AJ McKenna – Public Address: The Soapbox Tour

AJ McKenna is one of four spoken word artists who make up the core ensemble of Public Address: The Soapbox Tour, a new theatrical spoken word show directed by award-winning writer and performer Hannah Silva. Ahead of the tour, AJ explores what the evolving artform of spoken word really means today…

What is spoken word? This, I think, is a question we’re going to be asking a lot in the next few years. As the scene grows in response to the runaway success of artists like Kate Tempest and Hollie McNish,performing (1) and the explosion of viral YouTube videos, individual artists are going to have to find ways of saying what makes them unique, while the scene as a whole will have to find a core definition we can use which doesn’t run the risk of descending into parody.

Already there are signs that saturation point may have been reached: the continuing weariness of ‘slam voice’ and the depressing upworthery of those virals (‘This poet began talking about penguins. What she said next BLEW MY MIND.’ Did it? Did it really?), which I encounter when talking to fellow poets, show where the wind is blowing. To stay a step ahead, we have to test the limits, to see how far we can move away from the microphone prophet dropping STRONG TRUTH on the audience while still maintaining a core of what makes this spoken word. My personal artistic ambition for the next year is to get at least three performance poetry purists to complain about how my shows are not spoken word shows, because then I’ll know I’m pushing in the right direction.


Photo credit: Suzi Corker Photography

The piece I’ve prepared for Public Address: The Soapbox Tour is a step in that direction. It involves words. I speak them. Some of them are mine. Many are not. But there are other aspects of the performance which make it less like performance poetry and place it more in the realm of performance art. What elements exactly? Well, if you want to know that, you’ll just have to come and see, won’t you?

Public Address: The Soapbox Tour opens on Wednesday 14 October and runs until Friday 13 November. Visit the tour page to find a date near you, and follow the artists on Twitter at #PublicAddress. Don’t miss our special flagship performance on Sunday 25 October, 7.30pm, when the Public Address ensemble will come together with guest artists from across the tour for a one-off showcase at Bloomsbury Theatre Studio as part of Bloomsbury Festival.

AJ McKenna’s filmpoem, Letter to a Minnesota Prison, was produced by Apples and Snakes and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation in 2013. Her show, ‘Howl of the Bantee’, ran in Edinburgh this August. A former Deputy Editor of So So Gay, AJ also writes for Clarissa Explains F**k All and Vada.