When did your place begin?
Our first event took place on the 21st March 2020. It was online and it was just before Lockdown actually started in New Zealand.
I am from the UK originally and I have been living in New Zealand for about 3 and half years. In the UK I worked as a full time spoken word artist and have done for about 5 years. I have been performing for about 12 years.
I used to run quite a popular event in London, “Forget What You Heard”, and I also used to run a national poetry slam. We used to hold the qualifying rounds online and the final would be at a festival.
Your Place now has an event most Sundays – though it is best to follow our Facebook page and sign up to our mailing list there to get the most up-to-date info.
You have a lot of experience regarding online events?
Haha – I have now, yes.
I have always dipped in and out of online work, I have organised online events as well as live events, but, in this case, seeing the impact of Covid elsewhere and seeing the world going into Lockdown, that just pre-empted everything. We could see that New Zealand was going to go into Lockdown and art must survive and thrive, so it made sense setting up a new event.
We decided to get ahead of the curve. I think we were actually one of the first live online events anywhere in the world and it’s a year on since the beginning now.
Apart from the pandemic what made an online live event appealing?
One of the underlying reasons was that I have found over the years there is a severe lack of accessible art spaces.
And I have not been innocent in this either – I look back when I was running a popular event in London, and often we were running events in inaccessible spaces – mainly because of costs; we simply couldn’t afford good accessible venues. We had to use a basement of a bar, with lots of steep stairs, because we got the room for free.
In my case, I live with chronic pain in my hips and lower back, so at times it was actually becoming difficult to access my own events. Beyond that, at “Your Place”, we have a large contingent of neurodiverse participants, and folks from the Queer community, and so it is vitally important to create spaces which are inclusive.
So it isn’t just about mobility accessibility. For example, for some neurodivergent folks, it isn’t that welcoming to be in a room where there is lots of noise, with multiple conversations and people are clapping and cheering or shouting. Their sensitivities need to be taken into account too. Our online space allows that to happen.
Another accessibility point is finances; Your Place is pay-what-you-can-afford because I don’t believe that finances should be a barrier to folks accessing art – that being said, I also firmly believe that artists should be paid for their work (and the artists at Your Place are paid); I mean if you cannot afford to make your art then that is a real barrier to people being able to access it!
You mentioned the notion of “Community”. Could you elaborate on that concept?
Well one example, as I was just saying, is that all of our feature readers are paid, as are our slam winners; Your Place relies on our participants and members of our community, to help finance this – by paying-what-they-can. They also cover people that can’t afford to pay.
With regards to building a community, I think with the event starting during lockdown when people were more isolated from their usual communities and support networks – Your Place really became the regular hub where they could socialise. Now, the first 45 minutes or so of each event usually starts with people chatting. We are all there for the poetry but at the beginning we are catching up with each other and welcoming new people to the room. It’s a bit like an AOL or MSN Messenger chatroom from back in the day! We also take the time to talk to the poets about themselves and their work – it is not a rushed affair, trying to squeeze in as many poets as possible.
People have become friends through attending Your Place events and I think in some ways the Community aspect has almost overtaken the event and I love that!
There is a sense of encouraging people to be part of the “Your Place” Community?
Even after the event, even after I have turned off the Facebook live, and started to wind down, there are often people who hang around to chat in the Zoom room. Again, that is an aspect that I love about “Your Place”.
I am a big believer in really using the medium given to us so, with online multimedia platforms, I don’t see “Your Place” as simply moving a physical event on to an online situation; we have so many tools at our disposal that we can do more than just facilitate a performance.
People can interact during the performance, and discuss the poetry, they can write down a line that they liked and get that information to the writer in real-time. During the events I encourage people to share lines that they liked and then we collate them and make a new poem out of them, which I read at the end of the event.
We are able to allow for that kind of connection. I think all of this encourages people to be a part of the event. We also have made connections with people from overseas; I think we have had people from more than 20 different countries who have attended the events, so that is another thing that couldn’t happen but for the online space we have set up.
Part two of this interview is here