For reasons you can’t explain, you feel the draw to become a custodian & caretaker of folk memory & orality. To begin to tell stories or deepen the quality of your storytelling practice.
You want to answer the call to stand in your own storytelling tradition and to carry that tradition forward with integrity, re-enlivening the culture, based on love, honour & respect.
You delight in all forms of cultural expression - from film to books to music to cooking - and want to learn more about the ancient art of storytelling.
I’d like to invite you to consider subscribing to The Akua Storytelling Project Community.
It is an affordable, online forum, a virtual community where you can engage with another way of being in the world, whilst immersing yourself in the story wisdom of Africa & other cultures, which have all too often been dismissed as having nothing to offer the dominant Western cultures.
It is an invitation to use the wisdom of these stories to dig deeper into your own cultural heritage in search of the treasure which was always lain beneath your feet.
It is an opportunity for storytellers, particularly young people of colour, to be exposed to & train with one of the most respected storytellers within the African/Caribbean diaspora.
It is a community of those who delight in the enigma of stories.
I founded The Akua Storytelling Project community as a space for dialogue, for storytellers to train & develop, to amplify storytelling as a performing art and for the exploration of storytelling as a tool for transformational change.
This is a network of those devoted to preserving an oral art form which, at best is tolerated and at worst, is dismissed as having no value beyond being commodified for the business sector.
If you resonate with the above, and with an authentic and honest approach to storytelling as a performing art, as well as the notion that storytellers don’t need to step outside of themselves or take on a mantle of ‘the storyteller’ to communicate the true heart of a story, then this network might be for you…
There are a few levels of training available to you, designed to take you from being an absolute beginner, never having told a folk tale in your life, to becoming a seasoned storyteller, holding an audience in the palm of your hand as you regale them with an entire evening of traditional tales, leaving your audience beaming and full of wonder. But first...
There are certain ‘essential competencies’ to being a good storyteller and that, without them, would-be storytellers will struggle.
So, here are:
In order to be a really good storyteller, you’ll need to learn how to:
All twelve of these can enhance your storytelling and contribute to a truly immersive experience for your audience.
But, in addition to learning how to do all those things above, there are also:
Once you’ve learned the twelve basics and you have your five pillars in place, then come the nine hard questions. They’re not hard because they’re complicated. They’re hard because they’re simple. These are the questions most storytellers avoid and the best ones have wrestled with long and hard (and usually not alone).
A storyteller’s job is to approach the story with love & respect and to be in service to the people who inhabit the world of the narrative. There are people who become very confused by this point and it often shows in their storytelling. Let me briefly outline how, below.
I’ve been a professional storyteller for the past 37 years. During that time, I’ve told stories at dozens of festivals, in a myriad of countries for thousands of people. I’ve even won a few awards for my work along the way.
For me, storytelling was a lifeline, but I wasn’t aware of that when I began
I was living in London, far away from home in Manchester UK..
I loved performing & tried to get on with theatre, but never having been to drama school I struggled with the power dynamic, and the racism which was endemic in the auditioning process.
I needed to find a way to express my performing abilities without submitting to the idea that I should be grateful that I got an acting job, any acting job, or that my life as an actor would be determined by the narrow view of the casting potential for Black actors.
When I was introduced to storytelling a bell went off in my head. First of all, the sense of artistic freedom and authenticity which storytelling afforded me was a welcome change from fitting into someone else's limiting thoughts about my capabilities. Secondly, I had been cooked in Jamaican folklore; I had grown up with my mother’s proverbs & idioms, my father’s riddles. The first book my mother showed me was a book of Ananse stories, which she had brought from Jamaica with her. She always sang melodies of digging songs and ring games. She was instilling in me a deep connection to her homeland through her folklore.
Everything was starting to make sense.
I could express my performing abilities, whilst honouring my parents & in particular, my maternal grandmother, Miss Lillian Nelson, whom I later discovered had been the village storyteller back in Jamaica.
Folklore became the threads with which I began to stitch myself together, having become frayed by the demands of a colonially focused society that was making life feel terrible. A hunger for & consumption of stories was feeding my soul; from researching Jamaican folklore to trying to follow the storytelling footprint of my African Ancestors, storytelling had become a healing pool, an immersion into what made me, ME, and, what had formed my people. Storytelling gave me the opportunity to show up as my authentic self, using material which spoke directly to my culture and was a delight to express.
I believe that the folktales & myths invite us all to engage with another way of being in the world, to immerse ourselves in storytelling cultures which have all too often been dismissed as promoting outdated tropes having very little to offer a culture, dominated by online clicks and likes and an obsession with self, rather than community. A culture where people are less and less likely to look up from their screens and reach out to each other, unless it’s to confirm what we want to believe about ourselves, reflected in a cracked mirror of confusion and self hatred.
Stories have always been one of the most direct ways to create human connection, to help us reflect on what it means to walk this earth and to be in harmony and balance with each other
My personal belief is that a storyteller should not only be able to tell a great story, but should also have something to say about the human condition.
However, not everyone who wants to become a storyteller has a profound calling or a vocational bent to their desire to tell a story. In this instance, the storyteller should at least be able to give a story 100% of what it needs, so that the audience can be satisfied with both their experience of hearing it and the storyteller's telling of it.
LEGS: Storytellers need to be grounded; they need to be here & there now.
ARMS: Storytellers need to fully embrace the audience, the story and themselves
HEART: Storytellers need to love everything about themselves & everything about the story
THROAT: Storytellers need to nurture their voice, the voice is the vehicle
HIPS: Storytellers need to feel the rhythm & the pulse of the story
A fully integrated storyteller makes for a fully immersive storytelling experience.
When you step out in front of an audience, they need to trust you, so you need to be grounded.
When you can fully embrace your audience without judgement, they will feel your compassion.
When you open your heart, loving everything about yourself & the story you can use everything you are to truly advocate for the people in the story.
When you discover the elasticity & range of your voice, you can give voice to the myriad amount of people in your stories.
When you connect with your hips and your sacrum, you can connect with the movement, rhythm & pulse of the story.
So, where might you start? How do we take a folktale which has been lying flat between the pages of a book, or dormant in our memory banks, and animate it? How do we breathe life into its world and its people, making the listeners’ experience engaging and memorable?
Find & develop your own authentic storytelling voice.
A One-Day Taster for parents, teachers & absolute beginners who want to try on Storytelling for size.
And if you liked that, then you'll love this...
Parents, teachers and story lovers, have you ever found yourself sitting in wonder, watching a storyteller at work and thinking, ‘How do they do that?’ or ‘I wonder if I could do that?’
A Body of Words Foundation to Storytelling is a 20 week storytelling beginner's course for you to explore & discover your own, natural-born storytelling abilities.
Four, self-contained weekend modules for storytellers who have been devoting themselves to the art of storytelling for 2-6 years, have a growing repertoire of stories and would love the opportunity to sit in community with me & other storytellers, as we delve into
Each module will have a specific theme and will take place in a 5 meter bell tent in my garden!
Module 1: June 23, 24, 25 Tricksters/ The Storyteller’s Stage Presence,
Module 2: July 28, 29, 30 Shapeshifters/ The Storyteller’s body
Module 3: August 18, 19, 20 Love Stories/ The Storyteller’s Voice
Module 4: September 22, 23, 24 Hero’s & Sheroes/ The Storytellers use of Music Rhythm & Song
A delicious & nutritious vegetarian meal will be provided each day.
Click here to apply
A 9-month Online Mentorship for storytellers who want to WOW their audiences with traditional tales, myths & legends and show up as an embodied, authentic and engaging storyteller.
I will guide you through the landscape of your stories.Together with your fellow mentees, you will create, build, examine & explore your repertoire of stories. At the end of your mentorship journey, you will have expanded your range, deepened your practice & created four brand new storytelling programmes.
By joining any of these courses, you will automatically become a member of The Akua Storytelling Project, our overarching storytelling community. You’ll be able to keep up with all the learning activity for your selected course and also be able to contribute to the main Akua Storytelling Project Activity Feed, where you'll be able to interact with other members from other courses and spaces. Lets Begin!
Let me tell you a story
Once upon a time, a woman called Akua went to see the Okumfo (Ghanaian fetish priest) because she was desperate to become a mother. The Okumfo instructed her to carve a wooden doll and carry it upon her back for 7 days & nights, after which time, she would become with child. Akua did as she was instructed and nine months later, to she gave birth to that much longed for baby. Ever since that time the Akua doll has been seen a symbol of female fertility .
In the Ghanaian language Twi.'Akua' means 'Girl born on a Wednesday,' Wednesday is ruled by the planet Mercury which is the planet of communication.
I was born on a Wednesday, hence,
I'm a storyteller of African & Caribbean origin. As one of Europe's leading storytellers, I have been performing worldwide for 37 years.
In 2011, I was the first non- German recipient of the biannual Thüringer Märchen Preis, awarded to scholars or performers who have devoted their lives to the service of storytelling. In 2013 I was awarded the Outstanding Female Storyteller prize by the British Awards for Storytelling Excellence (BASE).
As part of the World Shakespeare Festival in 2012, I was the curator for Shakespeare’s Stories, a landmark exhibition that explored themes of journey and identity, in conjunction with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
In 2013 I was awarded a further BASE award for my acclaimed show, The Old Woman, The Buffalo, and The Lion of Manding created and performed with Ivoirian musicians Kouame and Raymond Sereba.
Specialising in stories from Africa, the Caribbean & Arabia. I believe that the folktales & myths which I tell, particularly those from the African continent, invite us all to engage with another way of being in the world, to immerse ourselves in cultures which have all to often been dismissed as having nothing to a offer the dominant culture. I want to take these stories, dive deep into their wisdom and offer them as a healing balm.
1. Gauri Raje: Storyteller, founder of Silent Sounds (India/Scotland)
'No other storyteller embodies and promises to reconnect you with your joy of storytelling, in the way that Jan does. And through it to find one’s voice and power. That was awesome!!!!'
2. Alice Fernbank: Storyteller (Scotland)
'Jan is as powerful a teacher as she is a storyteller. She has guided me to the heart of storytelling with her acute insight and wisdom. She has helped me to lift the veil of uncertainty that has shrouded my performances in the past, revealing a deeper truth and authenticity in my work'
3. Simon Hodges: Storyteller, founder of Storyourself (The Netherlands)
'Jan provides a constant standard of integrity and skill that guides and furthers my craft. She is uncompromising yet full of love, helping me see through the artifice in my storytelling to cherish the pure gold at its depth. I'm more self aware in my telling, more at ease yet more controlled, more present to the story to let its genius unfold into the room. Direct contact with Jan has been an unrelenting gift. Whenever I think of her, I'm filled with gratitude and warmth.'
4. Jordan Campbell: Storyteller (UK/Jamaica)
Working with Jan has been a huge step forward to understand and trust myself as a storyteller. Jan helps us to have high expectations for ourselves, yet makes us feel at ease and is so sensitive, that you can miss all the work she’s putting in. That is, until you finally tell the story you've been working on and everything falls into place! She encourages us to work in our mother tongues; I once watched a fellow student tell her story in a language no one else spoke and we were all moved to tears. This is powerful stuff. Working with Jan, you quickly gain a deeper respect for stories and the art form. Alongside the teaching, Jan has a way of creating space for fostering friendships and building community. Our cohort is still in touch with each other 3 years later!
5. India Rose: Musician (UK)
Jan's storytelling and capacity for holding space is like a huge warm hug which envelopes you in its mystery and adventure. From the moment I experienced her story telling I knew I wanted to study with her. I was blessed to be offered an energy exchange place on her Foundation to Storytelling Course. I felt a comfort and aliveness awaken within me. Reconnecting to my storyteller within and being carefully and playfully led through different exercises that brought me and my chosen stories to an intimate and natural place of sharing and knowing.
Not only am I able to share a great story but I feel my ability to connect with other humans has also expanded. So much to learn and so many amazing stories to share, the world needs storytellers!
Ps: Just so you know; you don’t have to become a subscriber to access any of the courses here but you might want to consider it because
"As the world gets more confused, storytellers should become more centred. What we need in our age are not more specialists, experts, spin-doctors. What we need are people deeply rooted in the traditions of their art, but who are also at ease in the contemporary world."
"Storytellers are the singing conscience of the land, the unacknowledged guides."
Ben Okri, The Mystery Feast: Thoughts on Storytelling