The Poetry Bores Show: A Personal Reflection

Written by Tola Makanjuola 15.02.22

The Poetry Bores Show. A Performance by Tola Makanjuola on Friday  11.02.22 at the Baron’s Court Theatre, London.

So it’s 19:30 and I’m yet to be called onto the stage.  I get word that we were awaiting the arrival of two more audience members.  We wait 5 more minutes and I hear my entrance music: Kanye West’s ‘Everything I am’.  For some reason, it doesn’t play quite like I expected it would, perhaps because I’m responsible for entertaining these kind people tonight.  The music also flunctuates a little, not like the flawless play at rehearsal. What are you going to do? Technology is notorious for going quiet when it most needs to shine.

When I get up on stage, I’m doing battle with my nerves and winning.  Nerves are instinctual when you find yourself in front of an audience, and I have concluded they are not really going anyway, except at best receding to the background.  

Forty minutes later, I say goodbye, and it feels ever so slightly abrupt, though the timing was just right by my assessment.  I walked away to the stage room at the back and my mind went to work immediately, boxing out what I had to do to improve the show.  

Let’s start with the positives.

The audience were engaged in the performance.  From the start of the show, I asked questions, threw out jokes and even got them to count to 60 while I wrote a poem on the word ‘happy’ on the spot.  They got weary by the 40 second mark, but we laughed through it. That’s pretty good. 

My nerves did not get the better of me. Always a good thing.

Different people had their own personal favourites moments from the show.  Some liked ‘I am a Sandwich’, a poem about the mosquitos that congregate to feast on me anytime I visit family in Italy.  Others liked ‘Cupid’, a poem about a baby in a diaper firing arrows of love at unsuspecting ‘victims’.  Others highlighted the 60 second poem as a great moment in the show.  Even the dad jokes were warmly received, as well as dad jokes can ever be truly received. Conclusively, the audience were engaged, and everyone took something away.  Great.

Now for the ‘negatives’.

I performed about 5 poems, and three were improvised. Uh oh. What was I thinking??? Well, here’s a brief background on that. 

I record a show called Ridiculous Poetry Readings on the Poetry Bores YouTube Channel, and 98% of show is non-scripted, meaning I don’t write the poems.  So, naturally, I felt I could transfer the ‘prowess’ on stage. WRONG. What ended up happening, were a series of repetitions about strife and the refrain ‘Keep Going’. Oh Boy. I don’t even talk that way normally. I thought this was a show to entertain, not wallow in grandures of monotony.  

Ok, it wasn’t that bad. However, that was easily the weakest part of the performance. It did not highlight the strength of my writing, which is a skill I have honed for years now.  The 60 second poem was a saving grace, absolutely. 

The other negative aspect of the performance was the issue of a deliberate structure.  This wasn’t too severe by my estimation, and I attribute this to improvised nature of the poems more than anything else. Certainly, I will be focused, in the future, on constructing a narrative of sorts, rather than a simply a programme list.

I couldn’t see the audience. At all. This meant I was unable to make as much eye contact as was perhaps necessary. There latter was my personal take, and not a view shared via most the feedback I got on the show. Still, need to get that right.

What’s the conclusion?

Content is king, and your core competency is just that, core.  If I can make the audience laugh and engaged, but the poetry hits 2 out of every 5, then its clear where the issue lies.  Improvisation on stage requires thinking on the spot while dealing with nerves, not an easy feat, especially if you aren’t a seasoned performer.  In order to improvise, I will need many more performances under my belt. For now though, I will be scripting the poems, even if I need to read them off a sheet.

Music will not feature so heavily in my future shows.  It didn’t translate as effectively as I thought it would on stage.  Was this because of the improvisation? Yes, who are we kidding. But it also wasn’t really needed for the performance as a whole. I walked away realising that I need to trust the content and boil it down to its essence; I will certainly place a limit on the number of backing tracks I use in the future.

Five days later, and I find that I’m excited to get back out there. It was an exhilarating experience, and to use a word that was thrown about quite a bit, brave. But it also needs to be great, and hopefully I’ll get there through practice, trial and error, and doing what I  believe I do best, writing great poetry.

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