Spooks and spectres may not come to mind as being especially representative of the winter holiday season, but two storytellers are bringing back an old Victorian tradition with a performance at the MAC on Dec. 29.
Marva K. Blackmore and Lee Porteous will be telling ghost stories between Christmas and New Year’s, as was the tradition for a period in the 1800s, said Blackmore.
While ghost stories have been around for about as long as people could tell stories (with evidence of ghost stories in Homer’s Odyssey), the Christmastime ghost story was popularized by Charles Dickens, said Blackmore, when he began to publish ghost stories in various magazines.
“The most popular of those, of course, was A Christmas Carol. For some reason it appealed to the Victorians to tell those ghost stories in their parlours between Christmas and New Year’s.”
While ghost stories didn’t find traction amongst the Puritans coming across the Atlantic to North America, Scots and Celts brought their traditions, including Halloween, and so ghost stories came to be associated more with that time of year in North America, said Blackmore.
She and Porteous decided this was the year to bring back the Victorian tradition with a storytelling performance called Come Into My Parlour, with performances in Victoria, Duncan and at the MAC.
“The stories that we will be telling come from folklore and some are based on historical fact,” said Blackmore. “Some of the stories come from Scotland, some of them come from Canada. One of them comes from Canada via China another one comes from the Yukon.”
All the stories are found, said Blackmore, which is a hard part of the process. After finding a story, one she likes, she learns every element of it and beings creating images of the story in her mind. Blackmore then goes about describing these pictures, “and then I can work on learning to tell the story in a way that will make the audience laugh or shiver or perhaps feel a bit uncomfortable in their seats when I reach the end of that story.”
A few of the stories she and Porteous will be telling could be considered comedic, while others will make audiences wonder “But none of the stories will make you fearful of going home.”
She added that, though the stories are aimed at an adult audience, she said there’s nothing in them that a child couldn’t hear.
“In fact it is my experience in telling ghost stories either around a campfire or in a classroom, that children prefer stories that are gorier, compared to adults.”
Overall, in putting together a ghost story, Blackmore said it must have the pretense of truth. “You must believe that it might have happened,” she said.
Next, she said no gratuitous bloodshed or sex.
Finally, the story must not give any explanation of the mechanism for how something happens.
“I just tell you the story and you decide how things happened,” she said.
Blackmore, based in Qualicum Beach, is the organizer for the MAC’s Tales for the Telling since it began in 2012, having been a professional storyteller in Ottawa before moving to the area in 2010. She’s also the past president of Storytellers Canada, and has performed nationally and internationally.
Porteous is the president of the Victoria Storytelling Guild and has performed across Canada.
“She travels extensively in search of good stories and good storytelling,” said Blackmore.
The event, Come Into My Parlour, takes place on Dec. 29 at the MAC (McMillan Arts Centre, 133 McMillan St., Parksville) starting at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $18, or $15 for OCAC members.
Go to mcmillanartscentre.com/theatre/ to buy tickets.