ED2015 Interviews ED2015 Spoken Word ED2015 Week1 Edition

Hannah Chutzpah: Answering our questions so nicely

By | Published on Saturday 8 August 2015

Hannah Chutzpah

Our reviewer loved Hannah Chutzpah’s spoken word show at Fringe 2014 declaring that it was so empowering “I left at least three inches taller”. The show has evolved since, and returns for this year’s Free Fringe. We caught up with Hannah to find out more about her poetry and the themes of her show.

CC: Let’s start with the basics. What are the themes explored in ‘Asking Nicely’?
HE: It’s all about permission, and whether people feel confident and entitled, or like they don’t deserve and don’t belong. I use quotes and some scientific studies, but a lot of it is things I’ve observed or spoken to friends about. I’ve spent the last two years having a coffee, or a pint, with anyone who’ll talk about permission with me – from therapists to well-known authors.

There’s always a power dynamic involved in asking permission, and there’s a lot of nuance, and a lot of it comes from things like gender, class and what you’ve been raised to expect for yourself or others. The show doesn’t actually go into the subject of sexual consent or rape. Everyone assumes it will, but I didn’t feel qualified to cover something that heavy.

Also: it’s a poetry show, so I do good words, innit? Lots of assonance and alliteration and just playing with the best way to deliver the words.

CC: We loved the show last year. Has it evolved since then?
HE: The show got a lot slicker over the course of the Edinburgh run last year, but there were two pieces I always knew were placeholders; their link to permission being pretty tenuous. I’ve dropped them out and written a couple of new poems in their place. Also, I re-jigged the running order and the links between the pieces are much more taut now.

CC: Our reviewer found the whole experience empowering. Is that a specific aim?
HE: I’m not sure I ever aimed at ’empowering’, but I did want it to go from pointing out problems and neuroses to a more positive place by the end. The show started when I noticed that women in lesbian bars seemed to have a much prouder more confident posture than women usually do, and I started examining why most women don’t seem to be so confident as a default.

CC: When you put together a full one-hour show like this, are you collating pre-existing poems, or do you write new ones to fit the theme.
HE: A bit of both. Having swapped out a few pieces, only three of the nine poems now in the show started out independently. An hour is a long time, so I definitely wanted to have an arc to it. Some of the building blocks were already there, some I had to go off and make from scratch. That said: most of them do work as standalone pieces too.

CC: You mentioned that you cite some scientific and other studies to back up key points made in the show. Did you do lots of research?
HE: I did some research especially for the show – and got through a lot of documentaries, TED talks and blog posts – but I’ve always been pretty interested in psychology and patterns of what makes people tick. I did psychology in sixth form and edited a few psychology text books in a previous job. I was never good at the stats bit but I always remember interesting case studies or lab tests.

CC: Why did you decide to bring the show back to the Fringe again this year? And why as part of the Free Fringe again?
HE: Last year the people that came loved it, but the audiences were quite small – for a few reasons – and I had some job and housing stuff going on in real life that made it quite hard work. This year I’ve got more headspace to really enjoy just being at the Fringe, and I’ve had some lovely reviews which should help get the word out.

I’m with the Free Fringe because I’ve always done the Fringe through PBH shows, and I’ve grown up through it, from my first time flyering for an improv troupe to doing my own solo show with five star reviews. The Fringe can feel quite competitive for performers but the PBH spoken word shows really feel like a community. Everyone does guest slots and recommends other shows. It’s really friendly. Also: audiences can pay what they think it’s worth, so there’s that try-before-you-buy element.

CC: Is the Edinburgh audience particularly good for this kind of show?
HE: I think the Edinburgh audience is willing to take more chances and try -say – a feminist poetry show, whereas the rest of the year you’ll mostly only be performing to people who already like poetry. It’s a chance to try things out for audiences and for performers!

CC: And for the audience participation swearing?
HE: Yeah, so there’s a bit where I get everyone to shout. It’s a lot of fun. There are very few opportunities to shout without hurting someone’s feelings. ‘Asking Nicely’ is a safe space. For swearing.

CC: You’ve been doing the Fringe since 2010. Has the poetry and spoken word scene here grown over that time?
HE: The spoken word scene is one of the fastest-growing sections of the Fringe! The whole poetry scene has evolved a lot in the six years I’ve been doing it. I think as its grown there have been a lot more voices from different backgrounds, which is great. When you give people a platform to speak for just three minutes or so about what matters to them, you hear some very honed, very important things that you wouldn’t necessarily hear anywhere else.

CC: In your biog you cite a high court judge – describing you as being “of good character” – and the Metropolitan Police – who went with “potential maggot-thrower”. What events led to these accolades?
HE: I just like those quotes! I got involved in monitoring abuse of power by the police after I was one of five idiots arrested in London on the day of the royal wedding – for being dressed as a zombie.

We were buying coffees like anyone else in a branch of Starbucks at the time, but we were arrested for a breach of the peace, in case royalists were offended. Even though we were nowhere near the wedding or anything – we’d turned up to a zombie flashmob protesting cuts to LGBT healthcare.

We took the police to court and four years later our appeal is still chugging its way through the legal system. Since I got involved in monitoring abuses of police power though, my four hours in a police cell for fancy dress pales in comparison to some of the horror stories I’ve heard.

‘Asking Nicely’ was performed as part of PBH’s Free Fringe at Edinburgh Festival 2015.

LINKS: hannahchutzpah.com