Black Theatre Live


Apply: A Body of Words Course

27 April 2017

How do we take a folktale, that has been lying flat between the pages of a book, or dormant in our memory bank, and animate it? How do we breathe life into its world and its characters, making the listener’s experience engaging and memorable?

A Body of Words is a series of 4 self-contained storytelling course modules for intermediate storytellers and actors. Each module will have a specific theme and will use stories to further focus on that theme Participants will work with storyteller, Jan Blake, to explore the idea of “immersive storytelling”

“My assertion is that a storyteller should have something to say about being a human being, about the human condition, however, not everyone who seeks to be a storyteller has something to say. In this instance, the storyteller should at least be able to give a story 100% of what it needs for the audience to be satisfied with their experience of hearing it and the storyteller's telling of it. A storyteller needs to know every crevice and every corner of the story, should be able to be totally immersed, but also present. For me, this way of working takes precedence over technique; one can get to that later, but first, it's all about the storyteller’s relationship with the story.” Jan Blake


The aim of the course is to prepare the storyteller for performance in any situation, be it school, stage, festival, or a small, intimate studio space. After the course the storyteller will:

  • Know how to expand, play with, understand, and deepen their relationship with a story.
  • Understand about the pacing and rhythm of a story.
  • Understand how the use of music and song can enhance the telling of a story.
  • Know how to prepare her/himself for a performance.
  • Use all aspects of the body and voice for delivering a story.
  • Be able to freely inhabit the characters in her/his story.
  • Be able to read and respond quickly to the audience they are telling for.

The course is practical and highly process oriented, beginning with a basic warm-up and containing teaching, demonstration, one-to-one tutoring and Q& A.  Whilst there will be lots of time for group work, the participants must be prepared to present something alone for the rest of the group.

In between the course weeks, it is expected that the students will try out some of the skills they have learned during the previous week. The entire course will be run in English and it is expected that the participants will be be fluent in the language. It is also expected that the participants will research, find and bring four stories, each one appropriate to the theme of each module.  Please wear loose-fitting clothes, & comfortable shoes.

Module One: The Storytellers Presence; Tricksters and Fools.

From the Ananse in West Africa & the Caribbean to the Hodja in Turkey there are numerous stories that celebrate wit, wisdom, and the quiet knowledge of the common man.

The telling of these stories demands the total presence of the teller on stage. You must be there; in the rhythm, in the characters and in the interaction with the audience. We will use these stories to explore who you are, how you tell and how to develop your style of telling.

Module Two: The storyteller’s body and physical expression Shape-Shifter Stories

The shape shifter is either born or transformed by some magical force. These stories are sometimes frightening, always fascinating and a total body experience.

The exploration of these stories will focus on your ability to physically inhabit characters, developing a physical language for yourself, using movement & gesture. We will also explore your physical relationship with the space and the audience.

Module Three: The Storytellers’ Voice; Tales of Love & Passion

Your voice is your fundamental instrument, and a necessary tool for communicating your story. As a storyteller, it can be very easy to focus on the narrative twists and turns of a story, to lose oneself in the physical expression of the characters whilst neglecting the very means that allows you to utter those timeless words “Once Upon a time.” With the voice, we can further develop the characters and communicate a truer experience to your audience.

Module Four: Music, Rhythm and song;

Tales of Heroes & Heroines.likely and unlikely

The rhythm and pacing of a story is integral to its telling. From exposition to dialogue and inhabiting the character, the storytellers must know when the story needs them to linger for a while, when to move on, when to up the tempo and when to slow it down. As well as the integral rhythm, there is the rhythm in ring songs clapping games, body rhythms and call and response.  Many of these rhythms we carry with us from childhood and can be used as tools for interaction with the audience and creating an atmosphere of joy.

What did past participants say?

“Jan works in a very clear and straight forward way to help us each findour own way of telling the stories. She helps bring out the very best in everybody and has a wonderful way of weaving coaching, theory and practice together in a very useful way.”  Marianne

“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!!!!” Gaurie

“It was a transformative and wonderful week of hard work and much joy. Thank you so much Jan.”  Dvora

“I would summarise the approach as spontaneity based on a thoroughly informed and disciplined intuition. How do you teach that? Somehow Jan does, through example and lots of perceptive personal feedback. She draws out what’s best.” Greg

“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” Alice

About the course tutor

As one Europe’s leading storytellers, Jan Blake has been performing worldwide for over thirty years. Specialising in stories from Africa, the Caribbean, and Arabia, she has a well-earned reputation for dynamic and generous storytelling. Recent highlights include Hay Festival, where she was storyteller in-residence, the Viljandi Harvest Festival in Estonia and TEDx Warsaw, and TEDxManchester.

As well as performing at all the major storytelling festials both nationally and internationally, she works regularly with the British Council, leads storytelling workshops for emerging storytellers, and gives masterclasses for teachers, brands, and businesses. She also regularly captivates school children with mesmerising stories.

In 2011, she was the recipient of the biannual Thüringer Märchen Preis, awarded to scholars or performers who have devoted their lives to the service of storytelling. As part of the World Shakespeare Festival in 2012, she 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 the same year, she received the Outstanding Female Storyteller Award from British Awards for Storytelling Excellence (BASE).

In 2013, The Old Woman, The Buffalo, and The Lion of Manding created and performed with musicians Kouame and Raymond Sereba toured to acclaim earning her a 2nd British Awards for Storytelling Excellence (BASE).

In 2016 she was commissioned by Tara Arts to write Camilla & Compella, a poignant  family storytelling show  about a modern day young girl and her Great Grandfather, marking the 100th anniversary of WW1 and the West Indian soldiers contribution to fighting in the trenches on the Western Front as part of the British Colonial army. 

The intensive course is set to run for 4 x 5 day residencies at Tara Theatre in London in August, September, October and November 2017. 50% of fees are payable in advance. £500 per module (£300 concessions)

If you are interested in applying please complete this SHOW SURVEY