In a far away place, long long ago, there was a storyteller who wanted to tell a story that everyone would believe in. That never happened; there was always a disbeliever in his audience. So he decided to lock himself up in a room and not leave it until he could think of a story that everyone would believe.
As he pondered, he found himself getting disturbed by a passel of children playing in the street outside his window and decided to get rid of them by playing a trick.
“The market at the other end of the town is giving away free melons,” he said to them. Excited, they ran away. Seeing them run, other people began to ask why they were running and the news that the market was giving away free melons was repeated. More and more people started going towards the market; soon the whole town started running there. As the story-teller sat beside his window, lost in his thoughts, he saw an old man hurry towards the market. “There are free melons in the market,” said the old man as he ran past. The storyteller was confused, “Perhaps there really are free melons,” he thought, and he ran to the market too.
“If you want people to believe in your stories, you have to believe them yourself,” laughs educator and storyteller Richard Martin, who is in the city, as part of the Chennai Storytelling Festival 2015. “I always choose stories that have an element of truth in them, the ones I can believe in.”
And where does he cull his stories from? Everywhere, it seems, “I use mostly traditional folk tales. I don’t specifically look for stories, though; they come to me. I get them from the places I travel to, from the Internet, from other storytellers I interact with.” However, he always adds his special touch. “When I get a story from a source, I forget the text and the way it is told by other people. I take the bare bones of the story, change it for my listeners and tell it my way. The amateur tells the word, the professional tells the story, but the artiste tells the listener,” he smiles.
Watch him perform, exuding confidence and joie de vivre and you will see the artiste at work. Feet planted firmly on the ground, his eyes meet those in the enthralled audience, as his hands gesticulate purposefully and his voice rises and falls. Surprisingly, he did not grow up in a home where story-telling was the norm. “I am a renaissance storyteller. My parents read out to me but we didn’t really have a tradition of oral telling of stories. However, his father, a clergyman, did influence him a little. “I loved listening to his voice in church and realised how voice impacted the way I told stories.”
Born in Bristol, Richard spend most of his childhood in Cheshire and went to school there, though he admits to being “an erratic and temperamental student”.
He went on to read History and Politics at the Liverpool University before drifting into a job as a teacher in a primary school in North Devon. Overworked and underpaid, he quit after a year and a half and moved to Germany, where he discovered the art of storytelling, “I was invited by a group of musicians to share a stage at a performance and I found myself having to come up with stories to tell.”
Moved by the power of these stories, he decided to incorporate it into his teaching process, “I use stories to teach language. Not only is it a powerful medium, but unlike a textbook, it manages to keep my students thoroughly engaged. I have been telling stories for about 24 years now, and their power still continues to amaze me. Though, I must admit, it comes with a great responsibility.”