Polarbear is a UK based spoken word artist with a sharp voice and a passion for storytelling. He has performerd internationally, from the London’s Southbank Centre to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His piece RETURN is part of “The Big Story” season at the Battersea Arts Centre.
Diana: How did RETURN come about?
Polarbear: RETURN has been coming for a while. I knew that I wanted to take my storytelling further and everything that I’d written before had been pieces made up of scenes, so it seemed natural to take that to the level of a full filmic experience. Working with the creative team we got together meant I could bring the story to life in a way that I never could on my own. The story is about my relationship with home and it really feels like me getting some things out that have been growing since I started performing in 2005. Plus it’s exciting to try something that hasn’t been done.
Diana: What guided the decision to perform RETURN in different spaces around the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC)?
Polarbear: Initially we wanted to perform it each night in a different space, the idea being that the carbon test of a good story (teller) is adaptability and it doesn’t matter where you are. Then as we developed design ideas and played with how it would feel, we got excited by the idea of the piece having one home and visiting other spaces. It will be interesting to see how the spaces affect each other.
Diana: What is your approach to language in your work?
Polarbear: I’m a nerd. I get obsessive over the rhythms and patterns of speech and the dynamics of description. Writing for my own voice has become what I do so the exciting thing is to know me and trust my strengths, but also to make sure that each new piece is a push in developing both my written storytelling as well as my performance. It is important for me that the difference between the everyday me and the me on stage is minimal. I don’t want to pretend to be someone else. I want to be me, taking you with me through a story. With that in mind I’m quite a ‘less is more’ person.
Diana: In your last piece, If I Cover my Nose you can’t see Me, you fused together spoken word, theatre and live visuals. How did that approach come about?
Polarbear: I never really set about to create some kind of fusion piece. I had the idea for the story, wrote it and along the way thought about the idea of it feeling like a live graphic novel and luckily found a character artist in Goonism who fit the piece perfectly. To me it’s about conveying a particular story and what makes sense rather than trying to wow with a concept.
Diana: Your work is often rhythmical and immediate. How do these elements fit into your storytelling?
Polarbear: Hopefully those elements are my storytelling. The rhythms of speech, description, dialogue and the craft of telling a good tale combined with the immediacy of the form of spoken word. Me on stage telling you a story right now. That’s why it’s exciting. Sink or swim. Hopefully I can swim.
Diana: Hybridity is a major aspect in your work, fusing poetry with rap, and sonnets with every day language. Do you fuse different elements depending on the story you work on?
Polarbear: To be honest I never think about it. I have an idea and it becomes clear early on what I imagine the particular piece will feel like. The elements of where I’m from and my creative background just leak through I guess. Everything must serve the story and everything is a definite choice. Nothing I share is undecided.
Diana: Can you talk about your process?
Polarbear: My work revolves around me. Where I am, what I’m finding important, things I’m realising and also things I remember. A certain idea rises to the top and becomes all I can think about. From there it becomes all about characters. Bits of me, bits of people I know well, bits I create. Those characters in the situation I have been thinking about myself in, I put the characters in the situation I’ve been thinking about myself in, and go from there. Ever since If I cover my nose I have been thorough with back-story. Every character gets fully fleshed out until they’re real. Then I set about writing scenes. Sometimes things come out in an order, other times it’s more random and all the time I write about 10 times as much as finally gets in to the piece. Throughout the writing process I am speaking the words and allowing the feel of their delivery to influence the writing.
Diana: And where does staging come in?
Polarbear: For RETURN I worked very closely with Yael Shavit the director and script developer. I would be writing small chunks and sharing them with her and we kind of built the story together. The staging comes when the words are edited down to the least amount possible to say what we want to say and I have them in me enough to play with their delivery. Then we start to play and the writing is always affected by what we do.
Diana: You’ve travelled a lot with you work. Does audience reception and intimacy change from place to place?
Polarbear: In essence it’s the same. You can feel when you have people with you, really listening and I’ve been lucky enough to have that feeling wherever I’ve gone. There are some people who maybe view my work as overly simple and possible a little blunt, and as a result connect less with it, but in terms of intimacy it’s basically a slice of me and my personality so if you think I’m alright we’re fine and if you don’t then you’ll probably start thinking about what’s for dinner.
Diana: What freedom do you think your medium offers you?
Polarbear: I can say what I want and if it’s honest then real people will respond. I think spoken word is a funny one really because some people seem to forget that that’s all it is and anything about the performance has to be on top of that foundation – in my opinion of course.
Diana: What is the distinction between theatre and spoken word for you?
Polarbear: I don’t know really. I want to tell stories, just like most forms of performance. I write for me to speak. If it’s performed in a theatre is that theatre? If it’s upstairs in a pub is that spoken word? I don’t mind. It doesn’t change what I do. It just means sometimes people have to spend more to see me do it.
Diana: What’s the most challenging element of your work?
Polarbear: Not so long ago I would have said remembering why I do it, but that’s not a problem now. RETURN has been a real maturation for me in every sense and as lame as it sounds the only challenging thing is me doing the story justice every single time I perform it.
Diana: Future work?
Polarbear: I know what’s next story-wise and it’s a big’un. I’m a big believer in talking about stuff when it exists, but I do know it will be called sTaTe and will be unlike anything I’ve done before. I’m excited by the idea of writing for other people too. I wrote a play for 5 MCs with Birmingham REP last year and enjoyed the process. I’ll be doing more of that kind of thing from now on I think.
Diana: Career highlight?
Polarbear: This piece RETURN without question. I’ve been lucky enough to get opportunities to realise the ideas that I’d been stocking up for years and so each new thing feels like a stepping stone that I sometimes look back at and always smile about. The fact that I get to have an idea and make something out of nothing and work with talented people who share my love for stories is an ongoing highlight. I sound proper lovey don’t I? Yuk.
Diana: Thank you!