All About Xanthe Gresham
Xanthe Gresham Knight is based in East Sussex. Since saving her bus fare by walking to school and memorising poetry, she has spent the best part of her life committing words to memory.
For her, imagined worlds make sense of reality. Stories work eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart. What has made you laugh, moved you or cast life in a different light you will remember and re-tell.
It was a story that dug Xanthe out of her lowest point;
‘I had slammed the door on my acting career. I was sick of ‘resting’ and not using my talents.
I decided to become a teacher in the inner city. In the classroom I would be fruitful! Many children would benefit from my great sacrifice!
Despite slaving every night and working all weekend my classroom was a riot – and not in a good way, pencils flew, picture books were trampled underfoot. Nothing I tried worked.
Then a storyteller walked into the classroom and began to tell a story.
My shoulders went down, my jaw lolled; I was away with the fairies. I laughed! I cried! I fell in love!
That night I memorised the first Greek Myth I came across. I didn’t do it for the children. I did it for me. I was ravenous. Starved of imagined worlds.
Next morning after register I opened my mouth and out the story tumbled as if it had a life of its own.
The children rocked back on their heels, their eyes rolled. They listened for 40 minutes!
After that, the classroom was a riot in the best way. I told stories every day and often heard the children chanting the refrains and acting them out in the playground.
I introduced props and the children acted out sections as we went along.
I bought in my accordion and carried on playing even after the story so that they danced while tidying up. It was a classroom revolution!
I could hardly believe the results.
The children remembered the stories, often word for word.
They effortlessly incorporated the structure and rich imagery of traditional tales in their own writing – their ingenuity was infinite.’
Xanthe has been a storyteller for 20 years and is convinced that the key to creativity in writing, drama and problem solving is to hear as many stories as possible – eye to eye, mind to mind, heart to heart.
‘Gresham is a truly great storyteller who unwraps each story like the petals of a lotus flower…..Her sparky energy conjures visionary delights like a storytelling genie who has just jumped from her bottle to open the doorway into your imagination.’ – Cecily Boys, British Theatre Guide
Xanthe works with year groups 2 – 6 in primary and all ages in secondary. She can offer three to four sessions with groups of up to 60 in a day, although she can work with larger groups if there is a good sound system and body mike.
Xanthe’s School visits
Queen, King, Prince, Princess
Royalty in fairytales is an inner state. All quests are about finding your heroic self whether you are a princess of peas or a prince of wolves. Xanthe uses one of the stories, which she has written or recorded for Barefoot Books – The Princess and the Pea, The Twelve Dancing Princesses and The Snow Queen as a starting point. She then tells other stories, riddles, games and songs from all over the world to produce a lively, participatory and varied storytelling session to suit each year group.
The aim of each session is to give the children a series of stories they want to re-tell.
After teachers and pupils have experienced a storytelling session, Xanthe can work with teachers and students to develop their techniques of storytelling in the classroom;
Games to develop memory and imagination
Techniques for creating characters using dressing up and magic objects
Sensory storytelling techniques using scents, textures and making
Toolbox of storytelling techniques
Xanthe has worked as a storyteller for 20 years. She was also lecturer in English and storytelling for the PGCE students at the University of East London for 19 years. As well as developing her own methods of storytelling training, she has contributed to Pie Corbett’s collection of stories published by Scholastic and worked with Oxford Story Museum on their excellent courses in storytelling. She is able to train teachers in her method and point them towards other excellent resources to further develop their storytelling techniques.
Xanthe also works with Everyday Magic, a London based Company committed to working with music and story on a regular basis in schools in West London.
Other experience includes: Storyteller in Residence at Harvard University, the Chelsea Physic Garden and Stoke and Staffordshire Libraries. Extensive commissions from the British Museum and the Smithsonian in Washington, Storytelling Educator for Tate Britain, the Courtauld, the Queen’s Gallery and the Wallace Collection.
Her 8 Goddess Tales have received international acclaim and have been performed at venues such as the Barbican, Cheltenham Literature Festival, York Theatre Royal and Soho Theatre and have been performed all over the world. This year she will be at the Edinburgh Festival with her performance of Morgana le Fey produced in Association with the Arts Council and York Theatre Royal.
She has also published texts, exercises, videos and sound recordings in Pie Corbett’s ‘Storyteller’ series published by Scholastic.
Goddesses and Gods, Men and Women.
Xanthe has spent many years touring secondary schools in Europe and South America and is interested in helping students find their own voice. She begins by telling the story of her own journey into storytelling – from whirling spears above her head during battle epics, to finding a more female voice in her 8 Goddess Tales.
She then performs a selection of stories based on the needs and tastes of the group. A specialist in the poetic epic, Shahnameh the Iranian Book of Kings, Xanthe also has a wide selection of classical stories from Gilgamesh to Shakespeare as well a host of debate stories – so popular with secondary aged students – contemporary stories, riddles and wondertales.
Although one of the simplest ways to become a storyteller is to listen to stories and then re-tell them, there are many specific techniques that can be learned to improve your game.
With secondary students, Xanthe can offer a combined session of performance storytelling and workshop techniques. Typical elements of a workshop might include;
Creating characters: People in stories are big and bold. In order to snap into character we experiment with posture, walks and props.
Developing a structure: using key words and images.
Acknowledging the climax: We analyse the peaks and troughs of story through interactive maps.
Sensory storytelling: Participants have the opportunity to use scents, textures, rhythm, drama, audience participation and music to accompany their storytelling.
Finding your style: Using storytelling games and simple exercises, participants are encouraged to choose their own style and story; joke, urban legend, ghost story or section from an epic. Relaxation is the key and the emphasis is on owning and enjoying the story.
Although all exercises are rigorously structured they are tailor made to the needs of the group. After decades of experience in running workshops, Xanthe allows sessions to unfold in response to comments and questions that arise from the students.
The Princess and The Pea
Xanthe Gresham — a woman who has been described as speaking “like a woman spitting jewels.” This version of the familiar story focuses on the tender-hearted prince, who searches the world looking for the right partner. After his search proves fruitless, he returns home heavy-hearted, until one night, when “a girl with eyes the colour of the rain” turns up at his door. Xanthe’s rich, lyrical language brings a new level of depth to this classic tale.
This story really spoke powerfully to my heart. I think that in life we each have faced heartbreak in some way, but the right people in our lives cherish and treasure and protect our hearts and are there for us in life’s ups and downs. The illustrations in this book are gorgeous. I found this to be a compelling retelling of The Princess and the Pea fairytale….
Reviews and Recommendations
‘Xanthe fires up the children. She takes them to a magical world, opening up Pandora’s box and unlocking the imagination.’ – Pascale Guychard, Education Officer Tate Gallery
‘Xanthe told us a story…. Everyone in our group was involved, using actions, props or chants to move the action along. The story was multisensory and highly engaging – even for a group of adults. A few days after the session, I was invited to an interview and asked to read or tell a story to a class of Year 3 children. I had been inspired by the session and even though I had never told before, I felt confident to deliver a story that would engage and include all the children. I was offered a job at the school. When I saw the children again they threw their arms round me and began retelling the story using the chant. I believe that the sessions with Xanthe taught me to be more confident and that you don’t need a book in front of you to deliver a memorable story.’ – Rebecca Cheroot after storytelling sessions at The British Museum
‘Xanthe has lovely characteristics of enthusiasm and openness, willingness to engage and a genuine passion for her art form, which conveys itself to those she works with. Her performance style is accessible and powerful. All ages are equally captivated by the content and delivery of both traditional stories and original, self-devised stories.’ – Jude Bird, Creative Partnerships, Liverpool.
‘With a few props, exquisite timing, just enough movement, a few rhythmic repetitions and some audience participation, stories from various cultures were brought to life to beautiful effect.’ – Harry Brown, The Irish Times
‘Xanthe is an excellent collaborator to work with. She is completely professional, delivers work to deadline, adapts very well to circumstances and is open to suggestions … First rate storytelling and first rate performance which forges powerful links with listeners.’ – Richard Woff Head of Schools and Young Audiences British Museum
‘I think that Xanthe’s style is really amazing, she captured the attention of the students so easily! She is fresh and fun! I couldn’t believe that she made them participate, they were reluctant at first, but after a while they were dancing, role playing and even willing to help her. She exceeded our expectations! This is an experience they will never forget!’ – Ileana Gutiérrez Cortés Escuela Secondaria Americana, Mexico City
‘The story-teller, Xanthe Gresham, accompanied by a musician, and with an array of props, head-dresses and sheepskins, relayed the bones of one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful plays, with a fine narrative lucidity and odd quotations. And she had no trouble at all in enlisting nearly all of the sixty children, at various stages, in the story itself, playing kings, princes, shepherds and statues. It is required that you awake your faith.” It was, and we did. It was one of the best instances of “immersive” theatre I’ve seen in ages.’ – Michael Coveney What’s On Stage
‘A wonders-full collage of traditional tales and the circumstances of their telling….Xanthe Gresham gives a measured and sure performance, dressed in fire, speaking like a woman spitting jewels….’ – Phil Smith for the Arts Council
‘Extraordinarily entertaining. It seemed to me to be in the style of 1001 Nights in its rapid interweaving of wild stories. And it was a reminder too of Angela Carter’s breathless flights of fancy!’ – Tony Aylwin Fact and Fiction
To Make a Booking
To make an enquiry about Xanthe Gresham, or any of the other authors, poets & illustrators listed on this website, please phone Trevor Wilson on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org