tell me a quick short story?
A number of Jack stories that I have are based around the whole Jack and the Beanstalk character. There is one where a princess is bored all the time and he goes off to work for a farmer and on his first day he finds a coin. He sticks it up his nose and loses it and his mother tells him not to put it up his nose and that he should put it up his pocket. The next day he puts a jug of milk in his pocket and when he gets home he is all wet. She tells him 'no you don't put it in your pocket you put it on you head'. The he brings butter home on his head and it melts and his mother says you don't do that you put it in your hand. The next day he gets a cat and he puts it in his hand and he dips it into the water and it runs away. And then his mother says no you don't do that you take a bit of string and you bring it home. Then the next day he gets a lump of meat and he pulls it behind him and it gets all dirty. She says no you carry that on your shoulder. On the last day he gets a donkey and he puts it on his shoulder and carries it home. A princess sees him and she starts to laugh - the king comes running in and asks her why is she laughing and she says she is laughing at the silly boy carrying a donkey. He says well he is silly but he made her laugh and he gets the bag of coal.

Do you tell stories to adults?
I do but the stories to adults would be different but there are some stories that I say to both.

Why did you go to India to tell Stories?
It came about because I had a play called The Witching Well and it was invited to go and stage the show in Bucharest. At the festival there was a storyteller from India Imran and then when I was out in Bucharest the following year he was keen to get me to tell stories in India. We worked away at the idea and then it came to fruition this year.

Where did you go in India?
I was in Del-for a week and then we were supposed to go to Jaipur but Swine Flu closed a lot of schools so that wasn't an option. The stories I told was mainly to children and then I did a workshop for teachers. We ended up telling stories in the Ireland Ambassador's residence.

Are you a seanchai?
I wouldn't call myself a seanchai I would call myself a storyteller. The differences are subtle. I would associate séance being immersed in his local community and would tell stories about his locality. I would be a little bit different to that.

Any experiences that struck you the most from your travels in India?
There so many experiences that you encounter on the streets. In terms of the storytelling - no matter where you go in the world kids are just the same. They want a scary story - they want to ask you a lot of questions. The kids here certainly are different as they are more reserved but then I had one experience where I was signing autographs which was crazy.

Also, the place itself is so colourful and there is constant noise - whether that is cars or people.

Do you think the art of storytelling is being revived?
I think it is being revived and it has been reviving over the last few years and the tradition is getting stronger and stronger. I think it is one of those things that with the economy suffering it can be revived more as it doesn't cost money to tell a story. It is very immediate and intimate and it fills the gap of when people were spending all their money and now maybe they can have more time to calm down and listen a bit more.