Apples and Snakes’ Poet Of The Month, Nick Field, talks about blurring the boundaries between theatre and poetry…

I love blurring the boundaries.

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Nick Field performing in his solo show Work Play.

I’m also always drawn to experimenting with blurring the boundaries in my work, between forms often, but other ways too; structure and genre are favoured playthings. As an artist it is in forming and causing these mutations between different arts that I find the most exciting creative potential. While my work as a writer and performer has been on quite a journey in recent years, poetry is still very often at the core. Poetry and poetics are my way into exploring and interpreting the world though my work, and I find my way from there to the finished piece, drawing on all the palates I have available. For example, during my recent residency at London Metropolitan Archives I found the poetry in film and digital depictions of shifting London communities, strobing between archived film I found, and digital footage I shot in markets around London. In the construction of the piece I explore how placing, interruption and overlaying brings poetic rhythms and a fabric that questions and explores execrating changes in our communities and public spaces. By translating techniques from poetry into digital art I seek out the heart in these questions. For the collection that resulted from the residency, entitled Cries Of London, I created cinematic narratives and cityscapes in poems drawing on archived clues of extraordinary lived experiences. Life-changing moments that punctuate the daily lives of people living in London, public self expression and the negotiation of difference on London’s streets over 700 years of its history play out against a filmic city.

“I would say it’s now the case that attitudes towards spoken word from outside the scene have shifted significantly…”

One of the main strands of my work in recent years has been as a theatre and performance maker, and it’s been quite a journey that has involved renegotiating my relationship with theatre. When I stepped up to do my first poetry reading, it was as a direct result of feeling like I needed to break out of my work as a playwright. I love theatre, I always have. I love watching it, I love making it, and growing up with and studying theatre, I loved being in it. After study, I didn’t necessarily see myself working as an actor, and early successes as a playwright drew me in that direction. Years on and having fulfilled a lot of the ambitions I started with as a playwright, I wanted out. A play is a beast. It takes over your life, they can take years to write and even longer to get on stage. They need a lot of investment, they need a lot of people involved and as a playwright it’s possible to spend a lot of time in development for developments sake. So my first time stepping up to the mic, I was feeling creatively stifled by theatre and the theatre industry, and craved simplicity and a direct connection with an audience. What’s more simple than one person and a mic, speaking about their experience of life to people sitting right in front of them? It was refreshing, invigorating and empowering. After that first try, and the opportunities that followed, I felt like I no longer had to hide behind invented characters and I started to love working directly with audiences as a spoken word performer.

But then theatre found me again. I was commissioned by Apples and Snakes to create my first piece of theatre as a writer and performer working within poetry and spoken word, and that was a game changer. Bringing together those aspects of my work opened a lot of possibilities creatively. Since then, my work has increasingly become as a cross-form theatre maker and performer, but poetry is still infused and present in different ways. I’m interested in how forms can interplay in performance; how dance can be poetry, or poetry can be silence and a transition between scenes. My background as a playwright gave me a practical knowledge and understanding of dramaturgy, and rather than feeling restricted by the structures of theatre as I had done, I now use that as a basis to explore alternative dramaturgies and theatre forms. Stepping up to the mic to escape theatre has actually helped me to discover it again, but this time on my terms. It’s been a liberating experience as an artist.

“…one of the most exciting things about experiencing performance poetry for me, that direct and unmediated communication that enables people to express themselves directly in their own voice.”

It’s an exciting time to be blurring the boundaries between theatre and poetry. Over the time I’ve been making theatre, since that first commission, the landscape has changed a lot. Performance poetry and spoken word (I’m going to use them interchangeably) was often overlooked or misunderstood by the wider arts world. I would say it’s now the case that attitudes towards spoken word from outside the scene have shifted significantly, and artists willing to push the possibilities of the form and explore arts on a wider scale have helped to open it up.

A wonderful result of that is how marginalised voices have increasingly been given (or perhaps more accurately have audaciously and brilliantly demanded) a wider platform as the playing field has opened up and the boundaries between forms have blurred. People have taken and run with the opportunity to speak of their lived experience in the way they want to speak of it, and that is a huge credit to organisations like Apples and Snakes. That’s always been one of the most exciting things about experiencing performance poetry for me, that direct and unmediated communication that enables people to express themselves directly in their own voice. Developing that into theatre is a journey as an artist, it requires taking risks, it means negotiating new aspects of craft, it involves entering into a critical landscape that doesn’t particularly exist in the spoken word scene. The challenge and the joy for me as I’ve undertaken this journey is how much I’ve got to learn technically about different performance arts, because I believe while it’s great to be inspired by cross arts, it’s also important to think about craft and understand the forms you’re blurring.

I have been working with spoken word artists across the UK, with two masterclasses for Apples and Snakes about solo show and cross-form theatre making. It’s been a genuine joy and I’ve loved seeing people take their work up a notch. There are challenges involved, but it’s great to see people engaging and experimenting with a widened scope. For me, I don’t quite feel the same level of resistance to a refusal to be pigeonholed as an artist that I did when I first took this journey, I don’t face the expectation to explain myself so much; the wider arts world feels more accepting and open to this, even encouraging. This year I’ll be making my a new show Work Play, and more then ever before I’ll be blurring boundaries of form, genre and structure, this time with an increased social and political intent inherent in the artistic decisions I make.

There’s a glorious palate out there to play with, how marvellous is that?

Nick Field is a writer, performer and musician. He has written, performed and toured internationally two solo theatre shows The Cosmos, The Cosmetics and Adventure/Misadventure. Work Play, his third full theatre production will tour later this year. In 2011 he was Writer in Residence at Keats House, and in 2015 he was Artist in Residence at London Metropolitan Archives. He has created numerous commissions, including work for London Literature Festival, Latitude Festival and Apples and Snakes. Nick teaches performance and creative writing at City Lit and has facilitated workshops for organisations including The Southbank Centre, Spread the Word and Ideastap.

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