Phil Okwedy – Bleddfa Storyteller

Storytelling is simple, right? You have a story to tell and you tell it. Well, yes, that is right – as long as you do have a story to tell. My first afternoon at Bleddfa I didn’t have one. All we’d been asked for was a small personal story – but though I racked my brain, nothing came. Eventually I managed to draw on some memory but the process felt false. I felt like a fraud. I owned failure. Later, lying in my tent, listening to the owls screech, I wanted to curl up into a ball and let the earth swallow me whole.

Today, I treasure that memory because it represents the first steps I took along a path that I didn’t realise I had begun to tread. Seven years later and the journey which began at Bleddfa with Michael & Hazel and my fellow participants in the week long storytelling course has, quite literally, changed my life. I’ve been to some fantastic places, worked with many wonderful and amazing people and for the last 18 months have quit teaching to walk the path full-time.

I’ve been back too, spending an intense & fruitful weekend on the advanced course at Bleddfa where, in a community of practice with colleagues, I first began to develop the show Dance of the Stickfighting Warriors.

Of course, it’s not all been plain sailing. Along the way, I’ve had more than my fair share of swallow me whole feelings. But now, when those feelings come – the last only recently – and I again own failure, I draw on the memory of that night in the orchard at Bleddfa, and know that it is just another step on the path and that in each failure there rests an opportunity.
It is said that storytelling is the oldest art form – that ever since humans first lit a fire they have told stories – and I certainly think stories are how we make sense of our lives and ourselves over time. But the public sharing of a story, something beyond anecdote for those beyond acquaintance, felt like a different beast. While I found the prospect of standing in front of an audience and performing a story terrifying, I felt compelled to try. I went to Bleddfa, for the week long course and discovered the power of visualisation – that if you see it, the audience will see it too. I trusted that and it worked, feedback was positive and I continued to explore.

Telling more myself, listening and watching others I came to see that there was more to it than visualisation – the story does happen in the imagination of the listener but is also the creation of both teller and audience and happens somewhere in the space between them. Good tellers are always themselves on stage, allowing their personality to be seen, connecting with the audience, yet everything they say, do or be serves the story.

Lately, I have come to see that in really effective performance storytelling the physicality of the teller seems to be a key ingredient – out of stance comes not only power but also spontaneity and integrity. However, no matter the techniques or theories employed, I think the art lies in getting out of the way and letting the story be told.

Born at Bleddfa, Dance of the Stickfighting Warriors is a collaboration between myself (words) and Mikey Price (music):
Persecution, terror, slaughter and slavery are melded together in a set of stories that chart the journey from forced exile to resolute return, and that ultimately celebrate the triumph of the human spirit over tyranny. Strange then, that the key to it all should be a name – and that the name should be found in a Cumbrian police station in the late 1930’s…

Phil will be telling Dance of the Stickfighting Warriors as a public performances at Bleddfa with musician Mikey Pricen as part of the Week of Storytelling on the 10th of July. Click on the following links for more information about the performances on the Bleddfa Week of Storytelling here and more about the course here.

Below is some feedback about Dance of the Stickfighting Warriors

Thank you both for an amazing show!  I’m still thinking about it, the sign of a sure-fire hit.  It was so simple, and lightly told, so that you hardly noticed till afterwards what depth and richness there was to the evening.  I loved the way  the Welsh roots of the first half underpinned the adventures of the second half.

Marion Leeper

‘Stickfighters is a terrific show. Brave, funny, touching and uplifting. Bravo!’

Daniel Morden, Storyteller

‘A powerful, emotional show that charts a journey of self-discovery. Exciting, horrifying and funny in turn, this feast of words and music implants its haunting theme in your head – where it remains for many days after the event.’

Shirley Lowe, Cambridge Storytellers

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