We ended the last post just prior to the first performance of the Public Address tour at Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle, and with me somewhat concerned that without the fake blood we'd used in our test run, the piece might not have as much of an effect on the audience. It's fair to say that Alphabetti had concerns themselves - the clean-up after the test run we'd staged there had been a nightmare, with ketchup sticking to surfaces and attracting pests. This meant that the tour, for me, started with something of a first as, to assuage the venue's concerns, I spent a good couple of hours prior to our tech rehearsal duct-taping dust-sheeting to the stage. Frankly, I felt like Dexter:
By the end of all this my knees had taken a pounding from crawling around the hard stage, we still needed to rehearse and - for logistical reasons, a stage covered in rice being tricky to clean up - my piece wasn't going to take place until the end of the show. So there was a lot of nervous pacing around backstage for me while the other performers did their thing. Everyone at the first gig was uniformly brilliant, as people were throughout the tour. This, of course, only raised the stakes for me because it meant that if my weird live art/performance poetry mash-up bit went down like a lead balloon it was only going to stand out more - and I was going to have to do it four more times, as well...
The first order of business, though, was to get reasons from the venue audience. I'd been asking people in the run-up to the tour to give me things their partners had done that proved their relationships either were or weren't love, and had got a lot of these online, but I wanted to collect reasons from the audience at the venues too. I was a little nervous doing this on the first night - it seemed very like flyering, which I'd found a not exactly pleasant experience in Edinburgh over the summer - and we were up against it for time, but I managed to get people to fill in a couple of cards. Then, it was time to start the show. All the performers took the stage for a brief introduction, and then we each did our solo sections, so all I could do was wait.
Any fears I had that the Newcastle audience might not go for it with the rice-throwing and firing of water pistols were dispelled when I began asking people questions during my introduction to the piece. A forest of hands shot up for both my questions - 'Who, here, has ever been in love?' and 'Who here has been in a relationship which has gone terribly, terribly wrong?' - and one member of the audience, fellow poet Rowan McCabe, was so enthusiastic in thrusting his hand up for the second question that I asked him it, even though I'd also taken his answer to the first. Clearly excited, the audience members we selected to provide physical feedback in response to the reasons we'd collected got heavily into doing exactly that: Newcastle was one of only two venues on the tour where I didn't know if I could physically take the pressure during the performance. You see, for all that I'd wanted to ramp up the violence of the water pistols, the fact is that water is water, but having dry rice thrown at you fucking hurts.
|Above photos from the Plymouth Public Address performance, courtesy of Greenbeanz Photography|
(It wasn't lost on me that, during the London and Southampton legs of our tour, another famed glitterbomb recipient, Germaine Greer, was complaining about people protesting her being invited to speak at universities in the UK. Three of the theatres we took Public Address to - The House at Plymouth University, the Bloomsbury Theatre in London (affiliated with UCL) and the Nuffield at Southampton Uni - were university theatres. So while transphobic glitter-victim Germaine was complaining about not getting to speak at universities I, a trans person, was visiting universities and actually encouraging people to glitterbomb me. Which is kind of ironic, I think...)
I do know, because they told me, that some audience members were mindful of the possible damage they could do to my eyes, and tried to restrict themselves to throwing rice at my torso instead. This wasn't really what I was after, and, upon being told as much after the Southampton gig, I resolved that at the final show in Birmingham I would make an especial effort to give the audience explicit permission to go as wild as they liked with the rice (or, as I put it on the night 'I want you to really fuck me up'). The Brum crowd more than delivered:
|Fucked up gooood after the Birmingham performance|
It was also interesting seeing what caused people to hurl rice, and what got them firing their water pistols at me. I'd wanted many of the reasons to be ambiguous, and they were. Of particular note was that a lot of the acts of violence described ('because you choke me', 'because you slap my face', 'because you pull my hair' etc) were greeted with very enthusiastic rice-throwing in Newcastle, and got me drenched when they came out in Birmingham. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about the relative kinkiness of both cities.
|Plymouth performance photo courtesy of Greenbeanz Photography|
|London performance photo by Suzi Corker for Apples and Snakes|
|London performance photo by Suzi Corker for Apples and Snakes|
Speaking of wedding customs, you may notice that there's a change in my outfit in the above photos. My initial outfit for the Newcastle and Plymouth shows was a black top and leggings - a little goth, but I thought black would really make a nice contrast with the rice.
|Plymouth performance photo by Greenbeanz Photography|
It only occurred to me after the London gig, the first I did in this outfit, that said old men's suit jacket was in fact the jacket from the suit I got married in, back in 2006. Which seemed curiously apt, for a piece called 'Shotgun Wedding', which explored themes of love and its opposite, of what is and isn't love, and how you know. I'm divorced now - my ex and I are still good friends, in fact I visited her in Birmingham after our gig there - and the elements of the poem I end the piece with are drawn from both my marriage and my other longest romantic relationship. When I wrote on this blog that there are ways in which this piece is a tribute to all our lovers, I included my own.
But it wasn't just about me, of course. In many ways, that's been the most satisfying thing about this piece: all those of you who contributed reasons, whether online or in person at venues, those of you who got up from the front row and threw rice or fired water, all those who sat behind them and shouted your own choices (or in one case very visibly mimed a gun): this has been your piece as much as it's been mine. I set out, in this piece, to create something that stepped away from the poet-as-prophetic-orator, dispensing strong truth to the audience dynamic, and I think I've achieved that. This hasn't just been a performance, this has been a conversation, and it's been one I'm honoured to have had with you. Thank you, all of you, for your time.