The programme for the 2021 Scottish International Storytelling Festival has been revealed and the festival theme Imagine promises an eclectic mix of online events spanning across the globe and small-scale face-to-face events. This year’s festival invites audiences in Renfrewshire to imagine something different.

To imagine pasts, futures, or a timeless other. Festival visitors will be invited to dip into dreams and desires, old and new, lost worlds and worlds still to become.

For 2021, the Festival plans to return to theatres and local places, with events taking place at Old Kilbarchan Library Centre as well as at The Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. To keep serving international audiences and to reach those who cannot attend in person, the team will also continue to develop the festival’s digital programme. A series of small-scale and safely distanced person-to-person events, including ones in outdoor locations will also form part of the 2021 programme. All plans are subject to Scottish Government guidance in the autumn period.

On Friday 12 November, the event “Tales from Land and Sea – From Smugglers Coast to ancient weaving village” invites audiences to step into the stories of two quirky communities, from the beautiful ‘Smugglers Coast’ fishing village of Johnshaven to the ancient handloom weaving village of Kilbarchan. People can join acclaimed storyteller Anne Pitcher and singer-songwriter ‘Johnner Jack’ Andy Shanks for a spellbinding evening of stories, songs and art.

For the first time SISF 2021 extended an open invitation to storytellers, based or working in Scotland, to join the Festival’s creative process by submitting a proposal on the theme of Imagine. The result is a series of new works developed by storytellers and musicians’, supported by the Scottish Government Festival Expo Fund. Leading storytellers from Scotland and beyond will showcase new works.

Speaking at the Festival launch Scottish International Storytelling Festival Director Donald Smith said: “Stories and songs are vital for human survival. They carry our emotions, memories and values. They bind us together as families, communities and a nation, especially through tough times. As we emerge from the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival will continue to engage, inspire and entertain as we travel through stories.

Our festival commissions invite us to imagine different pasts, futures, or timeless others, to challenge what we know and create the images of what we are yet to discover. These stories form the core of our live programme, whilst our Guid Crack and Global Lab sessions offer online participation in unique storytelling ceilidhs and workshops. ”

Culture Minister Jenny Gilruth said: “Storytelling plays a vital role in connecting people all over the world across cultures, places and generations.

“It has been proven that cultural engagement has a positive impact on wellbeing, and the Scottish Government recognises the importance of this to the economic and environmental prosperity of individuals and communities.

“I am delighted that £220,000 in combined EXPO and PLaCE funding from the Scottish Government for this year has gone to supporting the production of the transformative, inclusive and innovative IMAGINE and Go Local programmes that the Scottish International Storytelling Festival is putting on this year.

“Next year is Scotland’s Year of Stories and as part of the programme there is a Community Fund, open for applications until 1st October via Museums Galleries Scotland. It is important that local communities across Scotland are given the chance to tell their own story and discuss their experiences.”

Including the Community and Families programme there will be 190 live performances across Scotland. These involve over 100 musicians and storytellers from Scotland, and a further 30 in the festival’s digital programme from Europe, North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.

There’s a host of family events running throughout the festival including Super Duper Story Generators! by Beth Hamilton-Cardus from Good Yarns who has created an epically interactive story session that’s 100% powered by YOUR imagination. During each session Beth will work with one child or a family at a time to create a tale that’s super bespoke to them. Claire and Fergus McNicol invite families to join them for dancing, stories, rhymes and raps in Hip, Hop, Story, Stop and visitors to Imagine Utopia: Kamishibai Workshop Experience the art of Kamishibai storyboard with renowned storyteller, harpist and Urasenke Japanese Tea Master Mio Shudo. Along with enchanting harp music Mio will welcome children and their adults to the world of original Japanese storytelling and show them how to create Kamishibai and some secrets tricks! The workshop will also teach Manga drawing techniques, story composition and performing skills.

This year’s festival will also host a special opening weekend of events celebrating Orkney and the poet, author and storyteller George Mackay Brown on the 100th anniversary of his birth. George is the Founding Patron of the Scottish Storytelling Centre and the festival are delighted to host an Orcadian celebration in his honour on the 16th & 17th October.

The programme will also include an opportunity to see the recently created film of George Mackay Brown’s early play The Storm Watchers, performed by a cast of Orcadian women filming in their homes on mobile phones during lockdown. A powerful and poetic piece, the drama presents the lives, anxieties, regrets, fears and memories of women as they deal with the waiting and the aftermath of a storm with all their men at sea. The screening is presented in association with the St Magnus International Festival and will be followed by a short Q&A with director Gerda Stevenson and composer Alasdair Nicolson.

Also, In Raking Among the Treasures: A Centennial Celebration of George MacKay Brown, co-writers Barbara McLean and David Campbell begin with some memories of George before taking us more deeply into his world. In a collage of recordings and readings, story, music and song, (with music by Wendy Weatherby) this affectionate portrait includes an exploration of the pain of his adolescence; the story of St Magnus; his celebration of society’s outcasts and of Orkney’s rich history – all seen through the prism of his poetry and prose.

The workshop programme strand Global Lab returns, hosting a series of digital workshops with live participation will bring together storytellers, artists, activists and educators from across the globe to explore sustainability, ecology and healing. Taking place online daily throughout the festival the programme offers inspiring examples of creative practice in the arts, education and frontline activism, with the opportunity to share, question and dialogue. Contributors include Kelly Kanayama connecting Hawaii and Scotland, exploring identity in the diaspora of cultures, social and environmental activist Grian Cutanda who will share his work on the Earth Stories Collection and is joined by Waverli Neuberger, Daniel Munduruku, Alette Willis, Malcolm Green and Mara Menzies to show how, in very different continents, indigenous tales can inspire and illuminate our feelings and actions for the future.

Edinburgh’s long running story night Guid Crack returns online throughout the festival and the Storytelling Festival’s famous Open Hearth sessions are set to return to the Netherbow Theatre, hosted by some of the finest traditional storytellers from Scotland and beyond. This year’s festival exhibition will also showcase the work of award winning illustrator Miren Asiain Lora whose work brings the 2021 Festival programme cover to life.

Running alongside SISF, the Community and Families Programme bookends the festival running between 11th October and 30th November. The programme will pair local storytellers with partner organisations in online and small-scale live settings, unlocking the ethos of ‘going local’.

Community groups and schools can take part in The Big Scottish Story Ripple (#StoryRipple) by holding a storytelling event led by a professional storyteller. Groups can apply for a subsidy that will cover the cost of their storyteller’s fees. In return, successful applicants must offer a good deed back to their local community on or before St Andrew’s Day – continuing the ripple of kindness.

Finally, the festival’s latest project Talking Statues is set to spotlight the unheard stories of those who should be honoured with a specific focus on marginalised and underrepresented voices. Talking Statues will also look to set the story straight on existing statues as we learn both uncomfortable truths and lesser-known achievements of those already celebrated by monuments. A Scotland wide call to action has been launched today asking the public to research and to imagine who should be on a plinth as it’s time to tell their story.

These stories will then be shared as part of a special event led by storyteller Mara Menzies on 27th October as part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. Budding storytellers can also take part in a free online storytelling workshop on 20th October in advance of the sharing event and an online discussion on social media will take place on 26th October using the hashtag #TalkingStatues.