Storytelling - for kids and adults

The 398.2 Storytelling Festival wants to reach out to new audiences, with sessions for people of all ages

Roger Jenkins telling the story of The Cake Of Happiness at Toa Payoh Library earlier this month.
Roger Jenkins telling the story of The Cake Of Happiness at Toa Payoh Library earlier this month.PHOTO: MARTIN INGLIN

A fledgling storytelling festival here aims to push the boundaries of what people think a story can be.

The 398.2 Storytelling Festival - back for the second year - features multilingual storytelling, folk music performances and storytelling sessions for adults. It takes place on Saturday at the Woodlands Regional Library and on Dec 3 at the Asian Civilisations Museum. All events are free.

Festival organiser Roger Jenkins, a professional storyteller, decided to organise the festival last year to fill what he felt was a vacuum in the scene left by the Singapore International Storytelling Festival.

The long-running festival, organised by the National Book Development Council of Singapore, ran yearly till 2014. The council continues to organise storytelling workshops and performances as part of its programmes.

Jenkins, 63, says: "There was space for a proper storytelling festival here. Our focus is on the storytellers and storytelling as an art form, and to really try to reach a broad audience."


  • WHEN: Saturday, 11am to 8pm; Dec 3, 11am to 6pm

    WHERE: Saturday: Woodlands Regional Library, 01-03 Woodlands Civic Centre, 900 South Woodlands Drive; Dec 3: Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place



Last year's inaugural festival, which is named after the Dewey classification code for folktales in the library, attracted 3,000 people over two days.

This year's edition features 20 storytellers, all Singaporean or permanent residents, including Jenkins, Sheila Wee and Kiran Shah.

Jenkins has also roped in seven students from Republic Polytechnic with whom he had worked to tell some of the stories and play characters in costume.

The festival is supported by the National Arts Council, the Arts Fund and National Library Board.

There will be 17 storytelling sessions at Woodlands Regional Library and 11 at the Asian Civilisations Museum. The stories that will be told at each of the two locations have different themes and forms, with minimal repetition of stories.

The Asian literary tradition is the focus at the library, which has a dedicated space for an Asian folktale collection. Besides stories told in English, there will be bilingual storytelling sessions featuring stories from the Korean, Japanese and Chinese oral traditions.

At the museum, stories are inspired by its current exhibition, Port Cities, which highlights what life was like in the Asian port cities between the 16th and 20th centuries. Stories told here will also feature cultural items such as masks, drums and statues, which may be found in the museum.

To reach out to new audiences, there will be a storytelling session for adults and teenagers, on Saturday at 7pm at the library.

Jenkins says: "One of the things that drives storytellers crazy is the perception that storytelling is for kids. It's not. For adults, our style of telling is different - we don't use puppets or silly actions, we tell a story and create a connection."

There will also be music performances at both venues.

Singer Vivienne Wong will perform ballads and folk songs, displaying a different form of storytelling through lyrics on Saturday at the library.

Next week, Jenkins will collaborate with gamelan ensemble BronzAge to tell the legend of Bukit Merah.

In the lead-up to the festival, storytelling sessions were held in libraries all over Singapore in the last three months, with some sessions attracting up to 120 people.

What makes storytelling so appealing, says Jenkins, is the spontaneity of telling a story in front of a live audience, which is different from just reading a story aloud from a book.

"You never tell the same story twice because it changes according to the time and setting you're in and the audience," he says.

During the telling of one of his stories called The Cake Of Happiness, audience members can suggest what to put inside the cake. "The cake is different every time. Sometimes, hugs and joy are added in. Sometimes, it has durian, for some strange reason. That's what makes storytelling fresh and engaging."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'Storytelling - for kids and adults'. Subscribe