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Young Storyteller of the Year 2005: Anna Conomos

Anna ConomosThe events leading up to my reception of the Young Storyteller Award themselves make up a tale worth telling.

On that beautifully bright Sunday afternoon, 27 February, the MAC Theatre in Birmingham was peopled with storytellers and promoters from across the length and breadth of the country. I can still see myself, ten minutes before 'storytelling time', bounding off the bus, my Russian peasant shirt, skirt and scarf - donned specifically to complement my folk tale - flapping wildly about me. Had I not spent the better part of the morning pruning, tweaking and chiselling my story? Its details were spinning in my head. So deeply was I involved in them as I sprinted towards the theatre that I began to sense the characters wrenching themselves from their subliminal abode and impulsively coming to life: their voices resounding in my ears, their gestures manipulating my movements...it was as if the entire tale had suddenly and entirely consumed me.

When I finally arrived, breathless, at the MAC, I made my way to the Young Storytellers' Room (the Hexagon Theatre) which I found to be at once inviting and convivial. Everyone looked so colourful. The young contestants exuded an enthusiasm both to listen to and to recount the narratives that had captured their collective fantasies. At the telling, the stories provided opportunities to fascinate and to be fascinated. People and places were brought to life before our eyes through song, movement and self-expression. Crossing time and space, we drifted into Palestine, Africa, Ireland and India. Indeed, on that day every tale seemed to harmonize with and adorn the face, physique and individual expressions of the narrators. Their colourful descriptions painted pictures of their unique imagined worlds, characters, dreams, histories and ambitions.

Discovering oneself, and others, through a story is nothing short of amazing. I confess sensing the labyrinthine threads of life's experiences weaving conduits into my saga as it unfolded. While reciting with gusto the exploits of chubby Prince Ivan and the pretty Princess Vasilisa of the Golden Braid, I perceived in my mannerisms the inherited and unrehearsed body language of my own Balkan ancestry. Images and faces that had once captured my capricious fantasy were now claiming territory on my articulated descriptions. Each utterance and motion in its own way contributed not only to the vocal and visual manifestations of my story, it also bore witness to my own inner, secret, and profound identity. Moreover, I slowly came to recognise the influences that throughout my life have cultivated and nurtured my imagination.

It was a wonderful feeling to sense and to hear the listeners enjoying this, my fanciful world: chuckling at the clucking cottage on chicken legs; bemused by pea-born Ivan...

'And they lived happily ever after...The End.' That is when I suddenly felt a wave of elation - assured of the fact that I had expressed myself honestly, freely and openly. To my mind, this is the best I had to offer as a storyteller.

Winning the award was indeed a great privilege and delight. I was thrilled! For one, it left me with the certainty that the audience loved hearing my tale as much as I had loved unfolding it. But what is more, it dawned on me that I simply had to share this childhood passion more widely. It was an erstwhile wish that has now become a reality for I have been invited to the Storytelling Club in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire in June and, together with my partners in the storytelling theatre company Annamation, I will be going on a storytelling café tour in October. In addition, I have been asked to take charge of a series of storytelling sessions at a Special Needs school and, in July, I will be presenting narratives at the Beyond the Border Festival. At the Festival I will have the additional pleasure of listening to many other tale spinners from around the world. All of this as a consequence of winning the award!

I wish to extend many warm thanks to the Traditional Arts team, to the MCs, Alex Somerville and Phillipa Tipper, who with their enthusiasm gave the event such buoyancy and colour, to the judges, and of course to Graham Langley for organising such a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable day. Thank you for giving me these opportunities which I hope to build on and develop in the future.

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