Paula Varjack: Poet and Performer

Kicking off our Poet of the Month blog series for 2016 is the fabulous Paula Varjack. She tells us what she’s getting up to with all things poetry and performance…

Though I have been writing as long as I can remember, in a scene where most of my friends began performing in their teens or twenties, I started late.  Last year, performing at Jibba Jabba in Newcastle (thanks to Apples and Snakes) I celebrated my 37th birthday, and was struck by the fact I had now been an artist for seven years. Though I see myself as a theatre and video artist rather than a poet these days, spoken word is still in my performance DNA.

My main link to the spoken word scene now is my production and hosting partnership with Dan Simpson.  I have watched our twisted child of awesomely awful verse – The Anti-Slam – spread across the country like a contagious poetic virus. And if you love to hate valentine’s day, the annual anti-valentine show is next month.

This year is looking like the most promising year I’ve had since becoming a full time artist.  It began with a week of devising a new performance about belief and the end of the world, with Cardiff based Give it a Name. I had no luck picking up any Welsh, but had the opportunity to work with brilliant performers, explore the choreography of trance and dabble a little in the techniques of stage hypnotism.

LowRes-1936968_10207028602491926_2084780191013018608_n-2Getting to travel is one of my favourite parts about my work. I am really looking forward to being part of the Queer Contact Festival at Contact theatre in Manchester next month. I am part of a fantastic line up for Outspoken, including Jackie Kay, Keith Jarrett and AJ McKenna.

Back in London, I recently had my first meeting as lead facilitator of Junior Poets programme at the Barbican. It’s an opportunity I am thrilled about, especially because of the talented trainee facilitators I will be mentoring. I am also excited about it as a way of creating greater access to the Barbican for the young participants we will be working with.

This week I have been travelling around the country filming interviews with artists as material for Show Me The Money. I’ve been to Leicester, Oxford, Newcastle, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, asking artists about all the obstacles they face trying to make a living from their work. I have had so many brilliant conversations that have led me to make all kinds of conclusions for the show, but if I can stress one thing here it is the importance of valuing and knowing the value of your work. Just before writing this post, I read this ace blog on the subject by performance artist Scottee, and encourage you take a look here.

I am learning that many artists have no idea what to charge for their rates. The recommended rates by organisations like Apples and Snakes, ITC, and Equity are there to be referred to. But if there is another thing I would like to stress, it is that artists should share what they make and what they charge with each other. How else can you work out how you fit in the market and what you are worth? If you want to see the result of all my research in a form that’s more engaging (and entertaining) than a report, come see the preview of Show Me The Money on Friday 11 March at Richmix.

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