Nottingham – first gig of the tour

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‘I don’t think I could have enjoyed Thursday any more than I did! It was my highlight of the WEYA festival’ – said an audience member after the show in Nottingham last week. The World Event Young Artists (WEYA) festival invited Astronaut poets Liz, Kayo and Amy to perform throughout the day in the nooks and crannies of the Royal Centre. Jaybird’s trainee director Harry was also on board the mission, taking time off from his day job on the Jonathan Pryce production of King Lear.

I Gaze From My Kitchen Like An Astronaut is a show designed to be performed anywhere. Nottingham saw it in the bar of a 2,500 seater theatre … and our next gig is in a big Victorian private house in Hastings, on 22nd September. The countdown continues.

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Poetry Competition

The Astronauts will be performing in Nottingham on 13 September as part of WEYA, the World Event Young Artists festival. Poems will animate the city during the festival – not just our performances, but on postcards and on giant screens. Jaybird and Writing East Midlands are co-ordinating the call for poems – here are the details …

Writing East Midlands and World Event Young Artists Festival issue a call for poems!

An open poetry competition on the theme TREATY. 

No entry fee, 25 line limit, 24th August deadline. 

Winning poems will be displayed digitally and in print to 1,000s of visitors to the WEYA festival in Nottingham, UK in September. 

An over-riding theme of the festival, and something to bear in mind as you write? ‘Art as the language of peace’ 

For more details, and to enter, visit http://www.writingeastmidlands.co.uk/services/opportunities/756/

 

Rehearsing Richard

Here’s Richard in the thick of it. Those boxes will eventually get filled with spider plants and board games, but we’re just using our imagination for the moment. At this point. Richard is reading his poem’So Much Will Waste’ which is set during a blood-giving session. It’s a twenty-first century version of this poem.

Rehearsing Karen and Liz

A busy week – rehearsing Tom, Karen and Liz. Three poets in four days. You’ll see from Karen and Phoebe’s post-rehearsal photo just how pressing our in-built deadline to complete this part of the production process is.

Karen’s show is another quiet one, but devastatingly affecting. Red eyes and cleared throats in the rehearsal room. She tells us that Neruda’s poem about the Octobrine bird has been a guiding spirit in the creation of the poems we’re  working with, read more details here.

 

 

Liz’ show has a very different mood, making the most of her amazing Black Country dialect poems. We asked her to explain some of the words she uses …

Black Country / Standard

wench /affectionate name for a female
yowm / you are
cut / canal
tranklement /bits & bobs or ornaments
onds /hands
jimmucking / shaking
babby / little child
donny /hand

… and we’ve been throwing those gorgeous vowels and consonants out as far as we can get them. Read more here.

Rehearsing Tom

Tom is the seventh poet that we’ve rehearsed and we’re beginning to get a real sense of how all ten of them will fit together in the various joint performances which will make up our tour later this year. Some poets’ individual shows are noisy and busy, some are calm and contemplative – audiences are going to get a real spread of voices to appreciate. Tom’s show is towards the calmer end of the spectrum, but we’ve worked with poems in many different registers to show you what he can do. He’s got gorgeous nature poems in there, finely balanced teenage memories, a chilling dramatic monologue about CCTV and a joyous cigarette-quitting call to arms. Here are some of them.

Collette reflects

Collette worked with Phoebe on rehearsing Liane’s show, she writes …

‘I began my first day on the job counting sheep in the early hours of the morning, as my dear friend insomnia had decided to pay a visit to me on the night before the rehearsal. I felt less than poetic as I clambered onto the Essex express (also known as the central line) but the nervous excitement of my inaugural rehearsal as a trainee director kept me going.

Once at the Poetry Society [where we rehearsed], greetings out of the way, we got down to the nitty gritty of tea and biscuit consumption. The essentials done with we embarked on a first reading of Liane’s poems. Her smooth, honeyed tone gave vivacity to the poems and made me excited as to where Phoebe was going to take the performance. The poems flowed into one another perfectly and, aside from one change in the line-up, Julia’s original selection from Liane’s poetry seemed to be the foundation for a great show.

The atmosphere, already friendly and calm, was made even more so by the voice and breathing exercises led by Phoebe. There is something about having a good old shake, lying on the floor and then repeating ‘g’ and ‘b’ sounds that will make everyone seem a little less scary. Working through the exercises really highlighted the importance of elements such as breath control and diction, and demonstrated how one could work to improve such things.

After a hearty lunch, a chat and a walk on the surprisingly sunny London streets it was back to business. Going through each of Liane’s poems Phoebe worked with her to create a reading that showed both the poem and Liane’s oratory skills in their best light. Phoebe explained within the rehearsal that she was trying to help Liane re-discover what it was that made her write each line or word and through that re-discovery we could reach the best reading of the poem. Certainly, as we worked through each poem a little change in the pace, emphasis or emotion gave a new energy to the lines, helping the performance to flow. Liane was open to all suggestions and her natural performance skills made the process of taking her poems from page to stage a delight.

With a book full of scribbles and a wearied step or two, I found myself back on the train, contemplating the great day I had had from the comfort of a stranger’s sweaty armpit.’

Rehearsing Billy

Billy hard at work in a very warm rehearsal room yesterday. Here’sone of the poems that we’re going to be working with. Billy’s day job is a roofer, we asked him about it over lunch. When you’re up on the roof, close to the sun, the stars, the gods and the birds, are you also closer to the poems?

‘There are many many mundane tasks that need to be carried out on the roof – moving piles of slates from here to there – so my mind is free to think about poems. And you can peek into people’s gardens too.’

We’ve heard you write poems into the roofs you’re building, is that right?

‘Oh yes. When you’re taking an old roof off, you can find the pencil marks from the original joiners who built the roof. Maybe in fifty or sixty years time someone will mend my roofs and find my poems like a time capsule.’

 

 

 

Rehearsing Liane

Here’s Liane, running through her set, which we imagine taking place in a breakfast room, hence the cafetiere filled with as yet imaginary coffee. Milton is looking on. As are Collette and Phoebe.

Rehearsing John

Here’s John helping Phoebe arrange candles on the floor – he’s a poet that comes with his own built in limelight. Just before we started rehearsing his poem ‘Known Light’ we asked him about his scientific mind. ‘Known Light’ features a shed full of home made chemistry experiments … John, do you feel a particular affinity with the scientific realm?

‘I particularly like drawing on scientific subject matter for the range of imagery it can lend a poem, and also because I find that the vocabulary associated with science contrasts with traditional poetic diction in productive ways. It’s easy to create effects of texture and contrast when you have an unexpected technical word colliding with a beautiful poetic word.’

We then pause so Phoebe can help John illuminate lines such as ‘a sacred Bunsen flame’ and ‘inspire electrons if you want to unveil calcium’s brick red’.

John continues, ‘I originally chose almost exclusively science A levels because I intended to study environmental science at university, but in the end I enjoyed English A level so much I decided to pursue that instead.’

Keats claimed that science unwove the poetry of the rainbow. John’s busy plaiting it back together.

 

Surprised by Britney on the ipod shuffle …

This is Harry, one of our trainee directors. He came to Kayo’s rehearsal day, and reminisces thus …

Like most rational people, I spent the tube journey to my first day as Trainee Director feeling those memorable ‘first day at school’ nerves. However, walking in on your producer listening to the dulcet tones of ‘Womanizer’ by Britney Spears will soon dispel any nervous energy and before I knew it, introductions had been made and the work had started.

We started with a read through of Kayo’s set list: running through the (brilliant) poems one by one and listening to how they fit together. Immediately struck by Kayo’s confidence, it seemed hard to see where Phoebe would push him to – but after a brief, but thorough, vocal warm up (I felt like I was back at drama school, it was brilliant) we got to work.

Phoebe sought about giving the poems a spoken life, working out what physicality would lend itself to the words and understanding the best way to communicate to the audience. Kayo, like all good performers, took to the direction like a duck to water.

Intricate work to begin with, we soon started chopping and changing the original set list, putting in fresh poems, and soon a clear structure materialised. Obviously, this was aided by a well-timed lunch trip to the local, a fish finger sandwich and a cup of Yorkshire’s finest.

After what seemed like no time at all, Kayo performed a complete run through of the work we had done. Then, after a few brief technical glitches, we recorded one poem (you’ll have to buy a ticket to find out why!) and then off into the evening.