GILES Abbott has a ‘superpower’. He can make you ‘see’ stories and transport you to places where there is still some space for magical realism. “The blind don’t have superpowers, as many would like to believe, but yes, stories helped me recover from disaster and through the loss of something I’d taken for granted, I found something I didn’t know I’d lost, the joy of stories,” smiles Abbott, who started storytelling in 1999, after sudden and serious, but not total, vision loss in 1998.
Here on the invitation of the British Library for a storytelling performance and workshop, Abbott initiated a dialogue with the audience, taking them on a journey that had no boundaries — from a village in Punjab to the castles of Scotland, a community hospital to an ancient Irish epic, Abbott says his job is to find the right story. He performs regularly at major story-telling festivals, clubs, schools. Abbott believes stories are the safest place to “explore a frightening theme or darkness, as we long for in art, what we lack in life, and along the way, collecting what we don’t have.” Abbott admits that when he lost his vision, he tried being many things — and it wasn’t an easy space to be in.
It was in stories that he found both energy and solace, and devised his own manner to tell a story — the first about himself. “I use people to tell me about things and the world around me, like a story,” reflects Abbott, who is a qualified voice teacher, was resident storyteller at the Chelsea Community Hospital Schools and runs voice and storytelling workshops, apart from working in primary and secondary schools. He also does a variety of projects that combine elements of music, text, storytelling. Abbott uses a range of material and sources to interpret stories, including myths, and rues the fact that we have lost so many stories of the oral tradition, and know only of stories that are written. “I try to read between lines of a myth and discover it. And I believe stories survive because they widen our experience,’’ Abbott adds that stories are not about teaching things, but exploring a world in them. Reading, listening to stories, attending sessions by other story-tellers. Abbott says he tells stories “in my own way, for copyright is the invention of the written word.”
Abbott uses no theatrical devices to tell a story — just his voice and judgement to know the energy of his audience, so that when he tells a story, the audience can imagine, picture and create their own images. “You have to choose right and not distract them,” smiles Abbott, who has used storytelling as a mechanism by which children of 3rd generation Gujarati descent were enabled to dramatically increase their confidence, pride and attainment in their bilingual ability. “My dream is that when I am an old man, I hear a story that was started by me, for once you speak the words, they belong to the person who hears them,” he says.