Milda Varnauskaitė: Lithuania's storytelling sensation

Milda Varnauskaitė, a storyteller, who performs at Sara this week. "I am not afraid of taking the audience into the darkest places, as I know we will find a way out of it together."
Milda Varnauskaitė, a storyteller, who performs at Sara this week. "I am not afraid of taking the audience into the darkest places, as I know we will find a way out of it together."

Milda Varnauskaitė is an international storyteller, storytelling coach, curator, and producer based in Vilnius, Lithuania. She's performing at Sara kulturhus at Friday lunchtime, one of only two English-language events at the Storytelling Festival.

Engelska 19 oktober 2023 13:30

What is your background? Were you read stories when you were a child? 

I grew up in a small village in the north of Lithuania. While growing up there I didn't really listen to many folk tales, but I heard my parents often telling stories about their lives when they were younger. There would be always stories told at events like birthdays. My Mum worked for more than 40 years as a physician's assistant in a small village; she has wonderful stories to tell about it. 

My dad always tells stories about his adventures, while trying to support a family of five in Lithuania in the 1990s, when the country had just broken free from the Soviet Union. 

It was a difficult time as my father lost his job, but he tells stories about those times as if it was a fun period. Sometimes when I listen to my parents telling stories I recognize myself in the way they are telling them. It's probably also why I have a few autobiographical tales in my repertoire; I grew up hearing more family stories than folk tales.

How long have you been a storyteller?

I told my first story live in 2015, but I have worked professionally since 2019. I feel like I'm still growing and finding my own voice and place in the storytelling world. I started my path as a storyteller in Amsterdam where I studied at Mezrab Storytelling School. I told stories first in English, and only later did begin telling them in Lithuanian. 

Lithuania didn't experience a storytelling revival as happened in other countries in the 1970s and 1980s, so storytelling wasn't a thing when I was growing up. Moreover, people tend to keep their stories to themselves, or at least tell them only in private circles in Lithuania. 

undefined
Milda Varnauskaitė, a storyteller, who performs at Sara this week.

There isn't a long tradition of public speaking because to say a "wrong" thing could have caused a problem during the Soviet occupation. So I had to go to Amsterdam to find out about storytelling and begin my career in storytelling there.

What was your first story (that you told?)

The very first story I performed live in front of an audience was an autobiographical story. To be completely honest, at the beginning of my career I almost only told autobiographical tales and only later shifted towards made-up tales, which now make up the majority of my repertoire. I feel that I needed to tell all those personal stories that I couldn't share in Lithuania, so I could move on from the culture of silence I grew up with. I believe that experience helps me now also in telling tales, as I try and tell them as if they were my personal stories as if everything that happened in the tale I experienced myself.

What are the themes of your stories?

Currently, it's the theme of female empowerment, however, it always depends on what I am interested in at the moment as I like to tell stories that feel relevant to me. I missed my family when I lived in Amsterdam for six years, so during that time I quite often told stories on the theme of home. Regardless of themes, I really like to take the audience into the world of a story and experience all events themselves. I am not afraid of taking the audience into the darkest places, as I know we will find a way out of it together.

undefined
Milda Varnauskaitė is an international storyteller, storytelling coach, curator, and producer based in Vilnius, Lithuania. She's performing at Sara kulturhus at Friday lunchtime, one of only two English-language events at the Storytelling Festival.

What was the inspiration for Her Daughter?

So the performance "Her Daughter" is a retelling of a very popular tale in Lithuania called "Spruce the Queen of Serpents". You learn that tale as a child in Lithuania. To be honest, it was the last tale I wanted to tell because it felt that it was already too well-worn. There have been movies made about it, plays and poems written, and even sculptures created. 

However, every time I heard that tale I would think that it's not right how the youngest daughter is treated in it. There was too much violence in the tale and nobody talked about it. So I got that itch, and I took the tale into the workshop, "What are you talking about?" organized by storyteller Ragnhild A. Mørch at Berlin University of the Arts. 

It was a workshop about how to tell old tales, while avoiding telling various stereotypes. Storytellers Abbi Patrix and Luis Correia Carmelo were also teaching at that workshop, and it was my first time working with them. I felt really inspired after the workshop, so I dived deeper into the tale and completely retold it, so the female characters are strong and take their lives into their own hands. 

undefined
Milda Varnauskaitė, a storyteller, who performs at Sara this week. "I am not afraid of taking the audience into the darkest places, as I know we will find a way out of it together."

Abbi Patrix was coaching me while I was writing the show and it was a very interesting process working with him as he had known the original tale for many years and was interested in it as too. So the tale I never wanted to tell was actually waiting for me to tell in my own way.

What do you want people to take away from this story?

I want them to take the feeling of hope that no matter how hard are the circumstances, no matter how lost they feel, they can always find a way back into their own true self and change their lives to match their inner truth.

Why is storytelling so important?

Because it creates a feeling that we are part of something bigger and that we are not alone. It gives a sense of community. It shows us that people experienced similar obstacles in the past and got through them, so we can overcome them too. Also, it creates joy, and increases empathy and everyone can do it! It's in our DNA to tell stories and connect through them.

At Sara kulturhus, Friday, October 20, 12.00-13.00


 
 
 
 
 
 
Ämnen du kan följa