In the warmth of stories
UK-based Vergine Gulbenkian shares how she has been under the spell of stories for more than 28 years
Vergine Gulbenkian’s journey with storytelling began 28 years ago. The UK-based storyteller has a vivid memory of the day when, as a 22-year-old, she shared her first story in London. “It was a little story that my grandmother had told me and the environment was comfortable,” she recalls during a visit to the city for a performance and workshop organised by the British Council.
Vergine grew steadily as a storyteller, with her work in schools, museums and international festivals. As a child, she had heard stories from her Armenian grandparents, who fled Turkey due to genocide. She enjoyed the stories and her interest in performance led to her reciting poetry and studying drama. Apart from watching a few inspiring performances, she saw a film on Mahabharata and the richness of stories made her hungry for more. Her research into the rich Armenian oral tradition, makes the storyteller say, “I found the material in storytelling to be traditional but rich; it is myth and epic and very nourishing for the soul. As a storyteller, you are a director, actor and writer.” This opportunity to dive into a world of stories and compose something individually left her spellbound and her storytelling became a direct and essential form of communication after studying drama.
Her stories have an unifying thread that hold some meaning for her and are relevant for people. Her small stories become ingredients for a bigger show. One of her stories, ‘Cradle of Life’ on motherhood and a rocking cradle was actually conceived from a radio telescope. In it, she included kinetic stories about the Mother goddess including Tibetan, the Babylon and Mesopotamian stories on the birth of human and destruction. “I also put in lullabies in different languages,” she says. Her recent work, a love epic has content collected in parts during a visit to Armenia. But she is not ready to share it until she puts other tales — a little snippet about her great grandmother escaping from a fire and a ‘fantastic tale about a fire bird that wrapped itself around this love epic.’ She loves the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Panchatantra and feels the stories — especially the mythological ones — remain relevant. “They give us a sense of a grander scale. We value individuality these days but to put it in a perspective of something much greater, where we are just a a speck in the process of one universe of the thousands of universes; I find that helpful and being with the world at the moment.”
Stories connect to one’s soul emotionally and make even the mundane look magical; they create an impression on the young minds and relax and stimulate adults. “The beauty of a story is that it works on a subconscious level and that is why I can’t stand when people interpret, analyse or tell morals in it. It needs to be left open and works like magic which is why it is important especially for children,” she points out adding the narrative works two ways. “When I tell a story, I respond to the audience every moment and we are co-creating because we are alive to the moment.” Confessing that it is not easy to make a living out of storytelling, she says, “It requires resilience, persistence and perseverance and I have not become adaptable to tell any story just to earn a living,” adding other ways of earning a living keep her love of storytelling alive.