Following an incredible reception for this purposefully work-in-progress show in Edinburgh, Glasgow, New Galloway and Montenegro in early 2018, Jenny Lindsay brings This Script and Other Drafts to the Fringe for five dates only.
Jenny spoke with The Fountain about working as a poet and also providing opportunity for poets, and how This Script has evolved with changes and developments in societal culture.
TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting, what can we expect?
I’m doing five performances of my currently work-in-progress solo show, This Script and Other Drafts at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. I’ve performed it in Edinburgh, Glasgow, New Galloway and in Montenegro this year, and it’s evolved every time I’ve performed it. At the moment, though it is a fully devised show as far as it goes, I’m keeping it very much open to changes, as parts of the show respond to real-time developments in the culture wars, particularly the response to the #MeToo movement, which is ongoing. I think I have confused some folks with the ‘purposefully work in progress’ description, but to me, a spoken word show’s never finished unless ye’ve performed it a helluva lot and honed it through multiple performances. Doing a five show run seemed a good idea to help it on its way to completion and I’m looking forward to sharing the story with more audiences.
TF: This Script and Other Drafts sounds intriguing, what drove the project, where did your influences lie?
Though I wrote some of the poems that feature in the show before the #MeToo campaign, it was being really quite massively triggered by that campaign that was the final kick I needed to go “Right. Bugger it. I need to put this anger and pain to good use, and I need to get fucking rid of this sense of powerlessness however I can.” Without getting too personal, I’ve been struggling, to put it mildly, with my experiences of gender expectations as a female; with my experiences as a woman on a stage, particularly as I get older in a scene where I started when I was barely out my teens… There was a lot of anger that I had to find a way to make useful, and this show is it. I’ve also experienced past traumas that perhaps I had never really dealt with, and while the show is not focussed only on that (and in fact is pretty humorous at times) it’d be remiss not to recognise that. While I’m told the show is really uplifting, the root of writing it was anger, frustration, and historic trauma that’s left quite a mark. I say things in the show I’ve never addressed in sicteen years as a spoken word poet. I think the most common thing spoken word poets are asked is if the experience of writing personal truths is ‘cathartic.’ Well. Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that opening up a conversation and vocalising a truth is freeing and offers the chance for solidarity. No, in that writing a show rooted in personal trauma that still keeps you and your audience ‘safe’ is a process that involves, amongst other things, a lot of self-doubt, hours of writing and editing, tons of self-acceptance that you’re about to publicly declare things you’ll never be able to take back, and finding a way to be ok with that. And, sometimes, much weeping and pints of merlot….
As a spoken word poet it’s a privilege to be able to put these experiences into performance, prose and poetry in a show that is very much about conversation, rather than polemicising or offering solutions. The main drive of the entire This Script project is a call for empathy. I’m fairly horrified by the state of public discourse, particularly around issues that affect women. We’re never NOT under discussion, and we police ourselves – and are policed by others – in a way that is seriously over the top. We are punished for the slightest failure, and punish ourselves too, holding ourselves to ridiculous standards that are so ubiquitous we sometimes barely even notice it. The almost instantaneous backlash to #MeToo, and its co-option and re-framing as a campaign focused only on Hollywood as that suited the media discourse, has been devastating to watch. That campaign was not about Hollywood. It was about the ubiquity of sexual harassment and assault across classes, across countries, across occupations; and yet critics of both left and right see fit to lambast the women in Hollywood for how this has been framed? Endless op-ed pieces and hot takes about how women don’t know how to distinguish between the bantz and sexual assault? No. We need to understand power far better.
The show takes in a lot of such discussions: social media discourse, capitalist co-option of marginalised identities, porn, liberation, monogamy, motherhood, ‘choice’ discourse… It is, though, a spoken word show – it’s not a political rally, though it’s rooted in protest, which is a key tenet of spoken word poetry as an art-form. And I guess there are some conclusions. But I won’t put in spoilers just now, he he he!
TF: You were recently in Montenegro, what influence has this had on this show?
I did an edited version of the show at the Where I’m Calling From festival in Podgorica, run by the acclaimed Montenegrin actor, Varja Djukic, which was made possible by the Momentum project from Creative Scotland/ the British Council. Being in Montenegro was one of the best experiences of my career – it really was. The sheer graft, passion, desire for open dialogue, that has shaped Varja’s vision for her festival – and the circumstances she was responding to in the region when she set it up – was incredibly humbling, and I genuinely feel I have made life-long friends there. Young women hugged me after the show because the topics I was discussing are simply not commonly discussed there, and spoken word poetry isn’t at all a scene either, so the style of performance was something really new for the audience. I’d say that the main effect of the trip on me was gratitude. Gratitude for what I have, for my freedom to declare myself and have autonomy over my life, and gratitude to have made such connections with people striving for better public discourse in often pretty difficult circumstances.
TF: And congratulations on your acclaim and nominations, it has been quite a year for you Jen?
Keira, I am a massive over-sharer and this question is just begging for that, he he he! I actually had a helluva tough year in 2017. 2018 has been proving pretty damn good, career wise and personally, but for most of 2017 I was struggling really seriously with my mental and physical health, questioning everything I’d been trying to do with spoken word in Scotland, and seriously having to consider leaving Edinburgh due to the loss of income from my decision not to run a regular series of events for a while until I could get myself back on an even keel. I was functioning, but pretty unwell, lonely and unhappy. I had my worst financial year as a freelancer to date this last financial year, Edinburgh rents are insane, and while I was also utterly skint, I was simultaneously feeling completely burnt out and overworked because my health problems made work excruciatingly difficult at times, and I wasn’t prioritising the important things in life: love, family, friends, joy, because I wasn’t in a place to recognise how important they are. I overdid it in 2016/early 2017 in a manner I told myself it was necessary but possibly wasn’t, was underpaying myself for my work on Flint & Pitch, and I didn’t have enough help – and didnae ask for it either because I can be a bit of a fanny sometimes. I barely had a single day off, and the inevitable crash from that was pretty tough. It’s been absolutely brilliant to get out of that state of mind, but it took a while and a helluva lot of effort – and professional help too. I’d lost all perspective. I’m really lucky to have found a way out. Depression is debilitating.
Career-wise, winning the Leadership Award from Creative Edinburgh at the end of 2017 was a massive, massive boost to me, it really was. And making the decision to find an answer to my perennial problem of simultaneously giving myself time for my own artistic practice, as well as fulfilling my passion for providing opportunities in spoken word in Scotland through Flint & Pitch, was absolutely the right decision to make. The main advice I’ve always had was to make the choice between one or the other. To do that would break my heart. So, I’m really excited to be starting to find ways to combine both of my passions, and This Script is a big part of that.
TF: And what are your future plans beyond This Script, I see that there is a book on the cards?
Yes! I’m thrilled to say that This Script, in its full finished state, will be both a finished stage show and my second full collection of poetry, published by Stewed Rhubarb Press in Spring 2019. I’m also delighted to say that I’ve received Creative Scotland funding towards the This Script project, which features a suite of film-poems with the marvellous Perry Jonsson, music collaborations with A New International and Novasound (Lauren Gilmour and Audrey Tait), directing and mentoring sessions with Jen McGregor and Magi Gibson, and a dedicated month of writing time for me to finish the collection. I’ll probably be far less visible the latter half of this year, while all this is happening, but another aspect of the project is support for Flint & Pitch behind the scenes, setting up a touring network to basically do for others what I’m going to do for my own show, and laying the foundation for F&P to become far more sustainable in the future by expanding my team. There’s also going to be a masterclass series for both producers of spoken word events and festivals, as well as an intensive masterclass for spoken word performers on writing and performing long-form spoken word, which will be happening in early 2019 too. The experiences of writing and producing both Ire & Salt and This Script, as well as my work on directing others work, notably Hannah Lavery’s The Drift, has made me keen to pass that on. So the next year really is going to help balance out my focus on my own craft, as well as keeping my oar in, giving back to the scene I’ve come up in. It’s really pretty thrilling and I’m pinching myself a wee bit. It’s going to be a lot work, but I’m looking forward to it all!
This Script and Other Drafts, 13th, 14th, 21st, 22nd Aug, 9:30pm, 20th Aug, 4:30pm, The Scottish Storytelling Centre