Caro Meets Festivals Interview

Michael Kossew: Tellit Festival

By | Published on Thursday 13 October 2016


We love festivals here at TWHQ, so as you can imagine, I was thrilled to hear about a new one springing up in the capital, and one at which sounds like pretty much every show is a show I want to see. The Tellit Festival is all about telling true stories, and it’s via all kinds of different formats, so I can’t help feeling there’ll be something to suit everyone.
To find out more about what we can expect from Tellit, and how it all came about, I put some questions to festival director Michael Kossew.

CM: Tell us about Tellit – what sort of events can we expect from the festival? What are the criteria for inclusion?
MK: Tellit celebrates the art of sharing true stories through poetry to spoken word, comedy to dance and theatre to storytelling. Our festival showcases all these art-forms so you can expect shows from accomplished spoken word artists, storytellers and hardened battle rappers right down to anyone from the general public through our open mic events.

The main criteria for shows to be included are that the stories and events told are true and must have happened to the person telling it. We want to create an intimacy for each show so knowing that the performer is revealing events from their own life to the audience is integral to their inclusion in the festival.

CM: What would you say are the highlights of the event? If that’s not too difficult a question!
MK: It is a difficult question! We have made sure that all our shows are of an incredibly high standard for this year. I would say that ‘The Quest’ is a major highlight. I would love to, one day, gather together in one room the greatest storytellers from around the world, who no one has ever heard of, and hear tales from their own lives – giving a wonderful insight into the lives of people on this planet. This year ‘The Quest’ gathers together storytellers from major true-life storytelling clubs around the country for the final event of Tellit. It’s going to be a great celebration of stories at Hoxton Hall, one of the most beautiful venues of the festival on the 22nd October.

Also, Tellit Poetically is a night of autobiographical poetical storytelling, which, as far as I know, has never been done before, and I can’t wait to see the stories our poets bring to the stage.

Our Monday night clowning double bill from Holli Dillon and Charmaine Wombwell is going to be magical, as they both tell their stories in the most unconventional ways. And Paul Cree’s ‘Bedsit Show’ is one of the best examples of a lyrical rapping style of storytelling I’ve ever seen.

Finally I’m looking forward to the ‘The Survivors Collective’, who are creating an empowering night of poetry speaking as survivors of childhood sexual abuse and hosting a Q&A afterwards, and Hikayenta, who are group of Syrian Refugees who create poetry, music and stories from their own stories. Giving these groups a voice and a stage is what Tellit Festival is all about. Taking your life events, however difficult, creating art, telling your stories and connecting with your listeners.

And if you want to see the funniest show at the festival, you’d be mad to miss ‘Mark Grist: Rogue Teacher’, which details Mark’s journey from English Teacher to rap battle sensation. I’m going to stop, now, as I’m basically excited about every show.

CM: What was the inspiration for the launch of this festival? What made you want to create it, and how did it all come about?
MK: I love creating space for people to share stories and feel listened to and I have run a true storytelling night in Camden Town called Natural Born Storytellers where we do just that. I have also seen some incredible, moving, funny, honest and raw true-life storytelling shows dotted around the country and I wanted to bring them all together into one place to celebrate the world of autobiographical arts. I have run the true storytelling area at Shambala Festival for the past 4 years and that has has helped give me the confidence to create my own festival in an art-form I feel passionate about.

I have often mooted the idea about ‘creating my own festival’ and began having conversations with people, until, about this time last year, I was sitting at home and thought ‘this would be a great week to run a festival’. I told my idea to a Kate Walton, a storyteller I’d met at my night and she loved it. Suddenly I had a partnership. An audience member Tim was also keen and so was Jacob, an old friend of mine and so we became a team. The festival has evolved into our collective vision, all the while holding up our core value: truth.

CM: What benefits are there to people telling their personal stories? What impact can it have on them and those around them, in your opinion?
MK: Telling personal stories is more than simply recounting a series of events that happened. Through telling the story you ensure those events will stay longer in your memory. It allows you to open up, be vulnerable, honest and raw and you’ll end up taking ownership of these stories through repeated tellings, gaining confidence and perspective with each one. As you become more comfortable with your words, you will feel more in control of the stories you create for yourself and the ones you tell others.

Your stories give others a wonderful insight into your life and allows you to connect with people more deeply. I have the same feeling listening to peoples’ stories now as I did when reading books as a child. Storytelling has an incredible impact on the human brain and activates the same areas whether you are listening or telling a story. So the benefits to our audience and storytellers are quite similar at a base level.

We’ve become a society that values shorter and shorter forms of communicating a story from emails, to texts, to Twitter, to slogans. True-life storytelling takes us back to our roots, to allow us to space to tell our stories and allow audiences the chance to relax, listen, connect and be transported into someone else’s life.

Through listening to others, it will trigger your own memories, of people and events you may have forgotten, so you leave these shows enriched not only by the stories you’ve just been told, but with loads of your own memories that have been re-ignited.

CM: Who have you worked with to create the programme?
MK: I’ve worked with Kate Walton, a poetical storyteller, Jacob Wagen, a theatre producer and Tim Cauwood, our social media guru as my main team and we’ve carefully selected the shows that we feel not only fit our ethos, but are of a high enough standard for our first year. It’s been wonderful watching all these shows and I’ve met some incredible people in the past year. Having the Canvas Cafe as a venue hub has been fantastic as there is a show and workshop on there almost every day of Tellit and they’ve been so supportive of us from the start and a few of our shows have come from their cafe too.

CM: Who do you see as your target audience?
MK: Anyone who loves hearing stories. Which I think is almost everyone. Which makes marketing a nightmare.

CM: Is the hope that this will become a yearly event? Do you see it expanding?
MK: I would love this to become a yearly event. Or something we take around the country into different communities and places where people are longing to be heard. This is still a project in its infancy and I cannot wait to figure out where we’re going to take it next.

I do see it expanding a lot – this year we’ve had more applications for shows than venues and spaces we could possibly manage. And we want to expand ‘The Quest’ and run it in every part of the UK and beyond, so we can showcase the true stories of people who would otherwise have gone unheard.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the open mic sessions?
MK: There are four throughout the festival, all run by current true-life storytelling clubs like The Moth, Spark, Speak Easy (Bristol based) and Natural Born Storytellers. I wanted to include all these clubs in the Tellit programme as we’re all working together towards the same goal which is sharing our stories.

Each night has its own theme and anyone from the audience is encouraged to get on stage and share a story of theirs. They’re great nights as you never know what’s going to happen and some of the stories are absolutely incredible. There is something quite compelling and captivating about someone sharing their story for the first time and, of course, you find some hidden gems that you know you’ll never get to hear again, but live long in your memory.

The Tellit Festival is on at various London venues from 16-22 Oct. Head this way to see all the listings.