Monday, 3 February 2014

Interview with poet, Kalle Ryan

Continuing my repostings of interviews, here's Kale Ryan.
Kalle Ryan runs the awesome Brownbreadmixtape monthly evening at the Stag's Head, Dublin. This month, together with Colm Keegan and Stephen James Smith, they are reviving their successful show from last year's Dublin Fringe Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About.

First for yourself, how did you first get into poetry?
I was always interested in poetry thanks to a wonderful English teacher (Edward Denniston) that I had in secondary school. Over the years I would write poems, as well as lengthier theatre and comedy pieces, but it was really only when I lived in New York that I started to write poems more seriously. I was lucky enough to be published by a really interesting journal called Lilies and Cannonballs Review and they asked me on a number of occasions to perform at their launch events. Consequently, I started to perform my poems live more regularly and so my writing took a certain shape that was largely dictated by the performance aspect.
How does writing for performance influence your poetry?
I have gravitated towards the performance side of poetry, primarily due to my keen interest in comedy and acting. So, much of what I write is imagined with a live audience in mind and as a result, many of my poems include a call-and-response element designed to engage the audience more actively with the piece. That buzz of energy from people listening in a room is such an exciting way of getting feedback instantly. Having said that, I think ultimately the writing has to be of a high quality in the first place, so I don't draw that huge a distinction between things that are written for the page or the stage. If it is good, then it should stand up to both types of audiences.

How did the idea for Three Men Talking about Things They Kinda Know About come about in the first place?
Myself, Colm and Stephen had admired each other's work for some time and had occasionally spoken about creating an event or show that brought our different poetic styles to the table together. It was Stephen who suggested that we submit an application to the ABSOLUT Fringe festival last year. As you know, not only was it accepted, it went on to sell out every night of the run last September and was nominated for the "Bewley's Cafe Theatre Little Gem" award, which was incredibly gratifying and a remarkable experience. So, this upcoming Turnaround rep season at Project Arts Centre is a genuine honour, as we were hand picked to appear alongside four other great shows from Fringes past. We are really looking forward to bringing the show back to an audience in such a great theatrical setting. It feels like doing a brand new show.
How did you decide between you on the subject matter and the trajectory?
I still have a scrap of paper from the first meeting we had about the show and almost everything we mapped out in that session (including the title of the show) is in the final piece of work, which is amazing really. As early as that meeting we decided that it was going to be a show about relationships and how they shaped us on our journeys until now. We sketched out broad touchstones like relationships with our respective families and partners, as well as looking at our ourselves and our relationship with the different worlds we grew up in. We also were in total agreement when it came to the directness and honesty of the work we were aiming for. We knew that it had to be honest, unflinching and unsentimental. I believe that we achieved what we set out to do. It is a piece of work we are all very proud of.
The piece carefully weaves your own stories together. How much editing of each other’s pieces did you do?
We did huge amounts of editing and reworking of the piece, individually and collectively. In essence, we wrote the show over the course of approximately five months. Initially we would write our own poetic narratives alone and then get together once a week to read them aloud, looking for thoughts, edits and responses to the work. Gradually this process evolved until we had settled on our final individual poetic narratives. Then we sent drafts to each other through a shared Google Doc, making minor adjustments and tweaks, while always leaving room for each of us to have a final say on our respective narratives. It was important that we never tried to impose our own voice on someone else's piece. 
For the opening and closing sequences of the piece, we actually came up with them on a writing weekend in my family home in Waterford and the lines were subsequently knocked into shape by us all until they fit the overall mood of the show. Of course, that is only the story of the text itself. We cannot underestimate the importance of Sarah Brennan's direction to the success of the piece. When we brought it to the rehearsal and performance stage, Sarah was able to lend an assured directorial and theatrical touch to the poetry, as well as a much needed female perspective to the three men talking!
What would you say the main learnings were for you from the process?
I learned huge amounts from the whole process and I genuinely believe it has made me a better writer & performer. In addition, I think we all have a deeper understanding of each other's writing and respective individual writing processes. The good and the bad! So, the fact that we are even closer friends than before is a testament to our temperaments and ability to work so well together. 
Also, despite the slightly frivolous title, it is a show that deals with really serious moments in all of our lives, and I am extremely grateful and proud to have been able to share in the experience of bringing those stories to light and to life. During the writing process, each of us would hear what the other had written, take a deep breath and say, "Ok, I need to dig deeper. I need to tell the deeper truth". My father always said about art, the more specific you make it, the more universal it becomes. In the end, I believe that is what makes the show so powerful, because we tapped into that sentiment and it seems to resonate with each new audience every night.

What advice do you have for writers who are new to performance?
There are basic things worth doing like consistent rehearsal (even if you are not memorising the poems) and performing regularly to become comfortable on a stage in front of a crowd. But I think the most important thing is to stay true to your own voice and style. That might sound like a really obvious thing to say, but I think the more genuine you are the better your performance of your own material is. There's nothing worse than seeing some writer trying to force a persona on stage. The key is to stay connected with your audience as much as your material. Like anything else, you grow into it and become better with each new performance. Until then, fake it till you make it!
Thanks Kalle. I thoroughly recommend the show as an evening of the inner thoughts of men.

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