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

Merry Pissedmas

Word of Mouth at the Last Refuge has officially arrived! My poetry night now has a name, a resident pianist, some regular open mic’ers and even some actual paying customers who I don’t actually know!

The second event happened on Monday 10th December in the slightly cold, but still ever so lovely candle lit Last Refuge bar in Peckham Rye. A short hop, skip and a jump from the train station behind a brick fronted courtyard covered in street art* and a shiny red door!

After the success of the summer show I went away determined to make the second event even better honing the format, crafting some new poetry and recruiting some enthusiastic promoters to help spread the news far and wide about the event. I was fortunate enough to be approached by the incredible Sh’Maya and quickly signed him up as my first feature. Jasmine Cooray was quickly added to the bill and the stage was set for Peckham poetry round two!

BUT the name the name the freaking name! I still couldn’t think of one. It was becoming ridiculous, 2 months to the show, 1 month to the show, three weeks…aaaaaagh utter mind freeze! Good job I’m not in advertising because I would be s*** at it! I almost made a terrible mistake settling for a while on The Spoken Spot (cringe…) before realising that I was willingly associating my supposedly classy poetry night with acne…

But then it came to me, in the dead of night after several glasses of wine. I was reading back through my blog and remembered that when I wrote my first post I had entitled it Word of Mouth when reviewing one of my favourite ever poetry nights Sage and Time! Why had it taken me so long to think of this?! We are poets, we write words then we put them in our mouths and hurl them across rooms strewn with punters eager to catch them and gobble them up! This is what we do! As soon as I had FINALLY made this decision I knew it was the right one, nice simple, rolling off the tongue and memorable. AND probably most importantly I haven’t heard of anybody else running a night in London with the same name as this…phew.

The next challenge I had set myself was re-writing the piece I had performed last year at Battersea Arts Centre (see my post called Freshly Scratched) to add a little Christmas flavour to this December show. I had originally written the poem Merry Pissedmas as a drunken tirade against the vagaries of commercial Christmas but revisiting it again after a year I began (inevitably) to see the flaws in my previous performance and decided to rip it up, mix it round and start again! The problem with me is that I am a complete perfectionist and can’t help writing, learning, re-writing and polishing right up until the final minute. I was still writing the flipping thing two hours before I got on stage! BUT actually I’m so glad I did because in the end I was much, much happier with the version I performed than the second draft I’d given my friends and family a sneak peak of in the week before.

I am so luck to have a family that tell me honestly if they think something needs work and that’s exactly what my mum and sister did, telling me that this new version was just a little bit too much on the dark side. Ripping out some of the bleaker passages and putting back in some of the humourous verses I’d rashly got rid of during my radical editing I eventually found something that held together and made the audience laugh. It will probably never be my favourite piece because ultimately I found the material a bit thin on the ground but I SO enjoyed performing it in my slinky santa outfit bought from Ann Summers especially for the occasion.

One of the best things about running this event is working at The Last Refuge which really is an incredible venue. I’ve been volunteering there for a few months now in exchange for the space I use for Word of Mouth. So many people came up to me and said what a lovely place it was with a cosy, cool, and unpretentious atmosphere!  It felt great to be performing to a packed crowd and sharing the space with so many talented poets.

I’ve got great hopes for making Word of Mouth more regular in 2013 so watch this space!

You can read a lovely review of the night here (on poetry review website check my flow, just scroll down the reviews until you find out listing)

 

(*by street artists Roa and Phlegm in case you’re interested)

Jawdance

Whoop Whoop Whoop I think I am officially a poet! That is, if being paid for performing poetry makes it official because that is exactly what happened last night at a little bar in Shoreditch!

I’ve been popping a long to an awesome free night of open mic poetry and featured acts called Jawdance for about a year now and have always loved it. It’s run by Apples and Snakes the only organisation (I know of) in the UK dedicated full time to spoken word and performance poetry.

Although I love performing poetry and think (well more like hope, pray and cross all my respective limbs) that I’m not too bad at it thank you very much but I am incredibly un proactive about actually putting myself out there to get poetry gigs.

Imagine my surprise then when a few weeks ago I got an email out of the blue from their London man Russell asking if I wanted a guest slot. YES PLEASE AND THANKYOU was my immediate and slightly manically happy reply, how exciting!

I promptly told all of my friends, relations and distant acquaintances and got a little crowd together to support me on the night. Rushing around like a headless chicken all month with about a million and 1 different commitments going on suddenly I found it was Wednesday 24th October and I was about to perform my own poetry to a bonafide audience, for actually proper money (with contracts and invoices and everything!) for the first time ever!

I was, to say the least, just a little bit terrified and decided that the only thing I could possibly do in this situation was to try to get them onside with my go to poetic move…rage inspired poetry of the incurrably rhyming variety delivered in my exageratedly posh and increasingly squeaky dulcit tones…in the hope that they would be bowled over by my comic timing, witty one liners and general hilarity. Don’t want to blow my own trumpet or anything but I think it might just have worked because I actually had to stop speaking during one poem for a little round of applause! My ego is feeling great today, massaged with the oil of their appreciative laughter and the several lovely comments I recieved afterwards…not least that I will shortly be appearing on a chinese radio show with a poem about how I think Gingers should try and take over the world… Oh and yes btw a censored version (e.g. without the potty mouth language of the live original) of that poem has also been published in the Poetry Rivals Anthology 2012 …I’m beginning to think being angry and ginger makes bloody good sense when it comes to writing popular poetry….vive la Redvolution!

What’s In a Name?

Well I have done it! I have officially organised a poetry night and it wasn’t a disaster!

On 29th July in a tiny little back street theatre bar in Peckham I hosted a night of spoken word poetry to a small but exuberant audience which was only partially made up of my own family and friends!

It was…well it was quite an experience that’s for sure! Equal parts amazing, terrifying, electrifying and inspiring, my heart was hammering and my head was spinning throughout the whole thing but it was so so worth it! You can read a lovely review of the evening here…

Taking on the daunting task of organising an event completely off my own back and funding it out of my own (slightly fiscally challenged) pocket was not something I was planning to be part of my 2012 but I am so glad that it was! I think the best thing about the whole evening was how many people who came along seemed genuinely happy to be there, the open mic’ers were all brilliant and each one brought something different, funny, moving and downright bizarre by turns.

The three featured acts Raymond Antrobus, Emma Jones and Simon Mole were absolutely wonderful, throwing themselves into their sets with such enthusiasm, they all went down a storm. Emma was hilarious regailing us with a side splitting poem comparing the first time you use an apple mac with the first time you have sex with another woman (once you have mac, you never go back…). In the second half Raymond’s performance was gentle, intense but understated and quite emotional in parts. He persuaded our pianist to play a a few impromptu soulful bars to accompany one poem,  a move which held the whole audience enthralled. Simon, the last poet of the evening, raised us from our reverie to regail us with a set of poems drawn from real life that were senstive  funny and full of rich imagination.

A few days before the night I found out that, most unfortunately, somebody else has already been using the name I’d chosen, Outspoken, and they contacted me on facebook politely asking me not to use it anymore…fair enough! To combat this slightly awkward problem I got everybody in the audience to write down suggestions for a new name and we had great fun reading out peoples’ suggestions. Spout Oken, Heard Herd were met with scorn whilst Shout Whisper and Sing and The Last Line, were more positively recieved.

I’m very pleased to say that the lovely ladies at The Last Refuge have invited me to come back to do another one, so watch this space for more information and dates of future events coming soon. I’ve still not fully decided on a name…but what the hell my poetry rose is already sweet enough!

Outspoken at The Last Refuge

I’m very excited to announce that I will be running my very own poetry and spoken word at The Last Refuge in Peckham Rye on 29th July!

I can’t quite believe this is happening, it is truly wonderful if slightly (in fact very) terrifying! I’ve been given the chance to hold a pilot event by the lovely ladies there who are currently launching this incredible space as a theatre / gallery / bar / all round creative paradise! It is going to be part of their cultural olympiad programme and I am both organising and hosting the event…eek

I’ve been incredibly lucky so far to have got a an absolutely fabulous line up;

//Emma Jones Teacher by day, uproarious spoken word performer by night, Emma Jones is a seasoned regular on the poetry scene, she recently appeared on Channel 4’s Random Acts for Bang Said the Gun and has just won The UK Team Slam 2012 as part of team London!. Effortlessly creating multiple characters on stage her style is captivating and funny. She weaves heartfelt stories from real life that manage to be both cynical and charming. A clever, witty and laugh out loud hilarious performer.  http://missjonespoet.tumblr.com/

//Simon Mole Simon Mole is the first of two poets to grace our stage from the fantastic chill pill http://www.chill-pill.co.uk/collective who host awesome poetry nights regularly across London. A popular poet, mc and writer Simon has recently had his own solo show at The Albany in Deptford. http://extrachair.wordpress.com/ His work is uplifting and lyrical. He combines a laid back performance style with poetry that is rich in detail and rhythm, packing a punch with poignant images that everybody can relate to.

//Raymond Antrobus Our second Chill Pill representative of the evening Raymond is another hugely successful poet on the scene. He is also a coach for Shake the Dust (national poetry slam for young people) and member of one of London’s most highly praised collectives A Poem in between People. Raymond’s poems are powerfully delivered, he combines surreal and everyday images, meandering descriptions, with witty one liners to create unforgettable thought provoking poetry.   http://www.raymondantrobus.com/

Having secured the acts now comes the much harder job of promoting the event and generally making it happen! I am currently looking for the following types of people to get involved so’ hit me up’ at outspokenpoetry@yahoo.co.uk if you’re interested;

Open Mic performers

Promotors

A piano player to provide some background music!

People to come! Book you ticket in advance at http://www.wegottickets.com/event/172299 and I absolutely demand you bring everybody you know to accompany you!

For full details of the event please visit out facebook page; http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/293254630764430/

This is the biggest poetry challenge I’ve yet to take on so wish me luck peeps…or better still come to the night and give it too me in person!