STORYSTOCK’s Travelling Circus Of Stories

A magical, travelling circus, captivating the imaginations of children across the UK

With the festival season well and truly underway TOAST chats to Claire Gill, co-founder of STORYSTOCK – a magical, travelling circus of captivating stories and imaginative shows set to delight both children and adults across the country this summer.

Remember when Prince futuristically fantasized about partying like it’s 1999? Well somehow, it’s now 2017. That’s two thousand and seventeen. Some days I feel like I am actually living in the future; touch screen this and virtual reality that, drones, digital footprints and rainbow doughnuts - it’s frightening and exciting all at the same time, but at the end of the day it’s often the simplest and most enduring traditions that still bring the greatest joy and pleasure to humankind.

“There is something within all of us that responds to being told a story – it’s something that has been passed through generations,” explains Claire Gill. “Before humans could write, stories would be passed down orally and then written down, but there’s something about the collective experience which makes live literature events so compelling. We’re read stories as children as a way to communicate on a very immediate level - it’s about focusing on one thing, letting yourself free to be immersed in something other than the day to day. It’s escapism really - it’s vital.”

Story Stock

In 2013 Claire Gill and Nathalie Bristow created STORYSTOCK - a travelling circus which lands in unusual spaces to bring families stories. Whether it’s in a tent in a festival field, on stage at a theatre, or nestled in an art gallery or smart department store – STORYSTOCK can create its story-based magic pretty much anywhere, casting a captivating spell over children and adults alike. 

We want to remind everyone that books are an endless source of inspiration, and that sometimes just putting on a hat can suddenly transform how you feel. The key is that it’s fun, that it’s a flight of the imagination, that everyone can join in and that books are there for all of us!” enthuses Claire.

“To look at the faces of the children when they are held by a story is more magical and timeless than anything else I can think of. The magic that opening a book creates is overwhelming and so very simple. More than ever we need to celebrate and encourage a shared love of reading, illustration and the power of a story, particularly in this digital age”

Unsurprisingly, Claire’s professional background is in fact centered around books. After university she worked in publishing before joining the ranks of renowned literary and talent agency Peters Fraser & Dunlop. A career as a freelance editor followed, before becoming online editor of successful London lifestyle guide Angels & Urchins, aimed at parents and families based in the capital. Quite separately, Nathalie’s background lies in theatre and events, and it was whilst she was working at the Bush Theatre in West London that she and Claire decided to combine their individual areas of expertise and hatch a plan to launch their inspired circus of stories. 

Since having children I had always wanted to do something with books and children. It’s an endless source of inspiration and my meeting with Nathalie at the Bush Theatre was suddenly when all the pieces of the jigsaw slotted together,” explains Claire.

It was a very make-shift affair the first time – it was October half term and we had our own children blowing up balloons, our own parents illustrating scavenger hunts, and Nathalie and I very much feeling our way through our inaugural kids festival!” she laughs.

Using her vast contacts book Claire approached various authors and illustrators, and with the help of with Nathalie’s contacts in the theatre world the pair created dozens of imaginative and inspiring acts and workshops.

The whole thing was a lot of fun, but we hadn’t realised quite what an impact it would make both locally and further afield…”

STORYSTOCK’s beautiful and imaginative offering now mixes magical storytelling shows, enchanting children’s theatre, enthralling storytellers and a whole host of captivating and incredibly creative workshops – from yoga and storytelling combined in ‘Once Upon a Yoga Mat’ to acclaimed children’s author Michael Morpurgo once performing his latest book alongside a live string quartet. There’s creative writing in ‘Storystew’, drama workshops based on a journey through Narnia, storytelling, myth marathons, treasure hunts and much, much more, and all are delivered in a totally unique and immensely imaginative way.

Through different mediums, stories can be told in so many different ways - through music, pictures, sound, movement, drama, using all the senses. Stories are a resource available to us all without need to plug anything in!” Claire enthuses, “You have to be careful not to dumb down to kids - they can be the harshest of critics. You can’t get away with cutting corners as they won’t be afraid to tell you if they’re not happy!” she laughs, herself a mother of three.

I hope that we bring something that is entirely accessible, something that anyone can get involved in, pull up a chair and have a listen, try on this crazy wig or play a part in a scribbling competition. We encourage parents to join in with so it’s a moment to share with all the family, and we aim to challenge people out of their comfort zone but in the most gentle and roundabout way so that they don’t even know that it’s happening!”

Since its small-ish Shepherds Bush beginnings, STORYSTOCK’s action packed circus has travelled across London and the UK igniting imaginations wherever it goes; at London’s prestigious Saatchi Gallery they created a ‘wonder guide’ – an audio guide with a difference for kids, at the Royal Opera House they designed a special scavenger hunt based on Greek Mythology, and further afield they continue to weave their story telling magic at a variety of trendy summer spots such as the recent Daylesford’s Summer Festival.

Later this year they will be popping up at Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire before returning to London for a 2 day event at The Tabernacle in Notting Hill during October half term, and an impressive 3 week run at the Bush Theatre over Christmas. 

The festivals are great and always throw up new and exciting challenges, the weather being the most unpredictable!” laughs Claire. “But the Saatchi experience was very memorable; we wanted to give the children a chance to learn about art in an irreverent and playful way through workshops which ranged from graffiti and rap to creative writing, storytelling, and pop up events. We had an award-winning artist work with us to create the ‘wonder guide’, offering a completely different, immersive way of experiencing the exhibition.”


Story Stock Entertainment

In 2015 STORYSTOCK brought more fairy tales to life in store at Selfridges over Christmas, mixing a handful of fairy tales together and staging an immersive promenade performance that took families on a other worldly journey in a very unexpected location.

“We’ve actually adapted this for our outdoor festivals which has proved hugely popular, following Alice as she encounters Captain Hook and then makes friends with the Big Bad Wolf!” explains Claire.

We like to keep the STORYSTOCK ‘vibe’ the same wherever we are, be it outside, inside, on a roof, in a basement. The difference at a festival is the atmosphere overall is very relaxed as people are just enjoying the general festival and pop in and out. It is slightly more structured in other venues, but we always have our doodling café area which is a place for people to hang out, read a book, or draw a picture.

Putting on a STORYSTOCK at private events and parties is a concept that is well underway; Claire and the team have already put on popular Mad Hatter’s Tea Parties, and their actors have also appeared in costume at a few dos, most notably The Sunday Times Style Magazine’s Christmas party.

I love the fact that it is a moveable feast and that we adapt, develop and create new ideas all the time. It’s a joy, and I’m always adding new ideas to my little notebook that I carry around with me at all times!” enthuses Claire.

There is so much that we could do to bring stories to life for children and everywhere I look in London and beyond seems to me a potential spot for a STORYSTOCK. Our children are also great location scouts - they once suggested that we could take STORYSTOCK to space! Maybe one day…!”

Storystock Event

Story Stock Alice In Wonderland

For more information about STORYSTOCK, you can findout all about them on their profile page in TOAST’s Little Black Book

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