Soft whispers of anticipation could be heard as children sat down to participate in a storytelling workshop conducted by Eric Miller at the Kahaani Festival, held at Delhi Public School and organised by Teamwork Art. Miller, a storyteller from New York who is currently based in Chennai, feels that storytelling is a way of an “interpersonal discovery sharing process”. “Both my parents were journalists in arts — my mother was the editor of a magazine which dealt with dance and my father wrote about cinema and so when one grows up like that, one naturally tends to be inclined towards the arts. I have always been genuinely interested in the field of arts, specifically communication.”
Eric is part of a global storytelling revival, which began in the 60’s and 70’s, where they use traditional methods of storytelling. He first came to India in 1988 and fell in love with the country. So what fascinates him about storytelling? “I love the way everything goes dark at the beginning and how the light comes up on the stage and then everyone wonders what’s going to happen or what’s going to come up, what fascinates me the most is the surprise and the discovery element that comes up from inside the narrator or the storyteller,” said Miller.
In India, he says there are many traditional methods of storytelling and the culture of performance and ritual is something which attracted him. Hence, he decided to settle down in Chennai after he was done with his PhD research in 2005. “I chose Chennai because of the ‘Kannagi tale’ or in other words the epic tale of the ankle bracelet. A wife’s fight for injustice done to her husband is something which really intrigued me and put me into thinking”.
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Miller co-founded an NGO in Chennai called World Storytelling Institute which helps train people in storytelling and does research in storytelling. People who train at this NGO usually take up storytelling as a non-serious career. According to him, storytelling as a career is seen by most as a part time occupation or an entrepreneurial idea, where one could get jobs in an HR department or one could get called by a school to conduct teacher training workshops. “The demographics of people who take my workshops usually comprises women who are married and have children, and want to go back to work for their own personal fulfillment. There are very few people who make their living as a storyteller or a performer on a freelance basis,” said Miller.
Miller believes that storytelling is an “excellent form of communication” and it shouldn’t be lost. “I feel that the traditional methods of storytelling are dwindling like folk tales and epics but the act of conversing hasn’t, technology has empowered people to meet other people. But some people have to relearn the ways of socialising, like those who are always playing games or watching TV,” he added.