No More Worries mini-film: the pub scene

I blogged a few months back about the spoken word road-trip movie for theatres I’m making with director Peader Kirk. The show is called ‘No More Worries’ and has been co-commissioned by Apples and Snakes and the Albany.

As part of the final project we think we might like to shoot a series of extracts from the full piece in various locations as we tour the theatre performance – mini-films which viewed in sequence would tell the whole story of the show. The aim with this trial one (masterfully filmed and edited by Karim Kamar as part of our Arts Council funded R&D phase) was to get close to the vibe of what it is like seeing me perform the piece live, but mix that up with a few more cinematic flourishes here and there. Hope you enjoy it!

No More Worries

Hiya, just a quick one to let you know that over the summer I’m going to be doing more blogging over at the website for my new show No More Worries.

“Ever wanted to get away from it all? Kieran is 27 and stuck in a dead-end town. He wants to see the world. Paul is passing through, 55 and on the road again, one holiday snap at a time. No More Worries takes this mismatched couple on a road-trip to the edge. Sometimes, the past is the only thing you can’t leave behind.”

The show is a collaboration with theatre maker Peader Kirk, who also creates Live Art and site-specific performance. Having worked together in a more traditional director/performer relationship on my first show (Indiana Jones and the extra chair), this time around the piece is evolving through a collaborative process that moves between devising and writing.

Join us for one of the scratch sharings listed below – we’d love to hear your thoughts on the piece so far. If you can’t make it along in person, you can still interact with the show through the website.

Sharing Dates

Thursday 26th June | 7.30 pm |ARC, Stockton
Thursday 7th August | 7.30pm | Canada Water Culture Space, London

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No More Worries has been co-commissioned by Apples and Snakes and the Albany, and developed with support from Arc Stockton and Spread the Word. It is funded as part of the Arts Council Grants for the Arts programme.

Poetry postcards

“Dear somebody, it’s great here. The first thing I saw when I arrived was a stone chicken. It chased me. But then I built mansion deluxe.”

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So, with an early September chill upon us I feel inspired to post about two of the workshops I enjoyed running most this summer, both of which used the approach of writing poetry postcards from a dream holidays.

The idea was that writers could use a real place they’d like to visit as a start point, but that the pieces should be more like dream holidays in the sense that they move a bit beyond reality. I used prompts that I hope encouraged people to let poetic and exciting and ridiculous thoughts flow, and the results seemed to indicate they had the desired effect!

The first workshop took place in Ealing Road Library for children aged 6-10 and was run in my role as Brent Poet Laureate. Here are some of the highlights from their writing:

“Dear mum, I woke up to hear a purple chiwawa barking birdsong. Everyone was singing happy birthday. My bed at the hotel is massive…”

“Dear dad, I arrived on a magic train. But the best bit was in the football stadium when it rained chocolate. My friend Eric was there too.”

“Dear her majesty the queen, tonight I ate dinner in a bee hive. All the food was honey flavoured. Honey chips, honey curry etc… The chef was a tiger the size of a bee.”

“Dear mum, last night I slept in my tent. You know, my tent in which anything you say appears. I said “i-pad”

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The next time I ran the session I do so in the North East of the country, up at ARC, Stockton Art Centre – a lovely venue where I took the ‘Indiana Jones and the extra chair’ residency earlier this year. This time around the group were teenagers, and it was amazing to see how the same prompts led to a different but equally exciting outcome. The pieces ended up being more narrative in cases, or dealing with issues that may have been lurking under the surface of a writer’s subconscious in some way. Unfortunately I don’t have the writing to hand, but I mention this session for two reasons:

1. It was fun and the participants were great!
2. We had some great conversations about re-drafting and editing off the back of the exercise.

As well as being a nice start point for some summer writing, the idea behind using postcards is that the form makes editing essential – once people had written freely on big bits of paper, they plucked their favourite bits for the card, or tried to get across as much of the idea as possible by condensing the writing stlye itself, or in some cases just trying to write really small! I did find though that people were much more open than normal to the idea of cutting text that maybe didn’t work as well – I guess it’s much easier to cut out bits of writing you like which don’t quite work if the only other option is to lose another bit of writing which you like more and works better!

If you have fancy having a go I have included the prompts below. Remember – allow whatever lands in your brain to land on the page. The time for editing will be when you make the transition to a postcard. To begin with, if you come up with the idea that you arrive in a forest of chocolate trees on a spy plane piloted by a koala then go for it! If at night you sleep in a hammock woven from the words to beatles songs, that’s fine! If brad pitt serves you breakfast in bed and the view from there is a cloud castle, fine, even better if the cloud castle has your 4 year old self DJing from the turret. But if this is the case, what do you play as the first record to start each morning?! If the mist drifting across the deserted beach smells of your gran’s apple crumble, or the waves at low tide make the sound of her humming as she waits for it to cook, I want to know…

How do you travel there? Remember think as wild as you like – for example you could think what is your mode of transport constructed from, how does this affect your journey?

One special item you packed to take with you. Why do you need it when you are here?

One item you were happy to leave behind.
First thing you see when you arrive?

What’s your accommodation like?

Where do you sleep at night? How does the bed feel?

What sounds do you hear when you wake up in the morning?

What is the view from your bed/bedroom?

What can you eat? Where? Who makes it? Serves it? What memory did the best meal taste of?

What’s the weather like? Don’t just say sunny! Think about how to describe dream weather – what song do you associate with the weather?

What do you see in the sky – get wild, imagine stuff!

Who else is there? Can be people that came with you or you met there, or can be just you. Can be people you really know, people you’ve made up, famous people, whoever. Why is it so good that they are there?

What has been the highlight of your trip so far?

If you do the prompts yourself, or use them in a workshop it’d be great to know how it goes!

The Poem as right now, again and again and again

Some days I am moving easily through the world & I am aware of being present & I am so full with this feeling I could burst. In a good way. Mostly though, I find it hard to relax. I rush to finish things, to have done something rather than be doing it. That restlessness worms its way into my writing process. And this makes me mad but it is hard to stop. Learning to stay is the work of a lifetime.

For me, poems are part of that work. Seeing and re-seeing the world. Writing and re-writing what I see. And then occasionally crafting a poem which feels like a living thing in it’s own right. Something that is of the world as well as referring to it. Something which exists in the moment, again and again and again. I like this feeling. It makes some of the other bad feelings feel better.

The lovely folks at Now Festival have got me thinking about this stuff and so I will be talking about this stuff and doing poems and getting other people to do poems at Wilderness Festival for them this coming weekend…

Chill Pill brings the beach to Deptford Market!!!

We did our Chill Pill stall at Deptford market on Saturday, but this time we brought a beach for those summer vibes…
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Our stall and general presence in the market works in three main ways:
1. We wonder around offering people a lucky dip bag of themed poems and reading them the one they pick…

2.People come to the stall and ask for a poem about a particular theme, moment, whatever – we ask them a few questions and then they head off for 10/15 minutes while we write the thing…

3. We write poems similarly ‘instant’ poems inspired by chatting to market traders, bigging up what they do, connecting with them or their story in some way…

On Saturday I got talking to Evelin who runs a mobile coffee shop out the back of a little red van, and wrote something for her. Check the shaky video here (which gets a little too close to my face for my liking!), or read the piece below that…

Karu coffee, from Estonia with love
Arabica beans freshly ground, we make moves
Evelin, our house proud host, hoists a parasol
high above her little village of six chairs
and three tables. Six years ago to England
she came, having never made a coffee, not one
plans change! Her face holds the warm humble blush
of a craftsperson proud of their trade
back home, Karu means brown bear
which is kind of like ‘Pumpkin’
a name you call your lover maybe…
steam froths milk, wipe the nozzle clean
tap the base of the milk jug and pour
we make moves, summer tunes float
from the radio. And every day a new spot,
the little red van opens its doors
feel the buzz, from Estonia with love

No More Worries – Q&A

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What follows is an informal Q&A conducted for Pistols and Pollinators by Naomi Woddis with myself and Peader Kirk about our process when collaborating on a new longer show ‘No More Worries’. As a bit of background, Peader is an artist and director who creates immersive performance environments where the audience become a part of the work and encounter becomes possible. His work has recently been shown at the ICA, London, The National Theatre of Greece, Athens and the Academy of Fine Arts, Turin. He also directed my first solo show ‘Indiana Jones and the extra chair’…

N: The premise of the show has got me really interested – whose idea was it ? Or was that also a collaborative effort ? Can you tell me a little bit more about it ?
S: it was my idea.
P: 
I think the question of “whose idea” is really difficult to get at, what’s been interesting is that it’s been something that’s been batted back and forth. The initial seed of conception came from Simon, and was passed back and forth to the point that it’s almost impossible now to work out or remember which bit was whose idea, and that’s irrelevant anyway.
S: 
ok, it developed collaboratively – initially through chatting on breaks from rehearsing Indy, which is a totally different show. It was almost a release from the rehearsal process, which helped keep us fresh and creative.
P: 
Wasn’t it Dostoyevski who would work two novels at the same time – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
S: 
so. a bit more about the show – here’s the copy we used for the scratch:
“Ever wanted to get away from it all? Kieran’s 27 and he’s never been on holiday. Paul’s pushing sixty and looking to pull off his final disappearing act. Sometimes, doing the right thing means you tell no-one, because if you did it would stop being the right thing. ‘No more worries’ is a road-trip to the edge, two strangers in Hawaiian shirts staring out the windscreen at the rain, until the land runs out.”
P:
 but we’re also still playing with the idea that it’s a road trip through austerity Britain too.
S: 
What we found from doing the scratch is that it’s almost about too much at the moment. I guess one thing about an ideas based process is that having a good idea is one thing, but then when you have to make them do stuff, actually get up and come to life there’s less room. So we had a lot of exciting chats linking many themes and threads in mind-blowing ways but/
P: 
ideas don’t perform.
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N: Why did you decide to change the way you worked together? how did the process work and who did what when especially when the boundaries of performer and director are blurred ?
P: we didn’t change the way we worked together, it evolved.
S: I think we’d had the plan to devise this show more than me writing it and then being directed to perform it, which was our process before, but maybe the idea of you performing in it too was something that happened more naturally.
P: i have no idea what point i agreed to it. But someone did ask for my acting CV at the scratch.
S: yeah. That didn’t happen for me. It was kind of mad showing some spoken word story telling stuff, which I’m much more comfortable with and more known for, and then also some other stuff that really pushed the idea of what spoken word can be within theatre.
P:  its a difficult thing as artist – people always want you to do your thing, while you want to find a new thing. We’d already made one show that was successful in one way. We wanted to keep that partnership that worked, but discover what else was possible with it.
S: It felt like one show of me talking to myself was enough for now. Also, its knowing that while that show is something I’m really proud of, I’m not really a character performer
P: i think you’re a great character performer. It doesn’t mean you’re acting a character, but you are a great character performer. For me it’s more that there’s a certain dynamic bounce that you can’t get delivering lines to yourself and us wanting to explore that.
S: and wanting to honour the full dramatic potential of the story idea, and really bring it to life in a different way to how we had before, not to be restricted by knowing that two people talking in a scene would actually only be me.
P: and a bit like the American writers room model in that they start to act out bits roughly as writing , we did that and then somehow that bled into being those characters consistently in the show and ended up with the director being a performer in the piece…

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N: What were the advantages and what were the challenges of how you worked this time round ?
S: Peader, you having a role in the writing process was great in terms of sounding board and ideas and sometimes crystallising what would have been a 2 hr write around something down to a 20 minute chat which left me much clearer around what I wanted to write. Conversely it did make it harder in some ways because I felt a bit like stuff had to be signed off, similarly for you directing I guess, in that I had a say in certain elements I might not have done before.
P: collaboration is like co-habitation, you have to learn to live together
S: and i think that learning takes space and time within a process, some days it was just flying along because we could throw ideas back and forth. I think another challenge of writing collaboratively was that we didn’t have as much time to look at performance
P: My mind naturally sees structure and even when i’m inside it I can still sense that structure for an audience but it’s really hard to tweak it from within it, to find that flow and shape that i would if I was just the director. Again just a time thing but would have been great to video every rehearsal to get around that – in a way though the process was building the piece this time…
S: and knowing there would be another phase of development in which we could work on performance. Which did though leave us out of our comfort zones for the scratch
P: yeah. But that’s a good thing
S: and i think we learnt more because of that. It was a scary experience in some ways, but made a lot of things clearer much quicker than would have happened otherwise.
P: if you’re going to show something in progress, then you have to be risking something – if you’re totally sure in the material why are you sharing it in that format? No point bungee jumping off a chair.
S: no. Not to mention that would probably really hurt. Ha ha! Sorry to end on a cheap joke. Thanks for asking the questions Naomi!

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A warm welcome…

Being made to feel welcome is important, and when I went to Newcastle to run for the first workshops on the north east leg of the ‘Indiana Jones and the extra chair’ tour that was certainly the case…

First up, my mate Mark met me at the station and drove me via the beer shop to his house, where his partner had prepared us a mighty pasta feast (with home-made pesto no less!) – they continued to feed me like an absolute king all weekend, including home-made soup on saturday lunch and a packed lunch box of leftover pie from the night before to take with me for the train home on Sunday. Quality stuff. Cheers guys.

Saturday was the first time I’d been to Live Theatre, and straight away I was impressed by the location on the quayside, and by the building itself…

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Walking through the front door I was greeted by this sign, and then soon after met by Rachel from juice festival and Laura from New Writing North – I’d been chatting to these guys on phone and email for ages so it was great to finally meet them in person. The welcome party was made completed by the arrival of Kirsten from Apples and Snakes, and also by the presentation of my Juice Festival ‘welcome pack’. These guys know how to do what they do properly!

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The young writers soon started to arrive as well, and then it was up to the studio to get started – not without stopping to check out this awesome view from the third floor…

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The whole building immediately has the feel of somewhere you know you will get good creative work done, and that very much proved to be the case for the participants over the weekend – each one of them came up with a quality draft of a piece inspired by one or some or all of the themes of family, food, and heroes. You can keep up to speed with the project as it develops on here

Holiday reading: EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING (Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz)

Some poems are so good they make me want to put the book down and start writing. And like a lot of poets I find it hard not to read as a writer these days – I automatically start assessing the use of language or form, I’m constantly on the hunt for clues or stepping stones to write better poems myself, and whilst that can be inspiring it is also frustrating at points.

‘Everything is Everything’ by Cristin O’ Keefe Aptowicz is the first collection for a long time to lift me out of this, to make me want to not stop, but to keep on reading. As a reader.

Aptowicz has a style I find easy to take in; simple and clean but full of such brave, quirky beauty within that. She uses everyday language to spark such strong poetic images, and fills each poem with a sense of something felt  beyond the words themselves; of the hearts of the poems, their reasons for being poems rather than words in some other form.

 

 

The blurb on the back of ‘Everything is Everything’ (her fifth collection) states that inside Aptowicz ‘polishes her obsessions until they gleam’, but as I read the poems these obsessions shone out to me almost as personas – without being a straight autobiographical narrative in any way, the collection gave me a real sense of character and life-journey, of the different sides to her personality that seem to shape her writing, or rather personas that appear through it. By no means exclusively I enjoyed getting to know the geeky teen on the academic decatholon team, the passionate slam poetry ambassador, the proud lover and New Yorker, the shy and awkward recluse, the quirky trivia queen, and the embattled commuter on her 9-5 office grind. I also enjoyed finding I had been left space to read creatively, to imagine connections between the moments and experiences described.

 

Coming back to the collection with my writers head on was fun too, and particularly to read Aptowicz as a performance poet who is currently thinking about how best my stuff might work on the page. I hear her poems clearly as I read them, and the strength of her voice is enhanced by how the poems look. Second time through I also realised that part of the reason the book flowed so well for me is because Aptowicz uses shorter poems brilliantly throughout – they almost take the role of pre-amble in a spoken word set by giving you a break from such an intense level of required focus, and help her to frame or give context to the following poem or poems.


Anyway, I did end up inspired and hungry to write – which is what I’m going to go and do now! If you want to find out more about this collection and Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz in general then follow the link: http://aptowicz.com/poet/everything-is-everything/