By Judith Toh Qing Mei
Diploma in Creative Writing for TV and New Media
Roger Jenkins’ love for storytelling started 20 years ago. Today, he tells stories in schools and even workplaces around Singapore and Southeast Asia. (Photo credit: Judith Toh)
Considered to be one of the best storytellers in Singapore today, Roger Jenkins, 65, entertains with his natural ability to change his expressions and voices in the blink of an eye to tell his tales. Yet, he is actually an “accidental storyteller”.
Finding his Calling
Twenty years ago, Roger was an accomplished businessman and writer. He started a theatre group for the hearing impaired and had even won the Singapore Literature Prize in 1995 for his collection of poems: From the Belly of the Carp: Singapore River Voices.
In 1998, his career took a slight turn when he began to teach English at the Ministry of Education through storytelling. He realised that telling stories, and not writing, was his calling.
“It was that wonderful moment when I told the story… it’s really a powerful thing,” he said.
Even though he is a veteran in the industry now, he still finds immense joy from seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they hear his stories. He especially enjoys experimenting with quirky methods such as magic and sign language to convey his messages.
“One of the key features of oral storytelling is that it’s interactive nature, where you are looking for ways to get the audience to respond either vocally, or physically,” he explains.
Although it is an art form usually associated with children, Roger even uses his gift to tell stories to grown-ups in workplaces. He firmly believes in the power of storytelling in both society and the workforce. He has conducted workshops to managers on how to use storytelling to connect with their employees.
A New Platform
Born in Singapore to British parents, Roger describes himself as “a big fish in a very tiny pond” that is the Singapore storytelling scene. But he’s not resting on his laurels. With technology taking over the world, he has to adapt his craft.
He has a YouTube channel, rogerstoryteller. Some may think that telling stories to an audience of one – the video camera – is much easier compared to an actual public performance. However, Roger begs to differ. In front of the camera, he must be more expressive than usual while keeping his hand actions and props within a tight space.
The channel has given him the opportunity to reach out to people from all around the world, with his most popular video receiving over 20,000 views. Though his main motive for going digital was to expand his audience, Roger also recognises that this platform is a means to leave his mark on the storytelling scene. It’s also a vehicle to promote storytelling as a powerful tool that many do not know about.
“People come to listen to a story with different points of access and that’s why stories really speak to people.”