There’s nothing better than a good story…except, perhaps, a good storyteller

January 1, 2015

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Playwright. Performer. Perpetually gleeful.

Ellen Chorley cut her teeth in playwriting at 15 years old. It was a valuable lesson in storytelling.

“Write what you know,” she remembers.

She had joined the Citadel Theatre’s Teens at the Turn playwriting program because of her love of theatre and performing. She attempted to write a play about street kids, but in retrospect admits she didn’t know anything about them. “I had a great, happy-go-lucky childhood,” she says. “I didn’t interview anybody—I just thought I knew what I was talking about. It was my angst play. I didn’t know what this world was about—it’s not my experience.”


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She credits the program’s teacher, award-winning playwright Vern Thiessen, for playing an instrumental role in her development as an artist. Vern took her aside and told her to “write what you know.”

“After that, I moved onto work that was closer to my own experience, and it became more truthful and more interesting,” says Ellen, who went back to the program the next year and the year after. “The story I could tell was so much better because I knew what I was talking about.”

She’s taken Vern’s advice to heart, but hasn’t let it hold her back from writing about princesses and fairytale detective characters.

“You can make art about things you don’t know about,” she says. “You can do the research and you can talk to people, but you have to find a way to open the door to your own experience so you can make it work and have a truthful story.”

“ It's my job to be a storyteller. So whether the stories are for kids or adults, I just try to tell the best story I can. ” 
Ellen Chorley

And she’s been telling her stories any way she can. She is currently the artistic associate for Edmonton’s Northern Lights Theatre, where she handles social media, media relations and general communications for the company. And, as founder of and artistic director for Promise Productions, she weaves fairytales and film noir into children’s theatre productions. And after hours, she chases an invigorating rush in burlesque performing, an unconventional, yet empowering, avenue for storytelling.

“It’s my job to be a storyteller,” she says. “So whether the stories are for kids or adults, I just try to tell the best story that I can.”

She says that children’s theatre and burlesque overlap in a lot of ways. “There is something magical about both forms. And there’s also this beautiful, sparkly, glittery, escape-like element to both.”

So, not surprisingly, Ellen’s storytelling is very much influenced by fairytales. She adored the original versions of stories about princesses before they became Disney-fied, and the stories she tells—whether through burlesque or through her children’s theatre shows—are definitely inspired by those fairytale damsels and heroines.

Ellen is also sharing her love of storytelling and performing with children and youth at the Foote Theatre School and through NEXTNextfest, a showcase of emerging Edmonton artists under 18. She enjoys working with kids and teens and seeing them approach theatre with the same fiery passion she had at that age.

“It’s so invigorating to be around people that love the art form I work in. It ignites my passion for what I do.”


Ellen Chorley is an alumna of Theatre Arts. Visit MacEwan.ca/TheatreArts for more information about the program.

 
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