Jamie Hale’s CRIPtic Pit Party at the Barbican

Interview

Jamie Hale is a poet and essayist whose creative work narrates the agency and urgency of living as a disabled person in the world.

They have recently performed their poetry at the Barbican Centre, Tate Modern, Saboteur Awards and the Trans Creative Arts Festival, and have had writing published in the Rialto, Poetry Quarterly, Unite Magazine, and The Guardian. They were one of the poetry awardees in the London Writers’ Awards 2018. Their solo poetry show NOT DYING debuts in at the Barbican in Autumn 2019 at the CRIPtic Pit Party.

Spread the Word’s Aliya Gulamani spoke to Jamie to find out more…

Aliya: Hello Jamie. Thanks so much for chatting with us today. You’ve got an impressive list of achievements – which one are you the proudest of to date and why?

Jamie: Hi Aliya, thanks so much for inviting me! I think I’m probably proudest of having put my solo show NOT DYING together – it’s been a project of many years’ work, and a real labour of love. I’d also say having been one of the poetry awardees in the 2018 London Writers’ Awards. The mentoring and critical feedback I received has been transformational in my work and I’m really proud of having been part of that programme.

Aliya: We’re really looking forward to seeing your newest project – CRIPtic Pit Party at the Barbican later this year, which you curated and will be performing in. The first section is your solo show – NOT DYING, which you’ve already mentioned. Can you tell us a bit more what inspired this show?

Jamie: I started writing NOT DYING when I was seriously ill and my prognosis looked a bit grim due to repeated life-threatening infections. It was a way of processing and politicising my experiences. When we found an experimental treatment that worked to prevent the infections, I turned the show into a piece that begins with a very introspective, intimate and medicalised section before pivoting into disability politics and something a lot fiercer and more challenging. It has been very inspired by my life as a disabled person, and (hopefully) really asks the audience to face the impact disableism has on the lives of actual people. It’s also funny, a tear-jerker, and resolves itself looking hopefully at the future.

Aliya: A core aspect of the show focuses on what it means to be a disabled person in the world today. As a Deaf person, I can relate to the everyday struggles of othering and feeling isolated – and I can imagine it felt exposing but also extremely cathartic to be sharing your experiences onstage?

Jamie: It does. I often feel like I live on a stage – the extent to which people stare at me in public makes me feel like my whole life is being spent being watched like that. NOT DYING was partially a way of saying to audiences that if they’re going to treat me as if I live in a fishbowl then I’m going to put myself on a stage and invite people to look. Some of the imagery I use of my body is very confrontational – I show the ‘ill body’ as a medicalised object – giving people the opportunity to stare if they want, but also potentially discomfiting them with more than they’d expected to see. It’s really important to me that the work centres the disabled experience and invites the audience inside that – to feel the experience of the disabled person in the show, rather than siting themselves as onlookers. The piece itself is very cathartic, but painful in places. Performing it really brings me back in time somehow – whether to painful moments, or funny ones.

Aliya: Wow. That sounds immense. The second-half of the showcase will see D/deaf and disabled artists take to the stage to reveal their own personal experiences of anger, fortitude and joy, as they perform short sets of music, dance and spoken word expanding on the theme of NOT DYING. How did you select these artists to be involved with your show and how did you work with them for the CRIPtic Pit Party?

Jamie: To select the artists (and creative team) I did an open application process, narrowed it down from the 70+ performer applicants and 30+ creative applicants, and interviewed. I was looking for a real diversity of artform, experience, and background, and selecting the acts and creative team was incredibly difficult.

The interviews gave me a bit more information about people and their ideas, and eventually I narrowed it down to 6 acts – 4 of which will be on both nights – Signkid, Jackie Hagan, Amelia Cavallo and Seasick (Katie Walters & Elle Chante), with Donna Williams on Friday 11th, and Jessi Parrott (dir. Crispin Lord) on Saturday 12th. Signkid and Donna Williams are both performing in British Sign Language – it was very important to me to have Deaf artists involved, and all the sets are radically different.

I’m hoping for an artistic explosion of those themes onto the stage, and the performances have very much had a free rein over the summer. This autumn the director of the showcase (Shereen Hamilton) and creative producer (Lucy Hayward) have been working with the artists to start bringing the threads of their sets together into a show, and I’m really excited for rehearsals to begin!

Aliya: As well as performing, you’re also looking to publish your first collection of poetry – can you tell us a bit more about this and the themes you have explored in your collection?

Jamie: Of course! It very much moves around nature, the body, and possibility. I’ve tried to capture the embodied experiences of (progressing) impairment and disability, as well as the social position disabled people occupy – through nature and the world.

I want to understand what it means to have a body, and to be mortal – how we can both absorb and create such beauty in the world, and also be on a one-way journey to death. Even asking these questions, it’s full of green shoots and possibilities.

Aliya: We can’t wait for everything that you’re going to put out into the world Jamie – it looks incredibly exciting. What other plans have you got in the pipeline that we should be looking out for?

Jamie: There’s a book of essays I want to find time to write, and I want to finalise the above collection! After that, I’ve got some thoughts around a solo show about gender, transition, and disability, and I don’t know what I’ll do after that! I’ve got enough to keep me busy for the time being, anyway.

Aliya: Thanks so much for your time Jamie – and see you onstage this October!

Jamie: Thank you.

The CRIPtic Party is at the Barbican from 11-12 October. Find out more and book your tickets here: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2019/event/jamie-hale-criptic-pit-party

Photo credit: Becky Bailey

Published 17 September 2019