Speaking Words: An Interview with Nick Field
In the first of a series on queer performance poets, Laura Macdougall talks to Nick Field about blending physical theatre, music and spoken word.
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Writer and performer Nick Field creates evocative, bittersweet and richly lyrical performances. Warm and funny, but sharply incisive, he has taken his work to major events, venues and festivals. His residencies and commissions include Keats House and Latitude Festival. His debut solo show The Cosmos, The Cosmetics has toured internationally and his second Adventure/Misadventure played a full run at Ovalhouse in 2013, where he was also Artistic Associate.
Do you think spoken word is a form of theatre?
Speaking as someone who came to spoken word from a theatre background as a playwright, I would say not inherently but there are potential cross overs, and certainly cross-over artists. Spoken word for me is an element of the theatre I make along with music and physical theatre. What I love about working with it is that I can use it with a flexibility that enables me to move between having the audience in stitches to evoking sensations and experiences of travel to material that is moving and thought-provoking, as I do in my current show Adventure/Misadventure. The exciting thing about using spoken word as part of my practice is that it is possible to create a whole world in a theatrical way on stage and take the audience on a journey using crafted words.
Spoken word seems to be quite political, or provide quite incisive social commentary. Why do you think this is?
There tends to be a directness in spoken word, it is often unmediated and so one of the great things about it is that it comes with the investment of political and social engagement. Also there is the opportunity for people, and sometimes people who are less represented in mainstream culture, to speak directly of their experiences, and this can make the personal elements in the work political. Because of the immediacy and simplicity of the form it’s possible to be very responsive to political events or to a social context, even as they are happening.
Do you think spoken word should be featuring more on the arts scene and at festivals etc? Or do you think this is happening gradually and spoken word will catch up. For example, I’ve noticed that in Edinburgh this year there still aren’t that many spoken word artists on the programme.
Last year I played to a huge audience at Latitude Festival with a spoken word set, and that is quite representative of how the profile of the form is raising, but I think audiences and programmers are still learning how to engage with spoken word, and as a form it’s still quite bound to the cabaret-style format. But there are certainly more inventive ways of presenting and producing spoken word coming through and that will hopefully bring wider opportunities and more diversity in how artists work with the form. Really it’s up to artists to think out of the box about how they make and show their work for things to move things on, and at Edinburgh the really interesting people doing stuff with spoken word probably won’t be found in that section of the programme.
At the first Queer’Say event, all the artists mentioned feeling that spoken word had sort of taken over their lives. Do you feel the same? There also seems to be this great sense of freedom to it; what is it that makes you engage with it so much?
I don’t personally feel it’s taken over my life, for me it’s part of what I do as a performer and writer, and not the whole story. I don’t consider or call myself solely a spoken word artist and I wouldn’t want to tie myself to a particular form or a scene that surrounds it because I find that is artistically limiting. For me it was a great way into performing, having been mainly a playwright up until about six years ago when I started doing open mics, and I really like that openness, there aren’t many other opportunities for people to step into performing their work in public. I love the form, and I really do think there’s a freedom in it both for the performer and the audience, but I quite quickly started to find the scene and the expectations of spoken word creatively restrictive and my practice developed into other areas.
What do you think about events such as Queer’Say? Is there a need for them? (Not that all of the poetry performed as part of the event is necessarily queer-focused.)
I think these events are really important. For queer artists in spoken word and performance poetry there are still challenges in getting heard and featured, even if the work is not necessarily queer focussed. The disappointing thing about how queer artists can be perceived in a wider sphere is that their work is only relevant to queer people, and this can be a real barrier to getting a wider audience or being programmed at events that are not queer focussed, particularly when there are such talented queer artists working in spoken word who are making work that is about human experience, not only queer experience.
Relating to events, do you always know what you’re going to perform in advance, or do you proceed based on the audience’s reaction or theme of the event?
If I’m doing a set at a spoken word event I put a lot of thought beforehand into the pieces I’m going to do because I still want it to be a layered and textured experience for the audience. This tends to depend on the kind of event it is, the context and what I think will appeal to that audience. I like to play as much of a range of events as possible, I love the challenges of working with different kinds of audiences, I’ve played a range from very reverent events where people listen intently and you can go very deep and layered, to festivals where people are recovering from the night before and want immediate gratification and as a performer that’s when you have to learn to read and respond to the audience and choose the material wisely, it makes the experience so exciting and live for everyone.
Related to the above, do you think spoken word, as an art form, is more inclusive of minorities? Is spoken word better or worse for women or queer artists, or those from other minorities, or is it about the same? Have you ever experienced any kind of prejudice?
I think this is a complicated area, but then when isn’t it?! I do think that spoken word/performance poetry does offer opportunities for people from minorities to voice their experiences. I’ve also had the benefit of wonderful support from organisations and individuals working within the form who never saw my sexuality as an issue and were just interested in working with me as an artist with a unique voice, and they enabled me to push forward with my work. So from that perspective it’s been great. On the flip side I have experienced and witnessed homophobic prejudice on the scene and it is one of the few art forms that still really needs to have specific events for women and LGBT people for their work to be properly represented, which is one of the reasons my work has diversified beyond it.
You can see Nick perform at the next Queer’Say event on 4th July at the Canada Water Culture Space. Click here to find out more and to book tickets.
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