Storyteller Roger Jenkins talks about the importance of stories in everyday life

Roger Jenkins at the second edition of Vizag Junior Literary Fest   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton, author Neil Gaiman in his book Coraline wrote, “Fairy tales are important not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten”. Storyteller Roger Jenkins loves this quote so much that he carries it around with him as a luggage tag.

“Stories are not to exaggerate reality, they are there to teach children that nothing is impossible. No matter how big the obstacle, you will always find your way around it,” says Roger a Singaporean- storyteller who was in the city to perform at the second edition of Vizag Junior Literary Fest. Roger’s animated expressions, lively voice and dramatic gestures kept the audience riveted. “Having animals as characters makes the stories more fun. They also help you lighten the tales that have strong lessons,” believes Roger giving the example of the story of the frog and the baby snake which spoke of inclusivity and tolerance for pluralism.

Towards an inclusive world

The 68-year-old storyteller had another treat in store when he taught the children to use sign language to tell a tale. He taught them to recognise some key signs for important words in the story. Back home, Roger holds workshops and performances for hearing-impaired children. “It is important to teach children about pluralism from a young age as they then see it as a way of life,” he says.

For the love of art
  • In 2015, Roger founded the 389.2 Storytelling festival, Singapore’s first independent festival dedicated to local storytellers. The festival is named after the Dewey classification code for folktales in the National Library Board.
  • Through Federation of Asian Storytellers (FEAST), Roger has helped in organising nine online webinars tackling different aspects of telling, such as using puppets, characterisation, using story in language teaching or moving from storytelling to creative writing.

He taught drama in schools in the UK, but returned to Singapore in 1978. “Storytelling happened to me by accident when the Ministry of Education in Singapore asked me to conduct a course for teachers on using it as a classroom strategy. The response I received from the teachers, made me want to do this more often. It took me five years to develop a repertoire and reputation until I became a full-time storyteller,” he says.

Roger tells stories around the world. He has performed and run training courses in schools in Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Chennai, Saigon, Sandakan, Hong Kong and Jakarta. He tries to keep his stories rooted to Asia as he feels children are over exposed to Disney and Hollywood . “To bring more authenticity to my sessions, I even wear ethnic stuff, like batik from Indonesia and Malaysia, jackets from Thailand, cotton kurtas from India. I do not dress in character costumes as I play too many people at the same time,” he laughs.

His experience in drama brings the element of theatre to is storytelling. He mimics and urges kids to join him as he imitates animals. He also uses a lot of puppets.

Tales from faraway lands

He along with Singaporean storyteller Sheila Wee and Chennai-based Jeeva Raghunath founded Federation of Asian Storytellers (FEAST) in order to help promote oral storytelling in Asia. “The organisation that was launched in Chennai also aims to support tellers by providing opportunities for training, sharing skills and resources. We intentionally chose Chennai as the launchpad to demonstrate clearly that, although this non-profit organization is Incorporated in Singapore, that it aims to be an international organisation,” he says

Roger says he finds Visakhapatnam and its people warm and friendly. “My audience has been extremely engaged with my storytelling. If someone should tell me they have been invited to Visakhapatnam, I would recommend them to accept the offer in a heartbeat.”

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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 1:00:53 PM |

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