SISF 2019: Q&A with Dawne McFarlane

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Dawne McFarlane

Tell us an interesting feature of traditional storytelling in your country.

I live in the city of Toronto, one of the greatest crossroads cities in the world. It’s in the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee people, the First People to live here before others came. The Toronto Storytelling Festival, which began in 1978, has become one of the world’s largest urban storytelling festivals and brings people from many cultures together. The Festival honours the storytellers of the First Nations who are keeping their oral traditions alive, and the many cultural traditions that come together in Toronto.

How did you become a storyteller?

My Scottish Grandfather was a storyteller (and a carpenter, mason, builder, gardener) who gave this gift to me. He told me there were faeries in the apple tree when I was wee, and with this expanded my experience of being in the world.

What is so magic about storytelling?

Imagination! Stories invite us to imagine and experience in limitless ways. The connection between teller and listener can be transformative – something new unfolds, and both teller and listener are changed. Each telling, even with the same words, is different because of the listening. It’s one of the most powerful ways to develop our capacities for compassion and respect for each other and our world.

Do you have a favourite story?

Yes – each story I fall in love with! The Greek myth of Psyche and Eros has been teaching me for more than 20 years.

What was the last story you performed or told?

The story of Buried Treasures (a Jewish story from Poland), around the campfire with my friends and family.

Is storytelling becoming a lost art?

Telling stories is at the heart of being human; earth, air, fire, and water speak through us. As long as we are listening, we will tell stories. The art of the telling and the listening evolves with us.

What is the biggest challenge storytellers face?

Themselves! By this I mean bringing themselves deeply to the story, while getting out of the way of the story so the story can unfold as itself.

This year’s Festival theme is Beyond Words. What does Beyond Words mean for you?

Opening all of our senses to communicating with each other and our world; developing new capacities for inner and outer listening.

Can you tell us about a time when you have been storytelling that connected you with another teller or listener beyond words?

When I first came to the Scottish Storytelling Festival, I went to Eyemouth to tell stories with families. My brother had recently died, and my friend had encouraged me to tell stories of transformation to his young children. I was remembering how my brother loved visiting Scotland (he was married and buried in his kilt), and told a story about butterflies. After the story, a little girl with a butterfly on her shirt came excitedly up to me, pointing beyond me to a big window. There were two monarch butterflies, fluttering inside the window. We opened the window, and off they flew. It was a moment beyond words.

How do you imagine being part of the SISF 2019 will be?

Wondrous, wonderful, and wild! Informative, inspiring, intense! Lyrical, luscious, libation! I love SISF!

Indigenous culture/language is a focus for SISF 2019, how important is heritage and culture for you?

For me, heritage and culture are great gifts we can honour and share. Behind all of us are the ancestors and the spirits of the land. To share our stories is to share our heritage and our culture. To tell and to listen with generosity and respect is our privilege and responsibility. Discovering the stories of my Scottish ancestry is deepening my capacity to hear the stories of the First People whose traditional territory I was born on.

As part of #SISFBeyondWords, our Global Lab explores the principles and goals of The Earth Charter Initiative and how storytelling can positively impact on this. What do you feel is the role of storytellers in the 21st century?

I attended the Global Gathering of Storytelling Activists working with the Earth Charter at SISF. During that gathering, I learned that traditional oral stories are the most authentic source of the holistic worldview that is essential for our future. That beneath policies and behaviour is worldview. That storytelling is one of the most powerful ways of affecting worldview. That what is needed now is radical hospitality and vigilant stewardship; love in action. That telling stories of beauty, wonder, and truth can be love in action. This is a vital affirmation of the threads of my life’s work and questing that I am weaving together, and inspiration to continue with courage and joy.


Open Hearth

Tuesday 22 October at 8pm (2hrs)

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