On the creative process behind my new solo show

The genesis of my new solo show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, goes back two years, on the train from Edinburgh back to London from the Fringe. I knew that I had to write a whole hour show, and as I looked around the train I pondered on using it as the location to set the show. My original title, indeed, was Vestibule. I wanted a show about the different people standing in the vestibule of an overcrowded train, and what stories they would share.

The idea for a show with one story came from some of the performers I saw that year, in particular the wonderful Dandy Darkly, whose blend of cabaret and storytelling really struck a chord, and the storytelling of Matt Panesh. I wrote a fifteen minute long piece called Mr. Juicy, which I learned, as a basis for something longer.

The next year I went to Edinburgh with a greatest hits package of my poetry, which I called Juicy, and it did rather well, exceeding my own expectations. Yet I’d not done any of the things that proper performers do. No director, hardly any publicity, no mention of the show in the Edinburgh Fringe Guide. I knew that Juicy would be a stop gap. Mr. Juicy was the last fifteen minutes of this show, and despite its ad hoc nature, the show was performed at other venues around the UK.

Last autumn I took a week off to think about the next show. I had three elements, initially, which I wanted I combine: the idea of a show set on a train, a ringmasters outfit, which I’d bought from Amazon, and a title: In the Glare of the Neon Yak. I sat down with a pen and paper, intent on beginning the story and taking the four months up to January in writing it. Amazingly, I wrote the whole script in one frantic week.

My attention went back to Juicy for a couple of months, as I was still performing it at various places, but as soon as the last performance was done, I started the process of memorising Yak. Until a year ago, I’d never been able to memorise even a three minute poem. However, with a bit of perseverance, and the knowledge that the only way to do it was through hard work, is begun committing several of my poems to memory. I used the same techniques with Yak.

So over the last four months I have managed to commit the whole hour show to my brain. The script has accompanied me everywhere, in particular to the gym and the sauna, places where I can just go over and over the lines. The swimming pool is an amazing place to run through certain scenes. During the snow storms over the winter, snowed in at my parents bungalow, I rehearsed the show while looking out at the fat flakes falling from the sky. And two days ago, in a hotel room on the Atlantic coast, I memorised a whole section while watching the surfers.

I have also employed a director. This is the most scary aspect, as it means that someone else, other than me, is as serious about the project as I am. My friend Bryce has helped with the music for certain moments of the show. And I’ve booked a mini tour, taking in Exeter, Gateshead, Bristol, Guildford, Torquay, Denbury, Barnstaple and, of course, Edinburgh. Indeed, the whole show has taken over my life.

So there’s not much time for anything else. My normal rhythm of poem production and rehearsal has taken a back seat, at least, until September. I’ve been doing less gigs, except for local ones. Everything has condensed down to the show.

The scariest aspect of it all is that the show is different. My usual style is to break the fourth wall, interact with the audience and draw attention to the manufactured aspect of reading poetry in front of people. Yak does not allow me to do this, it is a self contained piece, serious in places, whose sole aim is not just to make people laugh. I’m really looking forward to the first performance, and yet at the same time, I’m very nervous indeed!

So I hope you will be able to come along some time, and see my new show. I just hope that it will all be worth it!

Author: Robert Garnham

Performance and spoken word artist.

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