Today we speak to Luke Wright, whose live poetry readings on Twitter have gone down a storm. As well as speaking about this, he chats to Lindsey Huebner about the online connection he has formed with audiences and where he thinks the future of theatre is heading.
This will not be news to any of our readership: lockdown in the UK continues to be divisive, inconsistent and let’s face it, confusing. Some have endeavoured to tackle grandiose feats of self-improvement, whilst others attempt to rebel against the incessant ideals of productivity and all whilst attempting to follow or disobey guidelines that may or may not have public health’s best interest at heart. As for my own mental health, an unexpected saviour has been live performance in digital spaces. I do not mean recordings of the heavy-hitting commercial theatre (although there is a time and a place), I mean real-time performance complete with a collective audience yielding an experience that is totally unique and truly live. This is what performance poet, spoken word artist and theatre-maker Luke Wright brings us each and every night through the wonders of Twitter live. We connect (safely distant, of course) from across the country.
You would be hard-pressed to find a performer who has not lost work since lockdown descended, and Wright is no exception. At this very moment, he was meant to be on tour with his solo show The Remains of Logan Dankworth. Since 19 March, with the closure of theatre spaces across the country being at first suggested – then enforced, Wright has been taking to Twitter to bring audiences a new set of his original poetry every night. Admitting that perhaps a gig a week would have been a bit more reasonable, Wright says, “I still don’t know what made me say I’m going to do this every night, but I do think there’s a sort of endurance element to it.” Indeed, it would be fair to say that even those of us who are not engaged in a poetry-marathon with no end in sight are getting worn down by lockdown. As Wright says, “it’s a slog we’ve gotta get through, and I thought it would be fitting if the medium reflected that.”
So far, the response to Wright’s work has been overwhelmingly positive, with a minimum of 30-40 people tuning in live and many more watching the replay in the 24 hours that the video remains online following the performance. Wright, however, remains humble, “I’m not claiming I’m some sort of great; I’m not Vera Lynn or anything like that, but people do get in touch and say that it brightens their day, and that’s brilliant.”
Throughout these gigs – of which he has already done over 50 – Wright has noticed a shift in his performance style, noting, “I do think that I am less performative and more myself in these gigs. I think I am more honest, which wasn’t a decision. I just think you can’t do too many gags or schtick. You start just telling the true version of the story without the showmanship.” This style lends itself to the tight framing and raw delivery of the form, and audiences seem to be resonating with it. Wright says, “over the last few years I’ve been doing much more personal poems and as a result, people have been much more personal and vulnerable with me.”
Wright frequently has audience members reaching out to him after his performances. He notes that the online space has facilitated connection in a way that perhaps would not have been possible in shared physical space. Online, people can communicate with him directly and share their reactions candidly through the shrowd of anonymity the internet can provide. On this, Wright says, “even though it’s nice when people tell you they think you’re great, I think it’s also really exciting when you get past that point- where someone tells you a story – their story.”
Wright states his resiliency in this time of intense artistic turmoil comes down in part to his self-sufficiency. Wright explains, “I’m a passionate DIY artist. I do have a script agent, but essentially, I do it all myself. I think technology allows us to be DIY, and these Twitter gigs really embody that. I haven’t got a producer or anything, it’s just me doing my stuff,” Wright adds, “Poets: we are sort of the cockroaches of the performance world. We are very hard to kill and the more nimble you are, the better you’ll come out.”
In talking about the nature of lockdown, Wright says he believes most of the theatre-going community to be very conscientious and “resigned that this is really happening.” Wright, however, foresees potential conflict if lockdown extends into the fall. He says, “I think a lot of us, myself included, have got our eyes on September, saying, “okay, that’s when my tour is going to start up again.” But if we can’t… Especially if they’re saying places like Top Shop can open but the theatres can’t. I think that’s where we’ll end up having some interesting conversations. In a lot of ways, it’s questioning what we consider essential and I think we’re going to be having a lot of conversations about whether or not art is essential.”
On the importance of art in society, Wright reflects, “There’s this great book Station Eleven: they’re part of this touring Shakespeare group after the fall of civilisation and their slogan is, “survival is not enough.” I think about that quite a lot. That’s the next thing: we get ourselves safe and well and sheltered and fed and then we go, “and now what?” For me, the answer is connection; art is definitely one of the arms of creating human connection.”
When looking to the future, Wright says, “my guess is as good as anyone’s.” What is for certain, however, is Wright is resolved to continue these nightly gigs for the foreseeable future. He states, “I will carry on doing them until people don’t want to hear them anymore. I think that’s fair enough. So, if people want to let me off the hook by not tuning in?” Given Wright’s current momentum, I don’t think that’s on the cards any time soon.
Luke Wright is performing his original poetry every night at 8pm BST on Twitter @lukewrightpoet. For more information, visit his website at www.lukewright.co.uk