Leeds-based theatre company The Paper Birds previews new production Blind here as part of Hatched, our artists’ development programme, this Friday 18 July at 7pm. Devised with and performed by two-time UK beatboxing champion Grace Savage, Blind explores what young people are hearing today and how that affects who they will become, complete with flour and glitter. Grace fills us in ahead of the show’s Edinburgh Fringe première next month:
How did you get involved with The Paper Birds?
I went to Leeds University and during the summer breaks I would flyer for them in Edinburgh. I got to know the company and their work during this time and we have kept in touch ever since. Jemma caught me beatboxing whilst doing the washing up in our Edinburgh flat and that’s how she found out that I was a beatboxer! She came to see me do a singing/beatboxing gig in London a few years later and then asked if I was interested in making a solo show with them. We started applying for funding, received some support and before I knew it we were making a show together.
What are young people hearing about these days and how was this brought into Blind?
Although the show does focus on what we are hearing in the world, this is largely explored through my own personal experiences and it’s very specific to me as a young woman growing up in the 90’s and early 00’s in Devon, including how I came to be a professional beatboxer. Hopefully within these stories we can highlight similarities to that of the audience’s lives and therefore echo what people may be hearing in the wider world too. The show includes things such as advice from my mum, news reports that were big at the time, lyrics in the music I listened to, advertising slogans, violence in the media…etc.
When you’re growing up you are discovering who you are or want to be: what are your beliefs? How do you want others to view you? These things are really important to you and because as a teenager you are so unsure of who you are inside, you naturally start to gather information from the outside world; start to form opinions, to shape yourself (sometimes consciously sometimes not) and Blind kind of documents how I started to build an identity for myself from these external sources.
Have these things changed since you were that age?
I guess things are always changing and evolving it just takes time to recognise the impact these changes are having. Parents’ advice will change over time based on the experiences of their own generation, music and role models in music are always evolving: Hip Hop is hugely influential now, there has been a change in government, a recession and of course the rise of the internet has been a massive change. I bridged the gap of the internet/smart phone generation so I remember what it was like to not have those things but I also remember how quickly it entered and consumed my life. The internet and social media is a constant presence for young people now and it has changed the way in which we can access the wider world. There is SO much available to listen to now, kids are more easily exposed to things than when I was younger…
What is it like working with a theatre company? Was it a strange dynamic from what you may be used to as a beatboxer?
My background from a very early age has been in theatre and I studied it at University so I am used to working in a theatre environment so I wouldn’t say it was strange but to be combining the two worlds of beatboxing and contemporary theatre has been really exciting and refreshing for me as a performer who loves both art forms.
What was the most challenging thing about this collaboration?
As it is quite a personal piece and a lot of the material is close to home I found that every line and every theme or point we were making suddenly became more heavily weighted as I realised it would be seen as my opinion and that was quite frightening; there is no character for me to hide behind on stage. There was a point in rehearsals that I was analysing every line and sentiment and going “do I really feel that? Does that really represent me? Will the audience think this or that of me, is what I’m saying entirely truthful to me?” but I had to remind myself that a) there is always room for artistic licence in theatre and b) the show is about discovery and uncertainty so all the more reason to embrace my doubts!
Another challenge was trying to find creative and interesting ways to incorporate beatboxing into the piece. We did a lot of playing around with this and really tried to make sure that every time the audience see me beatboxing or I refer to beatboxing, that it is represented/used in a different way.
After this production, would you like to continue collaborating with theatre?
I was recently in a production called Home (directed by Nadia Fall) at The National Theatre as a young pregnant mum who communicated via beatboxing and loved every second of the process. I hope to find a new acting agent and continue a career in both music and acting.
Is there anything you think you’ll take away from this experience and bring back into your music?
There are always transferrable skills between theatre and music, both are essentially story telling art forms and so I hope by continuing with both, they will strengthen each other equally.
How did you start beatboxing?
There were a few older guys who were into beatboxing in the little town I grew up in Devon, one of my best friends Belle (aka Bellatrix) started to learn from them and I was inspired to learn too. I learnt a lot on Youtube and a lot from Belle, we are now pretty much the only two professional beatboxers in the country..and it all started in Crediton!
Can you offer any advice for aspiring beatboxers?
Practice. Practice. Practice. Be original and have no fear. When you feel confident, start out doing some open mic nights and working with other musicians to get better timing and work on your stage presence.
And most importantly, are glitters tasty?
They certainly tasted better than the flour!
Grace Savage performs in Blind this Friday 18 July at 7pm, to find out more and to book, click here. Blind is previewing here as part of Hatched, our artists development programme, for more information on other productions that are part of it, click here.