A couple of weeks ago I performed a short run of a new show with my friend Tim Clare at the Roundhouse in London. It was intense! Thanks to everyone who came to see us. We were pretty nervous about performing a show with so much tech and so many new pieces in it, but the whole experience was made way more enjoyable thanks to seeing the odd friendly face in the crowd.
Our show is (currently) called 'Only you Can Save Poetry'. It involves the audience judging us and making decisions that effect the direction that the show goes in - all done with voting handsets. You can see us talking about them in the video above. We wanted to create a show that looks at how we measure success and failure; that explores the ways in which we judge ourselves and each other. A lot of people I meet feel that poetry isn't really for them - that its a purely academic pursuit that they (as someone who hasn't studied poetry) aren't authorised to have an opinion/to engage with it. This is something I've always tried to challenge in my work and I figured this would be a great opportunity to lend a whole audience ownership of poetry, one Dr Robotnik egg-like device at a time.
All decisions and judgements that the audience make during the show are done secretly, so we have no idea who voted for what. The show begins with an 'audience callibration', where a series of questions are asked and the audience get to see how they vote as a group. Click the image below and you can see a few examples of our calibration questions-
After that we get into the show itself - I don't want to give anything away, but the audience go on to assess, reward & punish us whilst making decisions that have a huge impact on the show as it progresses. The decisions that each audience make also affect later shows, which will help keep the show fresh as as we take it out on tour. There's pieces with beats, a really cool piece by Tim about his unborn daughter and a new piece I've written which is a sort of 'choose your own adventure' poem with barbarians, cheese nature puns throughout.
So, how did we do? Well, as this show is about facing up to failure failure, it seems only fair to give an honest breakdown of each night and how I feel it went:
Show 1 - Pretty f***ing bad, to be honest! Don't get me wrong, the pieces we performed were fine but our links between the poems were all over the place. We rambled A LOT, we both forgot our lines and it was less about performing the poems than it was about remembering them in the first place. Added to that, some of the questions that used the voting tech weren't really that useful. As we walked offstage, all sweaty and deflated we agreed that we needed to make some serious edits. Plus we overran by around 45 minutes - which isn't ideal.
Show 2 - You know what? It was alright! who'd have thought that ripping out a ton of irrelevant segments and slides whilst adding more poems would work? We were helped out massively at one point by our mate Byron Vincent, who stepped up to the plate when we were struggling to get a volunteer from the audience. The narrative arc stayed pretty much the same and we managed to tighten up the ending a fair bit. On the whole, it felt like a pretty solid show. I sweated LOADs though - and still forgot one of my lines halfway through. My t shirt was soaked by the end of the gig. Oh, and we still overran by 25 minutes which (again) isn't ideal.
Show 3 - Somehow, and I don't know how - we SMASHED it. We really did. It was ACE. Honestly, I felt so relieved that the whole thing could work! this was our largest audience (which really helped), and we had a lot more fun with the show - perhaps because we'd already had bits that hadn't worked on earlier nights. We went off piste a little bit in places - and we solved a couple of little problems on stage as we went. It might sound silly but as I was looking at the audiences' faces as they headed out I felt really proud of us- and very fortunate to be supported by Tom (Tom Clutterbuck was helping us out with the tech side of the show. MY GOD HE'S GOOD). We still overran by around 10 minutes but WHO CARES! We now have a show. And the show CAN be wicked when we get it right - thanks goodness!
Now we've just got to work out our next steps. There's some tweaking needed, but we'll be taking it out and about pretty soon - I'm dead excited about sharing it with you guys. If you hear that we're in your neck of the woods please come out and join us - I really think you'll enjoy yourself (well, there's at least a ?66%? chance we'll be good if our run is anything to go by!)
Also, we got a couple of reviews of our shows, which were really generous - you can read more about what other people thought below. My favourite quote is where we're described as 'two cultish but accessible figures'.
Review from our first night -
Review from our second night-