Crowdfunding and conferences

Thanks to Adam Sargant’s project to make a crowd-funded DVD documentary about drut’syla storytelling – working title The Last Drut’syla? – Shonaleigh now has a presence on Soundcloud. Here she is, telling the story of Ruth and the Wind, part of the Ruby Tree cycle, and explaining a bit about the background of drut’syla storytelling to friends and acquaintances at Haworth Old Hall, on 16th March, for Haworth Storytelling Circle. The Last Drut’syla project has a blog here and a Facebook page here – have a rummage, spread the word and consider contributing to this amazing project – a feature-length documentary of a centuries-old storytelling tradition, never before recorded in any form.

Simon Heywood meanwhile presented a TEDx talk at Reading University on Missing the Arrow: the Search for the Truly Great Storyteller. The title is a reference to an old Jewish folktale and the talk used drut’syla storytelling as an example. He also gave a conference paper related to the drut’syla tradition to the Connecting Communities conference organised by the Pararchive Project at Leeds University on 28th March. In this technological age, how can we use technology to preserve and share oral traditions? What are the risks? Here’s the powerpoint, uploaded and ready to go. We’ll upload content from both conferences when it comes up.



The Last Drut’syla: Documentary Film – Crowdfunding starts in April

Exciting times … our friend Adam Sargant is working to get a featured documentary made about Shonaleigh’s work and the drut’syla storytelling tradition. He’s speaking to film-makers and from April there’ll be a crowdfunding campaign to raise funding. A pre-crowdfunding phase has just launched, pledges have already started to come in, and we’re hoping to help Adam get the word spread as far and wide as possible before April. Here’s the links – browse away and spread the word!

“The Last Drut’syla: A Traditional Jewish Storyteller in Postwar Europe”

Friday March 7th saw a gathering of story-focused folk in the Zen Room of the Atrium campus of the University of South Wales in Cardiff. Performers, writers, artists, film-makers, psychologists, educators – storytellers all, for whom ‘story’ is our bread-and-butter, and the tension between telling and listening our daily toil – we were there to listen to Simon Heywood outlining his research on the Jewish oral tradition of the female community storyteller or drut’syla, and to his partner, Shonaleigh Cumbers, one of the last drut’sylas, maybe the last, tell us a story.

A story? It doesn’t quite work like that, I soon learnt! Shonaleigh quickly introduced us to the concept of the embodied lattice of stories her grandmother taught her, and to the notion of active listening, heckling even, giving each of us the right to demand to hear whichever strand we were unwilling to leave as ‘another story for another time.’ I wanted to hear all about the pomegranate tree with the fruit of rubies… but we stopped to consider how the stones of the wall around it can groan … then how God fabricated the world with his bare hands … then onward, upward, backwards, sideways … digressing, diverting, plunging and soaring on a zig-zag helter-skelter of an irrevocable journey of story, as rich and full of surprises as life itself, but also as poignant and tinged with loss as the emptied rooms of the palace of memories we have passed through and whose untold stories we can never revisit in the form they might have held today.

The labour, and the privilege, of holding such a collection of stories in one’s mind and body is awesome, in the true sense of the word. This is the inheritance of the drut’syla, the teller of a story-lattice woven over centuries by the Jewish people. While these stories may ‘belong’ to a particular community, the strands of the lattice are made from stories of God and Man and the ‘pebbles of the world’ that resonate with all of us, and hold us all in thrall.

Leonie Sharrock, MA, BA, PGCE
Programme Leader, BA (Hons) Animation Direction and Production, University of South Wales / Prifysgol De Cymru

“The Last Drut’syla? A traditional Jewish storyteller in postwar Europe,” George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling, University of Glamorgan, 7th March 2014

Chatting after the presentation

Chatting after the presentation

We’re finally in business! On 7th March we gave the first substantial presentation about the drut’syla tradition, to a large, lively and friendly group at GEECS in Cardiff. Huge thanks to the Centre. The abstract is below. We took photos and recorded everything so hopefully we’ll have some more content to share soon.


Shonaleigh Cumbers is a drut’syla, a storyteller in a Jewish tradition inherited from her late grandmother, Edith Marks (d.1988), by whom she was trained from childhood. The drut’syla repertoire comprises twelve interlinked cycles, each of several hundred tales. Training also involves a complex system of oral memorisation, visualisation and interpretation (midrash) of tales. Historically, following training, each drut’syla (cf. Yiddish dertseyler, “storyteller”) would act as hereditary storyteller-in-residence to her own immediate community. However, the tradition was uprooted, and came close to extinction, in the mid-twentieth century, and Shonaleigh has been active mainly as a professional storyteller to a secular public. By contrast with rabbinical and official Jewish narrative tradition, documentation of the oral drut’syla tradition is sparse, and much about it remains obscure.

This presentation is based on a pilot research project funded by Derby University. It introduces live and recorded examples of Shonaleigh’s storytelling, and places them context, giving a general survey of Jewish storytelling, and the place of the female drut’syla within it; a brief biographical notice of Edith Marks, Shonaleigh’s mentor; a survey of the drut’syla‘s repertoire, training and working methods; a closer examination of one or two typical stories, with comparison with other versions of the same tale-type; and indications of directions for future research.