Roger Gregg has been working with poems for years, putting them to music and performing as part of Crazy Dog Theatre. Read his interview here and his opinions about The Poetry Officialdom.
Roger Gregg is an award winning playwright, composer, audio-producer and actor. Over the past 25 years he has written for Crazy Dog Theatre, Dublin Youth Theatre, TEAM, The American National Audio Theatre Festival, Graffiti Theatre, The Razor Edge, Oberon Theatre and The Gaiety School of Acting. His plays have also been produced by New York University, the University of Missouri, the Theaterpedagogisches Zentrum in Nuremberg, Germany. His Crazy Dog productions have won many international awards including; 3 American Mark Time Science Fiction Awards, 2 Ogle Fantasy Awards and 2 AUDIOFILE Golden Earphone Awards. In 2006 in a special feature reviewing his work, BBC Radio 4 hailed him as ‘one of a handful of truly great radio dramatists’.
As a composer and multi-instrumentalist, Roger has created music and soundscapes for numerous exhibitions, films and theatre productions. In particular he has created many soundscapes for BARRABAS Theatre Co. In 2010 he was nominated for Best Sound Design in The Irish Times Theatre Awards for BARRABAS’s acclaimed ‘Johnny Patterson The Singing Irish Clown’. In 2010 he was also awarded an Artist’s Bursary by the Arts Council of Ireland to research the integration of acoustic sound craft into live stage performance. Since 2008 he has been working a great deal in concert shows and recordings of poetry-set-to-music and sound, namely ‘The People’s Republic of Gerry Murphy’, ‘Selections From Thomas Merton’s Cables To The Ace’ and an on-going series of living anthology of contemporary Irish poetry ‘Bee-Loud Glade’ cabaret shows.[Bee-Loud Glade, book & CD, Dedalus Press.]
As a voice actor Roger plays Eddie the computer in BBC Radio 4’s Sony Award winning Tertiary and Quintessential Phases of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Hi Roger, thanks for agreeing to the interview. Tell us about the Bee-Loud Glade and the Crazy Dog Theatre.
The whole project was developed from an initial show I did of my friend’s work. This is Gerry Murphy – the poet from Cork. In fact I first did a stage show of Murphy’s poems in 1987. 20+ years later I wrote a new thing using selections from Gerry’s by now much more extensive collection of poems.
This project had the blessing of Dedalus Press [Pat Boran]. The resulted in a live show, a CD, a set of well produced videos and a 5 part radio documentary series.
This most favourable outcome in turn led to Bee-Loud Glade, which is taking the same approach as the Gerry Murphy show but instead drawing upon and selecting from the poets/poems published by Dedalus – the only exception to this thus far is Patrick Chapman, another poet whose work I admire very much, Chapman has given me permission to use his work.
How do you choose the poems to use?
With the Dedalus poets, Pat Boran made up a long listand I read over that and from this we culled it down to a short list. From Pat Boran I am given the rights to use the poems, set the to music and sound and also direct the actors in how to perform them.
How do you know if it would work well with the accompaniment?
I wouldn’t select the poem if it didn’t inspire me. You have to not only like the poem, but also it has to suggest something to me in music and sound. Not all poems are inspiring in any sense …
How does the collaborative process work?
There is and there isn’t a collaborative process. Pat Boran makes the long list then we cull it down. Once I have the poems selected then I work alone to put together the music. I usually make demos of the music to pass along to the musicians so they can learn and/or devise their parts. Then in the rehearsal process together as a band we sculpt and craft the piece. Then we perform it.
It sounds heartless but the Poets do not have any involvement – intentionally so. If they did, I would not do this. Poets do what they do best [write the words] then professional musicians and actors do what they do best – perform the piece. We always make it a point to stress that the result is an interpetation of the poem – a music/voice/sound piece that is initially inspired by the poem. We never claim that it’s in any way THE definitive way the poem should be heard or presented or read.
Even if an audience member or listener thinks we got it ‘wrong’; with a piece, we still hope and believe that at the very least it got somebody talking about the poem! Even if the poet themself thinks its ‘wrong’ – that’s okay. They are free to distance themselves from the interpetation – and hopefully get some more people interested in checking out their work to see for themselves! We always plug the poets and their books. We want everyone to win.
We’re trying to move beyond the usual pigeon-holes and traditional ways-of-presentation. It’s not a Poetry Reading, and it’s not Performance Poetry, it’s not anything you see at Spoken Word Tent [- at least not yet anyway ] It’s like a band-gig only instead of singing all the words, the words are largely spoken by actors in character or in a mood. My belief is that there should be plenty of different fruit in the fruit bowl. Not just apples and the odd orange, let in some grapes or bananas… whatever. Entertainment is about ENGAGING it’s not about fitting properly into some Critic’s category.
The digital age and the internet has done so much already by young people [who mercifully don’t know any better] who creatively combine words with pictures and music/sound, dance with stand up comedy etc. etc.;
Poetry Officialdom has a lot to answer for. Academia and Theory which surround it and interpet it ‘properly’ for it’s small audience of other would be Academics and Theorticians. There are far too many Poets writing with one eye on Officialdom. Especially in Ireland. Trying to be Profound or tick the boxes such as use the odd bit of ancient Greek or reference to a Veda or whatever they think will impress the Elite in the Know. The result is ‘heavy’ as in ponderous and ‘clever’ – but it doesn’t engage and certainly does not delight.
And then of course there is the condescension meted out to Performance Poets who largely actually do connect with much wider more diverse audiences and even ruin everything by ‘Entertaining’ people. At the Bee-Loud Glade I don’t hide the fact that as a Theatre guy I WANT to entertain and engage the audience. If we don’t, we have failed.
I had a listen to the Bee Loud Clade CD. It’s great fun and takes the words to a new level. I don’t like them all but I wouldn’t want to. I do agree with you about wrestling poetry from the grasp of the academics. There is too much po-faced poetry out there already. Let’s take the po out of poetry. The poetry divas collective is an ever evolving group of women poets whose mission is to blur the wobbly boundaries between page and stage. We want to perform our poems without compromising the integrity of the word.
‘Integrity of the word’: This is a complicated one and throws up a red flag. Why? It’s the favourite phrase of the PO in poetry division.In my experience far, far too many ‘heads’ offer this ‘integrity’ as a justification for poor, unexciting, unengaging delivery. As in: it doesn’t matter that NO ONE finds my words interesting or engaging when presented. Pity.
Hermenuetics and Science tell us that human beings can not but filter any words through their own selves, their experience, temperment and culture etc. The same exact words can have exactly opposite meanings. This is irregardless if we’re hearing them or reading them. It’s impossible to experience a pure ‘word’ in all it’s integrity – probably such a thing does not exist. ‘Sono Mama’ – isn’t that the Zen expression? A ‘thing in and of itself itself’ , without the blurring filter of the ‘word’ or mind thoughts interpeting the ‘thing’. And this unavoidable ambiguity of the ‘word’ or the painting or the sounds, is itself a key component of most art. It means different people take can different things or experience differing meanings when supposedly experiencing the same ‘art’.
But I agree the words DEFINITELY need to be clearly heard in the ‘mix’. My general rule is the words MUST be heard otherwise what the fuck are we doing? [Sometimes of course in live situations there can be p.a. and mix issues – but they’re certainly not intended! .] If the text is mumbled or buried under screaming guitars or whatever something essential is awry.
Have you any links?
Yes, on YouTube you’ll find several pieces from our original Bee Loud Glade showcase. They are at:
What have you got coming up?
A ‘Halloween’ special, featuring about 16 different contemporary Irish poems set to music and sound along with a selection of classic material with Halloween themes – such as the Witches from MacBeth. It’s Halloween Night. Monday 31 October. Smock Alley Theatre. Doors open 8 pm.
Sounds thrilling. Thanks very much, Roger.
You can buy the Bee-Loud Glade book and CD at Dedalus here, featuring poems by Leland Bardwell, Pat Boran, Paddy Bushe, Enda Coyle-Greene, Patrick Deeley, Theo Dorgan, Katherine Duffy, Gerard Fanning, Francis Harvey, Ann Joyce, Catherine Phil MacCarthy, Tom Mathews, James J. McAuley, Iggy McGovern, Mary Montague, Gerry Murphy, John O’Donnell, Mary O’Donoghue, Paul Perry, Leeanne Quinn, Billy Ramsell, Gabriel Rosenstock, Gerard Smyth, Dolores Stewart, Grace Wells, Joseph Woods, Macdara Woods and Enda Wyley.