It’s ‘the small festival with the big heart’, and the Orkney Storytelling Festival has had to undergo some big changes this year.
The Coronavirus pandemic has decimated events calendars around the globe, but in turn that has encouraged organisers to do things differently, with many turning to digital technology to bring programmes to their audiences.
For the Orkney Storytelling Festival team, a virtual event was the only way forward. “We left things as late as possible in the hope that we might be able to have some kind of live event, but with the restrictions in place it just wasn’t going to be possible,” says Tom Muir, one of the festival’s organisers.
“We had two fantastic storytellers booked to come to Orkney – Anne Hunter and Mio Shudo – but we’ve had to postpone them until next year. We knew we wanted to do something though, so we started thinking about how we could run things a bit differently.”
The answer lies with cameras, social media and a lot of hard work from a talented band of local storytellers. Events have been pre-recorded and will be premiered on YouTube and Facebook over the course of the festival weekend, between the 22nd and 25th of October.
The programme includes Orkney folk tales in the landscape, a virtual tour of the islands and some storytelling hotspots. There’s a series of darker stories from St Magnus Cathedral as well as some songs, stories and music from the special Betty’s Reading Room in Orkney’s west mainland too.
“We’re calling it our ‘Blue Peter’ festival – here’s one we made earlier,” laughs Tom. “But we’ve been working with local filmmaker Mark Jenkins and we’ve put together some really nice pieces, showcasing both stories and local scenery. Anne and Mio have also recorded some stories for us – hopefully they’ll be the perfect preview for 2021.”
Next year feels far away at the moment, and there’s no guarantee that events in 2021 will be able to run at all – new normal or not. But the focus is very much on the present for Tom and the rest of the festival committee.
“There will be a different feel to this year’s event than normal. As storytellers, we thrive in front of a live audience and really enjoy the interaction and energy between people,” he says. “We won’t have that this time around, but we’ve all been working together to make this happen and everyone is really looking forward to seeing our stories up online.”
Every cloud has a silver lining, and here it’s the fact that, for the first time, stories from the festival will be available for people all over the world to see. They’ll also be a permanent reminder of the importance of stories, folklore and the oral tradition.
“Stories are more important now than ever as they bring people together,” says Tom. They carry our values and morality and are inclusive to all people, no matter where they are in the world. We’re going to do our best to bring amusement, comfort and wonder into people’s lives.”
The Orkney Storytelling Festival will run online between 22 and 25 October. Visit the official website for more information, or keep up to date with the programme on the Orkney Storytelling Festival Facebook group. Events are also listed below, and will be streamed on the Orkneyology YouTube account. Donations towards future festivals are welcome.
Thursday, Oct. 22: An Ocean of Stories - 19:30
Storytellers from the Storytelling Festival's Committee share their stories to brighten up the darkest of evenings.
Friday, Oct. 23: Orkney Folk Tales in the Landscape - 19:30
Orkney storyteller Tom Muir takes you on a journey around Orkney and shares some of the folk tales that are set in that location.
Saturday, Oct. 24: Fins, Furs and Feathers: Natural and Supernatural Animals of Scotland and the North -1400
Dr Lizanne Henderson hosts a seminar of speakers who will give talks on animals in folklore. This event has been shared by the Wild Goose Festival, Dumfries.
St Magnus Cathedral – tales from the darker side - 19:30
Orkney Storyteller Fran Flett Hollinrake shares stories that tell of the dark goings on that took place in the beautiful 12th century cathedral dedicated to St Magnus.
Sunday, Oct. 25: Betty's Reading Room - 14:00
The festival's popular event at Betty's Reading Room is going online with Orkney storytellers sharing a couple of their favourite stories, with an introduction to the story of Betty and the Reading Room from its creators, Craig and Jane, who also provide music and song.
A Tide of Tales - 19:30
The members of the Orkney Storytelling Festival and friends share stories in this grand finale. It will also feature a story each from Anne Hunter and Mio Shudo, who were to have been our guests this year but will now be with us next year. A small taste of what is to come once things settle down again.
The Promoting Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.