In my previous newsletter, I asked my subscribers if they, or anyone they knew, would like to be interviewed for this column. Denise was one of the people who responded. I enjoyed reading her story and I am sure that you will too.  Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you, Denise Bertrand …

Aneeta: Denise, thank you for writing to me and suggesting this interview.

Denise: I have enjoyed your newsletter for about the last eight months. You provide generous insights and you give a lot of support to individual creativity. I look forward to your newsletter. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to blow my horn.

Aneeta: Thank you so much for that comment. I do try my best with this newsletter. Denise, please tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where did you grow up, what do you do for a living and where do you live now?

Denise: I grew up in a small town in Ontario Canada called Amherstburg. There were only 5000 people in the town until it joined in with other townships, then the population came to like, 8000. It was a friendly (and still is) town where in I as a teenager in particular seemed to want to get to know everyone. I have always had an outgoing nature. I knew from an early age that I had a gift in working with children.  After my education I opened a School of Drama for 4-10 year olds called A.S.T.A.R. – After School Theatre Arts and Recreation.  I was the director, organizer, teacher and writer of the scripts that were produced for the children to perform.  I stayed with this dream for eight years. I then sold it and went on to do some “soul searching” in a yoga ashram in Sicily Italy, of all places.  That indeed is another story. After my return within a couple of years I opened up A.S.T.A.R Gallery for Performance Art on the west coast of Canada on a small island called Salt Spring. I now was prepared to broaden my vision, my teaching, to include adults.

Within two years of opening the Gallery, I was a little restless and ‘broke’ if the truth be told so I answered an add in a newspaper (which I never believed I would get a job from). I strongly believe in word of mouth marketing. Anyhow this job was for a speech and drama teacher in Singapore. I didn’t even know a country called Singapore existed! Well I got the job, moved through culture shock  – of being in Asia– remember I am basically a small town Canadian girl.  However within a short period of time unfortunately the company that brought me into Singapore had financial difficulties, so I was forced to sink or swim. I chose to swim, created my own business, called Articulating Drama! I have never really looked back.

Now I am here on yet another island, Phuket Thailand trying to bring my methodology of teaching to local children and adults.

Aneeta: I admire your courage! I understand that you’re a teacher. If I may ask, what do you teach?

Denise: I consider myself a freelance educator. I teach what I call ‘the art of communication’ workshops, courses, and programs for children, adults and the corporate sector. Some of my workshops are Articulating English through Drama; Speak with Power and Passion, Storytelling with Power and Passion for Executives; Discover your Story Telling Talent; Poetry Appreciation; Read and Tell; to name a few. Schools local, government and private,, associations, corporations hire me to conduct these workshops.

Participants no matter the age learn; creative expression; memory and listening skills; emotional intelligence; vocal variety, spontaneity; leadership skills and so much more.

Aneeta: When I read the email you sent me, I got the impression that you had lived in Singapore for some time and then Thailand. Have you been in this part of the world for a long time? Do you like it here?

Denise: I arrived in Singapore in January 1999. It is only in the last year that I have taken up residence in Phuket Thailand. I still have companies that hire me in Singapore and abroad, even though I am now spending more and more time in Phuket.

I love Asia for its abundance of variety whether that be food, people, places to go and cultural differences. I love the weather too, although that doesn’t change a whole lot when you are near the equator.

Aneeta: Yep! The tropical weather is the same: rain or shine. When did you start storytelling and when did you turn professional?

Denise: Hmmm seems like I have always been telling stories…they used to take the form of poetry and actually I still pen poems. From the age of eighteen to twenty one, in my hometown I collaborated with a café and organized poetry and storytellers to give readings on an ongoing basis. I myself ‘performed’ my poetry from time to time. Poetry in my mind are short stories…so I hope that counts. I  think these early explorations of my words being articulated in front of an audience, planted the seed in my heart to becoming a professional storyteller.

I have always been telling stories to children I teach. Many of those stories developed into drama scripts and were performed by the students.

I mentioned earlier when I opened ASTAR Gallery for Performance Art on Salt Spring Island BC, this is when I started becoming a professional storyteller. I again organized events where in poets, storytellers, actors, musicians could present their works in a professional setting.  Even though I owned, operated and was the host for the ‘cushy event’ series (you had to bring your own pillow to sit on – thus cushy) I also would tell stories.

Within about six months of landing in SingaporeI found out about a small group of people who would meet once a month, and tell stories. This was the early days of the Storytellers Circle of Singapore.  I gave and found support within the small community of tellers. Slowly my talent to tell stories was recognized and I have been hired to tell stories. Storytelling as of yet, is not a full time profession for me, but one I hope as I age (gracefully I trust) I can become more and more a teller of tales.  I think the older we get the better teller we become anyhow.

Aneeta: Which aspect of storytelling do you enjoy the most?

Denise: I enjoy the audience reactions. I enjoy the journey I take while telling. I enjoy the surprises that happen with me when telling.  I love painting pictures with words. I enjoy stimulating the ‘meme’ in each person who is listening. There is a neologism called ‘meme’ which states that the ability to tell a story is a non-genetic skill, i.e., you don’t inherit it from your parents as you might do a prowess in sport or music. It is a skill that is passed on by imitation rather than anything biological. Thus, anyone can tell a story. I like to think my telling inspires others to tell, so that this wonderful oral tradition continues its elegant trail.

Aneeta: I understand that you’ll be part of the 1st Annual Phuket Fringe Festival. Can you please tell me a little about this festival?

Denise: Yes, the Festival will be held from Oct 4-13, 2008 at the Playhouse Theatre in Patong Phuket.

The Director of the festival, David Shrubsole wants to create a sustainable platform for performing artists in Phuket. The Fringe is a way to generate awareness and interest in the performing arts in Phuket. Phuket is mostly known for its spas, restaurants, beaches, normal holiday “stuff”. The festival aims to be a great contributor to the local community and a wonderful exchange of creative talent from both Phuket and around the country. The performing arts of Thailand is an area that is known to be one of the fastest growing industries and Phuket is certainly no exception. There will be dancers, musicians, actors, storytellers, fashion designers, all expressing their talents on different nights. The talent pool here is a mixture of cultures all giving support to each other’s expressive medium. We firmly believe that with the commitment and enthusiasm here in Phuket that The Phuket Fringe Festival will soon be regarded as a highlight to the islands calendar year.

Aneeta: As you know, this website caters for storytellers. What advice would you give those who would like to become storytellers?

Denise: First you have to have passion if you want to tell stories.  There is a mental discipline needed to develop to tell a good story. One has to have time and commitment to shaping a story.

You must find some kind of personal meaning in the story to motivate you to tell it. There are a lot of stories that are too moralistic, or have predictable endings. For me, I would rather write my own stories with twists and turns and mysterious elements so that I can capture my audience throughout the tale. Although I do tell others stories I carefully chose which ones I tell, especially to children. I avoid telling stories with lots of violence.  I see storytelling as a ‘vocal film’. There are no academy awards for oral storytelling, but the award you do get is satisfaction that you were heard and that those who were listening were activating their imaginations. Just think of all the mental pictures that are generated when an oral storyteller tells! All that ‘meme’!

Aneeta: Denise, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Denise: Yes my website will go live on my birthday September 29. I turn 50 and am proud and excited that life in some ways has just begun.  Keep me in view

Aneeta: I will certainly keep that date in mind. Denise, thank you.

Denise: Thank you once again for allowing me the space in your newsletter to communicate a little of my story.

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