During FRINGE WORLD, it’s always good to be prepared for the weird and the wonderful – not just in the spiegeltents, but where you might least expect it… like in the Kaos Room, a rehearsal space at The Blue Room Theatre. Walk through the normal looking door, and you’ll find yourself in a yurt. And not just any yurt – this one is handmade of recycled materials and its name is Grr. It also happens to be the temporary home of SJ Finch, writer, editor, publisher, and performer. Grr is playing host to thirteen different events as part of The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights and FRINGE WORLD, one of which is Ships in the Grr.
Ships in the Night is a quarterly event where a selection of the finest wordsmiths bring their words to life alongside talented musicians. In its special FRINGE WORLD incarnation as Ships in the Grr, we’re promised spoken word and music from artists responding to “themes of apocalypse and rebirth, shipwreck and rescue, ecological collapse, and unfathomable repair.” This fits in nicely with the other acts in this intimate performance festival known as Grr Nights, hand-picked by SJ for his beloved Grr.
I chatted to the two artists involved in the first edition on Friday 12 February: performance poet Scott Sandwich (not his real name) and alt-folk oddity Jacob Diamond. As you’ll see, Scott is a true lover of words and they seemingly bend at his whim; Jacob, the less loquacious of the two, is in love.
Who or what would you say is your main influence in making work?
Jacob: Stephen Sondheim and fear of failure, respectively.
Scott: My favourite writer is David Markson, and I can see a lot of parallels in my work with his novels, as well as in the poems of Derrick Brown (…I can only hope). I read a lot of William Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon but don’t want to write like them, and I want to write like Tracy K Smith and Jennifer Maiden, but their work feels so perfectly crafted and stunning while mine is more like a rolling sledgehammer. I relate a lot to the process of Tom Stoppard, but I think our outcomes are universes apart. …So to answer your question: I don’t know.
Now this is going to sound really lame, but maybe my biggest influence is… erm… happiness? It’s just that a massive part of my writing and performance is about sharing joy with an audience, or connecting on what feels like an authentic level. I think all these ideas come from my favourite songwriters (Eef Barzelay, Tom Waits) and comedians (hopefully like Richard Pryor, Groucho Marx, or Bill Hicks), rather than authors or poets. This is probably due to the nature of performance and the ability to watch them over and over again. Having said that, I don’t think I have much in common with them.
How do you approach your writing?
Scott: My first step is to write from the gut; I write in a flurry, in a very conversational tone, so it feels natural as soon as it’s read out loud. I tend to shape the poem and the details through performance, going through the drafting phase out loud, rather than perfecting every line. This doesn’t always work, obviously, but neither does meticulous, academic or gut-wrenching poetry.
I also never know where a piece or poem will end up – I want the writing to surprise me while I’m writing it, as if I were an audience member hearing it for the first time. I’ve read a heap of those ‘how to write’ books, and they never suggest this. They say it’s rudimentary, and cheap, and only works for the inexperienced. I guess I can see where they’re coming from, but on the whole I disagree, for my process. My best and favourite works felt very intuitive. Long-form works require a lot more planning, but a 15-minute performance can be wrestled together much easier, I think. And I want my audience to be on the ride with me, I don’t want to be a step ahead of them. Planning ahead too much feels less fun.
I kind of fell into performance poetry so I don’t have any expectation on myself or an understanding of what each piece is going to be. Or, really, I’m not sure if you’d even call it performance poetry. But I do, because it sounds much better than ‘writer who would rather talk to you than let you read’.
Jacob: Without too much method, but after a while I’ve realised that I do like being in a clean place and allowing a lot of time. I hardly ever have lyrical ideas first, I’m (only slightly) better at the music bit.
What themes keep coming back time and again?
Scott: I really enjoy performance lectures, or performances that secretly educate an audience, or red-herring information packages. (The best explanation I can give of this is in my poem ‘Revolution’, which uses a metaphor of sound acoustics to express a passionate rebellious revolution – but really I use the not-so-insightful understanding of a revolution to explain sound acoustics. I find those kind of performance ironies really funny.) Consequently, I’ve noticed my poems tend to be very… non-poemy. They’re more like joyful conversations wrapped around essays. That’s not to say they’re not poems, I just hide the form and structure in the performance.
I’m also very big on showcasing the façade of the performance, being really honest, talking to my audience as if we’re friends. I want it to feel like dialogue, I’m not great at (or don’t enjoy?) talking to a faceless crowd or camera – but I’m really good at looking an audience in the eye, letting them make me laugh, and allowing that to change my performance. Honestly, everything is joy. Even when a piece is about sorrow, or anger… I really want to highlight the joy in embracing it, or going along for the ride.
More content based themes include; epic narratives, the way low brow pop culture in songs or movies can have massive authentic impacts in real life, and I always seem to describe unplanned physical motions happening two times (“She blinked twice, for good measure.” “I swallowed again, just in case.”)
Jacob: For a long time it was all general disillusionment, uncertainty, disconnectedness etc, but recently things have levelled out a bit cause I’m in looove.
What do you get up to when you’re not performing? Do you have, dare I say it, a day job?
Jacob: I have a few day jobs, but luckily they both kinda involve bits of the other, less-lucrative job… I’m a guitar tutor for primary school kids and I also work at the best music store in the cosmos, Concept Music. I’ll throw in some picks and a capo if ya like.
Scott: I have a day job, and a real not-ridiculous sounding name! I am a composer and sound artist, and I write music for theatre and dance works, devising installations, or writing music for bands that don’t exist. I love collaborating with artists of different forms. Music seems to be the most versatile way of doing that, a great way to support other people, do all the things words can’t do, or enhance an existing work… and I get to travel around, work on a whole range of projects, meet lots of great people, and get to confuse my family. It’s great!
What will you be performing at Ships in the Grr?
Scott: I just finished a remount of a show called The Epic, with my collaborator and buddy Finn O’Branagain, at FRINGE WORLD – and we’re in discussions about creating another work. At this point, my piece for Ships in the Grr is something which Finn and I are considering turning into a sequel of sorts…
Jacob: A fifteen-minute set of punchy alt-folk bangers. Hopefully a cross-section of the disillusioned stuff and the more recent optimistic work.
You’ll be performing in a yurt named Grr. What other unusual places have you performed or worked in before?
Scott: I’ve performed on top of a man-made hill, in minus 20 degrees, in the snow, in Finland. Sure, that sounds quite glamorous, but I’ve also performed in the lunch room of 12 engineers who did not want me there. So, a yurt really doesn’t seem that weird. Such are the tides of life! Embrace the ebb and flow!
Jacob: Well a few weeks ago at Mojos in Freo (a venue I cherish) I was playing in the courtyard outside, which is absolutely not strange at all, but what made it bizarre is that a group of walk-ins (definitely not there for the gig) just played a whole game of pool about a metre in front of me for the whole set. One of them then spilt MY beer on some of MY pedals. It was strange to have a pool cue all up in my grill mid-ballad.
The Grr is described as being “a poetic response to our world’s ecological collapse.” Grr Nights is “a mini-festival of intimate eco-theatre performances.” So with themes of sustainability inevitably being part of your performance at Ships in the Grr, what comes to mind when you see the following words?
Scott: I was a massive fan of Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers. I say ‘was’, but really, I still am.
Scott: I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the apocalypse being underway but no one really knowing about it. I mean, I know we’re already screwed with climate change and war and so on… so I occasionally picture/also really want the Great Cthulhu to be hanging out with Satan or whatever, as they look on dumbfounded that we’re doing a better job of destroying the planet ourselves than they ever could. (Hm. This is a really good idea. Look, this’ll probably make it into the performance.)
Scott: Last night I saw the 1956 version of Moby Dick with Gregory Peck and Orsen Welles (as in, they were in the movie. I didn’t watch it with them in some kind of time travelling slumber party.) And though I’m mentioning it here, I give that movie 1 star out of 5, maybe even 10. Whatever. I’m sure that film is important, or impressive in context maybe… I just found the animal killing macho vibe really off-putting, especially alongside earnest monologues about destiny. Everyone in that film just needs to just lighten the fuck up.
Scott: “Unfathomable repair”? Like, the ability to fix something in such a way that I couldn’t possibly conceive of it? Like a sort of deus ex machina? …Is it weird that this makes me laugh?
Jacob: [All those words] sound glum. And very much like the aftermath of the rule of our mate Abbott. May he rest in political pieces.
What are you looking forward to this Fringe?
Jacob: My brother is a great actor and is performing in a few shows. One was called Bash and he played a psychopath and he was bloody excellent in it.
Scott: So far it’s been a total whirlwind. So many shows to see. I’m really big on theatre, and some of the shows have some stunning concepts. I can’t wait for The Road That Wasn’t There at the Blue Room, genuinely excited about that. But I’ve already seen some great work at Fringe – anyone lucky enough to catch Dave 2: Trigger Warnings, or We May Have To Choose, or the MKA shows, know that this is a really interesting year.