First, sit on a chair and imagine you are a sugar cube. Feel your edges, feel your corners. Now, when I say ‘plink’, imagine you have been dropped into a cup of tea. Let yourself dissolve, granule by granule. See the grains floating away and disappearing around you. Let your body follow the dissolution. Maybe your right foot goes first, maybe your left shoulder slumps, until you fall forward into a mushy heap.
Now, try that again, but this time while reciting that poem of yours that you know off by heart and have been trying so hard to ‘perform’. Make sure you speak the last words just as the last of your sugar turns liquid. Each time will be different. You will be different, and so will the poem. Your performance habits are broken, your body and the poem become one.
This is just one of the exercises I tried out in the first full day of rehearsals with my director, Matt Cummins, during seven solid hours trying out different ideas for presenting the six-poem ‘Varanasi’ sequence that appears towards the end of the show. I did this three times and although it sounds quite lunatic, it was fascinating – to my amazement, I found my sugar cube self dissolved at different rates each time, and starting from different corners. The final run-through was very rapid, as my sugary shape collapsed straight through the centre almost immediately, forcing me to shoo the words out of my mouth!
Like many performance poets, I started getting up on small pub stages to speak my poems without having had any real training in stagecraft. I’d done some amateur dramatics as a child, but I’m not sure running around in a wolf costume scaring the Babes In The Woods really prepared me for attempting a complex semi-autobiographical spoken word show about identity. So the most exciting thing about getting funding for my show was the prospect of working with, and learning from, a theatre director.
Matt had me trying out physical exercises designed to change my energy (and therefore my delivery and stage presence) – exercises such as pretending to wring out an invisible towel, or vibrating all my muscles in very tight, tiny, intense movements. For over ten years I worked as a shiatsu practitioner, so I’m very comfortable with thinking in terms of energy. It turned out to be quite easy for me to follow Matt’s instructions and to recognise the effects on my body and energy levels.
Intrigued and excited by the possibility of incorporating these and other exercises into the final show, we are now developing the idea of using all kinds of ritual gestures and sequences all the way through. In one poem, I bring myself slowly into the yoga balance pose called ‘The Tree’, before dissolving back down to earth and into the next section – I ‘sugar cube down from the Tree’!