I went to see Peter Arnott’s scratch of Talent Night in the Fly Room (which was an open-hearted blast, by the way, and I’m really looking forward to the finished thing), and something he said at the beginning struck me:
Working with actors is like doing it in laboratory conditions — it tests writing in a real-world way. People say “That’s not funny” and you say . . . “You’re right. It isn’t.”
That’s pretty much how I feel about performing poetry. Performing a poem to an audience is an essential part of the creative process for me. How can I know the words are right until the audience has reacted to them? Why on earth would I trade this for the trickle of response from readers when a piece is publishd? Why would I ask for critical commentary from trusted readers and not from trusted listeners? Why would you?
And if you don’t think your poem is auditory, why do you use alliteration, assonance, rhythm, rhyme? Why do your poems have shape? Do you really not sound them at least in your mind? Do you not roll the words around your mouth? So why don’t you perform them? It will test them in a real-world way.
I’ve got quite a vitriolic post up at politics blog Bright Green today about Edinburgh’s independent venue closures. It’s a rant that’s been brewing for a while about our total lack of cultural leadership. Enjoy!
The litany has become terribly familiar: La Belle Angele, the Big Red Door, the Lot, the Roxy Arthouse, the Forest Café, and now Cabaret Voltaire and the Bongo Club. In the last decade, Edinburgh’s independent arts venues have been closed or threatened with closure, one by one. Each new loss has occurred for ostensibly different reasons – the Cowgate fire, the sequestration of the Edinburgh University Settlement, buy-out, lease termination – but the differences between the closures risk masking the importance of the trend. What’s happening doesn’t just present a tremendous risk to Edinburgh’s local arts culture, it also indicates a shameful lack of cultural leadership – the refusal of the property sector, local government or creative support organisations to step into the breach. This failure risks undermining everything that makes Edinburgh’s cultural sector so special and so valuable to the city.
Since June last year I’ve been working on a solo performance project, This is not a riot. It was originally a response to the anticapitalist unrest in November 2010 and March 2011, exploring protest and violence through interactive theatre. I gave short and scratchy performances in Leicester and Edinburgh, and then I was invited to curate a day on the subject, including a full performance of the show, at the wonderful Yard Theatre in Hackney. Then, life imitating art imitating life, Hackney decided to riot in earnest two months before the show opened. I had to rethink everything, in the best possible way, and the version I gave was still more of an experiment than a finished piece.
But now the work is more or less completed, and I’ll be touring Scottish arts and social centres this Spring (see poster below). The core of the show is a series of playful interactions designed to expose audiences’ preconceptions about protest and violence, to question what violence is, why it happens, and when it might be useful. But the show will also be adapted to each new city it performs in, to respond directly to that city’s own history of urban unrest. (Every city has a history of urban unrest, raw or scabbed, popular or unknown.)
I’m delighted to launch the project at the Buzzcut Festival in Glasgow next week. You must come! Not just for me (though do come for me), but because this is going to be the most exciting new performance event that Scotland’s seen for quite a while. Tickets are free, but should be booked: you can book to see me right here, right now.
I’m hoping to be able to put This is not a riot. to bed by this summer — ideally, there’ll be enough civil unrest to topple globalised late capitalist in a couple of months, and I can start talking about something else. But until then, it’s very possible indeed that the project will return …