Using merely his voice and a Roland TD-4KP electronic drumkit, award-winning poet Antosh Wojcik explores the effects of dementia on speech, memory and family in his debut work for theatre, How to Keep Time. Performing in Edinburgh’s Summerhall over August, Antosh takes his show, which stemmed from his grandfather’s struggle with Alzheimers, to a wider creative audience.
Antosh spoke with The Fountain about the influences and premise of the show as well as his personal plans for the Fringe which includes gigging with a band in Bannermans.
TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting?
Yes! I’m in The Red Lecture Theatre at Summerhall, daily, early (going to have to get better at waking up…). Prime drumming conditions though, charged by morning light. I can’t wait to be a part of the festival’s atmosphere. It’s been a while since I’ve been immersed in the vicinity of artists, en masse. There’s nothing quite like it.
TF: How to Keep Time, certainly sounds intriguing, what is the premise?
How to Keep Time is a conversation through drumming and memories with my late grandfather, who had dementia. I’m using an electric drum kit and spoken word storytelling to communicate with my memories and forge a language I can share with him.
TF: Where did your influences lie with this project?
What drove the project was seeing how my different family members responded to my grandfather’s condition. We weren’t really sure how to communicate with someone who is ‘locked in’. My Dad thought he had forgotten everything, whereas I saw it as more of a dislocation of the ability to communicate. My grandfather was fluent in Polish and English and at this stage of his life, they became unified as one language. It was nearly impossible to interpret what he was saying. This show examines this altered communication – I want to interrogate how we deem someone to be ‘lost’ when they’re no longer able to communicate and remember in the ways we usually do. One default response to someone constrained by dementia is to forget their humanity, which risks neglect – this fear of neglecting my grandfather also drives the narrative. I’m almost desperate throughout to affirm to him that I’m by his side. The drums act as a language in the play – they’re a way of talking which doesn’t stigmatise or hurt or even care about being interpreted properly. It just channels sound and presence to a responding body. So, it’s perfect to get through my grandfather. My influences vary. In terms of drumming, Deantoni Parks, who makes glitchy drum & sample music, made me realise how versatile a drummer needs to be when performing alone, how glitches and syncopated melody can push expression. Also, Marcus Gilmore for sheer precision, flair and mastery of technique, watching him play is transformative.
In spoken word, Hannah Silva has definitely equipped me with some of the methods for speech delivery, particularly after seeing her show Schlock! She has always pushed the capacity of voice and constructed such daring, vital and nuanced work through it, without anything becoming a quirk or just a conceit. She’s at the forefront of cross-disciplinary expression through poetry & sound and I wouldn’t be ready attempt this kind of performance without the ground Silva has already established and innovated in.
TF: Have you worked in the dementia field before?
I have completed a project with the Creative Dementia Arts Network where I was a resident poet in a day centre in Oxford, The Limes Club. I wrote poems with the people who visited, listened to them and learned how individualised the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s are for a person. We group-composed some material too, which lead to some bonding moments between the group – this time, poetry transcended their barriers of communicating; we had the problem of ‘what’s the next line going to be’ and then solved it collaboratively. Poetry acted like the drums here, where we could just express, be heard, be accepted as present. We held a little ‘end of residency’ reading and gallery exhibition of what we had written for the families of the centre guests too, and I think this helped them see how capable and creative people can be, even when struggling against the various forms of dementia.
TF: And what are your plans whilst in Edinburgh in August?
I’m looking forward to pressing flyers into people’s hands. Drumming on the Royal Mile. Going up Arthur’s Seat. Catching some cabaret and seeing as many shows as possible. Connecting with old friends and making new ones. I’m playing a gig with my mate, Scott Freeman, whose tour is taking him to the legendary Bannermans on the 16th – it’ll be good to get recharged with a screamer of a rock gig at the half way point of my run. I’m can’t wait to walk the city and stumble into the many wonders of the Fringe and just be a part of the atmosphere.