This month we interviewed Paula - who is working on Verse vs Verse - about her experiences, and here's what she had to say about it:
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your practice?
Paula: I am a writer, theatre maker and video artist. I trained initially as a filmmaker and made short films and documentaries, and then I fell into the poetry slam scene, and learned how to perform through spoken word. My work is usually either autobiographical or documentary driven. I work across art forms and I love combining art forms. So my performances often have a video element and my videos often are performance focused. This way of working informs my workshops. I like to mix up drama games with writing exercises, and use prompts from written pieces, performance videos and short films.
Q: How has it been working on Verse vs. Verse, and how did your sessions go?
Paula: It has been a very exciting project to be part of. Both classes I worked with had very different energies, partly because of the difference in class sizes. I was really impressed at how confident the students were already with performing. I am really proud of what they were able to achieve in the sessions.
Q: What progress have you seen?
Paula: Walking out of a classroom in the afternoon hearing pieces that have been written in one session is always a progression I am excited by. It was definitely an intensive day, but that’s the challenging, fun part of it. You have to constantly be checking in with the pace and flow of the group to keep it engaging. However, because you all know you only have this one day to create something and present it, it puts a frame around the work needed.
Q: What has been a highlight?
Paula: I had this great moment I will never forget in my second session with a pair of students. They were best friends and one of them really loved performing and the other was dead against it. She (the girl who did not want to perform) had pulled me aside earlier in the session and said she couldn’t write and didn’t want to read in front of the class. She was very keen not to do it. The exercise for the class was to write about a time they were frustrated or upset, and had not been able to voice how they felt at the time. I told her to write a piece to me about why she didn’t want to write and perform, and that she didn’t have to perform it. Her best friend was trying to convince her to do something together with her. They were frustrated as they didn’t know how to resolve it. I suggested they did a team piece about the one friend wanting to perform and the other not wanting to. As they began writing and rehearsing they really got into it. When they got me over to perform it for me I was so proud of both of them. To date it has been my favourite workshop moment.
Q: What are the benefits of events like the slam for young children? Has it made you think about your practice differently?
Paula: Poetry slam is a great format for young people to have a platform to express themselves and to get their voices heard. The competition element gives incentive to improve the writing and engage with an audience. The time length keeps it focused and immediate. Working with young people has become such a great fuel for my practice, because it makes me appreciate how lucky I am to work as an artist, and to examine why creativity matters. It also forces me to deconstruct what it is that appeals to me about performance and creative writing.
Q: The participants are 8-9 years old, have you worked with this age group in a slam before?
Paula: This is the first time I have worked with this age group. I found it very challenging initially, as the attention span was so different than what I am used to with older students. There is also an implicit honesty in how quickly younger students will disengage with an activity, that is interesting. Rather than telling you they want to do something else, you will just see that their attention is elsewhere. In this sense you always know where you are with them, and it keeps you as engaged with them as you want them to be with you. As I got used to them, I really enjoyed their energy. Older students can spend longer stretches of time focusing on an activity. Older students also have more insight in terms of giving feedback. Saying that, I was really impressed at the feedback this age group gave to one another as well.
Q: How have the teachers responded to your approach?
Paula: The teachers have been very supportive. It’s a tricky thing to change the routine for students at this age. It’s a fine balance between engaging the students in a different way and getting them overexcited. I worked with the teachers on these sessions to find the right balance. I learned a lot from them.
Q: Do you have any advice for young writer, filmmaker and performance makers?
Paula: Whatever art form you work in, keep a notebook. It can be a place for lists, drawings, diary entries, or a place to stick images that strike you. Try to keep it with you at all times, and set aside time every day to put something in it. I am a very big fan of automatic writing. Setting time, especially first thing in the morning, even before breakfast, to write everything that comes to you without stopping, even for only 10 minutes a day is so useful for unblocking creativity. It’s best to do it every day and not look back at what you have written for a week or more. Just the act of writing those stream of consciousness thoughts down can be very inspiring.
Q: What else are you working on?
Paula: I am rehearsing my solo show “How I Became Myself (By Becoming Someone Else)" for two last London previews before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s previewing on Monday 6th July at the Hackney Picturehouseand on the 30th July at Barnes Fringe Festival. I am also in the very early stages of developing a new solo show called “Show me the Money” about the relationship artists have with money, and making a living. It will be based on video interviews with artists, parents of artists and young people who are aspiring to careers in the arts. So if you are reading this and and are interested, or know someone who might be, please get in touch.