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!

What is Juicy? An interview with Robert Garnham

What’s the theme of your show?: Juicy is a scatalogical mishmash of comedy poetry, spoken word shenanigans, serious and deep explorations of loneliness, LGBT rights, songs and a comedy monologue about lust at an airport departure lounge. I suppose if it has a theme, then that would be finding love. Different characters throughout the show find love, or dream of finding love.

What’s new or unique about the show?: Juicy is a free form entity, different every night, with no definitive order. It’s upbeat and funny one moment, contemplative the next. It looks at some serious issues, too, behind the fun and the hilarity, such as gay rights in places such as Uganda and Russia, loneliness, isolation, longing.
How did the show come into being?: the show just kind of evolved outwards from several different places simultaneously, somehow, in a kind of spoken word osmosis, meeting in the middle. It started with a few ideas, which were improvised, then these ideas led to other ideas.
Describe one of your rehearsals.: The show is in three parts so rehearsals were conducted in fifteen minute sessions in a shed at the back of my parents garage in Brixham, Devon. This is real home grown stuff! There’s a big mirror along one wall where I can watch myself practising. I play around a lot with word order and tone and movement and hey presto, the show started to come into being.
How is the show developing?: One of the important aspects was the adoption of music. I worked with some talented musicians and sound artists, which really helps with the tone and the delivery. And then I was privileged enough to work with Margoh Channing, one of the funniest cabaret drag artists of the New York scene, and she recorded some words for the end. I just knew that the end would have to fit in with her words!
How has the writer been involved?: The writer has been involved since the start. I’m the writer. I’ve been there for every rehearsal.
How have you experimented?: As I say, the music was the key to the show. I’ve performed all over the UK and New York for years, but never used music before. Most of my experimentations were actually with the technology necessary to get the music backing just right. I’ve also never done a long monologue before, so this was kind of scary. I was influenced by another New York friend of mine, the storyteller Dandy Darkly.
Where do your ideas come from?: I wish I knew! They just seem to arrive. Like being hit in the face by a kipper. You can be in a sauna or swimming pool or on a bus about to get off and suddenly, oh yeah! A badger that wants to be in EastEnders!
How do your challenge yourself or yourselves?: I watch other performers and see how they do it. And then I try to be as good as them. I’m really influenced by cabaret artists, even though I’m a spoken word artist. The sense of fun and naughtiness is irresistible. 
What are your future plans for the show ?: Juicy will be going to GlasDenbury Festival near Newton Abbot, the Guildford Fringe, and then the Edinburgh Fringe, where I’ll be at Banshees Lanyrinth.
What are your favourite shows, and why?: Margoh Channing’s Tipsy, for the humour and the pathos. Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth. Paul Cree, Ken Do. All these people invent characters and invest them with humour, and take you to new places almost effortlessly. I’ve seen them all at various fringes. Also Melanie Branton’s new Edinburgh Show, she’s such a good writer and performer.
Show dates, times and booking info: 29 June at 5pm, 1st June at 650pm, 2nd June at 330pm, all at the Golden Lion in Barnstaple, tickets available on the Barnstaple TheatreFest website.
Then the Keep pub, 9 July at 730pm, Guildford Free Fringe, tickets available, again, from their website.
And finally at Banshees Labyritnth, every day at 1230pm, 13th to the 19th August, at the Edinburgh Fringe.

My writing life.

I started my writing career in 1981. I was seven. In a style which I have later adopted in my poetry, my first novel didn’t have a title, it just had a giant R on the cover, which stood for Robert. I can’t remember much about if except that the villain was an entity known only as the Blue Moo. The Blue Moo was what I used to call my sister, because she wore a blue coat. Which is kind of cruel, seeing as though she was only five at the time.

I would write at school during playtime, whenever it was raining. It rained a lot, I remember, when I was a kid. I’d always get excited about rainy days because it meant that I could write. I still get excited shout rainy days, even now.
By 1984 I was at middle school and I used to fill notebooks with stories. I was encouraged to do this by my teacher, Mr Shaw, who would then let me read my stories out in class. The first of these was called Bully Bulldog’s Ship, and for reasons which I’m still not sure, all of the characters were dogs. And secret agents. The cover for Billy Bulldog’s Ship shows explosions and a radar screen and has he tag line, ‘Featuring car chases, underwater bases, kings and prime ministers and that sort of thing’. It was rubbish.
By 1986 I was still at middle school, but now I’d progressed to writing about humans. I wrote a whole series of short novels about a skier, called William Board, and his friend Ed Butf, and how they would get into all kinds of adventures during and after skiing tournaments. I have no idea why I picked skiing tournaments, but I did watch an awful lot of Ski Sunday back in the day.
In 1988 my grandparents gave me a typewriter, which I still use now whenever I’m Poet In Residence anywhere. By now William had left the skiing circuit and was a policeman in a small Surrey village called Englemede. I’d type up these stories and inject as much humour as possible, because this would make my English teacher, Mr Smith, laugh as he read them. This was probably a big moment in my adoption of comedy. The stories were still rubbish, but my grammar and spelling had improved.
By the time I got to sixth form I was still plugging away, and remarkably, William Board was still the focus of the stories, his ineptitude as a policeman and his promotion to detective providing much mirth. My magnum opus of this time was Impending Headache, set at a sixth form college in Surrey much like the one I attended. And in between chapters I’d write over the top comedic poetry.
By 1992 I had my first job and, amazingly, William Board was still my main focus. By now his detective work would take him to a supermarket in Surrey, round about the time that I worked at a supermarket in Surrey, in a novel called Bar Code Blues.
In 1994 I got a job in a village shop in the suburb of Englefield Green, and I wrote a new novel with a new main character, the trainee guardian angel Genre Philips. The novel was called Englefield Green Blues, and like Impending Headache, it would be influential on my writing career in that I’d re-use chapters and stories to form the novel I’ve been working on this year.
At this stage, I’d started sending novels off to publishers and agents, and one or two were very supportive but would ultimately say no.
By now I’d dabbled in comedy poetry, filling up notebooks with poems written with a pen I’d been using since sixth form. I’d stay at my grandmothers house in the hot summer, she lived on a hill overlooking the whole of London from the airport to Canary Wharf, and I’d listen to the jazz stations and just write whatever I felt like. This would form the basis of my one man show, Static, in 2016.
In 1995 my Grandfather passed away. I went to see the pathologist and watched as he signed the death certificate with a cartridge pen, and that afternoon I went out and bought one for myself. Amazingly, this is the same pen I use today for anything creative, and it has written every poem, short story, novel and play since 1995.
In 1996 I moved to Devon. By now I’d discovered Kafka, Camus, Beckett, and my writing became dense, impenetrable. I used my own system of punctuation which made even the reading of it impossible, and to further add to the misery, my novels had numbers instead of names. RD05, RD06, RD07, and so on. I’d send these off to publishers and I could never understand why they’d come right back.
I joined a band of local amateur actors and I would write short sketches and funny monologues for them, we’d rehearse and make cassettes, but never got anywhere near the stage. One of my monologues was about a rocket scientist who’d fallen in love with his rocket. Not phallic at all.
I came out in 2000. I didn’t write much at all for a while. I was busy with other things.
By now I had a job, and I’d studied a-levels, undergraduate and postgraduate at night school, so I didn’t have much time for writing. For a laugh, I got a part in a professional play, and while it meant I would never act again, (oh, it was so traumatic!), it led me to write a play called Fuselage. Amazingly, it won a playwriting competition at the Northcott Theatre. I remember getting off the train in Exeter thinking, wow, it’s my writing that has got me here. This all happened in 2008.
In 2009 I discovered performance poetry, accidentally, and kind of got in to that. Around the same time I wrote a short novel called Reception, based on an ill fated trip I took to Tokyo, but by now my main focus was performance poetry and spoken word, shows and comedy one liners. In 2010 I had my first paid gig, at an Apples and Snakes event in London, and amazingly, this was the first time I made any money from my writing since I was 8!
So that brings me up to date, more or less. I now write every day, still with the same pen, and I still use the same typewriter every now and then, though mostly for performance. And I’ve kept a diary, every day writing something about the previous day, which I’ve kept up since 1985 uninterrupted. It’s only taken 37 years to find the one thing I’m halfway decent at!

Ant – A solemn investigation 

It has been apparent for some time that a solemn investigation were needed into the effects, physical and psychological, of an ant crawling on someone’s hat. Seeing it as upon myself, (the theme, not the ant), I set out, in a somewhat grave manner, and yet bravely, into such an investigation. 
The manner this investigation took soon revealed itself to be poetical in nature, and within a couple of hours I had completed a poem based on the theme of having an ant crawl on someone’s hat. Yet this did not fully satisfy me, and a further poem was written.
At this time, I was bitten by the bug, (again, not the ant), and more poems began to arrive. The theme of an ant on a persons hat soon took over my life and all of my creative output, until such a time arrived that I could think of little else. Indeed, the poems began to resemble a Groundhog Day syndrome, the same repeated themes, the same story with different outcomes, different languages and tones, until within a month I had thirty such poems.
The good people at Mardy Shark publishing soon recognised their worth and a pamphlet was soon produced, titled, simply, Ant.
Ant stands as the zenith of my creativity, a full flow measure of poetic and literary sensibility, all inspired by the horror and the bizarre situation of having an ant crawl on ones hat.
You can download the Kindle version of Ant herehttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Ant-Robert-Garnham-ebook/dp/B071JDZJ7X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497201234&sr=8-1&keywords=Robert+Garnham+Ant
Or you can send off for the physical version here http://www.lulu.com/shop/robert-garnham/ant/paperback/product-23218401.html

At the Duplex on a Friday night.

I’ve never felt gayer than I did on Friday night. Well, obviously I have. I mean, the times I’ve been doing gay things, you know, the really gay things, but this was more symbolic. Because the gig was at the Duplex in Christopher Street, the gayest road in the world, quite possibly, opposite the Stonewall pub and the gay rights memorial. And right outside the venue, with all of this gayness, was a poster with my face on it. And it’s been there for weeks!
I arrived and met up with Mark Wallis and his partner Bart Greenberg. I’d known Mark for a few years when he still lived in England, and even then he was performing as I Am Cereal Killer, a kind of camp punk spoken word artist with bright red hair and face make up. His partner Bart is a playwright and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the New York cabaret scene.
Also there were a couple of actors who Bart had hired to do a rehearsed reading of his new play, and then two very familiar and wonderfully flamboyant characters arrived. First was Margoh Channing, drag queen and cabaret artist with her giant hair and costume, her new show, Hung, about to be performed in New York, and then Dandy Darkly, the drag clown spoken word storyteller, with his pointed shoulder pads and sequinned one piece cat suit. I felt very plain in comparison.

We were shown upstairs to the green room, which is a fully functioning flat over the venue, and I did a mic test on stage with the actors, it all felt so professional and very real. And as always happens in these situations, a camaraderie emerged between the performers as we prepared ourselves in the apartment upstairs with its views down on to the small park where the gay rights statues attract tourists.

I couldn’t have asked for a better audience for my New York debut, and it felt a real privilege to headline with these acts. I’d seen Dandy before in Edinburgh and I have always been a huge fan, and I’d seen I Am Cereal Killer, but Margoh Channing was a revelation, hilarious and touching, tender, human and very funny. Nancy Stearns sang a fantastic song about being in love with a young gay man, and Bart’s wonderful play was about a gay relationship.

I think I purposefully downplayed my performance because there was no way I could compete with all of the others, but people were very kind and they laughed in all the right places, and I had to change the set order on stage as I’d meant to do a couple of serious poems. However, the audience were up for laughter and a momentum had built up. So many people wanted to chat afterwards and amazingly I sold out of the books I’d brought with me!
We went back to the green room apartment, where I felt guilty at just sitting on the sofa as the others showered and changed into their civilian clothes. But as I sat there I pondered on how amazing the gig had been, and how it could possibly even be my best one yet. I was most relieved that my humour seemed to translate well to the American audience, and that the crowd were very definitely on my side and intent on enjoying themselves.
But most of all it was the cabaret scene that I loved the most. I think I fitted in because I was, in a way, the straight man, with his shirt, tie and jacket. Drag queens, drag clowns, cabaret acts and singers, they all made me feel so welcome and I’ve made a whole load of new friends. I’d love to see them all again some time. Perhaps this should be a regular thing?

Rhythm, rhyme and memorising poetry.

I’ve been doing spoken word at people for five years or so now and during that time I’ve felt s slow progression and a steady ease with which I communicate the pieces I’m performing. By which I mean, I’ve kind of fallen into a rut. I write a piece, take it to a spoken word night, stand at the microphone and read it to a room full of strangers.
In the most part this is quite a comfortable method of performing. But lately I’ve been asking myself, is it performing? Over the last couple of years I’ve been to a lot of spoken word nights and I’ve seen poets and performers who are compelling and energetic, who communicate the ideas of their work to an appreciative audience.
I’ve started a regime of rehearsals, taking the pieces I wish to perform and memorising the text, which I’ve previously been loath to do. I’m doing it one poem at a time, concentrating on the new material initially. For the last two weeks I’ve been doing my darnedest to memorise a poem which I call ‘Broccoli Philosophy’, and it will get its debut tonight in Exeter. I’ve still not memorised it fully but it gives me much more scope to be more performative with the piece. I have two more pieces which I shall be concentrating on during the next couple of weeks.
But during this process I have learned a valuable lesson, and that’s the realisation that not every piece needs to be learned. A lot of comic potential comes from having the book in my hand, and pretending to be just as surprised as the audience. Therefore I have split my poetry into two definite performance brackets: book and no book. The fact I’m holding a book reinforces the idea that I am supposedly a poet, and this works for poems such as ‘Orgasms’, in which every verse has a humorous pay off. ‘Broccoli Philosophy’ has a much more Bristol style rhythm and rhyme and that works best memorised.
Which brings me to another thing.
You know all that hoo-hah when Dylan went electric? I’ve kind of done that lately with my poetry. I’ve been watching all the young poets, and listening to radio shows such as Laurie Bolger’s excellent Roundhouse Radio show, and analysing what makes a compelling piece. Those which hold the attention, performatively, have a definite rhythm and internal rhyme. ‘Broccoli Philosophy’ makes use of this. And I’ve been taking some old poems which were passable yet not part of my official canon, and rewriting them to give them the same rhythm and rhyme. This also helps me memorise them.
So that’s how things are at the moment. Rhythm and rhyme aid memorisation. This allows me to concentrate on gesture and emotion. Which is what I’ve been working on with my director, Ziggy. It’s an ongoing project and it’s going to take a few months, but right at this moment, I’m really enjoying the process! 

Edinburgh Fringe Blog Part Nine

I’m back in real life, now. The Edinburgh Fringe is just a dim memory. A strange thing that happened. Of course, I was only there for a week, my friends and colleagues were mostly there for three whole weeks. How must it feel for them? How does it feel for me?
It took a while to adjust to normal life. When I got back to Paignton I kept thinking that the festival was still going on. Whenever I saw crowds of tourists at the chip shop I’d think they were queuing for a show. Posters in the library weren’t for upcoming Free Fringe shows. And it felt weird, walking through the holiday crowds and not handing them flyers.
I came away from Edinburgh with so much. The first thing I came away from with was a headache, but that’s just the eleven hour train ride to get home. The second thing I came away with was an appreciation that not everything that you plan for ever occurs. I didn’t realise the performance space would be so noisy! It was the corner of a very busy bar, not the quiet room that my director and I had assumed during rehearsal. Static has lots of quiet moments and subtlety. It’s hard to be quiet and subtle when there’s a stag party in the room. The other acts were fantastically loud and it was the second day that I decided to concentrate on volume.
But the biggest inspiration came from seeing other shows and talking to the other performers. I’ve got so many ideas for next year now that I’m really looking forward to developing something amazing, with less props. Carrying props around Edinburgh is not fun. Why did they have to build the city on the side of a mountain?
The other idea I had is to apply to have a venue at next year’s fringe. And for the venue to be in Paignton. Imagine how fun that would be! To have the Edinburgh Fringe happen in Paignton. Obviously there would be the question of travel and logistics, but imagine the symbolism.
So I’m back here in civilian life. I miss the camaraderie and the support. The Pilgrim venue staff were excellent and so were the other performers. I made so many new friends, and I’m full of gratitude for the help and advice that they gave me along the final week.

Edinburgh Fringe Blog Part Six

Some of my performance colleagues here have been in Edinburgh for the whole three weeks and the fatigue is starting to show. There’s a certain numbness to them, as if they are kind of ever so dissociated from the world around them, a weariness, and most amusing of all, a slight loathing of anyone who’s just arrived. Last night I went to see AF Harrold at Hammer and Tomgue. AF is one of my favourite performers and a jolly decent chap too. He’d just arrived in Edinburgh and he was sharp, articulate, funny, alert. You could sense the hatred in the room.
I’ve only been here a week, of course, but a fatigue of sorts is finally starting to manifest itself. Having said that, I’ve finally got the art of flyering down to a tee. I spent the first few days oblivious to the fact that you have to make an impression and sell your show in about 2 and a half seconds. I’d spend the first two seconds of that time by saying hello. By which time they’d walked on. But now I just blurt out, ‘Free poetry show? Free poetry show? Free poetry show?’ And then act very relieved when someone takes a flier.
My legs ache like anything, I’ve been up and down that sodding hill so many times. I found a short cut the other day, it cuts a minute off the journey, and it was like the best thing that has ever happened. I’m starting to feel like a local. I see people making fundamental navigation errors and I’m thinking, Pffft, tourists! I’ve also built up this witty repartee with the man in the newsagents near my accommodation where each morning he pretends not to recognise me from the day before. Oh, how we laugh.
So there are two more Statics to go. But already I’m thinking of new projects, ambitious ideas gleaned from watching so many wonderful shows. I haven’t seen much poetry: the spoken word shows are storytelling in the main part, and very funny at that. However, I’ve found poetry in the best of places, such as Dandy Darkly’s fantastic Myth Mouth, which I really, really recommend. It’s perhaps been the most inspirational show I’ve seen while in Edinburgh, and the one that has really spoken to me.
It was misty and cool yesterday and I felt right at home. Today it is hot and sunny and I’m not looking forward to it. 
I still haven’t seen any of my flat mates and the same packet of pasta has been in the fridge now for five days.

Why I Am Not A Surrealist

When I was younger some of my favourite artists and musicians were surrealists. Salvador Dali and The Beatles, for example. Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower. That sort of thing. The imagery and the language of these were exciting and daring and I couldn’t get enough of the thinking behind such overtly provocative works. But as my adventures in art and music progressed, I started to realise that while the effects of these were immediate on the first viewing, they quickly wore off.

I don’t want to see another damn melting clock.

It took a while, but I began to realise that surrealism in small doses is okay, but there always has to be some kind of grounding in the familiar, in real life. It has to be relatable. Maybe it’s just the way I look at the world, but I’ve got to a stage in my life where surrealism is deeply unsatisfactory to see or read, particularly in poetry.

Let’s make a hypothetical poem. It’s going to be a surreal one, so we’re going to look at imagery. I see a plum. The plum has a moustache for some reason. The plum has a moustache, that’s the first line of this poem. Okay, so if this poem was a Robert Garnham poem, I’d then go on to follow the plum around for a few stanzas to see what life is like being a plum with a moustache. In such a way I ground the poem in the every day, in the humdrum. The plum has a problem eating soup because of the moustache. The plum can’t get a date because every plum he meets doesn’t like moustaches. You know, run of the mill kind of stuff.

But if I were a surrealist, then in the next verse, I’d move on from the plum with the moustache. I see a tap dancing horse called Mona, and the King of South Dakota is there, waving a cricket bat. And yes, this is all rather whimsical at the moment and a little but humorous, but if I read this again tomorrow I’d think: yeah, whatever.

I have, therefore, identified the moment, the junction, where a poem can go either way. On the left, full blown surrealism, all sunny and stupid and a bit dizzy. And on the right, the kind of tempered down-to-earth surrealism that people can relate to. This Point of Realist Return (PRR) is immediately divisible by the interest of the reader (I) and responds well to Repeating Reading (RR). I divided by PRR times RR equals a Satisfying Read (SR). A surrealist poem may also have a PRR but there the I is, unfortunately, not equal to the RR, and therefore the SR is of a lower outcome than the less surrealistic piece.

I hope that this has cleared things up.

What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that the poems which work best for me are those which have some kind of bearing on my life. My hero, Frank O’Hara, wrote poems based on his own life, his famous ‘I Do This I Do That’ poems. Yet he, too, dabbled in surrealism earlier in his career, and these poems are stodgy and hard work to read. You could tell that he was having a lot of fun writing them, but as a reader, well, there’s ironing to be getting on with.

I’m not against other poets being surreal. The performance poetry community is wide and varied and this is what makes it so vibrant. If every poet was the same, then we’d be better off not turning up. And who knows, perhaps someone might come along and surprise me with a set of sheer surrealist excellence.

Or perhaps my life is just so strange that I can’t possibly deal with any more of it!fun front