Arts | Culture | Derby | Events | Gender | Leicester | Lifestyle | Mental Health | Nottingham | Race | Sexuality

Leicester Riot Grrrls

By on 23 August, 2016

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Leicester pretty much has everything: excellent food, lovely people from everywhere in the world, high-quality sports, and an ever-growing cultural scene. A significant chunk of this rise in arts, music, performance, spoken word and dance is not funded by the establishment, the government or big corporations. You can find these underground acts whispering in the corner of an open mic event at the pub or exploding on an improvised stage at an independent gallery. It could be considered punk in principles and D.I.Y. in aesthetic: if you want something to happen, make it happen in your own terms and flipping the bird at “gatekeepers”. If they don’t let you in the building, make a raucous party on the streets.

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We would assume that, with such notches under its belt, Leicester would also have a social activist scene. People questioning authority on behalf of certain cultural groups, ethnic groups, gender groups, those who are often unheard or afraid to share their voices even in the independent cultural scene I love and praise so much. How many middle-class baby-booming white men have to spread themselves like Marmite all over workshops, open mics, performances and other events when they could easily knock the door on the BBC and get their own show any time? How many topics are avoided and unquestioned, experiences left unshared, injustices being ignored? For a start, where are the women? The young people, the queer, the unemployed and underemployed, the working class, the cry-myself-to-sleeps, the disabled, the large-and-unashamed, the anarchists?

Where are the Riot Grrrls?

It’s the same thing Gemma Wicks and Meri Everitt were wondering. There have been Riot Grrrl or Riot Grrrl-inspired communities in several cities and countries, either tangent or online, ever since the manifesto was released in 1991 on Bikini Kill’s zine; some of them expanding, updating and improving the lifestyle and the scope of who is allowed in and what to fight for. Today, intersectionalism is key, and all women are real women, all non-binaries are non-binaries. People are what people are. But at least nowadays, there wasn’t a movement like this one in Leicester.

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Leicester Riot Grrrls started as an idea on Facebook. It has its own closed group, a safe space to ask questions and help each other through sorority. There is now a public Facebook page where we share news, pictures and cute/enraging/edifying things. But what would a geographically-specific group be like without – gasp – human interaction?

The group meets ideally once a month. The first meeting was in July, upstairs at Firebug. It was quite successful and people came all the way from Nottingham and Derby to participate and maybe make something like this happen in their towns. So I guess we’re pioneers in the East Midlands? We had a bit of an open mic and I am amazed by the quality and passion of all the performers; some of them regulars in the local and regional circuits, some of them shy and terrified kids who had never done it in public. This is an excellent opportunity for them to practice, share, and keep doing things here, there and everywhere.

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There are a few smaller groups within the group, and they each specialise in one kind of activity or project. The music jammers, the book club, the film club, the zinesters, and anything else that comes by. You’re all welcome to perform, share your writings and your readings.

The next Leicester Riot Grrrls meeting is on the 31st of August at Duffy’s, a very friendly Irish pub just around the corner from Firebug. If you want to be part of it, organise stuff and believe in the ideals, feel free to join! We’ll also be hanging out at that thing called Leicester Pride at Victoria Park on Saturday 3rd of September.

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Culture | Gender | Lifestyle | Nottingham | Poetry | Race | Sexuality | Spoken Word

Cutiepocking Notts Pride 2016

By on 26 July, 2016

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After Coventry Pride, and after all the gross stuff going on with the world, I felt it was my responsibility to get more involved with Pride and speak out as a member of the community. So, going the extra mile, I’ll be performing not once but TWICE at Notts Pride this year.

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First, at the Mouthy Poets Queer Zine launch. The zine was conceived by Dean Atta at his Queer Poetry Masterclass, as a way to show the resulting exercises and similar material. It was a very fruitful experience, and I can’t wait to hold it in my hands. It features work by Atta, Alex Bond, Denise Dee, Petra Mijic, Neal Pike, Barbara Schaefer, Beccy Shore, Milla Tebbs, Joni Wildman and yours truly. The launch and readings will be at Lee Rosy’s Tea on Broad Street, 2:30pm. But please, be there from 1:30pm to enjoy the full Poetry Corner and see regular performers from Write Minds Wiff Waff.

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Later, the end (or the beginning?) will be near at the QTIPOCALYPSE, an open mic for Queer Trans and Intersex-Identified People of Colour (or like you can pronounce the acronym, Cutiepock). It’s organised by QTIPOC Notts, a group that was just set up last November and aims to give space to people of colour with diverse genders and sexualities who may not feel comfortable in the average mainstream LGBT community. Allies are welcome to watch and listen. Hosted by the grand Dr Angela Martinez Dy, better known as El Día. It will be upstairs at Rough Trade Nottingham, also on Broad Street, 7pm.

So yeah, come to one. Or the other. Or both. I recommend both. Also, everything else at Notts Pride. Marching, listening to music, making music, looking at pretty things, getting pretty things, celebrating our identities and fighting for recognition with words and glitter.

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Culture | Films | Gender | Internet | Mental Health | Poems | Portfolio | Race | Sexuality

VIDEO: How to Leave the House in Times of Trouble

By on 15 July, 2016

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The world sucks sometimes. You’ve read on “Craig David” about a lot of the boogers that happened in the world, and that was just for ONE WEEK. The following weeks kept getting worse and worse in small and great scale: police brutality, terrorist attacks everywhere, your parents damning this country to hell and validating those who hate us to be more outspoken about it, horrible people inside and outside taking sneaky pictures in the changing rooms and laughing at those who don’t exactly please Grandpa Hugh Hefner’s rotten standards, etc.

It can be awful daring to step outside with the piercing fear of being attacked one way or another, but then there’s also the fear of ourselves that, if we stayed indoors all the time, we might never be able to come out and our voice will be muffed and lost. The fear of not coming home alive, the fear of not leaving house alive. This is for you, for us.

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It’s a poem/film/guide thingie called “How to Leave the House in Times of Trouble”. For those of us trouble by agoraphobia, being members of one or many “minority” groups and seeing our worst fears come through every day. There’s still a world outside, and this world still needs you. So get ready and earn some courage however you can, if possible.

The poem was written as an exercise at a Writing Poetry Google Hangout Workshop with Dean Atta. He gave the queue of making a how-to poem on any topic of our “expertise”. Later, I turned it into a short film for the Pangaea World Poetry Slam, who organised said workshop. It was lovely to merge three of my loves — writing, filming and sharing — and use them for a good thing.

Here comes the fun part: click, like and share with as many people as possible. Particularly people who would benefit from the message. You never know the ordeals someone could go through just to live a “normal” day. If I ever make money out of the streams, shares and likes (LOLS), I’ll give it all to a mental health organisation, particularly one which helps queers, POC and/or people who may not speak English and need someone to advocate for them. It comes with subtitles/captions if you don’t understand my accent, and I’m working on a Spanish translation. Subtitles in any other language are more than welcome. <3

There are a couple of things that might be misunderstood. The “wear something that doesn’t attract negative attention” is not slut-shaming. We should be free to wear whatever we want, but some people don’t know or don’t want us to know this, so they attack. On low “spoons” days, you don’t even feel like fighting or defending yourself, so you keep your energy levels to a minimum and just try to roam by in a way that attracts as few bigots as possible.

Also, the “you’re still a woman on trainers, you’re still a man on stilettos” bit includes cis and trans people alike. A lot of trans people I know fear wearing items that are associated more with the gender they were forcibly assigned at birth. They don’t want to be “read” as “impostors”. A trans woman is still a woman on her Nike Air Force Ones. A trans man is still a man on his Louboutins. An NB is still an NB on whatever they want. Also, the fear of fragile masculinity or the fear of not being “seen as a woman” even if you’re cis because your exterior doesn’t match the “desirable standards” (women of certain colours not recognised in feminininininity, fat chicks like us seen as “one of the boys” by our crushes, et al). So yeah. I love you. If you find any fuckups in my work, let me know.

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Arts | Coventry | Culture | Gender | Lifestyle | Sexuality | Zines

Coventry Pride 2016

By on 23 June, 2016

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On Sunday, two ideas/stereotypes/internalised misconstructions were torn apart out of my mind forever: the idea that Pride festivals are now mainstream bacchanals far away from their original meanings, and the idea that Coventry died after the Blitz and that since then it’s been nothing but — The Specials dixit — a ghost town. Coventry is, in fact, more galvanised than ever, and Coventry Pride is queer in every sense of the word. Weird, open, beyond the norms.

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Image: Coventry Pride.

Coventry Pride took place last Saturday and Sunday at FarGo Village, a comfortable hip area in Far Gosford Street recently devised as a creative hub where young and/or alternative people can hang out, exchange ideas and establish connections. It is a bit like a compact version of Leicester’s Cultural Quarter, but more focused on startups and independent stores. It seems pretty cosy, and offers anything from American sweets to books, comics, clothes and pop culture collectables. With a coffee shop and a tap house almost next to each other, I think I would spend a lot of my waking hours in this area if I lived in Coventry.

The most glamorous Dalek.
The most glamorous Dalek.

This is the second year in a row in which Coventry Pride takes place, last year being nominated as Best Live Event 2015 in Coventry Telegraph People’s Choice Awards. It is organised by people intensely active in the local LGBT+ community, a registered charity since October 2015, and it has kept organising events in preparation for every Pride all year long. I was originally invited to perform for ❤ Music, Hate Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in May, but times were complicated. It looks like it was an amazing event full of quality music, poetry and performance in general. Would love to go next time they do something like this.

Source: Sarah Beth.
Source: Sarah-Beth Gilbert.

On Sunday, I was part of the Spoken Word Open Mic event at the Urban Coffee. I was kindly invited by Jessamy Morris-Davis, organiser extraordinaire, whom I met thanks to Joe from Deathsex Bloodbath (heavily involved in the Coventry music scene) and his wonderful partner Sarah-Beth. We happen to share friends like Kerrie Sakura, who I finally got to meet that afternoon after ages of talking online; and apparently Joe also knows Charles Wheeler from the wrestling circuit. Small world! Small beautiful world!

Nim Chimpsky. Image: Andy McGeechan.
Nim Chimpsky. Image: Andy McGeechan.

Outside, we had the Phoenix Stage, with tons of mind-blowing queer music acts. Yes, even indie rock and electro noise. This was really, really important, since a lot of the times I’ve been in Pride festivals/LGBT+ events, the musical offer was rather one-dimensional: from ABBA tributes to busted Butlin’s “comedians” in drag to straight pop divas who recorded that one song about being yourself and treat the queer community as a cash cow. Stagey McStageface in the Market Hall had more cheesy pop/mainstream acts, but it was not everything the festival had to offer, as it happens in other festivals in bigger cities. This one recognised the possibilities of noise/experimental music as the epitome of all things queer beyond the “that sounds gay” label. I performed in the small silence gap between Duck Thieves and Nim Chimpsky. CHECK THEM OUT, NOW.

Duck Thieves! Image: Andy McGeechan.
Duck Thieves! Image: Andy McGeechan.

While we’re at it, please, please, please read “Noise Music as Queer Expression” by K Surkan. Print it, download it, read it on the bus, highlight stuff on it, share it, shout it.

Image: Andy McGeechan.
Image: Andy McGeechan.

Another thing I adored about the festival was its inclusiveness, its grassroots and its DIY ethos. As I’ve said before, the organisers were queer themselves and way beyond the White Gay Man with Disposable Income. Trans, Lesbian, Bi/Pan and Non-Binary folks crafted this with so much love and dedication you could feel it. On Saturday, there was a Body Positive Catwalk and I’m really gutted I missed it. People of different abilities and identities were very welcome and felt like home. As everything was at a ground level, it was wheelchair friendly, and since FarGo is so compact, people didn’t have to walk/run/rush/be dragged from one extreme to another to get to the next event. It was not crowded and it was not overwhelming; and if it was, you could go to the Info room and relax on the couch. And no, this Pride was not brought to you by Absolut Vodka, and you would not untuck in the Interior Illussions lounge.

Trans goth pride. Image: Andy McGeechan.
Trans goth pride. Image: Andy McGeechan.

(I’m still as obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race as usual but hey! The indier, the better!)

The community and info stalls — or what I managed to see from them on Sunday — were welcoming and friendly, with leaflets and material for queers and allies alike; offering help for old people, young people, people with disabilities, people of faith, victims/survivors of abuse, or even just having a laugh at the Lady Go-Diva Comedy Stage.

Gizmo Pride.
Gizmo Pride.

This event was so exciting it inspires me to get more involved in all things queer and underground. I’m tired of being read as straight just because I happened to fall in love with a dude (someone I adore regardless of gender) and it feels a bit lonely sometimes. The Coventry queer arts community seems warm, friendly and united; and I would love to keep attending their events and even just hanging out with my mates over there. If Leicester Pride were something like this, back to its roots, less corporate and more connected to punk and DIY (a bit like Anerki, but more queer-focused and with a lot more indie stalls), it would be perfect.

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England | Events | Germany | Language | Leicester | Lifestyle | Literature | Nottingham | Pakistan

Rediscover Communication I: Anerki in the Cellophane

By on 6 June, 2016

These weeks, I have been thinking and experiencing tons of stuff related to bilingual/multilingual communication in arts. Particularly, in writing and sharing words.

Códice Florentino.
Códice Florentino.

Growing up, I always took for granted the fact that I learned English. I had to do it, we had to do it, if we wanted to “be someone” in the world. If we wanted to travel, trade, enjoy entertainment, even save lives with whatever medicine people read on academic and research journals. The older generations in my family didn’t have this pressure on them as the urge of globalisation wasn’t that intense in their youth, so whenever I or my cousins/nieces/nephews of my generation or younger had to learn English at school, sing songs in English or make assembly presentations in English, it would be considered a massive feat. “Oye, que Cynthia anda estudiando maestría… ¡y en inglés!”. But it was never an achievement to us Mexican “millenials” (excuse me, willenials). It was something we just had to do. Like maths. Like operating a computer — another Herculean adventure on its own through the eyes of our parents, but that’s for another post.

Now in England, I have been met with the same awe not only for my ability to learn and communicate fluently in Orwell’s tongue, but for the fact that my first language is not English. They see it as a goldmine of knowledge, a secret code, the keys to a world apart from this one. Due to postcolonial preconceptions being spread through every government department — education included —, a lot of English people old and young never learned another language. At best, they took French or German for their GCSEs and forgot any foreign lexicon once they went to university or joined the workforce. When I started taking Spoken Word more seriously, they told me to share something in Spanish. For the musicality of it, for the beauty and strength of it, and perhaps, in the same way a lot of us honed our English skills through F.R.I.E.N.D.S. episodes and Radiohead songs, to catch a bit of it like flu or anthrax.

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I finally pleased them at the ninth edition of Anerki, that beautiful evening proud of showcasing the best in underground arts in Leicester. Music, dance, mesmerising visual arts, spoken word and stand-up comedy, just to mention a few examples of what you could find on that soirée at The Font. The fabulous Kish aka Zeropence had been excitedly telling me for months to bring something in Spanish, as people set the roof on fire when they see things performed in another language. And I did it because I felt safe. In other areas of the country, you would be met with pale bald tomatoes shouting “English, motherfucker, do you speak it?” like vegetable versions of Samuel L. Jackson. But hey! This is Leicester! We kicked out the EDL and we did the same to Britain First TWICE. So I went waaaay beyond the comfort zone and did something I had never ever done in my 30 years of grazing the Earth.

I fucking rapped.

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Despite all my rage, I’m still just reading lyrics. Still via Elliott Izzard.

And it was hot! People shouting, dancing and clapping, jaws dropping as that cute chubby lady with the Street Fighter necklace was dropping bars or whatever kids today call them. They possibly had no idea what I was talking about, but journalist Terry Mardi said “they felt it”. I also did some artsy Spanglish shit called “Sk*pe”, where I tried to reinterpret “O Superman” by Laurie Anderson and “Mother Mother” by Tracy Bonham and adapt it to contemporary times. It’s on the footage section, for the bold. Like the new layout, by the way?

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If you missed it, I’ll be doing it again on the 18th of June at LCB Depot, as part of Anerki X. This will be an extra special one, on par with the exhibition The Art of Crass, curated by Sean Clark. The main act this evening will be Crass co-founder Steve Ignorant’s Slice of Life. Quite an honour to be shouting strange words at people who master the art of shouting strange words. Punk icons. Stick around all day at DIY-related events, workshops and fun for all ages.

Before that this Friday 10th of June, same place and same group of people, will be a spoken word special where a few of us read and recite stuff opening for Crass members Penny Rimbaud, Louise Elliott and Eve Libertine’s Cobblestones of Love, a lyrical rewrite of Yes, Sir, I Will. There will be a barbecue too. Come for the food, stay for the art and words.

(BTW, I got the idea for this title from Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep, a surreal film that was pretty much based on communication breakdown in general. For instance, Duck Ellington.)

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Culture | Events | Leicester | Podcasts | Poetry

What You Saying? Poetry Podcast

By on 19 March, 2016

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Poetman is a superhero in the making. He has only been doing spoken word for the past 18 months, but he’s already a staple of the local scene. A wonderful thing that differentiates Will Horspool from other poets — besides his use of cool pedals and musical gadgets — is that not only he wants to create and share, but he wants other people to create and share as well. “Spoken word is not dead”, was the name of his open mic in Glenfield. And to keep it alive, he knows it’s very important to constantly plant new seeds.

That’s what What You Saying? is about: a venue for people from all walks of life to share their words and incept new ideas. Rather than sticking to good ol’ reciting, What You Saying? is a poetry podcast and event aiming to inspire new ways to write and speak, perhaps connecting to other disciplines such as music and comedy.

Shed_Poetman
Poetman

For a start, it happens every month (or at least it’s meant to) in the basement at The Shed, the oldest alternative music venue in Leicester, mostly focused on rock and metal. Not your average theatre or jazz café, but what other people would call “a dive bar”. Not really a place to take your parents to (unless your parents are Lemmy Kilmister and Cherie Curie, in that case you’re fucking awesome), but certainly a place full of character and love.

The first What You Saying?  happened last Wednesday 9 March, and started around 8pm. It was meant to be split in two halves, but the response was so overwhelming that it was arranged into three halves (?). All of them with the same gravitas, and mostly recorded for the poetry podcast afterwards.

Here is the list, or most of the list, of the performers that evening:

  • Ruby Kelman, a young promise and regular at Find the Right Words. She recites in an adorably awkward manner, like she is confessing her love to you and fears you won’t reciprocate (of course you will, who wouldn’t). One of her love declarations was dedicated to Amy Winehouse, the doe deer blinded by the paparazzi flashlights, and not the fabricated product of said members of the press.

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  • Stefan Seniuk, a rock and roll poet and “The Devil’s Bard”. Clearly influenced by the Beat Generation, punk and rock icons and the teachings of Dr John Cooper Clarke, he invites people to join the chorus like they do with bands in the arena. “We’re All Whores”, he made us chant at some point, and it was actually kind of true.

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  • Tyga, again someone relatively green in public, but delivering words way beyond her years. A street image with street stories, taking us out to clean our own rubbish and mop our own vomit as members of society. Someone to definitely watch out for.

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  • Joe Doyle, mainly a musician, and compère of his own open night at Manhattan 34. One of his stories was about a fly-killing bully, a monster who uses all kinds of items to catch those (apparently) smaller than him, yet performed in a funny voice and poise to remind us that these bullies are nobodies in reality.

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  • Jodie Hannis. She likes fish tacos over sausage sandwiches, and is not afraid to say it. A recent tenant at the House of Verse, and someone we will certainly keep seeing around.

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  • Oscar Prince, who still relates the name “Fergie” to a certain Scottish duchess and not the lead singer of Black Eyed Peas.

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  • Trevor Glyne Locke, who has been writing for decades before we were a figment of our parents’ imagination. Surprisingly, this was the first time he read in public, and he took us back to a decade we didn’t live, riding his scooter all over the world.

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  • Some broad who talked about pepper spray, swimming, cutting your hair in the loo and paraphrasing R.E.M.

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  • Philip Petersen, roaring laughter and roaring voice. An impressive presence in and out of stage.

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  • Douglas Deans, reciter of truisms and complainer of the same things that annoy me in life. Quite a figure on the rise in local theatre. You can’t miss him.

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  • K12, who is only in college and yet he can demolish you with his turbo fast speech and his pulverising topics. A previous contender in Heard of Mouth, and someone who needs to come out and slam more often.

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  • Daniel Nicholas, the enfant terrible of East Midlands comedy. He was attacked by bears, yet he didn’t win an Oscar. You will see him around because of course, you will.

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  • Zeropence, also in charge of his own interdisciplinary open mic night: ANERKI, every last Thursday of the month at The Turkey Café. Excellent tempo and flow, whether a capella or in a musical collaboration.

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  • James Cull, a metal musician who hadn’t read poetry in public before and ended up sounding cuter than a lot of us. Appearances can betray those who don’t know that metal folks can actually be the nicest.

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  • Pavel Peytchev, another metal poet with a soft heart, worried about the woes of today, sensationalism, deceit and the way media manipulates the masses.

In between acts, Poetman performed both by himself and with Peter Prick, prick by name and prick by nature, rambling over funky guitars and making us question ourselves as he questions himself.

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If you want to hear and download (because you do, right?), just click on this as you please. Also, visit Poetman’s website and follow him on all social media to stay in touch and know everything he does.

The next What You Sayin? live Poetry Podcast is on Thursday 21 April, again, at The Shed.

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Arts | Culture | Drawing | Drinks | Events | Lifestyle | Monterrey

Drink and Draw Monterrey

By on 7 December, 2015
drinkdrawmonterrey-tables
Image: Murall.

I’m in my hometown Monterrey for a couple of weeks taking care of family business; and while I’ve been mostly visiting relatives and arranging serious stuff, I’ve also had the chance to touch base with local happenings in matters of art and expression. Thus, I was thankful to attend the second edition of Drink and Draw Monterrey.

Image: Murall.
Image: Murall.

Drink and Draw is a brilliant idea that has been executed in places like New York and London, and that now seems to attract more and more young adults thanks to the explosion in art therapy and self-care. As colouring books for grown ups become instant unapologetic best-sellers, it should be quite natural to take the solitary enjoyment of creating and enhancing drawings and turn it into a social and amicable activity. You know, just like going to the movies, sports clubs, karaoke nights and, yes, the pub.

The Monterrey chapter is organised by Murall, a multidisciplinary school devoted to teaching and spreading information on all things related to arts and design. This independent learning centre features experts in illustration, visual arts, and industrial and graphic design; and while they include workshops and courses in their roster, they aim to reach as many people as possible regardless of their level of artistic expertise. Events like this one are great ways to offer a non-judgemental space for exposure, expression and relief.

Image: Murall.
Image: Murall.

Last Thursday evening, Murall invited people to bring their weapons — pencils, pens, brushpens, markers — and join the battle at The New Black / Beauty Lab, in the recently galvanised Barrio Antiguo cultural quarter. After paying 20 pesos (less than 80p in GBP) to cover expenses, visitors could drink all the Indio and Dos Equis they wanted and draw to their hearts content on blank sheets of paper covering rows and rows of tables. They could sit next to their friends and strangers (potential friends), appreciate each other’s works and have a chat while decompressing or focusing.

Draw-o-Matic

Una foto publicada por Cynthia Rodríguez (@cynstagrammy) el

Guests weren’t the only ones drawing: a few recognised talents took their turn to operate the Draw-O-Matic. For an optional tip, people could sit in front of the artist through a pitch black contraption, wait five minutes or less and finally receive a portrait of themselves through a “printing” slot. A lot more exciting than a phone booth, to be honest. Here are a couple of renditions of some random chick done by two different artists.

Los leo con esta cara. Una foto publicada por Cynthia Rodríguez (@cynstagrammy) el

First, poor illustrator and tattoo artist Roberac did a graphic description based on witness testimonials (his own) of  some tired-ass hag reselling tamales outside the tamales stadium.

Fat and sassy. Fassy.

Una foto publicada por Cynthia Rodríguez (@cynstagrammy) el

Then, Dynamite depicted the same seater as a bespectacled fat and sassy bombshell. The difference a pair of glasses can make. Reading glasses and glasses of booze, for sure. Now I get why no one suspected Clark Kent was Batman.

We certainly need this to happen again and again. Events like Drink and Draw Monterrey not only bring creative kinds together, but inject Barrio Antiguo and the entire city back with the life it once had, with a vengeance. Insecurity issues kept the once flourishing area shut for nearly five years and killed the Barrio Antiguo experience for at least one generation of youngsters who will never fully know what it was like to have a pizza at Cafe Iguana, live indie history watching an international act face to face at Garage, or bounce between rivals Antropolis and McMullens. Thanks to these kind of events, young people will get to live and love the nightlife and look at it bloom all over again. And for that, we are thankful.

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Austria | Comedy | Culture | Events | Leicester | Photography | Short Story | Theatre

Emergency! at The Y: how it went

By on 12 October, 2015

emergency-cynthiarodriguez

A couple of Sundays ago, I had my first official public performance in Britain, and the first ever in five years. It was all part of Emergency! at The Y, a periodical showcase of new talent in arts, theatre, music and general entertainment in Leicester. I had already attended as an observer, and was really fond of the concept: sharing your work with an audience, perhaps as a rehearsal or perhaps as a result, open to honest feedback and in constant conversation with your colleagues, your crowd and your compere, getting to know each other and helping each other expand and improve.

Previously handled by KLiC, this was the first time Naomi Peart and the theatre directly managed Emergency! at The Y, so the organiser was as nervous as yours truly. There’s a first time for everything, and this was hers and this was mine. We were together on this. Besides a few rookie mistakes (Where’s the coffee? Where’s a competent technician? Where are we and what are we meant to be doing? Where’s’ the extense event advertising you so dearly promised?), things went  hunky dory and you could tell Peart and crew — featuring the stunning and shining Kirsty Munro as mistress of ceremony — have a passion for making things happen and provide a safe venue for free expression. On that we can agree.

“The donkey goes in front”, as we would say back home; so I opened the evening with Comfort Zoned, my multi(eh?)media storytelling extravaganza. Silly me and silly tech didn’t allow it to be as multimedia as initially expected. Never trust tablets to present audiovisual material, and never underestimate the power of  USB/external drives. I did and I did, so the visuals I so intrincately crafted (on Paint.net and PicMonkey) were not to be seen and in the end it was just me, a spotlight and the music. The feedback was positive and the show seemed to work better this way, with people solely focusing on my words and sound without being overwhelmed, leaving images to their imagination. I was nervous and went too fast on a couple of stories (particularily the fast-paced ones), but it was amazing to let people immerse in my world and connect with all these characters and their circumstances. People liked “First Crush” and “Somewhere in Lanzarote” the most. The power of self-identification was there, and so was the power of getting to know the other. A particular feedback note I liked said Comfort Zoned was “[e]njoyable, humorous and enlightening to issues of being a woman and living through particular times and ages”. For this, I’m forever grateful and willing to polish, enhance and keep presenting the show wherever possible.

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Next, we had Dori Kirchmair, an enchanting Austrian who has even presented a TEDx Talk, and this is technically what she did. To those of us who have always wanted to go to one but never had the time, place or money, it was a wish come true. Her presentation, Resonance, was as scientific as it was metaphorical, on the ways we connect with people, the environment and our own feelings. About how something so small and “insignificant” can pluck our strings and retune our psyche like an instrument. About how our brains are like a party where all our sensations convey, a bit like a grown up version of Pixar’s Inside Out. A night out where everyone around you is a dickhead, but everyone around you is you, and you have to acknowledge yourself and your dark sides to be able to see the light. Own yourself, calibrate yourself and get going well-tuned back into life.

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Of course, you could achieve that with a bit of meditation if that’s your thing, and Rose Hale‘s Transitions helped greatly. Her series of nature photographs present changes through seasons and changes through life, insects evolving and plants ageing and growing. Drastic changes we barely notice until they hit you, going as softly as animated transition effects and tenuous minimalist music. Hale’s slideshow brought peace to some of us, while scaring some younger audiences. Is it because the idea of growing and approaching death every day is still alien to them? Is there something inside they just want to avoid? It might be my Mexican morbid nature, growing up surrounded by sugar skulls and black humour poetry, but once you take for granted that life comes and goes for everything and everyone — you, me, butterflies, trees, your dog, your mum, your children, the Sun, foxes, grand civilisations, planet Earth, the stars, the Universe — there’s a sense of tranquillity that makes any ordeal easier to carry. Surfing on the tides of change.

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Speaking of surfing, Lindsey Warnes Carroll took us on a holiday, threw us in the pool and made us dive to the deep end of self-doubt and literature nerdom as part of her 40 Odd Tales. We read out quotes from the Beckett Bucket, witnessed her and Munro go through a session of Speed Pinter, heard her recite in perfect redneck inside the Tennessee Williams Tunnel, and could taste the increasingly-bittersweet cocktails of her stages in life. Of our stages in life. Make the games and dynamics larger, and you could create a more personal Dismaland; but instead of worrying about paparazzi and capitalism, cringing at negative reviews from everyone you’ve ever known as read by a coconut secretary, drowning on a small bucket and being attacked by tinfoil and bubbles.

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Accidentally on purpose, there was a leitmotif across all four performers. We may or may not have known each other before, but we had more things in common than our fondness of the stage and our gender identification. We all spoke about changes, about not being the same once a thing, a moment, a milestone in time and space happens. Stumbling upon all creatures big and small, the devil and the angel in the details, turning the page of a poisoned book and never going back to what we used to know. Trees losing leaves, butterflies departing from their cocoons, connecting with our truth in our emotions, reaching stages that looked so far from us before and now make us forget there’s anything else. I ignore if Naomi went for a general topic when she arranged the line up or if all submissions were accidentally connected, but it worked in flawless harmony.

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The next edition of Emergency! at The Y will happen on the 13th of December. If you want to get involved, contact Amy Christer on AChrister at leicesterymca dot co dot uk as soon as you can. It will be great to see you on stage this time.

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Arts | Culture | Events | Leicester | Lifestyle | Literature | Short Story | United Kingdom

Emergency! at the Y

By on 30 September, 2015

emergencyThis Sunday, 5pm, I’ll be performing along three other wonderful up-and-coming artists at The Y theatre. Dori Kirchmair, Rose Hale, Lindsey Warnes and myself will each have a slot doing our best in comedy, theatre and spoken word. I’ll be opening up with storytelling and audiovisuals. It’s my first time ever performing in Britain, so I would lie if I said I wasn’t nervous! Anyway, here’s the description:

What happens when you find yourself in a situation out of the ordinary? Out of your definition of ordinary? The stories in Comfort Zoned are about people who discover there is more to life than what they used to know and embrace. Terrifying, thrilling, leading to improvement or disappointment, but never back to where they were before. Having a celebrity infatuation way beyond your teenage years, wearing an item of clothing society deems inappropriate on people like you, finding out that your hateful beliefs won’t take you to heaven, going on a neon adventure during working hours, or just hula-hooping your way through bureaucracy hell to make your British dream come true.

This is Cynthia Rodríguez’ debut performance in the United Kingdom, and the first one in over five years. Cynthia is primarily a writer, regularly involved in literature and film, now returning to the stage as a storyteller and taking herself out of the comfort zone just like her characters. Back in Mexico, she was involved in the first Writing Jam in her hometown and several public readings.

So yeah. Come and see me perform Comfort Zoned and get ready to be enraptured. *cringe*

Emergency! at the Y. Sunday 4th of October, 5pm, pay what you decide.

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Culture | Leicester | Literature | Novel | Poetry | Radio | Short Story | Television

Leicester Writes Festival

By on 21 July, 2015

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A brave little writing festival happened during the last weekend of June. It was brand new and modest, but full of illusions and aiming to fill in the gaps in our local and national literature scene. And it succeeded.

Leicester Writes Festival was conceived by Farhana Shaikh from Dahlia Publishing as a way to showcase the microcosmic and diverse writing scene in our city and connect all of us as colleagues and potential friends. “Leicester” might not be a word that comes out from the general public’s mouths when talking about writing scenes and communities, but there is something big happening and it can keep developing only and if only we are aware of it and stay connected.

Damien G Walter. Picture:  twitter.
Damien G Walter. Picture: twitter.

The festival began on Thursday 25 June at Leicester University’s fairly new Centre of New Writing. It was a pecha kucha presentation about literature development in Leicester, condensing the answers that many writers in the area gave to a survey that was filled in in advance. Later that night, on that massive venue called twitter, there was a Q&A with Damien Walter, one of the first columnists to pay attention to indie writers and publishers in the digital era. Throught the hashtag #AskDamienW, he answered in a clear and honest way to several enquires about online publishing and offering alternatives to mainstream outlets like Amazon, “not the writers friend, but […] a business that presents big opportunities if you are savvy”. One of the plans he suggested was to join Patreon and build a fanbase with exclusive online content in exchange for regular income. Something worth checking out.

Jacob Ross. Picture: The Word Factory.
Jacob Ross. Picture: The Word Factory.

Friday was more “in the flesh”, back to Leicester Uni for edifying masterclasses. I was fortunate enough to attend The Art of Short Writing, a morning masterclass hosted by Jacob Ross. Delicious, juicy and visceral. We had to read works in preparation to see how something as brief as a short story could hit you harder than more extensive pieces of literature. Stories by Olive Senior, Mark Hanks, Elise Muller, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Patrick O’Brian and Carys Davies; authors from different walks of life, bringing their realities into our worlds, sometimes harsh, sometimes witty, always like punches to the stomach. To Ross, short stories are meant to be singular, economical, with one dominant result or outcome, and an implied story arch inferring that nothing will be the same. Above all, short stories must have truth and integrity, blend the different with the usual and convince the reader that this can happen, even if it’s fiction.

Saturday and Sunday at the Phoenix were just busy, busy, busy. I will only speak about the events I attended, as they were so many of them and I have heard they were all fantastic.

Kerry Young. Picture: Leicester Writes.

Kerry Young and Rod Duncan spoke about writers on writing. Young comes from a youth worker background, and she writes not as therapy, but as a voice for those who can’t speak. Her novel Pao may have earned her a seat in the pavilion of contemporary literature, but it took her many years of discipline and crafting to become “an overnight success”.

Rod Duncan. Picture: Leicester Writes.

Duncan is still taken aback by the how fast his reputation has changed: he has gone from hopeless waster to promising new voice and respected novelist; with his Bullet Catcher’s Daughter as a finalist for the 2014 Phillip K. Dick award. However, he doesn’t write for external validation but for internal improvement. Just like characters have inner and outer journeys based on what they achieve in and out of themselves, writers have inner and outer journeys. The inner journey is what motivates us to write.

Bali Rai. Picture: Help for Writers
Bali Rai. Picture: Help for Writers.

Bali Rai was another novelist sharing his journey and results. A lot of his comments were sharp reflections on the general unspoken theme of the festival: unprivileged voices navigating a circuit full of privileged shouting. Growing up, he struggled to find books about the multicultural life he lived in Leicester, and all he found was the Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend. After briefly living in London and spending his Odeon wages on Brixton bookshops, he came back to write about what he knew and to continue the Townsend tradition of putting Leicester on the map. Through the years, he has noticed that “the concept of diversity is [being] hijacked by the white middle class”, and that “the voices least heard in literature are the voices least heard in society”. That’s why he keeps writing about life in the city, making his voice and those of his neighbours heard, speaking about the true colours of modern-day Britain.

Divya Ghelani. Picture: Kajal Nisha Patel.
Divya Ghelani. Picture: Kajal Nisha Patel.

We moved briefly to the Curve to see Divya Ghelani read her “Imperial Typewriter”, a story created exclusively for the Hidden Stories compilation and part of a multimedia project about the past and present of the Cultural Quarter. It’s a story about rebellion, dignity and trying to rewrite history as it happens. Ghelani is an intriguing storyteller, and listening to her narration transports you right to where the events took place — not far from the theatre, actually. Also, as someone who wasn’t alive nor here when the Imperial Typewriter strike happened, it was appalling to see the way people back in those days referred to Asian Ugandans and foreigners in general. To think that the smell of curry they certainly despised would take over town and actually turn it into one of the most attractive things about this place…

Speaking of which, An Indian Summer was happening during the same week and spreading its wonders, colours and flavours. Many talks and panels for Leicester Writes Festival were brought in association with AIS, including the audience with Bali Rai, Divya Ghelani’s reading and Nikesh Shukla’s keynote on being a contemporary novelist.

Nikesh Shukla. Picture: Catherine Dunn.
Nikesh Shukla. Picture: Catherine Dunn.

I was particularly excited to see Nikesh Shukla on Sunday, as his Meatspace speaks to my soul in ways people like Nick Hornby or Douglas Coupland never will. He slaps you in the face with truth and gets your arse into action. Some of his points on how to be a writer include jewels like “aspire to nothing”. If your twitter bio says you’re an “aspiring writer”, delete the “aspiring” bit. You are a writer, because you write. Social media is not the enemy, but a tool that can be used to share your exciting news and create a following. Another thing Shukla mentioned, to destroy the stereotype of the “starving artist”, was that there was nothing wrong with having a 9-to-5 job and being a writer — he personally thinks being a barista is where it’s at. But where do you take the time? Josie Long’s Golden Game seems like a good solution: write 90 minutes a day. I should try it. We should try it.

Really needed this today. ❤ #validation #meatspace

A photo posted by Cynthia Rodríguez Barni (@cynstagrammy) on

For a first edition, Leicester Writes Festival was quite complete and exciting. It brought us together and not only established links within the writers community, but between cultural and geographical communities in general. There were people who came from places like London or Glasgow, and they had never seen anything like this before. This sense of union and equality is what sets us apart from larger cities that may call themselves “cosmopolitan” but are all about hierarchy, elitism and segregation. Here there are no secrets and no crabs-in-a-bucket mentality. No one-ups. Just mutual support. There may be few people who still behave like prima donnas, want all the credit for themselves even on team work and don’t support anyone but their niche little friends, yes. But those people do not belong here.

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