Steve Tasane: Apples’ Early Days

Apples and Snakes really is like family. I was Programmer from 1993 to 1997, when the affectionate abbreviation was ‘A&S’ – the later, wonderful Director Geraldine Collinge coined the softer ‘Apples’ moniker. Up till then, mainly under the guidance of Paul Beasley and Ruth Harrison, Apples had built up a well-deserved reputation as THE national organization for performance poetry. There were only four of us in total, no regional offices at all.

Indeed, there was hardly much in the way of regional performance poetry. There was certainly no performance poetry at Edinburgh Festival (credit due – the legendary Jem Rolls of Big Word pioneered that); no such thing as UK Poetry Slams (again, credit due, John O’Neill of Farrago Poetry was the main pioneer here, from 1994 until the present day); and there was pretty much no poetry theatre – Apples did pioneer that. And I like to think my poetry super-group Atomic LipPatience Agbabi, Speech Painter, Joelle Taylor, Pink Sly and myself – had a big hand in developing poetry as a dramatic form for theatre.

There were no colour flyers; most poets did not have publicity photos (they’d often send passport shots!); the only regular performance poetry clubs were The Hard Edge, Nuff Said, and Bunjies – all now sadly gone; there were no poetry films; no internet; and by God we often paid our performers in CASH on the night (I once delivered several hundred pounds by hand to John Cooper Clarke who at that time was without Bank Account….or phone.) When our office got burgled (they came in through the ceiling) we couldn’t even call the police – they’d stolen the phones and mobiles were just for posh people back then.

My time with the programming reigns oversaw the move from Covent Garden Community Centre to sell-out shows at BAC.

Our small-knit team (Ruth Harrison, Kadija Sesay, Ben Raikes) helped shape and guide Apples into the multi-limbed institution it is today. We’ve seen a number of workers and programmers go on to great things in their own right – including the mega-talents of Malika Booker (Education Officer), Roger Robinson (Programmer) and Geraldine Collinge (Director of Events at the RSC) right up to present programmer Russell Thompson – who some of you may know as the quirkily brilliant Rachel Pantechnicon.

Along the way, we lost a number of beautiful souls. RIP to Andrea Smith, angelically-spirited Publicity Officer; the soulful and tender Skorpio the Nemesis; Great-Uncle of performance poetry Adrian Mitchell; and the legendary Fran Landesman, to name a few.

As for me, I still perform for Apples, as recently as showcasing my Dickens 2012 residency at this month’s Jawdance, and performing to 3 year olds for SPIN. My continuing work as a poet and now children’s novelist leads me into all types of wonderful Applesy set-ups. Bring on the celebrations…

Steve Tasane