Like everyone else on the planet, I am trying to wrap my head around lockdown. Specifically, what it means to be an intimate poetry performer under lockdown and thinking about, when lockdown ends, how social distancing might effect my work. Last year, this time, I was writing up research for a paper on money exchange and performing intimate poetry. This year, I am having to radically rethink ways in which I can perform intimacy. Last night I participated in the 4th Poetry Brothel live-stream ‘Streamers and Dreamers’, an amazing event bringing together performers from Mexico (they didn’t say which city!), New Mexico, Valpariaso, New York, Los Angeles, London and Dublin. The Poetry Brothel was started in New York by Stephanie Singer and Nicholas Adamski eleven years ago and has taken off and been taken up as an idea by poets looking for alternative ways to present poetry to audiences. As Nicholas said last night, ‘There’s a PB in any almost any interesting city in the world’. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but the poetry brothel is unique in so far as it represents an international family of poets with shared interests in performing intimacy. I have participated in European International Brothels before, but this was a rare occasion to have performers all situated geographically separately, come together in a shared, performative, virtual space.
The Poetry Society of New York, to which the Poetry Brothel New York is aligned, has been incredibly pro-active about sustaining performances and training during lockdown. As well as many poetry workshops, they have created a ‘poetry live-stream page’ where you can book private poetry readings.
Here’s my link to ‘Bibi Synthe’, the name that I perform as in the PB.
This raises interesting possibilities for me. As well as an interest in multi-sensory work and 1-2-1 performance, I also interested in participative performance. My show about dating ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme More Love’, used anonymous live-chat in the staged space to allow the audience to participate and interact with each other via anonymous ‘confessional’ anecdotes, prompted by questions asked during the live performance. The live-chat was projected on the screen during the performance and audience anonymity was secured through having audience log into chat under ‘nom-de-plumes’. The live-chat not only enhanced the collective story-telling capacity, but also led to audience members providing prompts for other audience members, brought onto stage as performers, for an improvisational finale.
So far, in lockdown, I have participated in numerous online events: poetry workshops, collaborative writing, parties, meetings and even some voice-over directing. People are begin to complain of ‘zoom fatigue’. The two performance events I have participated in have both been really well managed using zoom as the ‘green room’ for artists and going out live on youtube and facebook to a wide audience, but what they have lacked is the kind of audience inter-activity that really interests me. What I am really looking forward to is developing deeply intimate experiences online as 1-2-1 or small group performances.
The question of intimacy is easily solved in terms of creating 1-2-1 readings via zoom, googlechats even fb live. My friend Moya De Feyter was part of a wonderful project in Belgium where people could ‘call up poets’ on a free phone service. What is more difficult is solving sensory elements beyond the visual and the auditory. In my private 1-2-1 readings, I often use blindfolds, sensation and olfactory triggers. While digital technology is readily available to reach people, many of us are actually feeling sensorially deprived. As we discussed in the poetry parlour (the PB digital after-party), many of us are feeling touch deprived. It is that curious thing, I guess, that unlike the other senses, it is almost impossible to recapture the sense of being touched by someone else. I am intrigued to see how one can build multi-sensory interactions on digital platforms. What stimuli can we provide? What prompts will be serve as a multi-sensory portal? How can we transcend the limits of the digital boundaries to create less artificial and more sensory work?
About a week before official lockdown in the UK, I was beginning to notice that as many large theatres and venues around the world were closing, many companies where offering streamed events and many musicians and performers I knew who had had their livelihoods suddenly cut off at the knees, were live-streaming gigs. I was losing track of all the wonderful things that were on offer, so I started a page called, ‘solaceforthehomebound’, where people post either links to live events, or live-feeds directly onto the page. You can find the link here. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2580882608850793/
In the meantime, it has been fun creating a pop-up installation space for live performances. Here is a link to me performing on-line at Matt Fleming’s ‘Music & Words Club: Session 48.
My section starts at 2:44:14
You can contact me through this page, or via my fb page @debrawatsonperformanceandpoetry
I’ve been a bit slack about insta updates in the past few months, but I may do a some live readings there too. insta debra.watson
Stay safe everyone. I can’t wait to be able to meet up with people in meat space and have the largest, groupiest, huggiest, flesh-piles.