The 2023 programme for this year’s Scottish International Storytelling Festival (SISF) explores our Right To Be Human,and celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Just as Scotland’s consultation on a new Human Rights Bill draws to a close, storytellers, musicians and artists will join together in venues across the country to embrace this milestone with tales of human courage and creativity, spoken with powerful words.
During this year’s festival (13-29 October) there will be stories told about the impacts of war, gender inequality, censorship; ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious prejudices; and other threats and challenges on our human rights as a global nation.
New this year is the Festival’s first podcast series Another Story – six weekly episodes themed around our right to be human starting from 12 September; and Art of the Storyteller – in-person, weekend workshops led by Festival Director Donald Smith with various professional storytellers, where budding storytellers can learn to improve their storytelling skills and better connect with their audience.
Opening this year’s Festival will be storyteller Gauri Raje with Tales of Exile and Sanctuary (Fri 13 Oct) sharing stories from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, India and the horn of Africa, woven together to question the beauty and horrors of exile from across the world.
Other events exploring and celebrating our universal human rights include new commissions:
- Wave Riders (Sat 14 Oct) with storyteller Jan Bee Brownand musician Renzo Spiteri sharing the sagas of Viking pioneers who forged better ways to live in peace.
- Letters to Jackie(Sun 15 Oct) returns with agony aunts Bea Ferguson, Heather Yule and Maria Whatton on hand with old tales to answer the problems of today.
- Joyfully Grimm: Reimagining a Queer Adolescence(Mon 16 Oct) with James Stedman who takes a heartfelt and slightly irreverent look at Section 28, and the joy with which LGBTQIA+ people have always existed in both stories and real life.
- The Voice Shall Always Remain(Tue 17 Oct) told through the traditional ‘pardeh-khani’ technique (narration through curtains), Iranian storyteller Zahra Afsah and Syrian storyteller Khloud Ereksousi explore how Iranian women find their freedom in their own voices and talents.
- Don Quixote Rides Again(Wed 18 Oct) a spellbinding comical experience with Spanish storyteller Inés Álvarez Villa and flamenco musician Danielo Olivera challenging prejudice, showing compassion, and embracing our true selves.
- Stories of healing told through the Norse tales of Odin, Gullveig and Mimir inOdin’s Eye and The Art of Seeing with Alice Fernbank (Sat 21 Oct) followed by Shadow Walking covering dark tales of jealousy, destruction and vanity with Ruth Kirkpatrick and Peter Chand.
- The story of Orpheus and Eurydice gets a Scottish twist in Orpheus | Orfeo(Sun 22 Oct) told by Daniel Serridge, Heather Cartwright and Neil Wood (harp).
- Fire from the Woods(Thu 26 Oct) with storyteller Daiva Ivanauskaitė and musician Gaynor Barradell exploringthe silence between generations, how sometimes fathers are silent while children grow up without stories and our right to know about our ancestors.
- The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse (Sat 14 Oct) – a multisensory adventure suitable for children with additional needs with illustrator Kate Leiper and storyteller Ailie Finlay.
Also appearing in this year’s programme are some of the nation’s favourite storytellers in our Collective Treasures strand which gathers memories, experiences and values together in tales to celebrate our common humanity.
- Scots Character(Thu 19 Oct) with James Spence which tours the range of Scots tale and tongue including some dour, thrawn, stoic, droll and outrageous personal memories.
- Gillian Paterson and Nicola Wrighttake a whirlwind trip through women’s history in The Girl’s Own Survival Guide to History (Sat 21 Oct) with female pirates, raucous rebels and top tips on learning how to avoid being called a witch.
- Shonaleigh Cumbersdips into her own Jewish and British storytelling traditions in A Garment for the Moon (Sun 22 Oct).
- Berit Alette Mienna and musician Øistein Hanssen share the deep roots of the Sami culture and the threats it faces, inNorthern Treasures (Wed 25 & Sat 28 Oct).
- Prolific writer and political activist Italo Calvino’scentenary is celebrated with a Scots-Italian garland of stories from Anne Hunter, Donald Smith and Simone Caffari (Mon 16 Oct).
- Tradition bearer Allan MacDonald and musician Aidan O’Rourkepresent tales from the John Francis Campbell’scollection in Sgeul – Mighty and Magic ( Fri 20 & Wed 25 Oct).
- Dr Valentina Boldand storyteller Amanda Edmiston present excerpts from Mike Bolam’s film Up the Middle Roadwith live storytelling and a discussion around the stigma of mental health (Tue 17 Oct).
For younger audiences and families looking for some fantastic activities during their October school holidays there are craft and storytelling sessions, story walks in the Royal Botanic Garden Garden Edinburgh including Rewilding Cinderella: An Eco-Storytelling Concert (Sun 15 Oct) weaving together stories from all over the world about the ash-child told by the Storytelling Choir which includes storytellers Gauri Raje, Kestrel Morton, Laura Sampson, Wendy Shearer, Joanna Gilarand Fleur Hemmings. Poetry from Tunde Balogun, music from Heulwen Williams and artistic enchantments by Hannah Battershell; and stories about trees, animals and bugs in Once There Was A Bug (Sun 15 Oct). Walks through the cobbled streets of Edinburgh with Macastory (Sat 21 Oct) where the characters of Deacon Brodie and Aggie the Fish Wife come to life; the Egyptian tale of Isis and Osiris (Sat 14 Oct) is retold by Fergus McNicol with belly dancing from Moyra Banks; and a Kamishibai Workshop (Thu 19 Oct) with renowned storyteller, harpist and Urasenke Japanese Tea Master Mio Shudo.
At the end of the day, as darkness begins to fall, audiences can gather at the Netherbow Theatre for a relaxed evening of stories and music in our Open Hearth sessions featuring storytellers and musicians from around the world (Fri 13, Wed 24 & Sun 29 Oct).
Plus, there are special events including Anna Conomos-Wedlock’s The Promise, where stories inspired by the oral testimonies of Asia Minor refugees, draw on the meaning of homeland, displacement, memory and friendship, with music and song by Rebecca Vučetić (Fri 27 Oct); The Displaced Heart (Mon 23 Oct) an exquisite storytelling and music performance, combining English, Punjabi, and Irish songs accompanied by guitar and sitar; and Songs & Stories of the Fianna (Fri 20 Oct) supported by Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s Colmcille fund; and two events presented by Deaf Action and originally performed at Edinburgh Deaf Festival earlier this year: Visual Fun With Sports (Sat 21 Oct) by Petre Dobre & Craig McCulloch and Red Aphrodite (Thu 19 Oct) by Amy Murray.
Our popular online workshop strand Global Lab returns this year and during Week One (16-19 Oct) the festival will look at our planet’s eco-system and how ecological passion drives twenty-first century storytelling. In association with Earth Charter International each day Festival Director Donald Smith will invite storytellers from all corners of our planet to perform stories of human messiness, healing, hope and connections with nature. In Week Two the workshop theme is Shared Lives (23-26 Oct) and our focus returns to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the importance of valuing dignity, respect, equality and compassion in our lives.
Go Local also returns this year, with new voices from more regions in Scotland including North and South Lanarkshire coming together to share stories and songs. From Shetland to Dumfries and Galloway, there will be tales of battles, adventure, love and friendship shared by the fireside through October and November, with many of the festival’s commissions also going on tour.
Alongside these events, this year’s Festival Exhibition hosted at the Scottish Storytelling Centre will be TALK – a series of portraits taken by Edinburgh-based photographer Graham Williams, exploring the subject of men’s mental health as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival .
Looking ahead to this year’s event, Scottish International Storytelling Festival Director, Donald Smith said:
“All over the world human and environmental rights are under threat. But against that there is an activist and creative tide building towards a different future. The Storytelling Festival is part of that wave.”
Minister for Culture Christina McKelvie said: “Right to be Human is inspired by the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and could not be more timely. During the coming parliamentary year, the Scottish Government will introduce an ambitious new Human Rights Bill for Scotland. This will be a significant milestone in Scotland’s human rights journey, building on past work to embed a human rights culture across Scotland.
“This year’s Scottish International Storytelling Festival, supported by £120,000 of Scottish Government Festivals Expo funding, celebrates and explores all aspects of our common humanity in a challenging world.”
Catriona Hawksworth, Traditional Arts Officer at Creative Scotland, said: “Telling stories is part of being human and why events like the Scottish International Storytelling Festival are so important. The ‘Right To Be Human’ project in particular, supported by the Scottish Government’s Festivals EXPO fund, provides opportunities for Scottish storytellers to present their work on an internationally recognised platform, reflecting human rights issues and the human experience across the world and increasing their national and international reach. Including podcasts, music, children’s stories, Scots language, global voices and Greek myth – the festival has something for everyone to recognise and enjoy.”
The Scottish International Storytelling Festival will take place Friday 13 – Sunday 29 October. Tickets to each event cost a maximum of £10, with family events costing just £5 per ticket. For those planning on attending multiple events, the Festival Pass offers discounted tickets to many live festival events, online and at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, as well as a discount at the Scottish Storytelling Centre’s bookshop and Haggis Box Café.
To purchase tickets and browse the full programme, visit sisf.org.uk.
Neil Hanna Photography