Saboteur Awards 2014: Performance

-In which James Webster sums up the categories he presented at the awards-

After a lot of voting, some great performances, a brilliant (bank account-busting) book fair and, in addition to the performances, a hilarious video from Best One-Off Event nominated show The Anti-Slam (a show that plumbed the gut-bustingly funny depths of poetic disaster), here are the results of the performance awards.

Best Spoken Word Show

We threw a lot of catchphrases like “it was a really close race” and “it was a tight field” or “this one went right down to the wire” and, for me, this that was especially true in this category. A strong category and varied one, from the mega-zeitgeist blend of writing and technology in Electronic Voice Phenomena (yes, I just said mega-zeitgeist, deal with it) to the hilariously outlandish humour of Rob Auton‘s The Sky Show with its “drunk, childlike humour” (Three Weeks), or there’s the electric brainchild of Fay Roberts‘ the Other Voices: Spoken Word Cabaret that celebrates the words and voices less heard and has been a bright spot of the Edinburgh Fringe for two years running.

The runner up, by a very close margin, was Kirsten Luckins The Moon Cannot be Stolen, with its rich, verdant language and powerful poetic journey, a show that the eventual winner called ‘the show I wish I’d written.

That winner was, of course, “undoubtedly the best Spoek Word Show ever! Around the World in 8 Mistakes by Sophia Walker, a show that I have been repeatedly told will change my life and that was called “left me feeling shaken and a bit hollow. You know, in a good way.” in the 5-star Sabotage review. Voters praised her for:

For her passion, clever writing and the power of her delivery adding wit to the mix.


Best Spoken Word Performer

One of the best things for me about the Saboteur Awards is that so often the nominees are performers or events that just haven’t been on my radar and this was definitely one of these cases. While I was familiar with the genre-subverting brilliance of Lucy “Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry” Ayrton, the word-whirling hilarity of Hollie McNish and the lyrical, phrase-turning joys of Sophia Walker, there was one big surprise on the list for me. Which is probably mainly due to my being a Southern philistine who rarely ventures further north than Birmingham, but still…

What made it doubly surprising was that the winner managed to shove Ted-Hughes winning spoken word superstar Kate Tempest into second place. Tempest was aptly described as a “poetry god” by voters and is Spoken Word’s biggest name, so to take the top spot from her is no mean feat.

And in the end Steve Nash was the performer to do it. He wowed us during the day with a performance dripping with charm and stage presence, then won over the audience all over again with an amazingly humble acceptance speech. Voters said:

more charisma than your average rockstar

an incredible package”

Because he’s brilliant. But I am voting from a westherspoons so maybe my vote should be discounted


Best Regular Spoken Word Night

This was another of those “tight fields” we kept talking about and provided me with perhaps the biggest surprise of the voting: that Bang! Said the Gun, that Spoken Word behemoth that has done so much to make live poetry mainstream, didn’t retain the crown after their win last year. White Rabbit’s Are You Sitting Comfortably, an intimate and cuddly evening of live short fiction that also deals in homemade cake (stories and sugar, that’s a winner in my books) and Shindig, an event in Leicester run by the ever-innovative and exciting Nine Arches Press also provided incredibly fierce competition.

The runner-up, for the second year running, was the incredibly open and supportive event that is Jibba Jabba, run by the lovely Jenni Pascoe. What impresses me most about Jibba Jabba is the way one they run their open mic, where there’s no running order and the first person to get to the mic is the first one to read. That it doesn’t just descend into riotous chaos is evidence of a really lovely environment.

But the winner was the superbly conceived Liars’ League, who give writers the chance to have their work performed by professional actors, offering something totally unique. Voters certainly loved the chance to see such well-crafted words in the hands of such exciting performers, saying:

Brilliant opportunity for writers (professional actors reading their work), and very supportive follow-up with youtube clips, podcasts etc.”

Consistently good entertainment, and with actors reading, authors are from around the globe.”

Variety, excellent readers, gives voice to writers and opportunities for actors of all races, warm welcoming atmosphere for new comers.”


Best One-Off

Another wonderfully varied ground of events here, with the artfully awful poetry of the aforementioned The Anti-Slam plumbing new, previously unsuspected levels of awful, coming up against the fantastically inventive media-twisting Translating Concrete Poetry that translated poetry into other formats, and the superbly conceived celebration of Frida Kahlo, Poems After Frida, that both celebrated Kahlo’s works and created new work (including a gorgeous zine).

And in second place came London Lines, another cross-media project that paired poets and artists together to give voice to different boroughs of London, capturing the spirits of physical places and then transcribing those words back into physical forms. Just stunning.

But coming in first was the astonishingly powerful event, Against Rape. When it comes to politically motivated poetry (or art of any kind) it’s often hard to discern any immediate effect, I think when you try to change the word via art then you’re definitely playing the long game, slowly altering societal attitudes. What’s so important about this event, that seeks to speak out against a crime and a culture that thrives on silence, is that by hearing so many voices speak out at once you can already see the change at work. As they themselves said:

“rape culture’s endorsement of power means that any survivor who dares to be other than compliant, silent and erased risks being held responsible for her rape. It is into this silence that Against Rape speaks.”

And voters said:

This cause affects so many more millions of women the world over than anyone ever thinks about. The voices here are about awareness and a vital expression of both rage and love.”

Bravest poetry project there’s been for a long time. Absolute respect “

Because the subject is so moving and so perfectly visualized in poetry and art, it is such a touching way to be involved with human grief and to fight it like this.”One-off-prize-logo-213x300

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