Apologies for my radio silence, the avid followers amongst you will have noticed that the final week of the tour has remained undocumented until now. There is good reason for this. My last 9 days in New Zealand were spent tutoring on the inaugural Poetry In Performance course at the National Youth Drama School (NYDS) which was a wonderfully intensive, crazy busy week of drama, words and rubber chickens...but I will get to that.
First things first. Final tour gig.
My last tour date was at Massey University in Palmerston North. Despite a middle of the day show, (I am usually a night owl) the place was packed and it was a wonderfully warm way to close a fantastically friendly tour. I had the honour of performing alongside a mannequin at this gig (one of my biggest phobias) so feel quite proud that I didn't let that faze me. It was a surreal moment when the gig was over and we realised that we had completed the tour that we had spent so long planning and looking forward to. Not that it meant we could relax. We had a week of teaching to prep for. However, we did indulge in one or two treats to celebrate a successful tour....
Now. NYDS. There is no real way to explain this amazing, ridiculous, energetic, exhausting and violently creative week. I had the absolute pleasure of co tutoring a group of 14-19 year old students in performance poetry. My fellow tutors, Ben Fagan and Jess Holly Bates (both incredibly talented) brought so much expertise into the room that I spent a lot of time joining in with exercises and learning and writing myself as well as shocking myself with how much knowledge I have myself on the subject.
"Not just some of it, all of it!"
The above is the title of our student's sharing of work at the end of the week. It comes from a students' poem and sums up the week in every way.
We spent the week combining drama and creative writing, creating a safe space and developing an ensemble voice. We introduced the students to work by a hugely diverse range of sources, poets from all over the world whose work we admire. We spoke of the scene and our own experiences, answering questions and encouraging the young people to get involved in spoken word across New Zealand. We connected the work to physical movement exercises that formed the basis of both mine and Jess' practice and by the end of the week we developed a fun, fluid and focussed piece of work for the whole school sharing that worked with a sense of play on stage. I had such a brilliant time getting to know the students and other tutors and fully immersing myself in the NYDS way of life. I was welcomed with open arms and was blown away by the openness of the place. But most of all I feel like this week was imperative to my creative development and has done wonders for my practice as a writer, a performer and most importantly a spoken word educator. I learnt so much from having a space to try ideas and I also feel that my contribution to the New Zealand spoken word scene, in particular the youth scene, was valued and important. I am excited to return to NYDS next year and build on the culture of spoken word that we started this year and am excited by the poetry seeds we have sewn in the students and what they will grow during the year.
Now, if that wasn't enough, I also had the privilege of starting a rap troupe. I will leave you with the evidence. (There are some private jokes in here, but for sheer production value alone, this is worth a watch.....)
And with that, the tour and therefore sadly this blog, must come to an end. This month was one of the best of my life and I am so grateful to have had the experience. To all who have read the blog, thank you for keeping up with my adventures. To keep in touch please follow me on twitter @sarsbars89.
I would like to thank all those who supported/contributed to the tour. Including:
Arts Council England, Apples & Snakes, Ben Fagan, Jess Holly Bates. Karen, Mike and Sarah Fagan, Amanda Green, Cat Brogan, Jacob Sam-La Rose, National Youth Drama School New Zealand, Claire Keys, David & Christina Ward, Ken Arkind, Gus Simonovic, Ironbar, Te Henga Studios, The Boiler Room, Trace Tidd, The Common Room, Gerard Barron, Poetry In Motion, Travis Cottreau, The wellington Pub Poets, Irene Fagan, Dog With Two Tails, Kyra Gillies, Massey University, Karen Newton, Stage Door, Havelock North High School, Simon Murfitt, Wellington Access Radio, Otago Access Radio, Laura Beth Keown, C K Stead, National Library, Peter Ireland.
Next up on the tour list was Dunedin, New Zealand's answer to Edinburgh. So after a final night in Wellington, the South Island called. The flight was quick and painless (despite the warnings I had heard about flying out of the windy City) and we were south before lunchtime.
The first stop for the trip was Otago Access Radio. Ben and I were interviewed and I performed some poems and the programme will be up later this month as well as a podcast.
After our radio experience I found myself enjoying a beer with a couple of travelling friends from back home who happened to be in Dunedin at the same time. It was a lovely catch up and seeing familiar faces in such unfamiliar surroundings always makes me consider just how small the world can be. Having said that, it was odd being in a City designed around Edinburgh - my home away from home. I saw the oldest looking building I have seen so far in this brand new country and during the evening felt very at home sampling some tasty malts.
It was then time for the Dunedin gig, which was at Dog With Two Tails, a lovely cafe/bar with a really cool vibe and a train set running round the top of the room, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The gig was great. The venue was packed, the open mic was lovely and the audience was really on board with my work. I had a fantastic night and would definitely return to Dunedin, should I happen to be in the area, which one of Ben's Wellington friends was, coincidentally! It seems that Dunedin is the place to catch up with friends and so we spent the rest of the night with Tiho (pictured below with a bottle of "Poetry Wine" from the night before.
The next day was the only day in the month totally dedicated to sightseeing. Our treat day involved renting a car, getting up super early and making the drive across the South Island to Queenstown, one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand and, for this reason, a real tourist hotspot.
I drove for the first time outside of the UK and, despite the challenge of the indicators being on the wrong side (which meant I put the windscreen wipers on more than once on the motorway when trying to overtake) it was probably the most pleasant drive of my life (ignore my face in the photo - I was clearly concentrating!)
The weather was spectacular and the views were honestly breathtaking. I really have never seen anything like it.
I have included some photos below from the day trip. We went up the gondola to marvel at the beautiful views, enjoyed a game of minigolf (not a natural talent.... think I will stick to the poetry) and had a lovely glass of wine and fresh oysters against the prettiest backdrop before heading back.
On the drive back we stopped to look at the stars and I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. I don't think I have ever seen the milky way before and I got quite emotional just looking up and considering my unimportance on this planet!
The South Island trip was brief (we caught a flight to Wellington the next morning) but totally worth it.
The gig was great and the trip to Queenstown was completely unforgettable!
I am now back in Hawke's Bay, preparing for the final tour date tomorrow and for teaching at the National Youth Drama School for the last week - starting on Saturday.
I will leave you with the fantastic photos below that don't quite do justice to the beauty of this country.
Until next time!
ALMOST HALF WAY THROUGH!
It is hard to believe I am nearly two weeks into my tour but also it feels like I have been here for months-considering the amount of stuff I have packed in!
Since the last update I have had a cultural whirlwind of a week. Let's start at the beginning....
The week began with an orchard visit to rest and recuperate (as pictured on the left). The weather in Hawke's Bay is traditionally warmer than anywhere else in the country and this was apparent as soon as I arrived. I enjoyed some lovely swims, some delicious freshly picked apples and saw the local sights, including Napier, the famous Art Deco town.
After some wonderful hospitality from Ben's parents and a chance to take a breath after the first week of touring, I had my next performance at the Common Room in Hastings.
This was a wonderful gig, with a huge local crowd there to support and a really awesome vibe.
Whilst in Hawke's Bay I also had a real once in a lifetime experience. In conjunction with our visit to the home of the Poet Laureate C. K Stead last week, we were lucky enough to be invited to his official presentation of the ceremonial Toko Toko at the local Marae - a traditional Maori welcome for the new Laureate with representatives from the local community, the poet's invited friends and family, a selection of celebrated Kiwi poets and some performers from the local schools all in association with the National Library who facilitate the position of Laureate. This was an extremely special occasion to be part of and I felt privileged, not only to be included in such a prestigious and intimate ceremony but also to witness the Maori culture at such a personal level and be welcomed into the community and immerse myself in its customs.
The next installment of the tour took me to the Capital itself. Wellington is a brilliant city. It is vibrant, quirky, clean and friendly and reminded me of Edinburgh (with better weather, less Castles but more Ocean.) I had a great couple of days of sightseeing but, in true freelancer style, this didn't stop me working at the same time. I was lucky enough to be invited onto local radio station Access Radio for an interview with B Side Stories ahead of the Wellington Gig. The podcast for my interview with Ben can be accessed here.
Last but by no means least this week, was my Wellington gig at Poetry In Motion, a night that Ben ran for years and one of the best and busiest poetry nights I have had the pleasure of featuring at, alongside Ben of course, who did a lovely and very well received set.
The MC Michael Howard was adorably funny and very welcoming, the host, Travis, was friendly and totally put me at ease as soon as I arrived, the sound guy was really on it, accompanying every walk on/off with a tune and the crowd were lovely, generous and engaged. I feel like I can take a lot from this gig back to my London events and learn from this established and well organised monthly NZ night. It was a pleasure to feature here, definitely the highlight of the tour so far from a performance perspective! Professional photos coming soon.....
To finish off this update I thought I would share a poem I wrote this week. I challenged myself to write a Sestina (a poem where the last word of the lines from the first stanza repeat themselves in a set pattern and a notoriously difficult form.) The poem that emerged is all about how the British mind set differs from that of the Kiwi and is based on my experiences here so far. Enjoy!
She wants to be glass half full and wallet half empty.
Just enough forethought to bring a map
but no need to navigate.
But she is the product of a different kind of Island
anchored to the rules and chaos of there,
washed up, beached, her mind set seems so foreign here.
People don’t swim in April here.
The ocean must feel so empty
without you there.
She spent months memorising your side of the map
but the shape of your Island
always seemed easy to navigate.
It’s a funny word - navigate.
Has a different meaning here.
There is only one road across the Island
in comparison, empty.
Just the occasional mark to map
that the mountains are there
and the forests are there.
Not much else to navigate.
But she is born from map
lines and traffic jams. Here
they let their tanks fall empty.
It’s how it is on the Island.
She redefines Island.
The motorways are unforgiving there.
Now her efforts feel empty.
She promises she knows how to navigate
but her detailed directions seem aimless here
she is holding the map
the wrong way up, she is holding the map
for the wrong type of Island
you are GPS here
but she still reads you from crumpled paper and there
are accents and attitudes to navigate
but the coordinates are empty.
You are off the edge of the map. She finds her way there, learns a foreign island,
tries to navigate you, but you are different here, glass half full and wallet half empty.
It was a real pleasure to meet with him, learn a little of the academic approach to poetry and feel that we had been able to plant the seeds of spoken word in the laureate world. He commented at the end that he had certainly learnt a lot from our visit, a real compliment I'm sure you will agree.
We then went straight to a 3 hour planning session for the NYDS poetry in performance course we will be teaching at the end of April before starting our roadtrip and heading down to Te Henga Studios for my next gig; The studios are set against a bush backdrop and the scenery we drove through coming out of Auckland completely took my breath awaty. Te Henga is an artist retreat and on arrival we were shown round the grounds of the quirky building and then offered a cup of mint tea before heading to the yurt, the setting for my workshop/performance. The workshop was really lovely, the group were very keen and seemed to take a lot from my prompts and wrote some beautiful pieces on the theme of identity. I even read them a student's poem from back in the UK which was from the same writing prompt and they really loved that.
The performance went well too.. It was a really intimate setting, with ten or so people sat around a yurt to the sound of insects outside and it gave the evening a real sense of community. The writers attending also offered some poems up for the circle and the atmosphere was really warm and supportive. It was unlike any performance experience I have ever had in the UK and will stay with me for sure. I then had the honour of spending the night in the yurt, which was really special before enjoying a shower in the luxury of the main building the next morning.
Then, after sampling some of the local fish and chips (hard to beat!) I performed a 45 minute set for the local Whakatane audience with support from Ben who had performed there last July and got a great response to some of his new poems about London life.
This is a really small town in New Zealand and so spoken word is not a common occurance and so I was really happy to see smiling faces in the audience.
By the end of the gig it truly hit me how much we had packed into a week! It was time for a bit of relaxation in the form of hot springs and a massage which was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had!
This brings me to the end of this epic update! It has been a very busy week of touring but I can honestly say I am having the time of my life! Next time I hope to have some poetry to share as well as more photos and reports. Do keep in touch on the hashtag #WhatAWayToTour @sarsbars89.
DAY 2 - Update
So, after 36 hours of travels including 3 tubes, 4 shuttles, 5 trains, a bus, 2 planes, a car, some walking and multiple escalators, I finally made it to the other side of the world. The journey was tough, with a 12 hour stopover in Beijing on no sleep and lots of time zone shifts and to say I was jet lagged when I arrived is a complete understatement. However, it was brilliant to experience some of China and the exhaustion was completely worth it. New Zealand is STUNNING!
So far I have stood on the beach at sunrise, eaten fish and chips and drunk wine, whiskey and beer, swam in the ocean, met 3 gorgeous dogs, had lunch in a lovely cafe, spent easter with a great kiwi family whose tradition is to smash easter eggs against each other in a brutally competitive chocolate crushing competition, had a massage after wrecking my back, been bitten all over by mosquitos and performed my first gig in the centre of Auckland!
The views are beautiful, the people are wonderfully friendly and the weather is to die for. I could certainly get used to this! In the next few days my plans include, a 5 hour boat ride on Ben's uncle's boat, a cup of tea at the poet laureate's house and a planning session for the week of teaching at the NYDS before heading to the next gig at Te Henga Studios! More updates to come....
"The aim of the tour, as well as to ‘have a really nice time’, is to connect the UK and Kiwi spoken word scenes and to help build connections for future poets from both sides of the globe. "
The first tour blog was kindly hosted by the Apples & Snakes blog. Click here to read all about my upcoming New Zealand tour!