Every Wednesday night, the Rubix Poetry Collective meets at the Roundhouse Theatre to jam and workshop ideas. Tilly Michell went along to learn the methods and motivations behind their poetic style, and to discuss their new show, House Party.
The Roundhouse Theatre was originally built as a turntable for steam engines; its arched terracotta ceilings and industrial underground corridors create a great atmosphere for the rehearsal. On the evening I meet with Rubix, Mark Ronson is warming up for a gig in the main theatre, and the deep bass of his set shakes the studio floor.
The poets sit in a circle. They are all in their twenties and most of them are Camden locals. I ask what got them interested in poetry, and how they first began to share their work. “Poetry was something I always did,” says Dean. “When I was younger I’d write it like a diary, it was private, you know? Then one day I got the courage to read it out loud to some of my friends and I never went back. It’s such a buzz sharing something like that. It’s almost therapeutic.”
“I got in to it back at school because some of my friends were into MC-ing,” explains Talia. “I liked what they were doing so I started writing my own work. But the more I wrote the more I began to move away from the traditional tempo of the MC. My work was longer, more like poetry than rap; that’s when I started looking into spoken word.”
For many of the members of Rubix, their first performance platform was The Poetry Café, a local venue which holds regular open mic nights for verbal artists of all trades, from stand-up comedians to beat boxers. “I must have gone there about four or five times before I got the courage to stand up,” laughs Paul. “But when I did, I realised that this was something I loved and wanted to pursue. It was actually my dad that encouraged me to get involved with the Roundhouse.”
Rubix is an offshoot of the Roundhouse Poetry Collective, a scheme which offers young artists the opportunity to sharpen their skills under the tutorship of the renowned beat poet Polarbear. This summer, the members of Rubix graduated from the Roundhouse Poetry Collective, earning critical acclaim at high profile festivals including The Big Chill, Bestival and the Edinburgh Fringe. On their return to London they became the official associate spoken word company of the Roundhouse.
Rubix’s new project, House Party, previews on the 9th March, and is an interactive show based around the experiences of several characters at a grimy student gathering. Audience members will be invited into the party, where they will hear a collection of narrative poems from the minds of fictional guests. From the group’s description, House Party sounds like a theatrical event quite unlike the more traditional poetry nights that I am used to, in which the stage is left bare apart from an artist and a microphone. So is what Rubix do theatre? Or is it something different?
“I think what we do is quite hard to categorise,” says Talia. “House Party is not a play, and we are certainly not actors. However there are definitely stylised moments within the show and many of the poems follow an interlinking narrative.” “Spoken word is about telling a story,” adds Dean. “Sometimes that might be a real story, sometimes it might be a fictional story. The interesting thing about the show is that audience members won’t always know whether what they are listening to is personal or not. I guess that uncertainty is what makes spoken word different from a piece of straight theatre in which everyone knows for sure that what happens on stage is fiction.” Safia agrees: “In a play, no one comes on stage as themselves – unless they’re a bad actor. But when you’re performing spoken word you’re actually encouraged to be yourself.”
In the hour that we spend together I am impressed by the open, friendly nature of the Rubix Collective. The different members express their passion for poetry eloquently and without restraint, and their attitude is both humble and welcoming. Perhaps it is these qualities that allow Rubix to step between artistic boundaries. They are a likeable bunch, and their manners can only inspire trust within an audience. I leave the Roundhouse unsure what to expect from House Party, but I’m sure that whatever surprises Rubix have in store, the audience will happily go with it.
House Party premieres at the Roundhouse Studio Theatre on 9th March at 4pm. Tickets cost £3 and are available at www.roundhouse.org.uk #RubixHouseParty