Telling tales out of school;FE Focus

5th February 1999 at 00:00
ONCE upon a time Alexander Mackenzie was a teacher, but then he became self-employed and is now increasingly in demand for his skills as a storyteller.

Mr Mackenzie, 38, from Stroud, Gloucestershire, runs private and college courses. He also uses his narrative art to work with challenging teenagers and businesses.

When he was first approached by Stroud College to run an Open College Network course, there was no precedent - he had to write it himself.

"I had to put together a 10-session module, working with voice, gesture, use of imagery, metaphor and body language," he said. "When I started I was turning people away.

"The idea of formal teaching was a bit of a leap into the dark, but I have been using storytelling in a therapeutic sense for years now."

His courses are held at Ruskin Mill arts centre in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, and he is set to begin a new course through Stroud College.

Mr Mackenzie, who specialises in spontaneous storytelling, forsakes the usual classroom setting, preferring to sit with students around a blazing fire as they learn the ancient art of folk stories, fairy tales and myths.

His students vary from parents wanting to tell better bedtime stories to their children, to those wanting to explore the workings of the craft itself.

An Irishman with a gentle, persuasive manner, Mr Mackenzie discovered the power of storytelling 20 years ago while working at a home for dysfunctional children.

He managed to calm a child who had lost control and stabbed a member of staff, by telling him a story about his teddy bear.

"I thought 'there's something quite profound happening here. There's a voice that wants to come out, that only finds its voice in the story'."

After three years as a teacher at a Rudolf Steiner school he began to tell stories for a living.

As well as teaching and using stories with disturbed children, he is a co-director of Oracy, a consultancy which works with businesses and other organisations.

Business clients have included the Body Shop, and Oracy currently has a five-year contract with the Environment Agency.

"I bring storytelling into many situations as a way of people relating to one another," said Mr Mackenzie.

"It's good for working with team building, and it's very good for out-of-the-box thinking, as well as refining presenting skills."

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