Jemima Foxtrot is an award-shortlisted performance poet who fuses spoken word and song in her Fringe show, Melody. Broadway Baby’s Carly Brown sat down with her in Clerk’s Bar to discuss music, writing her first solo show and the power of live performance.
To hold an audience for fifty minutes you need structure.
We began by chatting about Melody and its style.
‘It’s an exploration of music and how it attaches itself to memories, people and place. It’s all based around a walk home and different things that I see or hear on my walk. Different things I see send me off into thinking about memories or about a certain topic. It’s a whole play, written in poetry. It’s got lots of singing in it, as well, which is definitely my style. So it’s my style of poetry hammered into a story.’
We then discussed the music in the show, which is a mixture of original songs and well-known songs too.
‘Folk, funk and soul are the main genres I use – my favorite types of music. But I write songs as well. So in the show there are my own songs and songs that I’ve heard, songs that I like and songs that inspire me to write.’
‘I used to be in a band and I play the guitar a little bit, but I’m just doing poetry at the minute. I’ve always sung and enjoyed it, but now I just make up my own little songs and put them into poems. I find it quite a useful tool for keeping an audience interested, listening and engaged. Because if you suddenly slip into singing, it makes everybody sort of sit up and listen.’
The conversation then moved on to how she worked with a theatre director to develop the piece.
‘I work with a woman called Lucy Allan who has directed me and kind of done the dramaturgy of it. I wrote all the words, but the structure of the piece was developed together. There’s a really good theatre called Clapham Omnibus Theatre. They supported us, gave us rehearsal space. A lot has been developed with her, which I’m grateful for.’
‘The reason why the structure is so clear is all down to Lucy. She edited it. The script now is sixteen pages long, but I presented her with forty-two pages originally. It has crunched down and down. It was really useful working with her. I don’t think that I would do a solo show and completely write it by myself because it’s nice having that second pair of eyes to say: ‘You’re rambling.’ Because I just want to write the nice poetry and do my singing, but to hold an audience for fifty minutes you need that structure.’
We talked about her background in spoken word and her recent success.
‘It’s something that has really taken off for me recently. I probably wrote my first spoken word poem when I was about nineteen, so seven years ago. I used to be an actor, so I’ve always enjoyed performing. I joined the writing society at my university, the University of Manchester, and I went down to an open mic in my first year. When I performed everyone was like: ‘Whoa, that was amazing!’ That really encouraged me. It feels nice to be told that you’re good! But until about a year ago, I’d just been doing it at parties, at open mic nights, but I wasn’t involved in the scene at all. The man that I have to thank for everything is Luke Wright. He has completely sorted me out. He booked me. I’ve been on tour with him as his support act.’
‘What I didn’t like about acting was that I didn’t like having to say somebody else’s shit lines. I wanted to write my own ones that I actually like and if I don’t like them, I can change them. I can have a bit more creative control. It’s a lot more wholesome, I feel. Working with Lucy has also been great, such a sharp great director and I really do trust her. I feel in safe hands. So I think we’re both very proud of it.’
I asked her if this was her first time performing at the Fringe.
‘Performing, yes. I’ve been as a punter for the last three years. My mum runs an arts center so she comes up to scout new theatre for her venue. So I always used to come up and think: ‘I wish I was doing something here!’ I always felt that it was stupid that I wasn’t more involved, doing a show and now I am. So it’s a happy occasion for me.’
‘I really just want to share it with as many people as possible. I always think I’ve done a good job if someone cries at a show. That’s how I count my successes! Because that’s what I think that art should be: it should make you feel something. I don’t like spoken word that doesn’t affect you.’
I asked if she thought that the live element of spoken word added something as well.
‘Yes, because it’s immediate. It’s in front of you. It’s quite theatrical this piece, because of the storyline and the movement. There’s something about being in that space live, seeing someone go through those experiences. It’s very visceral. That’s why I like theatre more than films. The live element is important. That’s what makes performance poetry different from page poetry: you’re immediately sharing that experience with everyone.’