Tag Archives: ARC

The Leonards- A new rating for poetry readings

I might sometimes review Live Literature, particularly poetry. I was trying to think of a way to summarise what my critical values are. Realised that watching Leonard Cohen live most epitomises them. That gig at the O2 two years ago. He combined thought, feeling, sensuousness, truth, beauty, connection with the audience and integration with himself. I cried a bit, laughed a bit and sort of melted in the middle. I would rate him at Ten Leonards. I have just watched David Cameron’s Conservative Conference speech. He is at One Leonard. Do you see?

Actually, I have simplified the Leonard Rating. Pain or sadness or darkness or confusion combined with the more simply pleasurable elements is necessary to create the “melting in the middle” of high Leonardness. 

I am often disappointed in my search for high Leonard ratings at poetry events (Recent enjoyable ones were Martin Figura’s Whistle and the Apples and Snakes Amuse Bouche event at ARC) . This week however I have been fortunate enough to see three poets with high Leonard ratings. 

Andrew Mcmillan combines a wonderful way with an audience and splendid flat Yorkhire vowels with an animated delivery of elliptical, imagistic and deft poems from his pamphlet “the moon is a supporting player”. Striking pictures are delivered then wafted away again; “a waitress had a voice like cold coffee/the day sweated/the day wrung itself out and left/itself to dry between the streets.” I think I would have laughed out loud twice as many times as the rest of the audience, had I been listening on my own- though that was still many times. They were seduced into listening mode though, tuning in for those sharp needles of insight.  Andrew also has a way with glasses tweaking of a much older man. I became mesmerised by this at some point- but it did add to the Leonard rating. 

Ira Lightman does a thousand things at once as a poet. As a “conceptual poet” in fact. This would not usually provide high Leonardness for me, but Ira’s honesty, musicality and endearing Mad Professor persona mean that his reading from new collection “Mustard Tart As Lemon” produced a gut reaction in me and pleasurably confused brain swirling. I grasped and clung to lines like “The scarcity of public space/is the scarcity of wise management” and happily let them float away amidst his iTunes random accompaniment, gorgeous ukulele playing and concrete poetry read from a projection screen and accompanied by Andrew.

The following night, in the same room at the Lit and Phil in Newcastle, Moodswing editor Steve Urwin launched his collection of “Dreams, diaries and debris”- Shades of Grey. He brought his usual kinetic energy to the prose poems- but also a warmth in between the dark pieces of real and surreal grittiness which meant the pieces were really shared with us and kept us close, even when the subject was breakdown and despair; “Ask the Talking Pen what these words are trying to convey. I’ll agree with almost everything it says. I’m nothing. I have no choice in the matter. I will leave you here”  

To summarise a high Leonard rating then; It will have you leaving a poetry reading with both head and body invigorated in some way. Also, as if you have had some sort of exchange of energy with the poet provoking it.

Both Steve and Ira acknowledged the importance of Crista Ermiya’s role as editor in helping order and bring coherence to their books. They both supplemented this with their performances of the work within. Lovely. Red Squirrel press week continues at the Lit and Phil in Newcastle and all three books can be ordered at www.redsquirrelpress.com

Where’s My Theatre Invitation?

Mostly I’ve been a radio journalist, then a poet. I don’t know much about theatre apart from that I don’t like sitting watching actors pretending to be other people and ignoring the audience. That just feels like a dysfunctional family to me. Or some sadistic kids in the playground saying you can watch their game but not join in.

From what I read, it sounds like for many theatre practitioners,  an antidote to that- immersive theatre -is so done to death already. (Even today in the Guardian, the director of Punch Drunk says that loads of people are bringing audiences into their shows, but they now want to take their shows into reality, confuse people about what’s real and what’s fiction and are researching a show in which they send people off on a three day adventure  http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/jun/08/crash-of-the-elysium-punchdrunk)

What can I say, I’m a late adopter. But, in the past two weeks I’ve seen three theatre pieces with an immersive element and finally realised that it wasn’t theatre that I didn’t like, just the Western, character based, fourth wall stuff. I had begun to get an inkling of this anyway, when I went to see the writer/director Tim Crouch speak last year and nearly cheered when he said he didn’t like to see actors acting.  Also, when writing my first one person spoken word show, I was determined to use stand up comedy conventions so that I wouldn’t have to suddenly erect the fourth wall that seems to be what many poets build when they start “doing” theatre.

However, now, having seen three (as it happens all Yorkshire based) practitioners immersive pieces, I am remembering something I knew all along but had forgotten. Sham’s Reykjavik-http://www.shams.org.uk/productions/new-work–  (I caught it at ARC, Stockton which has become a hot bed of interesting theatre experiences) saw us dress up in boiler suits and goggles and head off to a gauzey white set, on a tour of the character J’s memories of a doomed relationship. We were guided through Reykjavik, Paris, a disco, a hot tub and his splintering emotions. I am ever so suggestible- and when something like this is done as well as it was, I felt like I really, fully had been on that poetic, ice coated journey. I loved it! Then, Northern Stage in Newcastle transformed itself into a “Theatre Brothel”  where you could were directed to particular pieces depending on your answers to a questionnaire. I cheated because I knew I wanted to see “Tea is An Evening Meal” by Sheffield based creative Faye Draper (http://www.northernstages.co.uk/programme/tea-is-an-evening-meal) which I’d liked the sound of. Sure enough, we were treated to a sophisticated, sharp analysis of the power and status and regional differences conveyed by domestic set ups like meals and tea drinking- but all in the form of being guests having a cuppa at the house of a warm and chatty host. Then, last night I went to ARC Stockton’s Scratch Night and, there was another immersive piece. At a very early stage of development- but Ellie Harrison’s (http://ellieharrison.org/) exploration of grief by means of getting three audience members at a time to be trained in elephant grief assuaging techniques (site generic to hotels which will become the elephant therapy centres)- is going to be a light touch, but I think, really powerful way of looking at an emotion that society is still a bit crap at dealing with.

Crucially, in all these experiences, the performers really, actually see you the audience- you don’t have to disappear. Your body gets to take part in the experience too- and for me, that’s maybe the thing that means those pieces can really connect up the disparate parts of me. Brain, heart, body all get involved and make my feelings so much stronger.

I tend to still need a massive Invitation to go to things like this though. I went to the ARC things because I’m a member of their professional development programme- so they were free. And I was invited to Theatre Brothel as a press night person. If I’d seen an advert for “Immersive theatre piece in a disused ironworks” or something, I probably wouldn’t have gone, because I wouldn’t have read it as an Invitation for me. Just as I don’t read a theatre company assuming that I’m familiar and happy with all the usual conventions of theatre as an invitation to suspend my belief.  I’ve performed in theatre shows (and particularly enjoyed being involved in two promenade pieces- Changing Ways by Major Road Theatre Company way back in 1988 and Fuente Ovejuna which was directed at my University by the bloke who now produces the Electric Proms for the BBC) but there was always a very clear Invitation then to participate.  I know I’m strange, but I bet there’s loads more potential theatre goers like me who just need a bigger Invite (Sort of “You- yes you who think theatre’s shit but quite like Laser Quest and Coronation Street- you might enjoy this as a visceral experience honest, and we don’t like pretending either.”)

In fact, the last time before that that I remember another clear invitation to participate was from the Leeds based Blast Theory in 1998. (http://www.blasttheory.co.uk/bt/work_kidnap.html). You could enter into a lottery to be kidnapped. How cool! I thought. They wouldn’t tell you if you’d won, you’d just get taken off to a filmed room for 24 hours. Unfortunately the day of the potential kidnap co incided with the day of my driving test. I had to tell my instructor (but I didn’t mention it to the examiner), not to worry if I got taken off by some people in masks and bundled into a car. I was quite disappointed when they didn’t come for me. Though I did pass my test.

This has all set cogs whirring for me about how to use that particular element of theatre in performance poetry. Still keeping intimate with an audience, and getting their bodies and imaginations more actively involved. The theatre world might have been doing that for years (though it seems, only recently have these more experimental practices begun to enter mainstream venues), but for poets it would be an innovation.  A respectful kidnap of an audience if you will.