London’s award winning LGBT literary salon, Polari, has been given Arts Council of England funding to tour the UK. On 18 of November it arrives at The Grand. It’s creator and host, author Paul Burston bring together on stage some of the best in established and emerging LGBT literary talent. For Polari Blackpool he has got Jonathan Harvey, Rosie Garland, Karen Mcleod and Paul Burston.
I managed to get Paul Burston and one of his guests Rosie Garland in to an internet chat room to ask them some questions.
Colin: Good afternoon Paul and Rosie. So tell, what is Polari?
Paul: Afternoon! Well, Polari is an award-winning live literary event, showcasing the best in established and emerging LGBT+ literary talent. Think of it as a variety show, in which the acts happen to be authors, poets and spoken word performers. Polari’s been running since 2007, and is based at London’s Southbank Centre. This event is part of our third national tour, made possible thanks to the support of Arts Council England.
C: So the whole evening comprises of performances and reading from new and established talent?
P: Yes, with each performer introduced by me as MC. I’m also reading this year, as I have a new book out – finally!
C: So describe a typical night to me. I love the vibe of the slams with performers getting the crowd cheering. Or if it more subdued like a more traditional reading event?
P: It’s definitely not subdued! A typical night will have a variety of performance styles – some will be more performative than others. But the overall mood is very upbeat and energetic. It’s certainly not a dry bookish event! The key word is diversity – not just in terms of readers but also in terms of styles.
C: I find that can makes a great night. One moment you have high energy levels, and then someone else comes on and really makes you sit back and think.
R: I guess I’m coming from the point of view of someone lucky enough to be invited to read. Paul has created and maintained a very special event. That’s no mean feat! The audience are so open to different styles – poetry, fiction, song – you name it. It’s a true pleasure to read to such an appreciative group of people.
P: Exactly! It’s all about shifts in mood and tone. There’s never too much of one thing, nobody reads for too long – I’ve been to enough events where readers lose the audience by droning on and on!
R: I do like to put a lot of thought and effort into my readings. Like Paul, I’ve been to too many readings where the droning has (very sadly) put me off. I love engaging with audiences. I guess what I aim to do is communicate the excitement I felt when I wrote the piece! And I have the added pleasure of being able to listen to some absolutely top class LGBT writing.
P: Also, I’m not keen on that “author voice” some people do. You know the one I mean! The “I’m so clever and this book of mine is so important” voice. It’s so dull! It should be out making the words on the page come alive.
R: I’m an old fashioned gal… I think it’s kind of rude not to make an effort. I mean, the audience have given up their whole evening… The least I can do is make them leave the venue feeling it was worth it.
P: Rosie always goes down a storm at our events. I’m thrilled that she’ll be joining us in Blackpool!
C: I must admit I’m a bit of a fan of Rosie’s work. So who else is coming to Blackpool?
P: Jonathan Harvey is appearing with us in Blackpool, and Karen Mcleod, though rumour has it that she may be kidnapped at the last minute and replaced by the dreaded Barbara Brownskirt. I think Rosie and I will be providing much of the darkness at this event, and Jonathan and Karen will be providing more of the laughs. Though I hope to get a few laughs in!
C: I know your performers are LGBT+ but would you say, as a show, is it more inclusive to everyone who loves words, or is it more community based thing as in pride, everyone welcome, but this is a celebration of who we are?
P: It’s very much about inclusivity. Our audience in London is always very mixed – LGBT+, straight allies, lovers of literature. Our two previous tours attracted a similar mix of people, many of whom had never been to a literary event before.
C: So Rosie, you perform all over the world, how do you rate Polari?
R: How do I rate Polari? I think I said that above – I ruddy love it, as a reader as well as a listener!
C: I’m loving the way you guys are talking about this. Yes, the audience is so important. Make them leave on a high or gob smacked.
R: My take is this – without an audience I would be standing in an empty room, listening to myself 🙂
P: I think some performers and curators fail to take that into account. I approach it as a piece of theatre and think carefully about how different acts will work together, what the mood will be, when the audience might need a laugh or two, etc. It’s not rocket science but it’s amazing how often people fail to think about this stuff
R: What he said. And once again, like the best events, Paul manages to make all of that look seamless! I reckon the audience never guess how much planning goes into Polari, because it all looks so relaxed.
P: The secret is to make it look effortless. But it’s a lot of work!
C: OK, so how long is each performer on stage for? Or is more mixed up than that, a bit here and a bit there?
P: It’s usually between 15 and 20 minutes. Never longer than 20, though sometimes shorter than 15, depending on the ‘act’.
C: So I want to know what got both of you into performing in the first place?
P: I studied drama at university, and ponced about on the fringe for a bit, but soon got distracted by gay politics, then journalism and books, and from books came Polari – so in a way I’ve come full circle.
C: Was it born out of a way of promoting your own work or did you feel a need to help promote others?
P: It started as a means of promoting my book at the time. It was my third novel. It was November, I’d missed LGBT History Month and no bugger was inviting me to read. So I started a night of my own. But as soon as it took off I made a point of offering a place on the bill for new and emerging writers. I feel I have a responsibility to encourage new talent. And from that came The Polari First Book Prize, which is now in its sixth year and was won last month by Paul McVeigh
R: I’ve always told stories, I started with my toys, who were good listeners. And along the way, that combined with a love of singing. I started out at the age of 15, sneaking into pubs and folk clubs. I moved north at 18, joined The March Violets and the rest is history. Except it isn’t… it took years of rejection before my novels were published. My tip is to keep going… it worked for me.
P: People often think it’s easy. They see you have book out and assume you hold the secret to getting published. There is no secret. Or if there is, it’s to just keep at it! Don’t give up! Or as Quentin Crisp said, “It’s simply a question of holding your nerve!”
R: Love the Crisp quote.
C: Have you been to Blackpool before and do you have any memories that can legally be shared?
P: I’ve never been! I’m so excited about coming to Blackpool, you have NO IDEA! I’m expecting it be like Vegas. “What happens in Blackpool stays in Blackpool!”
R: I was Vampire in Residence at The Grand…
C: OK, the Cliche question, who are you’re main influences?
R: Influences? How long have you got? uuurrrrrgggghhhh!
C: Top 3 in your head right now?
P: Okay – David Bowie, Armistead Maupin, Patricia Highsmith – but that might change tomorrow
R: Joyce Grenfell and Angela Carter.
P: Love Joyce! And Angela, actually
R: and Dorothy Parker
P: God, yes! I was quoting her yesterday. Bloody genius, that woman!
R: And it will definitely change in five minutes. No! Siouxsie Sioux! She’s the one for me. See, I’m rubbish at decisions.
C: OK, you get 4 there
C: OK, the floor is open. Sell Polari to the public.
P: Sell it? I’d say take all your preconceptions of what a literary event is, and toss them aside. Polari is fun, friendly, evocative, and provocative but above all, entertaining!
R: Can’t improve on the above.
Polari will be on at the Grand Theatre for one night only on the 18 of November. Tickets are £6 or £20 for a block of 4. For more information or to book visit blackpoolgrand.co.uk. You can also keep up to date with Polari at polariliterarysalon.co.uk or follow them on Twitter @polarisalon
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