All about that ‘Like’…

I’ve always been a sucker for a good ‘like’ on facebook but recently I’ve also discovered blog statistics. They are marvellous aren’t they? Having published more writing online this year than ever before I started to get curious around October about how many people actually read what I write. The results are reassuring but also a bit befuddling.

For example on my Broadway Baby reviews (which I’ve enjoyed continuing to do more leisurely in London after the whirlwind that was Edinburgh) I’ve noticed that I can see how many people view the page in the top right hand corner. Some reviews for even the most osbcure shows I’ve seen get over 1000 views…

Now I’m quite sure in the grand scheme of things these numbers are not high. I think I remember reading somewhere that to become an internet sensation you have to have at least 1 million hits on youtube. But they do make me feel jubilant simply because it proves somebody has read my work! Give or take about 1000 people have clicked on that page if not read the first paragraph or two. I also know I’ve had at least one instance of somebody booking a ticket to see a show based on a four star review I wrote for Londonist. (Lela and Co at The Royal Court).

Then came December and another exciting new challenge in my writing life as I am currently editing Dulwich On View. Since then my interest in stats has grown into a mild obsession but I’m still unsure as to what is a good number of views and grappling with a whole host of other questions ‘does a click mean a read?’ ‘how many of those views are me or those associated some way with the article?’ ‘who has been clicking and why, why, why?!’ Like marketing I find that blogging is annoying because it’s extremely difficult to know who your audience are, they’re so silent. Half the time I feel like I just write about stuff that I’m interested in and hope for the best.

So I suppose the answer is do more research, ask other writers about their experiences etc etc. And I will do this. I will. I will. But quite frankly over Christmas its been nice to step back from the glowing lights of my computer screen for a few days. I felt like throwing a tantrum on Christmas Eve when I dropped my Iphone causing irreparable damage. But the delightful thing is that it rendered my usual browsing, texting, what’s apping, facebook status updating, tweeting habits completely obsolete for the holiday period and it’s been bliss. Without being able to swipe every five minutes I’ve actually read a whole book and broken away from filling every dull unused second with scrolling through the 90% total dross that is my facebook feed (no offence).

Of course I’m getting twitchy now, feverishly tracking the arrival of my shiny new phone via UPS. But the point is I’ve definitely benefited from enforced time off and have made all sorts of unkeepable resolutions for when the bloody thing does eventually turn up.

One thing I find very strange about my current part-time life as an arts and culture blogger is that I spend so much of my time doing real things and then going back immediately to input my experiences into web-land. I suppose the reason I’ve got so into the stats thing is that I’ve always been somebody who loves a bit of praise, and what greater gratification for a writers can there be than soaring numbers of (albeit anonymous) readers? But actually when I step back to reflect I know that having my stuff published is only 50% of the reason I do this.

The other 50% is the doing of the stuff…for free and often with a cheeky complementary glass of wine! I was always into theatre but now it’s a complete addiction. The thought of leaving my beloved cultural treasure trove of London behind at some inevitable future point fills me with cold clammy dread…damn you housing crisis.

Writing for Londonist has been an absolute delight not only for the crazy adventures in outdoor ponds or the fun I’ve had researching pieces like this one but also the incredible array of really high quality theatre that I’ve got to see.

Quite apart from the joys of the Ed Fringe this year I re-discovered the Globe and found myself there constantly over the summer months, I had my first experience at The Young Vic with a very saucy Measure for Measure, I learnt a bit too much about Grindr sex parties at the Kings Head in Islington, laughed my arse off at the Play that Goes Wrong  and rounded off the year being introduced to the international superstar that is Peppa Pig!

You can read my and others’ 2015 highlights for Londonist here. I’ve also become a regular at my favourite Finborough for Plays to See and am hoping to see more at The Orange Tree in 2016 for Broadway Baby. I’m busy all the time and seeing so much great art, theatre and with Dulwich On View a whole host of other weird and wonderful local things too like this.

That’s why I’ve pretty much given up seeing anything I don’t want to see or don’t think I’ll enjoy. Don’t get me wrong I’ll still sign up to the odd wild card and still very much enjoy taking myself off to new places, but you can forget shivering in a pool club in Dalston watching a man make love to a box of porridge oats…never again. Ultimately my time is becoming increasingly more precious with work pressures mounting and as my writing is still 90% voluntary I have had to learn to be more discerning.

I have no intention of stopping though, the sheer joy of doing what I love keeps me going, in fact I often wonder whether I would love it so much if it were my job. The stats on this blog show me I’m getting more and more hits every year I write it so I’m going to take that as a hopeful sign of progress.

My one regret in 2015 is that I didn’t write or perform enough poetry. With everything else that was going on it didn’t feel like a priority and it was hard to find the head space to be creative. However that’s all going change in 2016 as I’ve had the best idea ever…

L x

 

Flea Market

So I did it. It was the least relaxing holiday of my life turning me into a sleep deprived, wild-eyed caffeine addicted madwoman who could barely string a sentence together, but I did it. I survived the frenzied whirlwind of my first Fringe as reviewer for Broadway Baby.

At the start of the week I had all sorts of grand ideas like ‘I will keep a diary of my experiences every day making witty  observations that perfectly capture all the magical details of this experience’. Did I fuck. It was all I could to do to keep my head above water with the onslaught of reviews, bashing them out feverishly one after the other in one of two inevitable positions;

a. precariously perched on a bar stool sipping on a pint of Blue Mountain and swearing at the terrible internet connection.

b. bleary eyed the next morning forcing myself out of bed at some ungodly hour to meet the 24 hour deadline.

The other grand ideas I had were…oh things like ‘I will complete every review the day I see the show in order to keep efficiently on top of myself’ and ‘I will always write then edit later on in order that I will avoid all spelling mistakes, sloppy grammar, cringe clichés and painful platitudes etc’…

Obviously all of these rules went completely out of the window and by the end I was at least 48 hours behind still tapping away furiously on the train back to London. Luckily nobody seemed to notice as presumably they were all in the same boat.

One of the first rules I broke was one about trying to be nice about everyone, even the shows I didn’t like. Especially about the shows I didn’t like. Here my novice status gleamed like a sore thumb and I learnt very quickly that being nice is just not the job of a critic. Fair, yes. Honest, yes. Able to write reviews that carefully balance description and criticism in a tightly crafted snappy summary that perfectly captures the show and your opinion of it. That’s the dream. But Nice? No no no. And there is one very simple reason for that, one that I knew before but that only really hit home to me a few days in. The review is not written for the performer and it’s certainly not written for the reviewer. It’s written for the audience member who uses your review of the show to decide whether to go to it or not.

After a few days this became my mantra. As long as I kept this in the back of my mind I was happy with what I wrote and generally I think I did stick to this, ensuring I made it clear each time whether I thought Jo Reader should waste his time and money on the piece or…not. This is obviously a lot trickier than you first imagine because there are all sorts of variables which mean your review will be completely off the mark for some peoples’ personal taste, there are always going to be those who absolutely hate what you love and vice versa. Inevitably reading my babies back last week I immediately saw things I know could be improved and a couple I wish I could just delete. But writing at that speed and with that little sleep I know that I did as well as I could.

The intensive fringe experience has given me exactly what I wanted, the chance to improve my review writing just by simply doing it over and over and over again.  I really pushed myself to explain why I did or didn’t like something, remembering to think about all the elements of a production and critique it in context. Finally for a brief longed for spell I had the time to focus on it full time and I can’t regret it for a second, despite a post fringe burnout so complete I was basically a zombie at work for the last two weeks. Since I got back I’ve still not stopped writing however as I’m now reviewing for Londonist. Comparing my pre and post Edinburgh reviews I can see the biggest difference it’s made is confidence and I just want to continue working on this fascinating craft.

But obviously there’s the thing. So do about a million other people. One things for sure there is no money in this gig and I’m not going to be giving up my day job anytime soon. But that’s fine. A big part of me thinks if this was my full time job I wouldn’t enjoy it so much as there are always going to be daily frustrations to deal with. For the moment I’m happy to continue indulging my addiction to free press view wine and c-list celebrity spotting, the best one yet being Miriam Margolyes aka Professor Sprout!!!!

It’s not all roses though. Quite apart from the lack of sleep being involved in a festival this large will inevitably make you feel like your buzzing around a flea market.  You, tiny insignificant little reviewer flea are there to bleat your ill-informed opinions about perky actor fleas who are all working their sequin clad bottoms off on the Royal Mile to attract as many ticket buying fleas to their shows as they possibly can. If occasionally there is a fat producer flea in the audience then the little actor fleas’ hearts will flutter with barely suppressed joy as obviously they have taken out a massive loan to be here and are staking everything on their original glam-rock musical re-telling of Titus Andronicus.  As a reviewer you’re basically responsible for spraying pesticide all over the fleas who don’t quite measure up and it gets a bit depressing after a while. In the case of this absolute turkey I could barely make myself write the review so meaningless did the whole thing seem.

I sometimes think I prefer writing features and previews because then you’re in control, choosing to interview people you already know are good, helping to promote a show you already believe people should go and see. The joy of seeing something that you love however far out ways the galling pain of dragging yourself through something that you hate. During a particularly dark day my saviour came in the form of a Scottish Storyteller so unexpectedly wonderful I fell in love with him the moment he opened his mouth. Other highlights included Jack Rooke’s Good Grief…and a hilarious Ayckbournesque comedy Swing by Around 8 from a surprisingly competent student company (that’s mean…honestly some of them are really really good).

Golly this post is long. So in conclusion life’s but a stage and all that jazz. I recently got soaked in the rain at the Globe watching As You Like It and as the actor delivered those famous lines I had one of my epiphanies…all of us are fleas but only some of us are trying to fly to the moon…or something like that.

Laters x

Performing Flea

I recently read a book of letters by my hero, PG Wodehouse, which was packed with some of his funniest gems including this;

‘Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French’

To my mind, and to the many thousands of other Plum* devotees all over the world he is the undisputed comic genius of the 20th Century and  the wonderful thing about the book (Performing Flea edited by William Townend) is that it reveals Wodehouse to be as modest and kind as he is talented. In the last of over 30 years of letters to Townend Wodehouse writes;

‘Though I sometimes wonder if I really am a writer. When I look back at the 60 odd books in the shelf with my name on them, and reflect that ten million of them have been sold, it amazes me that I can have done it. I don’t know anything, and I seem incapable of learning…I feel I’ve been fooling the public for fifty years.’

Frankly if this is how Plum felt after decades of being one of the world’s most celebrated writers what hope is there for the rest of us to ever feel less than the dust beneath his chariot wheels…

Over the last six months I’ve embarked on a change of direction in my own literary life, taking a break from poetry and devoting my attention to arts journalism instead. I’ve been writing theatre reviews and other bits n bobs for a few years but I’ve been focusing a lot more on this side of things ever since March when I got the opportunity to write for Londonist. I responded to a contributors call out which I never expected to hear back from and found myself pleasantly surprised to be commissioned to write an article on the Museums at Night festival. Before I knew it I was contacting press departments, chatting to curators and furtively typing up interviews during my ‘lunch hour’ to complete my first piece An Insider’s Guide to Museums at Night.

I enjoyed the experience immensely and my brain started fizzing with more ideas. My next piece 10 Best Bums of the Art World seemed like the most ingenious thing I’d ever come up with until I started trying to find museums and curators willing to contribute to it. The art world is snobby and inscrutable. Who knew? After what felt like hundreds of unanswered emails that made me feel about as sophisticated as a steaming turd it seemed to come off all right in the end. I learnt two important things from writing the bottoms piece 1. Never scroll down to the comments 2. I  need to be less sensitive.

So onwards and upwards and whilst I’ve ceased to do the first one number two is slightly more on the tricky side (I am a poet after all…) The next piece I wrote was much more fun as I felt cosy in my comfort zone covering Roundhouse’s wonderful Last Word Festival of Spoken Word. I wrote another Insider’s Guide interviewing as many poets as I could get my hands on to give me their low down on the festival.

I am also a contributor to the fantastic performance poetry blog Sabotage Reviews and as I desperately wanted to see everything at Last Word I spent most of that fortnight in Camden seeing shows and bashing out reviews afterwards in the bar. I also took part myself by getting a gig writing poems on request for the Poetry Takeaway. The shift started sensibly enough but ended up with the worst hangover of recent years after those naughty poets persuaded me to mix port and lager in excessive quantities. I would have killed for one of Jeeves’s pick me ups the next day.

Covering Last Word got me thinking about doing more theatre reviews and so I spent an afternoon off happily researching loads of theatre review websites and sending them obsequious emails hoping they might respond and let me write for them. Inevitably only a handful even acknowledge my existence but a couple did come off and I’m now a regular contributor to Plays to See and Remotegoat. I’m also writing for South London Blog and local magazine Heart Streatham. I’m getting the hang of pitching ideas, crafting reviews so they aren’t just gushing love letters or hate filled diatribes but actually useful to the reader and I’m getting to see so much free theatre which is just wonderful…well most of the time. There was that one evening I spent in the dark listening to sex noises… but mostly the plays I’ve seen have been at least interesting and at most incredible, wonderful, inspiring, life changing experiences I want to repeat over and over again (If I can’t gush on my blog where can I gush?!)

On Thursday I’m heading off on another literary adventure, this time to Edinburgh where I’m writing for Broadway Baby reviewing over 30 shows in a week for the Fringe. The Royal Mile will be packed everyday with hundreds of performing fleas of all shapes and sizes. I can’t wait to be one of them.

*Pelham Grenville Wodehouse’s nickname initially amongst his closest friends and latterly adopted by his most die-hard fans as represented by the PG Wodehouse Society.

Something about Cats wasn’t it Jeeves?

Well hello 2015, nice to meet you.

Like most of the rest of the inhabitants of my facebook feed I’ve spent the last few two weeks in a blissful stupor induced by an almost non-stop flow of food and alcohol. It was a long time coming and absolutely bloody brilliant.

But now with one more day to go before reality well and truly bites I’m trying to force myself back into a sitting position by reflecting on my latest poetic adventures.

2014 was my best poetry year to date. After being involved in Small Story, Big City at Rich Mix I then went on to edit Horatio and Me and create a little film of my favourite extract.

I worked with Theresa Varga and hired Artslav which is a community arts space in Kennington. An old underground male toilet that was shut down in the 80s for being a cottaging hotspot it might not seem the most likely venue but it was cheap as chips and also deceptively roomy. With a little bit of soft lighting the space was actually pretty perfect and we transformed it into a cosy living room for the day. We decked it out with a curtain, throws, armchair and standing lamp then finished off the look with loads of knick knacks, books and (naturally) a giant image of a ginger cat. The final look was granny chic meets…well… derelict Victorian toilet, but in a good way!

Theresa came up with a great split screen idea that had me telling the poem from one side of the frame whilst the action took place on the other side.  Stuart Mackenzie was our actor for the part of Banker George and was a dream to work with improvising our disastrous date scene and making me howl with laughter in the process. It was so much fun to see the character come to life and to feel like a proper actress for the day.

I’m extremely happy with the final result, hopefully it’ll be the first of many!

The next challenge was to quickly re-set the room for the evening performance I had planned of my new edits. I had felt excited and energised for this all day…until about 2 hours before kick off I started to feel unaccountably nauseous. Not one to usually suffer too much from nerves It was more than a little alarming especially as by the time people started to arrive I was curled around the toilet bowl.

I’m not going to lie it almost didn’t happen and I’m still not quite sure how I managed to get through performing 45 minutes of comic poetry to a packed out toilet when all I wanted to do was launch myself into the nearest cubicle. Luckily my amazing friends turned up in force and taking one look at my pale clammy face did everything for me! While I weakly mewed instructions from behind a locked door they put up the set, laid out the chairs, lit tea lights, greeted the audience and gave out the free gin, there is literally no way I would have been able to do it otherwise.

I spent the next 24 hours writhing around in agony emerging from my sickbed feeling a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to enjoy the evening after all the hard work and preparation. However at least I now know the true meaning of the phrase the show must go on! Also despite the badly timed sickbug I can’t have done that badly because I got a lovely review from Sabotage.

Since then I’ve been distracted by lots of things going on outside my poetry life and haven’t yet started on any new projects. I’ve been writing a bit though and really want to get back out onto the open mic circuit this year, its been far too long since I made an arse of myself behind a microphone in front of a load of strangers.

Laters x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the Cat’s Away…

After writing about being Single for a little over a year I’ve come to the very profound conclusion that there is…wait for it…very little to conclude. As ever the biggest challenge has been to avoid cliché, but this is of course impossible, it’s always lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce when you least expect it.

My fear of cliché has, at times, been utterly crippling. I’ve angrily deleted huge chunks of my script several times over, berating myself for not saying anything new and simply rehashing the same old boring blah blah blah I’ve heard in a dozen motivational TED talks.

Having now finished Horatio and Me and performed it once to an appreciative audience @ Rich Mix I know that I really haven’t written anything particularly profound, extraordinary or ground breaking. In the end I didn’t force myself into any chirpy life changing plenary I just wrote 40 minutes of funny material which people genuinely seemed to enjoy.

At the end of the story the Lettie of my tale hasn’t really progressed in her quest for love at all, but her poetic rant about the vagaries of single life has been, at least, vaguely entertaining and at most (and here I do flatter myself) immensely cathartic. BOOM put that on your Edinburgh poster and smoke it!

Drunkenly eulogising about the experience to my friends and family in the pub afterwards I kept saying, without any sense of irony, ‘its like I’m getting married, everyone who I love is here, how wonderful, how special, I love you all…’ etc etc. 

However just like the character of Lettie in my story I am still slightly at a loss to understand what it is I should have learnt from the experience. Performing my little bit of poetry is extremely good fun, but what next?

This type of thinking is what could be described as a tad over analytical but I can’t help nawing away at these questions like some sort of literary woodpecker. So I’ve started editing again.  A painful and masochistic exercise that never truly ends. However necessary for ‘progress’ or something like that. I’m still confident that sometime in the future I might write something vaguely inspirational. For now, laugh on my friends, its the best way I’ve found to keep the darkness at bay.

I’ll be performing my latest edits at Arts Lav  on 25 October. We’ll be transforming this tiny old Victorian toilet in Kennington into a cosy living room and welcoming a limited number of guests to take part in an extremely intimate site-specific performance of the show! I’m also delighted to be working with film-maker Theresa Varga on a two minute preview of the piece that I’m hoping might just become my ticket to Edinburgh and beyond in 2015.

 

 

My poetry life have been absolutely bloody marvelous recently! I’ve been on a bit of a role performing, running events, writing and generally spreading myself about the London poetry scene like a wobbly village bicycle with a penchant for rhyme! my goodness it has been fun. I feel like I’ve been on a non-stop bender since January.

In fact I’ve become so rock n roll lately that I’m currently slightly drunk on a Monday night, staying up far too late  and blogging away trying to remember, through the misty haze of red wine, what it is I’ve actually achieved in all this debauchery. It all started back in April when I went to the very amazing Come Rhyme with Me to perform an extract from my upcoming one woman show Horatio & Me.  I performed my poetry, shoved a few flyers in people’s faces and the next thing I new it was 3 in the morning, I was in a cab with some lovely new performer type friends completely, joyously happy, but also completely, hopelessly  lost in NW with no idea how I was going to get home…It was definitely worth it though because out of that hilarious drunken night with the poets I met Laurie Bolger who hosts a spoken word radio show Round@Lauries live on Roundhouse Radio every Sunday. She asked me to write a headline poem for her Read All about It feature, so I sent in a piece called ‘Oh Miley inspired by the Daily Mail’s headline ‘As Miley’s sleaze hits London, is she really suitable for girls of just 6?’ 

Several weeks later I ran  my own event as part of Dulwich Festival for my hosts Ingrid and Tom Beazley who very generously let me into their beautiful Dulwich home for the second year running to put on a night of spoken word performances.

Arranging an event like this from scratch is always going to be a daunting task but luckily over the last year I’ve built some great contacts and immediately knew who I’d like to ask to feature. Even luckier for me, they all said yes! Paul Cree, Talia Randall and Sh’Maya are three of my favourite poets all with distinct voices. Once I’d got the poets on board I had to make sure I got an audience and promptly set about promoting the event on social media and through the Dulwich Festival brochure. I was delighted that on the night lots of friends, open mic poets and local people visiting the open house turned up.

Its hard work putting together an event like this, talking to people about it at every opportunity and making sure that all the little details are covered (is there somebody to help with the bar? are there enough toilet breaks? etc etc). I was extremely grateful for the chance to run the event, showcasing an art form that I feel passionately about in a unique location.

It was the poets who really pulled it all together in the end however. Their tenacity and flair for performance was what made the night a success, ensuring very good feedback from an appreciative audience. Paul has recently finished a Battersea Arts Centre run of his one man show  Tale from the Bedsit and delivered a thought provoking set of poems drawn from everyday life. Sh’Maya’s energy is electrifying and he had the audience in hysterics with a poem entitled ‘Baby they never told us about sex’, poking fun at unrealistic Hollywood sex scenes. Talia was equally good taking us back to teenage years and first kisses, heartfelt poetry from her debut EP Three Mile Radius. We also had music from Gabby Colledge who’s soulful acoustic set was the perfect closing act.

I had such fun running the event, performing alongside great writers and of course enjoyed the chance to showcase my own work as well.

All this time I was still feverishly editing Horatio & Me and the opportunities I’ve been given to try new bits out on willing audiences have been absolutely invaluable. I’m so grateful to my friends Uncle Errol McGlashan and Peter Hayho for giving in to my continued, increasingly aggressive, pleas to let me at their microphones to plug my stuff! I did a feature at Errol’s new weekly night at Hysteria in Dalston in May followed by a quick set at a Jam packed, end of the season Bang Said the Gun, both of which were fantastic fun, good for performance practice and a great chance to let more people know about my show.

I’m basically the queen of procrastination and will do pretty much anything I can think of to put off the task in hand. 6 years ago I used poetry as extremely effective tool to avoid writing my history of art dissertation but, as I (ehmm) tweeted, the other day, it turns out it wasn’t a waste of time after all! In less than two weeks I’ll be making my professional debut as a stand-up poet in a proper theatre, Rich Mix as part of their Small Story/ Big City scheme! (I visited it today and its got seats, and a lighting rig and everything. I even get a dressing room…its almost like I’m a proper actress!) I literally couldn’t be more excited if I tried.

FYI Cyber peeps this is the biggest moment of my poetry career so far, so if you want to join me to celebrate please sign up for your tickets in advance here! Included in your ticket complimentary tea, custard creams and the chance to giggle openly at me in my sexy sheep onesie…now sahrusslay, what more could you ask for?!

Night Night x

 

Sweet Dreams and Custard Creams

Scratch That!

I am delighted to report that my one woman show Horatio and Me is finished! Well draft 1. Well almost. With a lot of editing, and changing the ending. And the beginning. A possibly bits of the middle… 

This writing process is hard!! I gave myself a week in Edinburgh last summer and didn’t write a word. I gave myself until Christmas and wrote 4000 but was only happy with a handful. I’ve been feverishly writing everyday pretty much all year and still no finished script! 

Writer’s block aside some really exciting things are happening in my poetry life at the moment not least the fact that H&M is going to be part of a new writing festival in June at Rich Mix. It’s called Small Story / Big City and gives performers with under 4 years of experience a chance to showcase their work telling stories about London. I applied for it in October 2013 and was accepted onto the scheme with my pitch to write a 45 minute poetry show about single life in the big city. The idea is that London is a notoriously single city, with millions of people experiencing similar stories to mine. It’s also about people’s relationships to their cats, how they give them pretentious names and create entire fantasy personalities for them. So the premise is:

‘Lettie is hurtling towards thirty and starting to panic. Can her loyal cat Horatio Nelson save her from inevitable tragic spinsterhood?’

I wanted to write a comic story that people could relate to and that would also be underpinned by a serious point about human vulnerability in the face of loneliness. 

I think it’s the ending I’m struggling with…how do you end a story about singleness without getting a boyfriend?! Luckily at the moment I’m attending a great course on Saturday mornings at Conway Hall called Creating Solo Performance. Each week we share excerpts of our work and get tailored advice and exercises to complete for the next session. Last week my homework was to create a story map of my show which I drew out on a large sheet of newsprint. It was so helpful to see where the weak links in the narrative were and I have now been able to focus on each segment at a time, rather than worrying too much about the whole thing.

This week I expressed my concerns about the ending and received some really encouraging, constructive advice. I’ve come away with a much clearer idea of what the point of the piece is and am going to spend this week having a crack at finding a conclusion that I’m happy with. The course is split into writing and performance advice. Acting bits out in front of the group has been so useful for helping me to frame my thinking, experiment and gain confidence in my ideas.

Excitingly this week I also got to perform an extract of the show at the Southbank Centre as part of their spoken word scratch mixer. The event took place in the festival village which is a makeshift performance space in an old storage area underneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was a great event to be involved in with several other performers doing extracts of work in progress, chatting to them afterwards, swapping creative feedback and advice. The audience were friendly and I felt that the piece I chose to perform went down well. Afterwards I headed, with slight trepidation, over to the feedback wall where people had been encouraged to leave their thoughts about the shows on anonymous post-it notes. I was relieved that the vast majority of the comments I received were positive, people generally found the show funny and easy to relate to. Many of the comments were very constructive, such as be careful of cliche and experiment more with breaking up your rhyme scheme, things which I agreed with and had already thought I’d like to consider. Only one comment was horrible ‘I’m not laughing at your jokes, I feel sorry for you and your constant need to be validated by male attention is unattractive’. Ouch! 

I am definitely the sort of person who finds it hard not to dwell on comments like that and left to my own devices I would probably have spent the next month having a major existential meltdown. Fortunately I shared this feedback at the course on Saturday and our discussion about it led down an interesting trail of thought, that the question of validation through relationships is actually a really important theme to draw out in the show and could help me formulate an ending. 

Writing a whole show is so different from writing one poem or even a series of poems and I feel like I’ve still got so much to learn. There are so many choices to make and a fair amount of pressure especially with the time running out before the final performance in June. I’m really enjoying the work however and excited to see what I can achieve by then, watch this space!

Oh and buy your tickets

First Time Fringe

I finally manged to get to Edinburgh last week to experience both the beautiful city and the fringe for the first time in my life.  I am officially in Love. I feel like I’ve just come back from parting with a holiday romance, convinced that  my life has been changed forever by the brief but wonderful moments we shared.

You can read a proper grown up and serious review of my time here on lifestyleplanet.org which puts my experience into much more succinct words but I quite want to just blabber for a bit longer, it was really that tremendous.

Arriving off an early flight I was exhausted but unable to check into my hostel (sadly my pitiful budget meant sleeping in a bunk bed underneath a snoring hippy was inevitable)  the only thing to do was to get out there and start exploring. 10 hours later I had got completely lost in Edinburgh’s stunning cobbled streets, seen a gorgeous view of the whole city from the top of Calton Hill and had very quickly found myself in the epicentre of both Edinburgh and the Fringe, Royal Mile.

With something close to 24,000 acts at the festival getting noticed is a huge hurdle to overcome and the whole street is packed to bursting with colourful performers of all shapes and sizes. These perky drama students will literally stop at nothing to shove a flyer in your hand… one girl lay down in the street in front of me … it is mega intimidating! If you’re not careful you will be assaulted by an army of adolescents in period costume enthusiastically chundering ‘so yah its a fresh retelling of Titus Adronicus, we’ve added s+m and hard  core punk’…thanks Tarquin I’ll consider it.

Completely overwhelmed by this plethora of choice I didn’t immediately book anything but retreated to the lovely PBH Free Fringe, its brochure being helpfully laid out by time of the day and wondered about getting to know the city. Granted I did see some pretty funk shizzle on that first mad day, but that is the beauty of it really, you never quite know what you’re going to get. Also a lot of performers who are doing paid shows use the free fringe to promote their shows so its a great way to see if you like them before booking a ticket.  I kept going to shows in my spare minutes all week and although my enthusiasm for tramping all over the city had started to wear off by Sunday I still loved it for its flexibility.  Shawn Hitchins was probably my fav free fringer overall with a  comedy show called Ginger Nation about his campaign to repopulate the world with the our Mighty Race! A man after my heart who has actually gone so far as donate his sperm to a lesbian couple!! Amazing story and absolutely freakin hilarious!

Organising myself on a budget was probably the biggest challenge of the week and deciding what to see when was the hardest thing to get my head around at first. The thing was how could I tell what was going to be good and what was going to make me chew my own hand off at the waste of precious money. In the end I was very lucky that I was given the chance to review quite a lot of things for free and everything I did pay for came with a solid recommendation or at least a favourable write up from a major newspaper.

At first I booked up a lot of comedy, its definitely the most high profile art form at the fringe and the most readily accessible. You pretty much know that you’re going to get a man (sometimes a woman but let’s face it mainstream comedy is still VERY much a man’s world…) behind a microphone attempting to make you laugh.

So James Acaster’s critically acclaimed show Lawnmower was one of my first choices. It was actually slightly disappointing, he wasn’t quite as witty as I thought he’d be but definitely a bonus point for being dressed head to toe in M and S and confessing an addiction to percy pigs…v v good move! Also Ginge so you know, inevitable that I fell slightly in love at first sight.

I saw a lot of comedy on the free fringe in the first couple of days and also booked up for Fleabag, The Play that Goes Wrong and Lights, Camera Improvise. I enjoyed all three of these shows massively, they were hilarious and tremendously well acted. Fleabag, written and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, was funny but also quite bleak and not all that easy to watch by the end. It was a one woman show that told the story of a girl whose life unravels when her best friend commits suicide and all her relationships start to break down. Darkly comic it revealed the emptiness behind her hedonistic existence and asked searching questions about our human need for intimacy and pleasure.

Solomon and Marion was the first play I saw and an absolute heartbreaker. Set in rural South Africa it was about an old British lady who is coming to terms with the death of her son and thefriendship she develops with a mysterious Xhosa boy who keeps visiting her house.  Marion was played by Dame Janet Suzman who was amazing,  a performance full of intense emotion which was only occasionally overdone. The story was harrowing but ultimately uplifting and probably the most powerful piece of theatre I saw all week.

I did find it difficult to pick out theatre however. The Royal Mile aside it is so much less visible on billboards and just generally on Edinburgh’s streets than comedy.  Every fringe venue that you go to is plastered with flyers but they become like wall paper after a while, you just stop noticing them.  In the end meeting up with a friend who was in a play was the best thing to do as she had loads of great recommendations. I saw some stuff I would never have chosen without guidance but was so glad I did. Squally Showers by Little Bulb was a bizarre exploration of physical theatre and expressive movement, charming, hilarious and completely unique.  Performance artist Byrony Kimmings‘ piece was performed in collaboration with her 9 year old niece. It was extremely popular and very interesting. She told the story of looking after her niece for the summer and their working together to put on a show.  The show combined a unique aesthetic vision with an honest and heartfelt performance where Byrony and her niece lived in a fantasy fairy tale world whilst exploring extremely adult and at times terrifying themes. The show is very difficult to describe accurately…I’m making it sound far more poncy that it was, basically it was extremely entertaining and also explored Bryony’s fears for her nieces future, her need to protect her and her understanding that ultimately this isn’t going to be possible. It was witty, entertaining and just generally a delight to be a part of.

One thing I instantly loved about the Fringe was the diversity of shows on offer. In my week I saw amazing spoken word like Tongue Fu and Solpadeine is my Boyfriend, along with hilarious improv, bizarre cabaret and pant wet-tingly funny stand up.  The other thing I loved was the variety of venues.  All within walking distance of each other the four main venues are Gilded Balloon, Underbelly, Assembly and Pleasance and each offers their own unique flavour.  But the whole of Edinburgh is transformed during the Fringe, everything from restaurants to under ground vaults and huge lofts are turned into performance spaces and you will find yourself in some truly odd places (Banshee Labyrinth is definitely worth a visit simply for the novelty factor of listening to spoken word in a cellar surrounded by plastic limbs masquerading as ornaments).

With such an onslaught of culture at your finger tips I did notice after about the 4th non-stop day that I was both exhausted and getting slightly jaded by the experience. I had one dud day where everything I saw just pissed me off and I just wanted to curl up with a p.g. wodehouse and be done with it.  With so much on offer even the good stuff starts to loose impact after all a while and you really have to focus to keep listening and taking it all in, I felt completely saturated at times.

You definitely need to persevere and take your time to get the most out of Edinburgh but overall I was pleased with the choices that I made. I came back exhausted and completely penniless but fired up with so many new ideas for my own writing, inspired by the huge variety of art forms and stories I had heard.

Finally there was only the megabus home to endure…one day I will look back and laugh, confident in the knowledge that I will never have to go through that traumatic experience again. At least I had the memories from an amazing week to get me through…12 hours of hell is a small price to pay for a fab week of entertainment.

Role on next year when I might even be bringing my own show…watch yourself Tarquin you’ve got some competition!

Oh and here are links to my various reviews:

Lights, Camera, Improvise and the Play that Goes Wrong

Dan Simpson: We are All Orange Ghosts

Keith Jarrett: Identity Mix Up

The Stories of Shakey P

Phill Jupitus as Porky the Poet

Other Voices Spoken Word Cabaret

BBC Poety Slam Final

The Curse of Elizabeth Faulkner

Is anybody out there?!

Over the last two years I’ve embraced a new and incredibly satisfying hobby. Since moving to London and being determined, despite living on the edge of a very middle class poverty line,* to soak up as much culture as humanly possible, I have been writing reviews for various websites in exchange for free tickets for loads of different things. 

It all started when I was still living in my upside down rented flat in Streatham where the walls shook when you went to the toilet and I was a fresh faced official ‘Londoner’ for the first time in my whole life!! I really wanted to go to the Theatre but found it almost impossible to scrape together enough spare cash for more than 1 play a month (I know poor me is there no end to this harsh worlds’ cruelty?!). I discovered this website called The Public Reviews who give free theatre tickets in exchange for concise and well written reviews on things they need covering. It sounded far too good to be true and to be fair there were a couple of hidden catches. One the reviews always needed to be in by 12 the next day which is tough if you’re working full time and two there was no way to guarantee the quality of what you got to see. But actually these two things were a small price to pay for getting to see theatre all over London (often with a spare comp for a friend as well) for absolutely free! I wrote for the public reviews for almost two years before stopping recently to focus on other projects and although it was stressful sometimes (especially trying to get to fringe theatres in obscure locations) I thoroughly enjoyed it and it also taught me quite a bit about what its like to write for somebody other than yourself! Although I wasn’t getting paid I still had to make sure my reviews were consistent with the house style, were considered and grammatical and were honest without be mortally offensive. I’m not going to lie some of the stuff I sat through was terrible, but even the really bad stuff was fun to write up. I got to go to my favourite theatres regularly, and occasionally even found my self in the vicinity of c-list celebrities and even strictly come dancing stars on the one occasion I bagged a press ticket to a west-end launch!! What surprised me most about this whole experience was how much I enjoyed the reviewing part as initially I’d done it primarily for the free seats.  I loved the process of seeing something, and then reading up and writing about it directly afterwards. I found it so interesting how I would have often changed my mind by the end of the review, how much writing about it afterwards enriched my experience and deepened my understanding of what I had seen. 

After a while I grew more confident and started approaching people I knew to let me review other things for them. This year I’ve been lucky enough to make contact with a few other different online publications and widen my online writing experience. I had a great time writing about a local Street Art project for Dulwich On View and greatly enjoyed honing my interview skills! The best thing about the Street Art blogging was that I realised that I didn’t need to feel immediately confident or knowledgeable about the subject matter in order to report on it, that actually my ignorance was kind of good because it made me able to write in a way that would help similarly interested but novice local residents relate to the content. 

Then after that project finished in May I struck gold with a eureka moment I couldn’t quite believe I hadn’t thought of before…why was I not reviewing poetry events?! After several years of open mic hopping and developing a passionate interest in London’s spoken word scene why was I not trying to report on something I actually knew a little bit about? At first I went a bit mad and made contact with anyone and everyone I could think of. I’ve made great links with Write out Loud and Dulwich On View (again…) and occasionally post articles    now for both of them, but the website I’m most consistently writing for at the moment is Sabotage. I’m so much enjoying broadening my experience of spoken word shows and also getting the chance to write my first proper book review! I’ve tried out plenty of new things in the last couple of years (London kind of demands it somehow…) but writing reviews has got to be one of the best things I’ve discovered. I never know quite what is going to come out when I put pen to paper (well finger to keyboard) but I’m really enjoying what it’s teaching me. Writing regularly has made me sharpen up in so many areas, improved my grammar, picked up my speed and is helping me develop the ability to adapt my writing to fit the demands of different publications and their audiences. 

My only worry up until now has been…is anybody reading what I write? The comment sections at the end of my articles usually remain obstinately blank and its hard to know whether you aren’t simply writing for the enjoyment of the blank wall of cyber space. BUT I am beginning to have real hope now that this is not the case! Sometimes people actually post my reviews…today I even received email about one…I’m not sure what this means or if it is even necessarily a positive thing (I can get a bit Brian Sewell on a bad day) but I am glad at least somebody is out there…

 

*Largely involving living off a diet consisting mainly of pasta, pesto, rooibos tea and pinot grigio

Whatever Next?

I recently wrote an article for Write Out Loud, a fantastic spoken word listings website and online community for poets about the event I ran back in December Word of Mouth at The Last Refuge in Peckham. In it I said that if somebody had told me three years ago I would have set up my own poetry event I would have thought they were bonkers! But yet here I am after just putting on my third poetry night, this time as part of Dulwich Artists Open House last weekend. This time it was an open mic night with a twist as it took place in a beautiful house in Dulwich, surrounded by incredible art owned by  Tom and Ingrid who are local patrons, street art enthusiasts, and energetic supporters of all sorts of interesting artistic projects.

I really enjoyed the whole experience, it was the first time I’ve felt completely comfortable with my new self-carved out role as a curator of poetry evenings! After having the two Peckham nights under my belt I felt confident this one was going to be a success, last time I felt slightly like I was shooting into the dark with an event that potentially only I was interested in, but because I had been asked to do this one it immediately felt more valid.  I was responding to a request for entertainment, rather than just putting something on purely because I wanted to.

I was also incredibly fortunate to secure an exciting line up of four poets who’s work I really enjoy listening to. The diversity of their styles was a particular high point for me, many of the people who attended had not experienced performance poetry before and it was therefore particularly important that the poetry on offer catered to different tastes and interests. Featured act Deanna Rodger, Charlie Dupre, Bridget Minamore and Emma Jones  were also invaluable in helping me to promote the event through their combined pool of poetry contacts. If I’ve learnt anything from almost a year of promoting poetry events its Word of Mouth (!!) is the key to getting the message out there, in terms of securing good numbers (and this time we got at least 60 thank you very much!) spreading the word through friends and getting others to help you by talking about it is the most effective thing to do in terms of marketing. Whereas flyers, press releases and social media are helpful, personal recommendations are what make people turn up on the night! The Open Mic section was wonderful too, it was great to have a full list of enthusiastic poets willing to trek all the way to Dulwich for a tiny two minutes of performance time on the mic!

So what’s next? Well I think for the time being I’m hanging up my poetry event running shoes in order to focus on…shockingly…writing some new poetry! What with everything else, that important element seems to have gone out the window recently and I really feel I want to focus on some new ideas at least over the summer months. The more I write and try and put my work out there the more ideas I come up with for what I want to do. My urge to succeed in this field has grown stronger every year since I left university and started writing regularly for the first time. Suddenly poetry, which has always been a hobbie, is something I’ve started to take more and more seriously, I want to make good work and I want to get it heard!

Along with ideas for new projects a stream of never ending questions have started to buzz round my head like flies whenever I think about poetry and where it could take me. I look at poets I admire who are making a career out of it (or at least making it part of their career) and I think, How do I do that?! I see people who make poetry films, release albums, get pamphlets published, have huge success at Edinburgh, perform regularly at top venues in London and I think ‘I want that’! I also hope that maybe, if I keep writing and trying to improve and listening to the people that I meet who are already doing it, I might just get there!

So the next few months, in amongst a hectic summer of work and other projects, are going to be about writing as much as possible, experimenting with new ideas, making links  and reflecting on what I want to achieve. I’m sure this won’t be the last poetry event I ever run but I need to take stock and most crucially I need to get writing!

You can see some lovely photos from the night here