On new material 

So here I am in Exeter, and I’m early for a gig at the Phoenix Arts Centre, and I’m sitting outside with a Coca Cola while going through my set and practising everything in my head. The event is Taking the Mic, and I’ve been coming here for seven years or so. When I first started coming, Liv Torc was the host, and I was crap. Things have improved since, to the extent that i feel comfortable enough to try out new material at this monthly event.
But I’ve been spoiled, over the years, by good audiences. I’ve had fantastic audiences at different ends of the country, and there have been nights where the audience was so good that I just could not get to sleep afterwards, pumped up and enthused. The downside of this is that I have now become very choosy when preparing for monthly gigs where people have seen me countless times before.
I write a lot and I try to write new material every day. It varies in quality, of course. And the pressure to come up with a good set, and good material at nights such as this, is almost all-consuming. The memory of all those wonderful gigs means that I’m eager to maintain the quality, and feed off of the audience reaction. And if it doesn’t work, or if it doesn’t feel right, then that can be quite depressing indeed.
As a result of this ruthlessness I now have countless poems and pieces which have never made the grade. They sit in my poetry book and I just know that some of them will never get performed. Some of them have been worked over several times, such as the one I’ve been prodding today about a doomed relationship, or the one about having a sofa phobia, which I’ve been working on, on and off, for about six years. I have no idea what I’m going to do with these poems.
I know I should take a risk. I know I should do some of the material that I’m not totally at ease with, the audience will show me whether I should continue hiding such works away, but a part of me doesn’t want to take risks. So as I sit here underneath an umbrella in the rain at the arts centre, I’m going through the set again, just making sure that I’m totally at ease with it. I spent last night rehearsing the new poem and I’m pretty sure it’s ready to roll. But there’s only one way to find out. I shall know the answer in a couple of hours time!

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On having a ‘costume’ when performing 

I’m a spoken word artist. I’m a performance poet. But right at this moment, as I write this, I’m just Robert Garnham. And the reason I’m just Robert Garnham at the moment is that I’m not wearing my performance clothes. I’m not in my uniform, I’m not in my costume.
When I first started performing I made a conscious effort to wear a kind of uniform for the purposes of standing on stage being whimsical. I have no idea why. I should really have taken the time to create a character, perhaps give myself a different name while on stage, too. But it’s too late now. I’m still Robert Garnham whether I’m on stage or not.
I thought that every spoken word artist had a uniform, a certain look to which they adhered. And perhaps they do, but it seems that my self-imposed uniform is more blatant than most. Every gig now begins with he ceremony of putting on the shirt, tie, jacket, chinos, converse all stars and glasses, then spiking up the old Barnet. And then I travel out to wherever the gig might be.
These are not my everyday clothes. I’m much more casual in ‘real life’, and I’m starting to wish I’d left room for a bit more flexibility when performing. This weekend, for example, I’m at a festival with two performance slots, and it’s going to be outdoors and hot, and yet I feel obliged to wear the usual uniform. The young, trendier poets will be in tshirts and shorts and they’ll quickly jump from non performance to performance with nary a blink of the eye. It takes me about fifteen minutes to get into character as Robert Garnham, Poet.
So. Would it make any difference if I didn’t dress up? Probably not. The word I’m looking for here is authenticity. I’ve seen so many wonderful poets wearing their everyday clothes, being absolutely marvellous at the Mic, an impression heightened by the authenticity of their words and their look. They don’t need to pretend to be someone else.
Which leads me to wonder if everything I’ve done has lacked authenticity because it’s been done from the perspective of an invented persona. Possibly. But as a performance artist, I’ve always attached a lot of importance to the visual as well as the audible. Or perhaps I’m at my most authentic when I’m wearing my performance clothes, and that I’d be strangely inauthentic if I were to start slowing around in what I wear on a normal day. Tshirt, shorts, hoodie, hair all over the place, different glasses. Or maybe still, those who like my work – Robheads, as I call them – wouldn’t accept anything delivered without a certain touch of aesthetic effort.
Or maybe none of this is particularly important at all.
So I’m doing this music festival tomorrow, and you know what? I’m just going to wear something sensible.

Fun at the Barnstaple TheatreFest Fringe

It’s been a couple of years since I was last at the Barnstaple Fringe and I’d always had good memories of it, in particular it’s manageable nature and the camaraderie of the other performers. Coming back this year, I can see that it has grown, and this just adds to its excitement and the variety of shows on offer. 
This is my first time here with my own show. I don’t mind admitting that the whole process has been nerve wracking and I was incredibly jittery on the train here the other day, that crazy single line track between Exeter and Barnstaple which seems more like a throwback to the 1950s. This is the first show that I’ve invested a lot in, from rehearsing almost every night to having friends and professionals help out with voice, music and movement. Yet I still had no idea how it would go.
The technicians and the people running the fringe have been very helpful indeed and my mind was put to rest after the technical rehearsal in which it appeared that the technology I was using actually worked! Indeed, the technicians were also pleased because they said that i was, and I quote, ‘low maintenance ‘.
And then the fringe craziness kicks in, the familiar faces you see around town and at other gigs, performers and friends from the local and national circuit all coming together in this small town, this Devonian Edinburgh. And my shows had an audience! Last nights was a classic, for example. On the spur of the moment the technicians suggested using the smoke machine, which certainly added a layer of mystique to the performance and perhaps further adding to the ridiculousness of it.
Bizarrely, the show was reviewed and the reviewer praised my dancing!
Last night I stayed in a venue. By which I mean, Bryony Chave Cox had been performing a production in a hotel room, which she then hired out to me for the night. It was certainly a very strange sensation, having an audience in your hotel room and having to wait for them to leave before getting a good night’s sleep. 
So I’ve got one more show to do, and I’m going to try and get out and see as much as possible. I’d really like to thank the organisers of this whole festival, it’s been homely and artistic and everything that a fringe should be. I really hope they let me come back again next year!

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