Irish storyteller Clare Murphy says "there is a power in the old stories"

Storytelling is the oldest kind of theatre, and, perhaps, the most brazen. It denies audiences the comfort of distance. It embroils them in yarns about love, anger, fear and death; it invites them to abscond from worries, troubles, and boredoms. To storytellers like Irish-born Clare Muireann Murphy, who willfully, unapologetically involve the viewers in the art, the audience is not simply a fly on the wall, not a coincidence; the audience is the reason.

Murphy lives in London, but travels the world telling folk tales that she has acquired from her Irish home as well as other places and storytellers. It started with herself and a small group of friends, a bottle of wine, a candle for ambience, and stories. The group began to blossom, and soon Murphy found herself in an accidental career as a performance storyteller. She spoke to Westword about what she does, how she does it, and what she hopes to accomplish when she takes the stage.

Today, Murphy will perform "Falling Foul of Fairies: The Truth About the Little People", in which she will impart old Irish wisdom about the hidden folk. These "little people" are no Tinkerbells. They are capricious, as inclined toward violence as they are toward benevolence, and always magical. It should prove a fitting introduction to Murphy, since she herself possesses a magnetism that is almost supernatural. The event will be at Auraria's North Classroom Building, room 1130 and tickets are $10 to $15 at the door; for more information, go to Murphy's website or to the event posting here.

Then, she'll be appearing again in Denver on Wednesday, April 11, at the Irish Snug, fittingly. "Sure the Craic Was 90: An Evening of Irish Story and Song" will feature Murphy alongside two other performers, Feargal Lynn and Liz Weir. The event costs $10 and will begin at 6:30. For more information, here's a link to the event.

Why do you choose to tell the stories that you do?

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In some ways the stories I tell choose me. When I first started telling stories, I was drawn to traditional myths and folktales because of their otherness from our modern culture. The more you explore the old tales you see that they are filled with love, sex, betrayal, jealousy, conflict, rage, loss...all the things we find in any modern story because they are the aspects of our own humanity that have interested us forever.  There is a power in the old stories, a resonance that reminds us of an old knowledge beyond our own life experience or memories. Often I tell stories that, when I find them, leap off the page or from the mouth of the teller and literally embed themselves in my psyche, refusing to move until they are performed.

What about the performance storytelling medium appeals to you?

Performance storytelling is a rather unique medium. It does not have the limitations of other art forms, I am not bound to a page or verse, as poets are.  I am not limited to a script or physical directions as actors are. Each performance I give is unique to that moment as I do not learn off my stories by heart or memorize them, but allow them to spring from my memory in an organic way. Every performance is affected by so many factors; the mood of the audience, the time I have to perform, the time of day, the lighting, the space on stage and of course my own state of being. Storytelling is a live art, there is no fourth wall, so I respond to the audience because they are an inherent part of the story making process. I am telling, they are imagining. They are not passively receiving the art as in theater or cinema; they play an incredibly active part. This makes it exciting, organic and interesting for me as a performer and for them (hopefully) as an audience.

Why do you think your audiences find the stories appealing?

Audiences have always found stories appealing, because we are hard wired to make sense of the world through story. Sitting and listening to a storyteller is incredibly satisfying. An individual gets to go and have a creative artistic experience with the rest of their community, but at the same time there is the individual cinematic experience that goes on in each person's mind. Listening to stories allows us to travel without the burden of cost or even leaving the chair.  We can forget our woes and become lost temporarily in another world. Audiences emerge from storytelling experiences often with wide eyes and open mouths because, for a few minutes or a couple of hours, they have forgotten all the things they were worried about.  In that that time they have played with gods and goddesses, watched otherworldly beings and experienced things that they thought unimaginable.

In the meantime, stop what you're doing and watch Ms. Murphy tell this wonderful allegory about love, madness, and all the vices and virtues:

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