Pradžia / Radikaliai

Storyteller Milda Varnauskaitė

In this episode Evy has a chat with the one and only Storyteller Milda Varnauskaitė. Milda shares stories of her journey across Europe to become a storyteller and gives us an insight into the world of storytelling. [Episode made by Word Up Podcast,]

Word Up Podcast
2020 m. Gegužės 05 d., 19:40
Skaityta: 25 k.
Milda Varnauskaitė
Milda Varnauskaitė

Episode Transcript:

Evy: Hello, I'm Evy, and this is "Word Up Podcast." Unfortunately, Webster is not here as he's traveling. But our special guest for today is Milda, the storyteller. Hello, Milda.
Milda: Hi. Hello.
Evy: How are you today?
Milda: I'm okay.
Evy: Good.
Milda: Very, very busy currently, but all good.
Evy: Yeah.
Milda: Running from one event to another event as usual.
Evy: So you're really busy with your storytelling, right?
Milda: Yes. Yes I am. Because as I like to say, I'm building my storytelling empire across to Europe.
Evy: Wow.
Milda: I'm trying to cover two countries. My homeland, Lithuania, and the Netherlands where I live. So yeah, I really don't complain about not having work.
Evy: And how did all start?
Milda: How it all started. Once upon a time... So I have few versions of this sort of like story of my start in storytelling, which one do you want to hear?
Evy: Tell us all. Just all of them.
Milda: It's actually was very intuitive choice. I wasn't sort of like thinking rationally, putting pros and cons on the paper and trying to figure out. It was very, very intuitive decision. I was sort of in the point of my life and I wasn't sure if I want to carry on doing what I was doing. At that point, I was working at university and I was working this sort of very administrative job. I was a research administrator. So I would help scientists to kind of proceed their research helping them with documents and fundraising and so on.
Evy: And this is still in Lithuania?
Milda: Yeah, this was still in Lithuania, in Vilnius. Yeah, when you start doubting something was, like, it's kind of everything okay, but I'm missing something, I'm missing something. And somehow, first, I found a book on Amazon about storytelling and this world of storytelling somehow, like, attracted me very much. So I bought myself that book. I read it. Then after two years, since that, I decided to carry on studying my master's and I went for literature master's. And I also was like, "Oh, storytelling, storytelling." Something was already on my mind. And then just after I finished my master's and felt like, okay, it wasn't that, I started just Googling courses somewhere in Europe where I could just go and learn a storytelling skill, because it wasn't a thing in Lithuania back then. And I did that. And I found The Mezrab Storytelling School in Amsterdam.
Evy: Okay. Yeah.
Milda: And I came here just for one course. But I loved it. I was just sort of like, I don't know, I felt know, people like to say, found your element. And it felt like all this kind of parts of puzzle just fell down and everything became sort of clear. And, yeah, so...
Evy: So how long did it take you from the idea 'til the course let's say.
Milda: Okay, two years. Yeah.
Evy: Okay.
Milda: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Maybe even maybe two, three years. I don't know. Yeah, but I got myself booked 2013. And I entered my master's in 2013. So after the master's, I came to Amsterdam in 2015, for short introduction course. And then I came back for intermediate course. And then I moved to Amsterdam to practice storytelling because this is a very practical craft. You learn by doing it. And then yeah, I did a professional course. And here I am.
Evy: Seven years later, right?
Milda: Yeah.
Evy: So you've been in Amsterdam now for what, six, seven... No?
Milda: I was going back and forth, back and forth. And I would say, like, I moved and I didn't go back was 2017.
Evy: Okay.
Milda: So gonna be three years this year. Yeah. But I am since 2015, going, like, having this love and hate relationship with Amsterdam.
Evy: Really? How come?
Milda: I didn't like it at the beginning. For me, it was only this idea of moving here just to study. To learn the craft of storytelling, and I felt like it was sort of like a marriage, you know, arranged marriage to, but I have to be in the city because I found this amazing school. But actually, I think for maybe around a year, I started enjoying living here.
Evy: Okay.
Milda: And yeah, and then it like when it comes to...I am more motivated to learn the language and I like also to socialize more, to have people around me than I used to be, for me like everything just very temporary. I just somehow have to, you know...
Evy: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Milda: I'm just doing the storytelling and I'm not living. But I think I started living already in Amsterdam and I'm really enjoying it.
Evy: Nice. But then it also sounds like you had made a massive decision to change your whole life just because you liked something. And you had an idea of storytelling as a thing. How did your family accept that? How did...?
Milda: You know, everyone thought I'm mad. Very simple. And, you know, at that time, I didn't think I'm making a big decision. I wouldn't know, like, now when I'm telling the story, when I'm constructing this sort of experience and I know how... So then, you know, I'm putting myself in this like...but at that time, I seriously just thought, "Okay, just a little bit more. And then I'm just gonna forget everything." "Oh, it's so interesting, isn't it? I'm just gonna be doing a little bit more." And then it just was... I found something that I just sort of like couldn't grasp completely. It's just always something new because doing a performance, even though you're always prepared, you know your text, you know the story very well, but you come and there's audience, and you get to meet them. And you have them only for this time, and it's never gonna repeat itself.
Evy: Right.
Milda: So it just so many interesting things. And for me was like, "Oh, this is so interesting. And this thing is so interesting. And that's so interesting."
Evy: Right.
Milda: And it felt like, "Oh, I'm just gonna learn a little bit of this, and then of this, and then of this, and..." As if I was in my 40s then just following crumbs on the path just trying to pick them. And this is wasn't, like, "Oh, I am moving," or, "I'm making this decision." No, it was just very small steps. And I think this was very helpful, because otherwise I don't know if I would have been able to really, like, fully stand myself for this decision. Because you know, you have this sort of good job and everything is fine and everything is okay. And suddenly you start telling to one, "Oh, I want to be a storyteller." And everyone was like...
Evy: What is that?
Milda: What is that? Like, why can't you do that while you're doing other things?
Evy: Of course, right.
Milda: And no, I want to be a full-time storyteller. So it was a bit of madness at the beginning. Definitely. But I felt like I'm just sort of the wave, I'm just sort of pushed and it's not even me fully taking decisions.
Evy: And what is storytelling for you now?
Milda: Oh my God. I've got so many theses. I would say...I really tend to get very philosophical because my background is in philosophy. It's definitely a craft, that you have to practice constantly, otherwise, you might sort of become floppy. And it's a tool to connect very deeply and meaningfully with others. And also now for me, it's also some kind of, I would say maybe a way of living. Storytelling, you know, like the performance itself taught me also a lot about myself and how I live, and there's some lessons you can learn about that you can never control your audience, right? And you can try very much but you're just gonna collapse. So this acceptance and being able to receive and then give and receive and give is...yeah, on a deeper level is some sort of like way of living and maybe I would say meditation in a way.
Evy: Wow.
Milda: I told you that it's, like, "Please, keep me away from this."
Evy: No, it's beautiful. How do you craft your stories? How do you choose? Do they come to you? Do you go after them?
Milda: Yeah, both ways. Very differently. Yeah, they can come and you just can't avoid them like, "Oh it's like no, no, not now, not now." It's just [vocalization], they keep knocking the door until you really make something very conscious. Yeah, you construct, you make, you put it in the structure. Or it can be, you get a theme, you get commission and then you think, you look, you do your research. You try to find something that is interesting for you, right? You dig deeper. And then, yeah, again, you would just make it a structure that is interesting, challenging maybe for yourself how to make it better and just interesting for audience, for yourself, entertaining as well.
Evy: And you also craft them in two languages, or more languages, or...
Milda: No, yeah. Only like currently two languages, but really would love to do in Dutch as well. But I'm working on that. A lot of people are like also pushing me like, Milda. I'm like, "Okay, okay." And yeah, so both like Lithuanian and English.
Evy: Do you translate them or it's like different stories live in different languages?
Milda: Yeah, I have some stories, same stories in both languages, but you don't really translate them literally, you kind of adapt them to the culture, to the audience. It's very different audiences. It's one thing to tell a personal story for Lithuanians, and it's very different to tell for internationals in Amsterdam or Dutch people. So it's always some...there's sort of like variation. Yeah, yeah.
Evy: Now I'm just curious. You probably, I don't know, this is my assumption, learned more about Lithuania once you left it?
Milda: Definitely. I think, yeah, you know from your own experience, and also about myself. And it wasn't always very easy to accept that because you come with a lot of prejudices about life and you don't know that until someone points to you. And you're like [vocalization], so you have few options, what to do with that? You can close yourself or you can open yourself even more. So I think I did the larger thing, I opened myself even more trying to understand, who am I? What does it mean this Lithuanian, or what is it? And it was very interesting.
Evy: And what is it?
Milda: What is it? I made a show on that. Have you seen it?
Evy: Yeah. I saw it.
Milda: Yeah. So I just kind of following this quest for what is it? I made a full storytelling show. I emigrated by accident and, yeah, I still don't know every time, you know, I go to Lithuania, I learn a different thing that I didn't know before and something surprises me or annoys me really. Yeah, and it's okay. But of course you also have this sort of a drama that you are in between.
Evy: Yeah, the liminality, the disconnect in a way.
Milda: You're in between. I'm going to Lithuania every month. And I read a lot about what's happening there and I try to go to different events to understand what's going on, what's trendy, but it's not enough. Sometimes I just don't understand. And I see people sometimes also don't understand me anymore. Because I'm also through this process of adapting myself in the new country, I also changed.
Evy: Yeah, of course. So do you feel like you have different topics that follow you, like constant topics that follow through your stories, because now you've mentioned the story that you emigrated by accident.
Milda: Yeah, yeah.
Evy: So it's more about like belonging probably and learning to be where you are and connecting to where you come from?
Milda: Yeah. There was an Amsterdam storytelling festival in November. I did a show together with a British writer, Marie Phillips, a la carte, our show, and yeah, we just had this theme, because the festival had a theme, "Addiction." And I discovered through this like also research, and I was like, "Oh, I'm not addicted to anything." What kind of story I'm gonna tell. And I realized that in some way I'm addicted to Lithuania, actually. And that's the topic that follows me in variations, either maybe I'm telling a story about my family, my childhood, or some kind of historical piece. I make a story. I don't think you can avoid it, it just cripples in my practice. And I think that it's very important to be able to tap on something that's very personal and not to be afraid of that. And I am Lithuanian. I grew up there. I left the country only when I was 26. And I live abroad for like, what, three, four years now. So it's a lot of things over there. And yeah, I'm just sort of trying to be connected to that. Not to be afraid, not to be ashamed to tell my story. And I would say, yeah, that would be the thread.
Evy: Okay. So like connecting to your own authenticity.
Milda: Yeah, definitely, definitely. It's this like, how else? I could pick up the story but from other country maybe, but I don't know the landscape. I don't know the weather. I don't know the people how they communicate. So can I then transfer it well to the others while only using words? For the good storytelling you need to imagine very well. You need to feel it. You need to like taste it, and smell it so then others also can taste it, and smell it, and feel it, and see it.
Evy: Yeah, yeah. How do you explain what Lithuania is to people who don't know?
Milda: Okay. So, you know, this is... Oh yeah. I'm probably asking this because you explained a lot of time [inaudible 00:17:52]. So you just like to annoy me.
Evy: Yeah, I need to learn from you...
Milda: Little tips. So I start sort of you have to first locate where the person is from if it's like States, right? You say, like, it's Europe, very small country in Europe, in the sort of North East. If the person is from Europe, and I say it's Baltic states, close to Poland, in between Poland and Russia. Yeah. Many people know Latvia and Riga, because probably, I don't know, it's easier to go there. The cities began because of very simple things. So I just say, yeah, it's southern of Latvia.
Evy: It's one more flight after Riga.
Milda: Yeah, exactly. So you know, there's different ways to...
Evy: Nice. And I'm just wondering, since we were talking about stories, if you have something prepared for us.
Milda: Once there lived a blacksmith and he had a son. And the blacksmith, he was a single parent. So only, you know, he cared only about two things, about his son that he loved dearly, and about his craft. How to take a metal, use the fire, and make different things from the metal, a fence, or a handle, or maybe a door. And he really wanted his son to take that craft from him. So he started teaching him from very early days when he was still little and running around in the workshop. And the boy he really enjoyed helping his father. You know, take some sort of metal, use the fire, bend it, make a little figure out of it. And because of the hard labor he always did, he grew up into this huge man. You know, probably some of you, being in an old house with very heavy furniture, and it's, like, generation after generation just sticks the wallpaper around let's say the wardrobe, right, because they can't move it. So this is how it was the son of the blacksmith, a huge man.
When he was 16, he was helping his father in the workshop and he was enthusiastic still, you know, he would wake up in the morning and he would go to the workshop place but he was so like looking through the window to his friends outside and taking less and less attention to the work he was doing. And his father is like, he say, "What you do, right, just focus, it's dangerous." The years passed and the blacksmith's son he looked that everyone is leaving, his friends somewhere, and they are leaving into the world to look for happiness, because everyone is doing that, right? You don't ask yourself, you just leave the house that you grew up and go look for happiness. And when he was around 20 he just turned to his father and said, "You know, I want to leave and go into the world and look for happiness."
And the father was like, "Why? Don't you have everything? Don't you have a house and a meal and me, someone that always takes care of you? Why are you not happy?" And the blacksmith is like, "I don't know, everyone is leaving. I want to go as well."
And the father says, "Okay, sure. But can I make you something for you? You know, so I know that you are safe." I will make you a walking stick out of metal. Because the guy was really big it didn't make sense to give him a wooden stick, right? So he did a huge metal stick and gave it to the son when it was still warm. So he just pressed it a little bit. And the fingerprints left on the warm metal. And off he went.
So it's interesting, right? So I thought until the...
Evy: What's the end?
Milda: Yeah, I don't want to tell you. No, that's the start of my rapporteur. Book me for your event. But a funny thing happened, I told the story and it's a story about, you know, this like universal story about someone leaving the house. But I took that story, it's from Lithuanian archive, it was collected from the live storytellers in the village, and it was very raw, and I made it, you know, like my story. And I'm telling it around. And after one event, a Flemish storyteller came to me. And he said to me, he's from Belgium, "I know that story." And I was like, "How come you know? It's a Lithuanian story from archive." He's like, "No, it's a Flemish story. But the guy is not a blacksmith, but a barrel maker." And all the things that I'm explaining on what kind of adventure he goes later, happens the same in the Flemish story. And then he's also telling me the end of it. And it's just some nuances, but it's exactly the same story. And for me, it was such a beautiful experience in my career. Because, you know, many times when I'm telling a story on live performance, I feel I'm connecting to something very universal, right?
But I cannot explain it's like energy or whatever. But this event and this conversation that I had kind of gave me the shape. We are telling, you know, it's not like Belgium, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Germany. It's no, we are seriously, like, the citizens of the world, we have all people, and our stories, archetypes are very, very similar. There's no differences. It's just a nonsense.
Evy: So what's the end?
Milda: I told you. Yeah, the end is dark. Thank you for this opportunity.
Evy: So, okay, I'll stay suspended in my curiosity.
Milda: No. Seriously, book me.
Evy: Nice. But to go back to what you said, like the stories that intertwined between cultures, and countries, and I mean, as far as I'm concerned, borders are imaginary lines on the map. Do you find more and more these kind of stories? Do you find that like also, you look at those countries that you hear about that having same stories, you look at them differently also, maybe.
Milda: So, as I said, I would always feel this sort of belonging to something bigger since I started doing storytelling. I could never grasp it, and I could never, you know, until now understand was, like, oh, we're actually telling the same stories, for me still, I was like, seriously still, and I'm still I'm gonna do that. I'm gonna still hang on my, you know, oh, Lithuania stories and culture and everything, but on a deeper level, it just really was such an amazing sort of, like, given shape to this understanding that I already had, that somebody comes and tells me, "I know the story. And it's a Flemish story." I'm like, "No, it's a Lithuanian story." It's people's story. It's humanity. A human story.
Evy: Of course, yeah.
Milda: And so it was beautiful and I just wanted to share that.
Evy: No, thank you. Thank you so much. And I'm also curious to hear a little bit more about your process also because you said you found the story specifically in the archives. So do you often go to archives? Do you interview people? Do you search practically for new stories?
Milda: There's a lot of already stories collected and there is a huge archive that everyone, everyone can dive in. There's raw material there, right? What we buy in books, like Lithuanian stories for children [vocalization], there's usually someone worked on the literature side of it. They make it readable and everything, but everything what is in archive it's how it's been spoken, right? How it was told. And it's a different written language and spoken language, you probably guys know very well. It's different. It has the sound, it's lively.
And so I really like to go there, and we just got the letter. So I really like to dive into the archives and it's when I want to tell a folk tale, right, because I also work with personal stories. So yeah, when I need something from the family, I remember something very vaguely I call my father or mother but they're already a bit scared now they don't share so much because I keep telling everything to everyone. So, yeah, so different props, sometimes you can still ask a person, someone, on details and then if something is missing, I just create it because I think, you know, this is what makes a storyteller. It's not like information on news or anything, it has to be still a creative process. Or I dive into archive books.
Evy: And also, so you're mostly focusing on Lithuanian folk in that [crosstalk 00:28:41].
Milda: Yeah, I feel most comfortable with that, as I said. And also it's not so much translated into other languages from our culture and the heritage. So I also feel this responsibility, and then at some point I also was sort of like even a privilege to be able to read this very old language which has a lot of interesting things inside it.
Evy: Wow.
Milda: And which is connected, as I already told with the global storytelling heritage, right?
Evy: Okay. And then also, speaking of, you mentioned about your domination of the world before.
Milda: Yeah. It's a joke.
Evy: Your global...
Milda: I'm seriously getting tired of this, what are you gonna do today, you're going to try and conquer the world?
Evy: Right, it's legit. It's legit. How do you envision your future? How do you story tell your own future?
Milda: I can only think about holidays. Currently, how I envision my future? I would like to be able to make more sort of art and more shows and feel less responsible for organizing events and festivals and whatever, to kind of spread this knowledge about storytelling in Lithuania because I still feel this responsibility. But I would like someone to take over. Yeah, I'm just like, I really would like to be able to do art maybe, I have so many ideas but I would like to work on to dig maybe, you know, to have a residency somewhere for two months where I could just dig and search for some information and then make a piece. So that I wish for myself. But let's see, you know, sometimes I feel like, "Oh my God, I can't do this anymore." And then I'm right there I feel, like, "Wow, it's amazing."
Evy: And how do you deal with that fatigue then, with lack of motivation?
Milda: How do I deal? I go and have a rest. Yeah. It's like...
Evy: So sleep on it kind of.
Milda: Yeah, exactly. Sleep. Eat.
Evy: Love yourself.
Milda: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it sounds banal, because now everyone is just love yourself. Yeah, it would be nice not to forget others as well. During loving yourself, you know, maybe because I'm getting older. I used to be able to go nonstop, and just I can't anymore. I have to have weekends. I always, you know, wherever I work, I work very hard during the week and then I try to have a weekend off. So I just don't check my email. Don't stay online so much. I like to go to museums. I love art, go somewhere to nature because it recharges me very well. Yeah, just like that.
Evy: So it's feeding the body and the soul.
Milda: Yeah, exactly, exactly. Just, you know, because the stress you get every time before live performance is insane.
Evy: Of course, yeah.
Milda: It's insane. And you have to take that in account.
Evy: Well, and the last question I have for you is, what advice would you give to people who are either starting or just thinking about starting to be in storytelling?
Milda: I would suggest them practice, practice, practice, practice, and get out of their work-shopping. I mean, you took one workshop go tell stories in public, go tell stories in public. And after telling maybe for a few months in public then take another workshop, right? But then you have already questions that are like from practical point of view and make notes for yourself, "Okay, I felt like I failed there." Film yourself, ask for feedback, don't be afraid to ask because if you told the story wrong, it doesn't mean that you are a horrible person or you are, I don't know, a fail, or whatever, you just told a story maybe not in a good way, right, which can be fixed.
Evy: You're just having a bad day.
Milda: Yeah, you're just having a bad day or just like the audience wasn't very accepting you, or anything, just, yeah, and don't give up.
Evy: And for our listeners, if you're curious to learn more about Milda or our previous guests, you can find all the information and transcripts on our website, or on social media. And don't forget to subscribe and give us a four star review. Thank you so much for being with us here today.
Milda: Thank you so much for inviting and having me here.
Evy: Yay, thank you. [vocalization]

Transcript by Janice Erlbaum