We talk to storyteller Jean-Marc Pierson for National Tell-a-Story Month
It was the story of the ugly duckling that allowed Jean-Marc Pierson to overcome the sense of alienation that came with losing his mother as a baby. He says its message gave him trust in life to turn out well, in a way he couldn’t have understood rationally at that age. Now he shares stories with adults and children alike, hoping to give them the same delight he feels. “What I want to achieve when telling stories is bliss,” he says. “When the eyes shine and the lips smile and I get everyone on board, on my wavelength - it's bliss.”
This May is National Share-a-Story Month, and the theme couldn’t be more Vrumi. Named ‘A Place for Stories’, the idea is to encourage the telling and sharing of stories in unusual locations. The suggestions range from under a tree to aboard a canal boat, from the depths of a castle to the depths of the woods. If there’s one thing we’re good at it’s surprising spaces, so we decided to interview our own resident storyteller, Jean-Marc, who uses Vrumi spaces to hold his story sessions.
Jean-Marc defines himself as a philosopher, a storyteller and a raconteur, and describes his background in predictably poetic terms. “I used to live in the South of France, where the sky is almost always blue and the countryside stunningly beautiful,” he says. “I lived like an artist, creating storytelling shows... As this kind of activity rarely means loads of money, I also did seasonal jobs in farms, pruning apricot or wine trees in winter, maintaining fields of aromatic plants and picking fruits.”
It was when he decided to focus on his artistic side that Jean-Marc moved to London to join his sister. He had heard that London was where the jobs were, and at the time he was right. Unfortunately, this was in May 2008. Within a couple of months, global markets were in freefall and francophone Jean-Marc found himself back in his old lifestyle, “half artist, half earth and plant lover.” Working in people’s gardens, and without the language skills to start his storytelling again, it took Jean-Marc years of hard work to get his English up to scratch.
Now, however, Jean-Marc is not only back on the storytelling scene, but also running his own public speaking training company, Organic Speaking. He trains his clients in how to speak spontaneously in public, avoiding the double terror of having to remember a speech while standing in front of a crowd. His classes are full of laughter, because as he says, “Serious work doesn't have to be done with sadness.”
Jean-Marc describes coming up with stories as, “like fishing in the sea of the unconscious mind.” He believes that stories are a crucial way of communicating with children before they have the capacity to understand rational arguments. “Stories, especially traditional stories talk about life in symbolic language. That is a language that talks directly to the deeper layers of our psyche. Children wouldn't understand rational and wordy explanation about life, but stories can tell them all they need to know.”
So it was with Jean-Marc and the ugly duckling, who taught him that he would grow into someone with strong self-esteem and a place in the world. He believes that the archetypes of stories speak to children so strongly because they are metaphors. “From the point of view of a little child,” says Jean-Marc, “grown ups are giants. Abusers are trolls or ogres. King and Queen are Mum and Dad. Wolves are untamed instincts. A witch means the dark side of the mother.” That’s a lot of symbolism for one Disney film...
Jean-Marc uses Vrumi to host his workshops. A welcoming and comfortable space is far less daunting to a nervy public-speaker than a meeting room, while a story wouldn’t be same without enough cushions to sit on. Luckily, we had exactly what he needed. As he says, “Thanks to Vrumi, I found a beautiful living room belonging to a friendly and discreet host to organize workshops, in my local area and for a price I wouldn't find on the room hire market.”
Now that’s the kind of story we like to hear!
If you’ve been inspired to host your own storytelling session, check out some of our unusual locations. From barges to converted churches, you’re sure to find something exciting.
Find out more about Jean Marc and check it out for details of his next workshop.