When you witness something so beautiful and incredible that you know it will inspire and enrich the lives of others, one of the first things you might think to do is reach for your camera/phone. That's exactly what I wanted to do during this moment in the Kidz Field of Glastonbury 2019 – until I realised: this was the Kidz Field. Taking pictures of other people's children before having the chance to ask their parents' permission could have disrupted the very activity we were so enamoured by.
You see, it was the end of a long day of storytelling for all the Kidz Field and Green Futures storytellers: John Row, master of the Kidz Field Storytelling Tent; Pauline Cordiner from Aberdeen; Baden Prince; Mark Fraser; Janina Vigurs; and Christine Willison, gwraig of the Earth Lodge at Green Futures. We typically all crashed back at the Kidz Field Storytelling Tent for one last storytelling round each day at 6pm – if we had the energy or the audience, both of which would be in short supply by this time.
But by the time Christine and I had made the mile-long trek from Green Futures to Kidz Field, Janina Vigurs was living up to her surname – big-time. She was engaged in a passionately energetic and enthusiastic telling of The Enormous Turnip – to an audience of one.
OK – technically that's not true. All us Glastonbury Festival storytellers were there, so there were seven listeners for a start. Plus Myles, the tent's supervisor at the time, and of course the parents of the only child in the tent.
But in reality, that child was the only audience for the story. The rest of us were spectators of the storyteller-audience relationship – which was beyond the beauty of anything we'd seen that Festival.
The child, who we'll call James for now, was the personification of an actual star: a head, four limbs and a torso animated with the relentless energy of a celestial fusion reaction. He literally ran circles around Janina, all the while directing and critiquing her performance.
Occasionally he paused to join in with the pulling of the turnip, but otherwise he orbited Janina with perpetual, dizzying speed. After watching for a while, I realised with amazement and delight that there was a stunning regularity to James' orbits: no matter how many he managed to fit in during Janina's telling of a section of the story, each of which naturally varied in length, he always timed it perfectly – he always arrived just in time to pull the turnip from exactly the same spot every time.
And yet he paid attention to every word. If Janina skipped an animal or two from the line of helpers who come to assist the old turnip grower with his harvest, he jumped on it instantly.
Somehow – and I'm not even sure she knew how – Janina drew and reflected his energy back to him. Her wide eyes revealed none of the weariness we all knew she must be feeling; her smile blazed contagiously; her expressions were an amorphous display that would have given Rowan Atkinson a run for his money. She adapted the story on the fly to James' every whim, laughing along with him when she didn't get it quite right and celebrating with him when the story travelled the path he both knew and hoped for.
When we cast our eyes over to the parents, it was easy to see the relief on their faces. Taking a child to Glastonbury Festival is an enormous undertaking; a highly autistic child, even more so. The setting isn't conducive to rest, and indeed the environment's many distractions must be bewildering – and potentially upsetting – to a young mind keen to follow routines, struggling with sensory overload, and/or potentially not immediately recognising the good humour behind giant walkabout spiders, magicians brandishing chainsaws, dancers "trapped" in cages, etc.
But now the parents were relaxed, joyously witnessing their son's thrill at having a master storyteller all to himself. It's impossible to think anyone else at Glastonbury Festival was happier over that whole weekend than James was in that moment.
It was the most visceral I've seen the power of storytelling: the power to connect – nay, commune with each other, even if strangers; the ability to build confidence, in both teller and audience, within the space of a single traditional tale; and the sheer joy that comes from the shared experience of an imaginary world.
Culture and community were definitely big themes for Glastonbury this year. You will find pictures and videos of Stormzy's headline presentation showcasing many other artists while highlighting the rise of BAME groups in art and elsewhere; Kylie thanking previous Glastonbury performers for singing her songs while she was prevented from attending due to her cancer treatment; Sir David Attenborough praising the festival and festivalgoers for committing to avoid single-use plastics for the weekend (and folks, I was there: I can assure you there weren't any single-use plastics littering the fields after performances, and you'd've been hard pressed even to find aluminium – the festival was almost entirely biodegradable or else reusable plastic this year).
But nowhere were these themes presented in such crisp, bold and bright abundance as they were in the Kidz Field Storytelling Tent that Saturday evening. Janina proved that storytelling and an open heart can reach any individual, at any time, in any place – whether they're part of a 10,000-strong crowd, or one small smiling face in a colourful, expansive tent. Hats steeply doffed to her!
Janina can be found on Facebook with the tag @janinavigursstorytelling – do give her a thumbs up! If you're an EYFS teacher, you may want to send her a message to bring her incredible talent to your school... $;-)
And if you'd like to bring the magical power of Epic Tales' storytelling to your school or community event, or learn how to harness that power yourself in one of our training workshops or INSET, please contact us at www.epictales.co.uk/contact.
By Chip Colquhoun
Creative Director & Storyteller for Epic Tales