Upcoming gigs

Upcoming Gigs

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Say Owt Slam #19 3rd Feb 2018 @ The Basement, York

Whatever Happened To Vandal Raptor? April tour:

Durham @ TTEST 12th

Leeds @ Workshop Theatre 17th

Hydra Bookshop 18th

Derby Theatre 20th

Harrogate Theatre 24-25th

London @ Ovalhouse 26-28th


Nerd Punk Book Launch 29th April, All Saint's Church, York

Spoken Weird 3rd May, Halifax

Gong Fu Poets 31st May, Durham



Saturday, 14 December 2013

SLAP, slapping and the 'Stop It' reflex

On Thursday I went along to SLAP at the new space in York, Artemis House.  It’s an event organised by 70/30 Split Theatre and Matt Baker, of LPA Theatre, a children’s theatre company in York.  But there was nothing for kids here.

It was a genuine pleasure and treat to go to a theatre event without any acoustic guitars.  I don’t mean any disrespect to acoustic musicians (“some of my best friends are acoustic musicians” he said defensively) but York’s scene at the moment is very geared to acoustic, folk and country in both the music/open mic scene and the arts/theatre.  Friendly, accessible, open, warm and traditional.  We’re a Mumford & Son-sy town.  That’s not a criticism of York, I love the place.  Maybe there’s some kid in London’s Stratford craving Laura Marling covers after being bombarded with hip-hop.  Who knows.

SLAP had a couple of ace rock bands.  SLAP was loud and electric and, well, salacious (SLAP is Salacious Live Alternative Performance) and here are my thoughts about exposure.

At EdFringe this year I saw some theatre in a small, DIY, independent café.  Like…the Fringe of the Fringe.  There I saw a piece about falling, in which the solo artist performing this show downed can after can of Red Bull.  It was an act which caused what I’ll call the “Stop it!” reflex, as an audience member we can see an individual on stage actively harming themselves. That might not necessarily be painful, but their body is under damage or threat.  In this case, around 1am, this guy was glugging far too much caffeinated sugar.  Stop.  What Are You Doing To Yourself?!

On Thursday, Matt ripped out tufts of his own hair, and offered it to the audience.  Matt is so cheerful.  He has a big goofy smile and a swagger of certainty, like he’s in on some knowing joke we’ve not realised yet.  When one man in the audience casually asks for more and more hair, there’s an unease rippling through the audience.  Is this guy part of the act?  I knew he wasn’t.  Matt gladly rips out more hair for the guy.  We want Matt to stop.  We want the guy to stop asking.  We as audience have this agency and investment.  Matt asks someone to slap him.  Someone does.  Is this guy a dick?  He’s just following Matt’s instructions.  I could have stood up and stopped the guy.  I didn’t.  Would that have ruined Matt’s act?

Later in the night, 70/30 Split (two female artists Sophie and Lydia) perform a fantastic piece about gender identity.  They create work which explores burlesque, feminism, the female body and performance.  Their piece uses dances/movement and a splash of stand-up parody.  Early on, they reveal their breasts. 

Obviously not physically painful like Matt’s hair wrenching, it still makes an audience on edge.  A social norm as been broken.  A theatre norm has been broken.  Theatre is meant to be staged, an act, a joke, a lie.  Costumes, characters, scenes.  We are meant to dissect the characters, not the actors.  But here Lydia and Sophie are blunt and honest. 

As an audience, we don’t really know how to respond.  Someone wolf whistles.  Their exposure changes the mood.  Charges it, winds up tension, splits a room.  I’m no telepath, but I assume someone feels guilty.  The thought crosses our minds that being physically exposed, even by choice, is harmful.  Exploitative.  Stop it.

But it’s Sophie and Lydia’s choice to show their breasts.  They look bored.  It’s no big deal.

Yeah, Boobs.  We’ve Got ‘em .  Deal With It.  Move On.


Another quick example:  In ‘What I Heard About The World’, Chris Thorpe tries to drink a glass of salt water to prove the world’s rising tides problems can be saved by drinking the sea.  It’s funny but…Uck.  Stop It.

I think about this exposure in theatre.  About making your body be harmed, damaged or exposed to an audience.  An offering which triggers uncomfortableness undoubtedly, but also a care and sympathy for the fellow human being.  The STOP IT reflex can be about protecting someone.

I think about my poetry.  I would like to think when I perform certain poems, I am exposing myself, I am putting myself in harm’s way.  I want people to have the STOP IT reflex, not because it is bad or unsettling poetry, but because it is honest.  Entertaining, funny, hell maybe inspiring, but still has the rustle of an audience uncertain as to their agency.

He looks like he needs a hug

Maybe I do…

I am reminded of Ren Spits At Magpies and the way she screams her throat raw during certain songs, and yet at other times in her set she has a beautiful, haunting voice.  I am reminded of a cut up Sid Vicious, and a bruised Henry Rollins.

In theatre, the veneer of actors, cast, tickets, ushers and script allows only the most harrowing of topics to really unsettle a typical theatre-going audience.  We are long post-Sarah Kane.  The baby flesh in Blasted is a prop.  Matt’s cheek was sore.

Food for thought.


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