When actor, director and writer Evelyn Krape worked as a drama teacher, she facilitated a Grandparents Day where students told stories to their older family members. Years later, she had an idea: what if it were the other way around?
‘Older people don’t often have the opportunity to tell their stories… they deserve a voice, they deserve to be heard, they deserve to be seen.’
Krape’s theatre background and passion for storytelling lead to the formation of Telling Tales, a project combining real histories of older Australians with live theatre performance. Along with oral historian Dr Vivenne Nicholson and a small team of musicians, the Telling Tales team work extensively with Tale Tellers, listening to and documenting personal histories.
‘Viv interviews them and I don’t say anything: I just listen, so I can become familiar with this person I’ve never met, because in a couple of months when I get up on stage with them, I’ll know them as well as anybody.’
With interviews, rewrites and edits, it’s a lengthy process, taking up to six months. Participants are sent draft scripts along the way and learn about the other Tale Tellers involved. ‘We then have a rehearsal, and it’s extraordinary. Because they’ve read each other’s stories, they meet and already know each other, they have a connection: “Oh! You’re Jim!”’
For six years, Telling Tales has been staged across Victoria, providing a unique opportunity for older Australians to share stories of their lives in a rich, meaningful way. Krape gives the example of one participant, a man living with his daughter, grand-daughter and great-grandchild, who was experiencing early signs of dementia. ‘He opened the show and the first slide that came up was him as a three-year-old boy in an orphanage, standing on the post outside the building.’
His family, seated in the front row, watched the performance and through story-telling learned about the life of their father and grandfather. ‘It was amazing - seeing his children’s faces, who couldn’t remember him as the active seaman that he was, or hearing his story of liking a woman who’d write Dear Dorothy Dix letters in the paper so he wrote in and asked her out!’
The stories are emotive, detailed, and moving. As may be expected of personal histories, tales range from hilarious to gob-smacking to devastating. One Tale Teller, who had recently lost a family member to suicide, had her daughter come on stage to perform Hallulujah. ‘I looked to the audience and people were howling. My own mother had her arm around two women she’d just met. Telling Tales is raw, and funny, and moving…’
Krape and Dr Nicholson are thrilled to share some of these tales for Radio Reimagined listeners. ‘The stories are life-giving… it’s so important to acknowledge that older people have lived a life. People don’t just sit and think “Oh well, I’ve reached a certain age, my life’s finished - I have nothing to say.” Nothing could be further from the truth.’