They're all eyes and ears

Mabel Sieh
Mabel Sieh |

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Professional storyteller Roger Jenkins gives new life to ancient tradition, writes Mabel Sieh

Oral storytelling is the most ancient form of communication. Thousands of years ago, people used this personal and intimate process to pass down traditions and experiences within their families and tribes. Even today, storytelling is a tradition in some parts of the world, such as India, Africa, Vietnam, China and Japan.

'We tell stories all the time. We share past experiences with our families and best friends, partners and neighbours,' says Roger Jenkins, a professional storyteller from Singapore. 'When I tell students I am a storyteller, and that what I do for a living is to tell stories, they're always surprised.'

Jenkins was born in Singapore and grew up in England before moving back to the Lion City in 1978. He was trained in drama in Britain. He taught the subject for years before setting up a drama company in Singapore in 1992. But he realised that storytelling was his true passion. He became a storyteller in 1998 and closed his company in 2007.

Since then, he has been telling stories at various festivals and conducting workshops in schools all over the world, including Edinburgh, Bahrain, Manila, Singapore and Hong Kong.

He has been a frequent visitor to Hong Kong over the past few years.

Joyce Chan Wing-kay, a Secondary One student at Singapore International School (SIS), says: 'When I first saw Roger, I thought he was a serious teacher. But when he started telling stories, he was so funny.'

Joyce, 13, and her classmates attended a workshop conducted by Jenkins. 'I've learned from Roger that we can tell stories in many different ways. His activities were very interesting and interactive,' she says.

Another student, Sal Liu Haidun, also 13, is impressed with Jenkins' lively presentation. 'The workshop was very different to the ones I attended before. When Roger told the story of a dragon, he gave me space to imagine what the dragon was like in my head,' he says.

'And I like the way he uses his facial expressions and puts in a lot of emotions in his characters. I used to think that telling a story is all about words, but now I see there is also body language and interaction with the audience involved.'

Jenkins believes the bond between the storyteller and his audience is extremely important. 'A good storyteller makes the story come alive by allowing the audience to hear the sounds and feel the emotions [of the characters] through his facial expressions. This is an effective way to convey meanings and words which students may not know,' he says.

Jenkins conducted a series of workshops for kindergarten, primary and secondary students at SIS. Eileen Jong, head of English of the school's secondary section, says: 'Roger offers a fresh perspective and brings stories to life.'

Although every story has a moral, Jenkins never preaches. 'Everybody hears a story with his own ears and responds to it in a personal way. I want to give people space to think what the moral is,' he says. 'The best story to me is one that lingers in people's hearts.'

Jenkins has never thought about giving up storytelling.

'I feel very blessed that I've discovered storytelling. To be able to share a positive story is very special - it brings people together.'

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