Celebration Series Blog 6: Interactive Storytelling across Gloucestershire Libraries

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Interactive Storytelling across Gloucestershire Libraries 

As part of the winter programme 2018/19 we had the absolute pleasure of not only bringing Interactive Storytelling sessions to libraries across Gloucestershire; but also working with library staff about they can develop their storytelling skills.  

This was our second year working with Create Gloucestershire’s Art of Libraries project and we were looking forward to re-visiting libraries as well as heading to some for the first time. 

Bringing stories to life 


We love books and stories and we love bringing them to life. Working in libraries seems to be an ideal setting in which to do so. They are often warm, welcoming community hubs, where people feel safe exploring. Whether that’s by reading a book, researching something or experience a live story.  

They are also, quite importantly, free to access. By bringing Interactive Storytelling to libraries for free we are also opening up an opportunity to experience a live theatrical event without the barrier of cost. Hopefully we can encourage families to continue exploring all of these things in their own homes and perhaps elsewhere in their area too. 

This year we were brought a classic tale to life – ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’. Loved by many and completely unknown to others, the story can be enjoyed by all. In our Interactive Storytelling version we focus on the relationship between the child and their toy rabbit, asking the question “What is real?” 

Engaging young audiences and their families / carers 

It was wonderful to see a wide range of audiences taking part – from classes of nursery children, to families and friends. We wanted to encourage audiences to explore the story with us, enjoying music song and active participation. Sometimes people can be surprised to hear we perform in a library setting – moving around and making noise. But children this age (3-7 years old) love to use their body and voices to make sense of the world, communicate and tell stories and it is wonderful to see them having the confidence to join in and do so at such a young age.  

We loved hearing this feedback from a librarian after one of our sessions:

“One mother told me that whilst shopping in Sainsbury’s the following day – something her two young daughters usually hate – they were pretending to jump down holes (which had been part of the story). She said that it had really captured their imaginations. I love offering these events at the Library it’s a way of bringing stories to life. “ 

Other feedback on The Velveteen Rabbit sessions include: 

“Children really engaged and loved imaginary role play throughout the performance” library staff 

“As a visitor seeking refuge with my twin grandchildren, it was a lovely surprise to see a 

“performance”. The children were intrigued.” Audience member 

“The performers made everyone feel welcome and inclusive and the story was engaging and entertaining with lots of opportunities for the children to be involved in a sensory way. The flexibility and improvisation skills of the performers, allowed the children's responses to questions to be valid and accepted, creating a warm environment. I feel that this is an important aspect of a performance for children.” Library staff 

Professional Development 

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Running a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) session with library staff, was also a great way for us to learn more about the needs and barriers faced by library teams as well as share some of our techniques and experience. This has really informed how we can shape our offers. It has also sparked conversation about exciting new ideas on ways to collaborate with libraries in the future. 

Bringing theatre and storytelling to libraries can of course have challenges, such as different systems and infrastructure to promote the events, varying audiences and practical restrictions on performing. However, these also provide opportunities for us to think outside the box – use a different pace and language – adapt to a new setting and audience.  

What shines through is the positive experience of working with new people in an interesting space, stretching our capabilities alongside enthusiastic and willing staff. To quote one of the library staff, we have learnt “how passionate and committed library staff are”. 

Some words from the library staff about the training session: 

“Inspiring” “stimulating” “encouraging” “creative” 

 “Really good variety” 

“I heard many good ideas from other people and their experiences” 

“It was all very supportive” 

“I found this workshop very helpful hearing best practice from other colleagues and picking up wonderful ideas and inspiration from the two presenters”

The future 

Working in partnership for the winter season has allowed us to continue offering sessions to libraries we have built a relationship with as well as expand this. We would love to continue to do so, so that more libraries can take part. It has made us consider responding to need – asking if there is a demand for something that we can support. E.g. music for storytelling sessions that doesn’t require licensing. We aim to continue using a joint approach that works with each side’s skills and experience.  

Having two very positive experiences has given us the confidence to bring a new offer to libraries and have the trust in our work and quality, even if it is something new and a potential risk.

About Hammerpuzzle

Hammerpuzzle create re-imagined, accessible storytelling theatre using classical, historical and artistic stimulus. They bring stories to life in a generous, theatrical landscape. They take a stimulus, break it apart to find the heart, then puzzle it back together again in a new way.

Working as an ensemble is central to their work. Combined with the essential element of original live music and song, their shows excite audiences both visually and aurally. They want to create theatre that is communally shared between all involved, performer and audience alike.

Alongside professional productions they have a strong reputation for educational workshops for adults and young people. They work in collaboration with a number of organisations and are are an Associate Company of the egg/Engage, Theatre Royal Bath.

Lizzy Cummins


Lizzy was involved in Hammerpuzzle’s formation in 2007 as a co-founder. Since then she has played a key managerial role in the company’s continuing success taking over as Company Director in 2012. As well as producing productions, she has taken a lead on Hammerpuzzle’s educational and family work, writing and directing our interactive storytelling performances for early years. 

Lizzy is an experienced Theatre Practitioner and is passionate about Creative Learning. She has created and delivered a variety of work across the south west.

Alongside Hammerpuzzle she is currently working for Travelling Light Theatre
Company, Natural Theatre Company, the egg, and Bath Spa University.