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