N.O.N.C.E at the Edmonton Fringe Festival

N.O.N.C.E by Steve Larkin
August 12, 13, 15, 16, 18 – 20 at Venue #1: Westbury Theatre
More information: stevelarkin.com

An interview with Steve Larkin.

Describe your show in five words.

The feel-good prison show!

Okay, now that we’re intrigued… what’s the longer description?

It’s a based on real-life events that took place around the time that I worked as a poet-in-residence at a high security prison in the UK. The particular prison is unique in being a therapeutic prison with each wing being run as an independent therapeutic community that aims to rehabilitate offenders. Their programme is complemented by arts activity. So my job was to teach murderers, rapists and paedophiles how to write and perform poetry.

From this backdrop I “pan out” to a wider examination of attitudes towards sex, sexuality, and sex offence. It ends up being quite a candid exploration which has been labelled as a feminist piece. Wow sounds like fun eh?! It is also regularly commented that it’s dark but very funny and that it is strangely uplifting.

For those not familiar with prison lingo, what does the name of your show, N.O.N.C.E mean? Why choose it for the title of your show?

N.O.N.C.E. stands for Not On Normal Courtyard Exercise. It’s what used to be chalked on to the cell door of a sex offender so that the guard coming on to duty knew not to let them into the exercise yard with the rest of the inmates – for their own safety.

I chose it for a number of reasons; firstly going into the prison and being face to face with people who have committed the most heinous and destructive of acts is something that you can’t really quite get your head around and it becomes a bit of a morbid preoccupation as it does for so many, secondly you soon learn when you visit a prison that incarceration is an immensely dehumanising experience and that people become some basic definition of a crime and a prison number (the restrictions of labels and definitions is a wider theme of the piece), and lastly I wanted a title in capitals that stood out in a fringe festival listing!

Also because I never want to be accused of selling out – sex sells, sex offence definitely doesn’t! If I sell out the Westbury it’s on artistic merit not because of any marketing trickery!

You are a poet and spoken word artist, yet N.O.N.C.E is presented as a theatre show. How are poetry and spoken word elements woven into N.O.N.C.E?

Well, there we go with restrictive labels again! 😉

I am a poet and spoken word artist, and I am also a playwright, a song writer, a comic, a mandolinist, a singer, a fierce friend, and a damn fine lover! (I put the effort in anyway).

There are a couple of ways that my experiences of crafting stand-alone spoken word poetry pieces has had an influence on the show; firstly I am playing myself (or a version of myself) trying to impress audiences of inmates, prison guards, feminist groups, and general audiences so I weave excerpt of pieces or full pieces of my own into the narrative, and secondly there’s an influence on the flow and style of the language, N.O.N.C.E. is regularly described as being “poetic prose”, I habitually look for the innate musicality of language. One reviewer described the show as being “a beautifully sonic experience”, I wouldn’t go that far, I think maybe she hadn’t heard enough good music! It is a definite positive element to the piece though. Also years of getting noticed in noisy clubs and bars before dedicated spoken word nights became popular

Also years of getting noticed in noisy clubs and bars before dedicated spoken word nights became popular has honed my instincts when it comes to grabbing the attention of an audience and not letting go until they’ve been hopefully thoroughly entertained in a way they previously might not have thought possible.

What conclusions or insights did you come to about the role of art and creativity as you created N.O.N.C.E?

Well I came to certain realisations during the work in the prison. It became abundantly apparent that all those ideals that you hold but don’t really dare to believe are valid are absolutely valid. Art is a humanising thing that helps to aid understanding and to connect people, even heal people (I’m cringing as I type this but it’s actually true). In a prison environment you are talking about people who have only know destruction, as a control mechanism and as a way of life. Giving people the simple tools of creativity and congratulating them on something that they’ve made can be the key that unlocks the door (metaphorically of course!). I witnessed a transformation in many men, who I hope have accessed and developed positive parts of themselves that will have a lasting impact on themselves and everyone that they come into contact with. I would recommend writing creatively to absolutely everyone, everyone has got at least one great poem or story in them. That’s why I organise poetry slams because I see the tangible effect on those that take part.

Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?

Don’t be put off by my ugly mugshot – I’m nice, or at least I end up nice in the story. People say that N.O.N.C.E. has had them thinking and smiling for ages after they’ve seen it, which pleases me. Don’t come if you’re allergic to thought… or fun!

The 35th Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is August 11 – 21. Get your tickets at tickets.fringetheatre.ca.

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