We talk to Andy Craven-Griffiths about poetry, creativity and what it takes to make art from words
Andy talks about the power of the spoken word and his new one-man interactive theatrical experience ‘Joygernaut’
An interactive, one-person show exploring kindness, cruelty and how each affects people, and our ability to choose.
Very thought-provoking. Loved it. Intimate. Made me uncomfortable at times. Brilliant. Andy is a joy. Go see it people!
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In episode 30 of the eBook Revolution Podcast, Andy Craven-Griffiths talks about his new play Joygernaut, as well as..
- the inspiration behind creativity
- his collaboration with the band Middleman
- how the choice to be kind drives his art
- why artists need to learn from others and park the ego
- how to generate ideas when you’re stuck in a rut
Today’s show is sponsored by Amazon Success Toolkit. Self-publishing expert Tracy Atkins has created an amazing set of tools and methods you can use to publish and optimize your book on Amazon—the right way. Updated for 2019.
Over 40,000 young people have benefitted from Andy Craven-Griffiths’ writing and performance workshops since he began running them in 2007. As a poet he has performed most extensively live on stage (Glastonbury, Latitude, BAC) but has also had work broadcast (Radio 1, Radio 4, BBC 2), and printed (poetry journals such as Magma, Ambit). As well as schools, clients include Arts Council England, British Council, Rethink Mental Health, First Story, The Letterbox Club. He has a chapter in “Making Poetry Happen” (Bloomsbury, 2015).
Currently, Andy is one of Radio 3’s Verb New Voices, is Lead Writer on various children’s writing projects, is one of Curve Theatre’s WritersLab writers, is part of the Midnight Run team (themnr.com), and is working part time on a PhD in Creative Writing.
Andy is also lead singer / rapper with his band ‘Middleman’. The band have toured everywhere from Reading Festival to SXSW, Texas, and played live sessions for Radio 1, 6 Music and XFM. Middleman’s music has also been widely synchronized (Channel 4, Channel 5, NBA2K11). ( text from andypoetry.com_
Andy, you’re poet, musician, playwright, and educator. What drives such restless creativity?
I think, loving doing it. Getting joy out of doing it. Feeling alive when I make something that surprises me. When I make something that connects with others. I think there’s two sides of it. When I write something that I learned something about myself, or might come up with an idea that I didn’t know I had. The creative thing for me is a joy, but then the sharing of it is a different kind of joy when it makes you feel close to someone. It’s building this bridge between ourselves as individuals with miscommunication and unfortunately, I think part of it is driven by a fear of running out of time and, you know, not being here forever. I kind of want to race a little bit, to do as much as I can, because we’re not infinite, we’re not immortal. Which is possibly not the most positive reason, but it works like fuel for me. It drives me.
Your band Middleman, is a great showcase for your lyrics and poetry. What’s the story of that?
The guys in the band were looking for a different kind of lyricist. They’d been in a drum and bass band before, a live Drum and Bass band – an eight piece, you know, a lot of them all together and these three from the band wanted to start something new with someone who was good at lyrics rather than just a singer. Not just a singer, you know, that’s an admirable thing. I’m not a singer. I’ve learned to sing in tune, but you know, I don’t have a great voice or anything. So for me, it was always about the quality of the writing. and they wanted someone who brought quality writing to the song writing process I guess. So they asked around, got recommended my brother by a bunch of breakdancers, who didn’t live in the same city, but I did. So he recommended me. We got together, had a jam, wrote something really quickly and just got on really, really well and that was kind of the core of it. So yeah, then I just started exploring how we could mash the two things together and eventually found this sound we have and these type of songs that we have that we feel kind of work.
It does work! “Spinning Plates” is a fabulous song.
Thank you. Yes, one of our favorites.
How important is music to you as a creative outlet?
Vital. It’s not my first I love. In terms of language it is for me, and the guys in the band as you know they need to be making sounds and playing with melodies and so on. For me it’s a joy. It’s a different type of outlet in that it’s less sit down and consider and think about it and it’s more immediate and so it forces me to write in a slightly different way, but it’s the most fun I think I’ve ever had is being on stage with the band and you know, singing songs. What music does that words don’t is bring emotion with an immediacy, the sound gives you an emotion and gives you a way of feeling that doesn’t depend on the meaning of the words. And that’s slower to come through words I think because you have to digest it and you know, tell a story in song but you can play two chords and feel something from it. So…
I’d like to ask you about your one man play.
‘Joygernaut’. What’s been the reaction to it so far?
Really good. We’ve only done two pilot shows at York Theatre Royal and Nottingham Playhouse in the UK. A lot of people have stayed afterwards to talk about the theme so we feel from that there is a lot of appetite for work about kindness and being positive and less selfish and you know, I feel there’s a lot of people who believe that’s how the world should be that we should be more like that to get a lot from it and I suppose the play is working as an explanation of how that can function. The story of this character, how it how it transformed his life in a realistic way. It’s not like think positive and everything will be great. It’s absolutely not that. And, I think it also does something about giving permission. I think a lot of the time, we’re not kind because we don’t have permission to be or we feel like it’s, you know, we don’t want to intrude on someone’s day in the UK, at least, you know. So it’s the response has been really positive in that way. Hopefully, I get to perform it as much as possible and Australia would be nice. Canada would be nice. At the minute we’re just only booked for the UK and got you know, 12 or 13 dates so far for next year
It intrigues me, the interactive element of joy and kindness. Does that feed back into your writing in real way?
Yeah. So there are particlar sections in the play. There’s one big character who is an advertising executive. So there’s one where he gets suggestions from the audience, and then works them into advertising pitches and so that works really well, because it’s nice for an audience to proveably see that what they have said is affected what’s happened and, you know, it’s part of the message of the players that you are powerful and you can affect people’s happiness and what happens. So to embody that in a moment in the play is nice. One of the other interactive things is he offers the audience options. So it talks about someone in a bar, a man in a bar, insulting the characters girlfriend, making derogatory sexual comments, and how, you know, as what’s expected is now he has to fight him and there’s no choice. It’s just whether to use fists or glass. And early on in the play, those options, whatever the responses, get a negative feedback. So you know, should you use fists or glass? If someone in the audience says fist you go, “of course, because you want to make it easy for him”. If they say glass and you go, “all right, yeah, because you want to go to jail”. So the start of the play is trying to show the double bind of masculinity that you can’t win either way, if you’re violent, you’re a thug. If you’re not violent, you’re a wimp and so that by the end of the play, he offers options and whatever is fed back, he gives a positive response. So it’s trying to show how his expectation or his intention to the world changes how he responds and feeds back positive if he feels positive and feeds back negative if he feels negative.
Do you think this is a model for other art creation? The wisdom of the crowd?
Yeah, yeah, I think it’s difficult to figure out structures that will work and partly that’s just by doing it trial and error and figuring – you know how to phrase things, options that you have in responses – but I like involving in the audience more and more. I enjoy theatre that does that and theatre has the opportunity to do that. A TV show is not with the audience now and can’t immediately respond to their their reactions.
It’s fascinating to see it done in the theatre. Black Mirror tried it.
Yeah, I suppose the technology, like with the Black Mirror episode is, is allowing a bit of that. I think the performer can give a different response that they haven’t planned when it’s live. Whereas the TV version, the Black Mirror version it’s all pre filmed. It’s all, you know, pre-planned.
On stage it’s more visceral.
Yeah. On stage you get the most real moments in theatre where it’s something that’s never happened before, and isn’t going to happen exactly the same again and it’s the audience and the performer I think, feel the magic of that.
Of course, you’re an educator as well and I’ve seen you’ve had a writer’s retreat here in beautiful Bali. What have you learned about teaching, writing to others? What’s the feedback loop that you
For me? Having to teach the nuts and bolts, the mechanisms and particularly with language based stuff, you know, how to make similes and metaphors. How to mix up the abstract and concrete all those sorts of things. Having to teach that has given me ways of stopping being stuck. When I get stuck in a thing, you know, I go and do some free writings, generate ideas or I’ll make a passage more poetic by deliberately and consciously writing a list of similes and metaphors that might work. So it’s taught me to be a better writer having to teach it to others. There is also an aspect of that, I’ve learned that most of it has to come from the writer, you can provide tools, but ultimately, it’s a practice based learning. The more people write, the better they will get. And you can go to 100 workshops, but if you don’t spend time writing on your own, your improvement is going to be limited. Whereas you can, you can teach yourself by doing it and by reading lots.
What’s your advice to anybody setting out to create art with words?
Read as much as possible and by reading I don’t just mean books. I mean, you know, watching great films, watching TV series, really looking at people and trying to understand why we do what we do in certain situations and then trying to just practicing writing different things without the need to show it to anyone, without the need for it to become a piece of art, but just as a learning experience and it sounds like it almost like a cop out but my advice to anyone starting to write is read loads, write loads, and read probably 10 times more than you write.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received when you were setting out?
I think once my brother, I don’t know if it counts as advice, but I was basically complaining about not being on a poetry tour with a company called ‘Apples and Snakes’ in the UK that he was on and some of the people on were on and I was, I was saying, Oh, well, I was as a 19 year old, big from our boots, all that sort of thing, and was asking, why aren’t I on that? And my brother said, because you’re not as good as you think you are and secondly, you’re judging everyone else through how well they do what you do. You may be better at what you do, and they’re better at what they do and that humility, hearing that from my brother, painful, but hugely useful in stopping assuming, that I had something to know that isn’t present in loads and loads and loads of other people and allowed me to then start learning from other people. I think rather than having this ego thing. So yeah, but I guess translated into advice, it would be to learn from others. Talk to others value what others are doing find what you love in what they’re doing. You can learn from it. Yeah,
Your brother sounds very wise.
Yeah, I wouldn’t tell him that because he’d get a big head! Yeah, he’s a wise man.
You famously won the poetry slam at Glastonbury. What happens at a poetry slam? How do you prepare something like that?
A poetry slam? They’re all different, but generally, it’s a competition in which you have three minutes. There are others they do in Germany, they have a lot of five minutes slams, for instance. There are generally a group of poets who who get three minutes to perform, and they have judges give them scores, competitive poetry. The audience are often involved in that there might be an audience judge, whoever gets the high score goes through to the next round. And sometimes it’s in group, sometimes it’s not count. As you go through the rounds, eventually you end up with one winner. Usually you perform a different poem, and each round you’re not allowed to repeat a poem. And how preparing is just practice and, you know, making sure that your poems are short enough to fit in three minutes. I’ve not done slam for a long time, but when I started, it was kind of my bread and butter, and I loved the adrenaline of it. You know, the limits of it, you’ve got three minutes to make someone feel something strongly enough that they want to give you points and the Glastonbury one, it was great. My brother, who is the same brother, he’s also was there. There were too many people entered this one. And because we were brothers, the organizers said, well, let’s just have one of you in. It was my first ever festival. He said, Okay, well, you can you can go in the slam, but if I’m not going in it, you have to win it. And then I did! So that was great. Went on radio, went on TV, performed live, all of that sort of thing. So it was kind of a really good way to get into the performance poetry world.
Is there much improvisation in a Slam
I know some people do but it tends not to be as successful, I guess, because you can craft something more precisely if you’ve done it beforehand. Yeah. And then maybe I have seen people build moments in of spontaneity and audience response and things like that. But it’s a more surefire way to know it’s going to be the best poetry it can be. If you’ve crafted it and spent a lot of time editing and perfecting it.
Well, thank you for taking the time to chat with. I’ll just finish off with what’s next for Andy Craven-Griffin?
Trying to get more people to put the play on. And yeah. Anyone who wants to put it on in Australia can get in touch with me through joygernaut.com, and touring that in England, getting the next play produced as well. And yeah, and finally putting a collection to paper rather than just on stage. Too many people keep asking for my book, but I don’t have one yet to sell them. So getting that book printed. I’m sure
It’ll happen soon.
Thank you very much.
Andy, Thank you.