Cat Weatherill, founder of The Mee Club & Tell Me on A Sunday writes ~
I have been a professional performance storyteller for twenty years www.catweatherill.co.uk I work internationally, telling all kinds of traditional stories: ghost stories, Greek myths, folk tales, fairy tales etc, for adults as well as children.
But ten years ago, I became fascinated by the art of telling true stories. Personal stories. The more I worked with them, the more I loved them, and I have been championing and promoting true-life ever since.
What is 'true-life storytelling?'
It is when someone tells a true story about something that happened to them. Anyone can tell these kind of stories. You don't need be an actor, a comedians or a writer. It is open to everyone, so it's very real and inclusive.
Is 'personal' storytelling the same thing?
Yes. The terms are interchangeable. I tend to use true-life more, because some people are put off by the term 'personal,' thinking they will have to reveal private information. As for audiences, 'personal' sounds like it could get a bit confessional or therapy-led. None of these things are true!
Why should I share a true story with others?
Because it is an incredibly empowering experience. True-life storytelling isn't therapy, but there is undoubtedly something therapeutic in the process. It's very self-reflective. Looking at memories, remembering stories... We see the shape of our lives and see how events have shaped us. We find new value in what we have achieved, and find comfort in the wisdom the stories contain. I like to call it 'a quiet celebration of self.' It's a chance to see the wonder of ourselves. People can be so dismissive of what they have done with their lives. It's only when they start sharing their 'small' stories with others that they realise how interesting they are. Because everyone is interesting. Everyone has tales to tell.
Talking in front of other people can be scary. But true stories are brilliant for connecting people. You discover that you are not alone - others have experienced similar things - but equally, you are unique.
I was so taken with the idea of true-life tales I decided to open my own true life club, Tell Me On A Sunday, at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. It proved to be incredibly popular! Soon we had to move out of the Ikon cafe and into one of the main galleries to accommodate the number of people who wanted to listen.
I also wanted to develop workshops, to teach people how to tell their own stories. This is how The Mee Club began. Arts Council England funded a major project that included outreach work in Coventry (with Hillz FM Community Radio, The Blind Asians' Association and Grapevine) a programme of workshops for the general public and a series of live events at the Herbert Art Gallery. As with the Moth, anyone was able to take to the stage and tell their story.
People don't really need any training to tell a story. Many of our tellers simply get up there and do it - very well! It's really a question of confidence, and this is where the training comes in. Some people feel they'd like some help with finding a story, shaping it or telling it. Some people need reassurance that they actually have a story worth hearing - which of course, they do. That's my job - to tease out the stories and then give people the confidence to share them.
Where I'm At Now...
I'm still exploring the world of true life, and still loving it!
So far I have
- Created four true-life storytelling clubs
- Curated and hosted shows at The Hay Festival and the Birmingham Literature Festival
- Led workshops for the Sydney Writers Festival, the University of Wolverhampton, Writing West Midlands and more.
- Explored the interface between true-life telling and memoir writing, and delivered a six-workshop course on it for Swindon Literature Festival. I am currently writing my own memoir, about my travels in India.
- Created a full-length show - Meet Me At Machu Picchu - which has toured nationally and was last at the Zwolle International Festival in the Netherlands.
- Formed my own troupe of true-life tellers, Flashlight
- Delivered three Arts Council funded true-life projects: the Mee Club project in Coventry; Unforgettable, a project about remembrance to complement Death Awareness Week; and A Feather In My Wallet, which explored the stories held within personal possessions.
- Joined the British Council as part of their Storytelling for Peace Building programme in South America. I worked with vulnerable teens from remote Afro-Colombian communities on the Pacific and Caribbean rims, helping them turn their challenging personal narratives into stories of resilience and hope (2019)
- Delivered four CPD workshops for therapists, counsellors and coaches at Banbury Therapy Centre on the therapeutic uses of personal stories.
Tell Me On A Sunday (Birmingham) ran for three sell-out seasons at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. Storytellers came from all professions and ranged in age from 21 to 60+ Some had performed before in other art forms. For some, it was their very first time on stage. The audience loved them all! They came back again and again, hooked on the idea of true life stories.
The Mee Club (Coventry) Arts Council England funded project to introduce the art of true-life storytelling to the people of Coventry.
Flirt Off! (Birmingham) Stories on the theme of dating and relationships, hosted by the Old Joint Stock Theatre.
Between You & Me (Coventry) Wonderfully intimate club in the fabulous Big Comfy Bookshop in Fargo Village.