Thursday, 22 May 2014

Don’t throw in the towel

On Saturday I performed a new piece as part of a new event run by the ArtsBarge called Round One.

ArtsBarge are a group in York trying to set up a boat as an arts venue full on York’s river, the Ouse.  They’ve been gifted a space which, by weekday, is a boxing ring, and by weekend, well, whatever they want.

Programmed by Tom Bellerby, compered by Phil Grainger, the night was 12 acts performing in the boxing ring, 10 minutes each, the focus on new snappy and sharp work, but also the spirit of collaboration.

I’m not going to go into the ins-and-outs of why, but suffice to say what was expected as a friendly, arts event turned into a battle.  Acts tried desperately to make the audience at the back of the space stop chatting and listen.

For me, I’ve done those gigs where some of the audience are chatting, and some are listening, and for my money it’s a battle you’ll mostly lose, but worth fighting.  Sometimes you can get them to listen, if briefly, but if they’re in the mindset to ignore you, they will.  Some performers on the night changed the game, went off stage/mic , some went all-out. 

It became like throwing ourselves at a wall to see if it’ll buckle, bend or break.  We ran headfirst at the audience, we seduced them, threatened them, waved out hands wildly for their attention.  At the time, I felt overwhelmed by it, but in retrospect it was kind of useful.

I saw Red City Radio on Friday, a brutally blunt, awesome punk back from Oaklamhoma, who’s opening intro was the singer screaming into the mic “We’re Red City Radio, who the fuck are you?”

Audiences need to be given parameters, they know what to expect in theatre venues and music venues, and at poetry events.  But this fusion with a focus on the live, boozy bar element meant they couldn’t really focus on the quieter, subtle dancing, theatre, stand-up or poetry in-between music.
That doesn’t mean to say that the audiences were unruly, disruptive or wrong, only as a side-project of them enjoying the night did it mean us acts struggled.

But sometimes we have to fight to be heard, or prove we deserve to be heard.  It was a challenge, certainly afterwards I felt pretty naff, and most acts felt exhausted like they’d gone 12 rounds with a boxing champ.  But it’s worth these experiments as theatres and even fringe theatres are cut, we must find these audiences and spaces beyond the confines of black box theatres, smug pub function rooms for poetry or regulated arts events and rock the boat.

Don’t throw in the towel

Sunday, 11 May 2014

York, Coxwold & Selby... Dinos on tour

This week has been a quick succession of gigs, so wanted to quickly day thanks to everyone putting me on.

Thursday I led my first youth theatre group with the LBT Young Company, so dashed back to York to support Richard Tyrone Jones and his show Big Heart.  I was amazed Richard’s heart didn’t implode after doing the show at double-quick time due to an earlier curfew on the venue.  My head was in a 9-11s mode, so I did my Toby The Tyrannosaurs Rex poem.  Thanks to Rose & Alan for having me.

Then it was off to Coxwold on Friday night to perform Practise Patience with Travels By Telephone, as well as doing a quick set.  This was part of the regular Little Festival Of Everything that Flanagan Collective runs with the Fauconberg Arms.  Thanks, as always, to the pub, Paul and Alex for having me.

The space we did PP in, The View, is perfect for the type of show, intimate, friendly and overlooking the rolling hills of nature.  And no phone signal, an integral part of the plot! 

Then I did some poems in the front bar.  I worry sometimes poetry sets can intrude on people enjoying their meals/drinks.  Music can be enjoyed as a background feature, but poetry and spoken word requires a reverential silence, so it was key to keep it snappy.  Again, I did Toby.

The next day, Saturday, I performed to a few children some of my children’s poems.  Toby reappeared once again.

Finally on the Saturday night in Selby I opened for Slackjaw, The Vexed and Nu,Progodi.  I was a bit worried, even though I knew a few of the crowd, the Riverside is an odd shape and people expected grindcore, not poetrycore.  However they crowd were attentive and really responsive, I couldn’t have expected better from a bunch of well-behaved punx.  Thanks to Sam for the gig opportunity (and Nick for driving me).  I guess the nature of punk is to try and accept the slightly out-of-place or odd, and the nature of Selby and small towns is to give anything a listen, because not much music/art comes through.

That’s seems to be a recurring theme with the Little Fests and punk gigs is people are willing to give things a go, and provided they aren’t saturated (I kept sets short) they appreciate the passion, energy and commitment I hope to bring.  I think as performers we can never get complacent and never take our audience for granted, and never get ego-tistic assuming that we ‘deserve’ people’s attention.

In the context of spaces not associated with poetry/spoken word, if unfamiliar audiences give us a modicum of their attention then its then up to us to prove we can deliver, but not intrude.

That way spaces can be gradually transformed, or audiences encouraged into gigs, spaces and venues where poetry/spoken word thrive.

And, yes, I did Toby again for the punk rockers and grindcore fans of Selby.  Maybe it’s because the engaging theme of friendship and mischief appeals to elderly residents of tiny villages, eager under 10s and drunk punks.  Or maybe it’s because everyone loves dinosaurs.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Cages & Wages: Thoughts on May Day

It’s May 1st, May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day across the world.  This Saturday will see marches and actions to celebrate this day in the left-wing calendar.

What are the origins of May Day?  Many fought in the 1800s fought for many rights we now take for granted, and one such battle for the fight for the 8 hour day (8 hours for work, 8 for recreation and 8 for rest).

May Day has come to represent those battles, for better pay, working conditions, pensions, the weekend, sick leave & pay, material leave & pay etc etc.

But we need to be careful not to ‘romanticise’ elements of the working class movement.  Trade Unions are still hierarchical organisations with power structures.  I believe in the power of a Union, but we have to be careful when we sing “The Union keeps us strong” because sometimes the Union bureaucrats sell us out in negotiations.

I am also aware of the language of the socialist working class movement is, obviously, about working.  It’s very macho, male-orientated and has a focus on ‘pride’.  Sometimes uses this word ‘hard-working’. 

But let’s not forget, work steals from us.  Work steals our time, energy, resources, dignity.  It puts us into boxes, categories, makes us competitive, gives us a reason to mistrust immigrants, women and be at the mercy of the managers and economy. 

We are wage slaves, our cages & chains built with the things we want and need.

Be wary that ‘hard-working’ and ‘pride’ are also the language of the Conservatives and the Right-wing.  They tell us to be proud of something which steals from us.  Be proud of earn a living.  Be proud of earn a wage.  Proud to climb the ladder.  Be proud of these chains and cages. 

This is their trap.

And this focus on ‘working’ as a sense of identity in your class means those who don’t or cannot work don’t always fit into this working class struggle.

I want to quote from the preamble to the Industrial Workers Of The World Constitution:

Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."