Back to article listing

Once upon a time there was a storyteller


People love listening to stories. But what is it like to be a storyteller by profession? A young man with a kind and calm appearance sits in the hall of the Pasila Library. This bearded man with a sparkle in his eye is 33-year-old Markus Luukkonen from Helsinki and he is a professional storyteller. His line of work seems almost medieval!

Markus says that the storyteller profession is quite unfamiliar in Finland, but well-known in English-speaking countries, Sweden and among the Swedish-speaking population of Finland. He has always loved the magical starting words “once upon a time”, and now he gets to start his workdays with just those words.

Stories cross language barriers

A storyteller, if anyone, is the symbol of the future Central Library, because it will be a nest of stories. Stories convey information about life. The Central Library will be the display window of creative Finland, which will produce success stories for both current and future generations. It is the perfect stage for performances given by storytellers.

How does one become a storyteller? Markus studied speech and drama at Snellman College. After graduation he travelled the world alone in 2008 and 2009 gathering folktales unknown to Finns. The two-year journey started from St Petersburg and ended in Uluru, which is a sacred place for the Aboriginal people of Australia. He got plenty of new stories, experiences and friends. Markus kept a blog called Tarinoiden maailma (World of stories) during his journey.
“I also wrote stories myself during the trip as I was inspired by nature and people.”

The greatest problem he encountered during the trip was the language barrier, since English is not spoken everywhere and Markus does not speak Russian, for example. At the same time, he was asked to tell stories even if the audience did not understand the language. To his astonishment listeners were still spellbound.
“I suppose there is something impressive about the storytelling situation as such.”
According to Markus, any art form can whisk people on journeys to faraway lands or inside their own minds to see a new perspective of themselves.

Story tent travels around Finland

Markus leads workshops and organises performances, where he tells stories alone or with others. He has performed, for example, in theatres, libraries, day care centres, homes for the elderly, galleries, shopping centres, cafés, parks and even in a tram! He is often asked to perform at parties, such as birthdays, weddings and Christmas parties.
“Many people think that stories are only for children. I have also performed for children, but my stories are mostly for adults or the entire family.”

During the summer, Markus intends to tour art events in Finland accompanied by a troubadour and artist. They will travel by car for six weeks and drive all the way to the Norwegian border. They will have a large tent with them for organising performances and workshops. Normally Markus also works two or three times a week in the caring industry in Helsinki.

A fairy tale that fills like a seven-course meal

“I like improvised stories the best, where you start telling the story based on an event from your own life. It is not enough to read a text to the audience; you have to convey images to listeners. I tend to use my body a lot when telling stories. Other performers are more composed.”

Markus Luukkonen remembers an impressive experience, when he was in Sweden participating in a storytelling course, where the instructor told the class a story that lasted some thirty minutes.
“After the story I felt as nourished as if I had eaten a seven-course meal!”

The course held in Sweden in 2004 changed the course of his life. The drama student did not feel he was studying to be an actor but a story teller. At the same time, he realised that he did not need to know the fairy tales by heart word for word, but he could tell them freely from his heart.

Markus likes to use modern tales or classic Russian short stories, for example, as the starting point for his stories. He also watches a lot of movies and animations and reads novels. According to Markus, storytelling has links to present-day computer games.

Healing words

Markus believes that storytelling has a lot to offer.
“Far too often everything is provided in the form of predetermined and final visual images. Listening to a story stops you and soothes. Stories intrigue the imagination of the listener. Telling stories and listening to stories make people feel at one with themselves.”

Markus believes that there is a reason for the fact that people have told stories to each other throughout the ages.
“Stories provide a moment’s break from everyday life and have the ability to whisk you away on a distant journey. At the same time, you can subconsciously process everyday problems or even bigger life questions,” Markus ponders with a smile.
He seems like someone who is living his dream.

Favourite stories of Markus Luukkonen (lend the books from the library!):

1. folktales from different countries (“They are powerful!”)

2. Michael Ende: Momo (“Classic.”)

3. Oscar Wilde: The Happy Prince – The Complete Fairy Stories (“Depths.”)

4. Wendy Cope: Serious Concerns poetry book (“I smile at goldfish.”)

+ extras: sea and forest (“These give you peace.”)

Satusivellin children’s culture week and national fairy-tale-telling competition

Text: Elisa Helenius
Portrait of Markus: Anna Uschanov
Travel pictures: Markus Luukkonen  

Share the article