I’ll be here all week (and next)

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Last night was the opening night of Not Much To Tell You at The Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts. It was a wonderful start to the season with a really great crowd and a good feeling in the room. I’m looking forward to doing it all again tonight, and then Friday, and then Saturday, and then Wednesday-to-Saturday next week! Tickets are still available from metroarts.com.au, or you can buy at the door tonight.

Here is a picture of my super hi-tech set:

I also had the pleasure of being interviewed by Sally Browne for yesterday’s Courier Mail:

‘Scuse me while I go laminate my copy. #sorrynotsorry

Not Much To Tell You is a part of the program for the most poetic weekend in Brisbane’s calendar – the Queensland Poetry Festival! QPF has its opening night tomorrow at the Judith Wright Centre, to usher in the greatest poetry festival in the southern hemisphere! LET’S HEAR IT FOR POETRY.

I’ll be giving my top picks for QPF on Metro Arts’ Instagram, so keep an eye out for that. Or you could just pick up a QPF program and throw a dart at literally any part of it, and I guarantee it will be good.

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Something to tell you

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I’m happy to say that I’ll be presenting a two-week season of Not Much To Tell You at Brisbane’s Metro Arts!

It is wonderful to be presenting the performance at the very home where it was nurtured and developed. I was selected for Metro Arts’ Creative Development program during their July-December block last year, and they were warmly supportive and critically helpful in developing my first solo show. Not Much To Tell You had its first season in Perth earlier this year, co-presented by Fringe World and The Blue Room Theatre. Since then, some people have been asking “Are we ever going to see it in Brisbane?” Yep! This one’s for you, Brisbabes.

This show was developed with financial support from the awesome people who contributed to my Pozible campaign last year. I want to thank you all again: Ashley, Mark Cottman-Fields, Rae White, Amy Fletcher, David Vincent Smith, Kate Zahnleiter, Sam Vaughn, Larry Cox, Alexis Malinkowski, Sandy Torode, Tom Hogan, and many more anonymous supporters.

It was nice of Metro Arts to have me back even though this is what I do when they leave me alone in their performance space:

Not Much To Tell You opens on 27 August and runs through the Queensland Poetry Festival, until 6 September. Tickets go on sale soon – more info at the Metro Arts website.

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Oh Fringe World!

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It’s the final week of Fringe World and I am having more fun than a hipster at Bogan Bingo. We had a great season of Not Much To Tell You at The Blue Room Theatre, and although I very much enjoyed the show run, it was a relief to wake up on the final morning and not have to wonder about ticket sales.

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After bumping out my final show, I needed to find a way to unwind after a week of shows. I left The Blue Room Theatre thinking, food? Eat everything in Northbridge? Or maybe collapse onto one of my friends? Then, we walked past robot busker guy, and I had my answer.

In my downtime after Not Much To Tell You finished, I have been soaking up everything Fringe has to offer. Most particularly, many shows by many very fine and talented artists. I’ve just come from Brian Finkelstein’s First Day Off In A Long Time, which was a masterful example of honest, vulnerable storytelling, and pretty damn brutal. I guess any story that takes place on a suicide hotline is going to be brutal. But Brian’s a master at keeping the tension just bearable – and he’s bloody funny.

Last night I caught the Lords of Luxury and had my biggest laughs so far this Fringe. These four suited-up gentlemen had me gripping my sides like an idiot. It turns out what I really like in my sketch comedy is absurdist pop culture references, deadpanning, and wigs (see: Slumber Party Time Travel).

Adam Peter Scott’s Book Fight was an education in Stephen King’s back catalogue. Ostensibly a game show where panel guests answer questions about books, it was really a competition to see who could bring the most snark. To my mind, the night’s winner was burlesque performer Sugar du Joure for her handling of Adam Peter Scott, who kept groping (word choice intentional) for jokes about her ample neckline. (Scott, staring: “My mind’s gone blank.” Sugar: “It’s always like that.”)

A sweetly absurd adventure through dystopia was She Was Probably Not A Robot. Delightful, silly, and shot through with an unexpected vein of poetry. Stuart Bowden had the audience on side from the start, and pulled us into his cartoonish, faintly threatening world with ease. I’m a heart-fan of dystopian storytelling anyway, but Bowden’s spandex antics won me over the rest of the way. Also, great beard.

Fringe World, you are the bomb.

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Week 2 of Fringe World!

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Well it’s the second week of Fringe World and this is my busy week. Not Much To Tell You opens tomorrow night – woop! I’m doing a five-show run from Tuesday to Saturday. Pretty pumped to get in the theatre and meet some new audiences.

First week of Fringe was pretty hectic, too. Almost as soon as I landed in Perth I was off to PICA to watch Tim Watts and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd’s lo-fi puppetry spectacular, BRUCE. It was pure entertainment, all managed with one bit of sponge for a puppet and some homespun genius. I took one of my besties with me, and it is always a joy to introduce another person to Watts’ plays. We both bought our own little Brucies to take home with us: Little Bruce sleeps in my socks.

I also caught the puzzlingly obscure What A Joy To Be Alive at The Blue Room Theatre. I won’t pretend to know what it was about, but sometimes I like to see a show I don’t understand. Gets the ol’ mind grapes going. My friend and I had a great time sharing our notes afterwards and finding out we’d both guessed completely differently about the show’s meaning. There were some haunting uses of lighting and performer Tom Davies’ physicality that will stay with me.

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of watching old mate Ella Bennett and her partner in comedy Marnie Allen (both ex-Pelican crew) present their “balls-out” adventure through time and space, Slumber Party Time TravelI think Bennett is one of the most promising new comedy writers coming up at the moment, and in combination with Allen she is just ridiculous. The one-liners kept coming, as sharp as the flick-knives they casually pulled from their bras. When Allen donned a beard and wig and became the future, rat-burger-selling version of Bennett’s high school crush, I nearly busted a rib. Bennett and Allen form Slow Loris Productions, and I very much hope to see more from them in the future (even at the risk of my ribs).

Another highlight of last weekend was going down to Cottesloe Beach to protest WA’s shark cull. Seven people have been killed by sharks in Western Australia in the last three years (which I would argue is a pretty slim number considering the thousands of people who enter the water every year), and the Barnett government has responded with a bait-and-kill policy. Sharks are now being caught and shot in the head, without having attacked a human. Around 6,000 people turned out on Saturday to protest the policy. It was a pretty impressive sight (see gallery below).

On to more frivolous news – my Twitter account reach 600 followers yesterday. I am continuing my tradition of recording a special message for each hundredth follower. This time it was Sarah Breheny, for whom I will be singing a special poem from an undisclosed Fringe World location. I’ll be recording it tomorrow, so check my Twitter feed if you like watching me embarrass myself (apparently the prospect was quite popular with my existing followers … thanks fronds).

EDIT: Here be a link to the video! For @ladybface, my 600th Twitter follower.

Betting all the chips on you

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Yowza. Today marks exactly one month before I step onstage at The Blue Room Theatre, for the first time as a ticket-selling solo artist. I’ve finally twigged that my parents and my friends and my friends’ friends and my parents’ friends will be coming to see this show (bless them). Nerves? What nerves? HA HA HA I’M TOTALLY FINE.

Okay, so the caps-lock suggests that I’m a bit nervous. Well, dur. This show is intensely personal and I’ve spent the past year pulling out of myself as much feels and honesty as I could handle, before sifting through the raw materials and moulding it into something an audience could enjoy. It’s been a process of painful personal growth and self-doubt and pushing through roadblocks that seemed insurmountable. It’s been REALLY HARD. And clearly it has also been really important to me, otherwise I wouldn’t have kept pushing.

But there was a moment, shortly before I previewed the show at Metro Arts during its creative development stage, when I became very worried that I was changing – for the worse.

I was sitting in a coffee house, at a meeting with a couple of friends, talking about a  project entirely separate to my show. Before the meeting, I had been staring at pictures of myself for a good hour, sorting out publicity material, and writing copy about how great my show was and why everyone should come and see it. That stuff will mess with your head. After a few hours’ writing about yourself, your creative practice, which is your best side, why you’re this generation’s Bertolt Brecht – holy wow, you won’t know which way is up. (This goes for writing funding applications, too.) I had come to hate my face. I thought if I had to spend another minute figuring out how to work in quotes about my “genius”, I’d puke. But I also felt disproportionately large, like my own image was filling my vision and I couldn’t see around it. I couldn’t remember what it was like not to think about me. I was miserable.

Anyway, so I go into this meeting at the coffee house with this mindset, trying to yank myself back into the present and pull me out of myself. You know, to get back that feeling where you’re “just a pair of eyes” (as Tavi Gevinson would say) and you’re engaging with the people around you. I fail horribly. I’m tetchy, sharp-tongued, restless and easily offended by the lovely people I’m sitting with. Things ain’t right. I’m out of my groove. After the meeting I walk away, settle down, send apology messages, and reflect. What is this knot of terror sitting in my gut? Why am I so out of balance?

I realised that, after years of dancing around the edges of my dreams, I was finally plunging in head-first. After a long time of joining other people’s projects, working on other people’s visions, and reviewing other people’s creations (all of which I can’t wait to do again), I was now working on a project whose success depended entirely on my abilities. If I can self-aggrandise for a moment, I was like James Bond in Casino Royale: I had bet the whole endeavour on me. And that terror – that lizard-like feeling that makes you selfish and jumpy and defensive and small – it was crawling up my throat.

I didn’t feel ready. I’d gotten in too deep. I was going to fail.

But, as my spirit animal Amy Poehler says, “Great people do things before they’re ready”. You can only find out that you’re ready by trying. I mean, I guess that’s true – I’m about to find out! The ego thing is pretty hard to get around, and I’m not going to further self-aggrandise by pretending that I’m the only one struggling with this. That lizardy ego can crawl into the mouths of any person in any field, and my greatest dream is to live free of it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t chase my other dreams as well. For a long time, I think I unconsciously skirted around my ambitions because I was afraid of what a little success would do to my head. What if my dreams came true? What if I became insufferable? (The latter is a real danger in the arts.)

But making myself small and holding myself down and only allowing myself a fraction of the joy I wish for in life – all of that is an ego-trip in itself. It’s the ego that says “Look how much I sacrificed”, “I am strong for holding myself down”, “It takes incredible willpower to walk away from your dreams”. I predict that eventually these thoughts alone would not be enough solace for the adventures you denied yourself, so you would start trying to impress upon other people how difficult your struggle has been. Then you become that person in the bar, slurring “I coulda done it, y’know, I coulda bin a STAR”.

So, in one month I’ll step onstage and try something. I’m nervous, of course, but I’m also thrilled to be trying something I’ve been dying to try my whole life.

And if I keep working hard at it, and trying and pushing at these dreams, maybe one day I’ll be able to pay someone to do my publicity material for me. YES.

Some take up knitting … I took up feminism

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This year, I took up feminism. You gotta have a hobby, right? I almost took up knitting, but it seemed too complicated.

I never did an Honours year at the end of my Bachelor’s degree, and I’ve often regretted it. The rigour of immersing yourself in and thoroughly researching a single topic appeals to me. I like the idea of becoming an expert in something. Anything. Like the year I got into twentieth-century dystopic fiction and found a way to turn any conversation into a song of praise for Margaret Atwood. That passion reached its fever pitch when I was retweeted by Atwood herself. But after reading my fourth Atwood novel in a row, I needed a break. I needed to think about something else for a while. I love diving headfirst into a subject, but eventually you have to surface (usually with a stack of library books and mild insomnia).

Deadset ledge.

Margaret Atwood. Deadset ledge.

My enthusiasm for Atwood and dystopic novels has not lessened (the third book in the MaddAddam trilogy is next on my reading list, squee!), but my focus did shift. I stopped making lists of academic essays to read on the topic of “environmentalism and dystopia”. I now only rave about Oryx and Crake if someone else brings up the topic first. (Usually.) I think of my head as being like a stirred-up fishbowl, and these passions and interests eventually settle into the sediment, like a silty silvery lining on my brain. But the achievement-oriented part of me wanted to do something productive with all this research and analysis; an equivalent of the Honours project I’d never attempted. I wanted to produce a longform work. I decided to write a stage show.

I had a vague idea of the themes I wanted to tackle in this show. One of those themes was the way women talk about their own experiences. This interest came out of many revealing conversations with women who privately shared their stories with me, who had suffered trauma and yet stayed silent about it. Their stories had a common thread: They had stayed silent for so long because they didn’t know how to talk about it. They’d had no framework within which to articulate their experience, even to themselves. It made me wonder how many women were not sharing their stories; how many were still silent; and why we have trouble talking about surviving abuse.

This line of inquiry led me to the subject in which I have immersed myself this year: Feminism. Learning feminism became my Research Project of ’13. I had always resonated with the women’s rights movement and supported the movement to close the gender gap. As a woman myself, I couldn’t help but appreciate the rights afforded to me by first- and second-wave feminism. But my knowledge of the movement was pretty patchy. I’d always considered myself a feminist, but now I was concerned that I’d been using that word without really understanding it. And so, the great Research Project began.

For months, I’ve been nerding hard on all things gender politics, and it has been a wild ride. The countless books and articles and blog posts, read and re-read and hashed out with friends. I’ve attended feminist panels and performed at a poetry night about gender. I wrote a blog post about women in comedy that briefly went viral. I even joined a feminist radio show, wandering in as an intrigued guest and staying on as an intrigued co-host. For an hour every Sunday I talk about sexism, which means for many hours each week I have to think about sexism, in preparation for Sunday. It isn’t easy. Sexism is not a fun topic. I’ve had weeks where I just couldn’t read another article about spousal abuse or rape culture. There has been many a daytime weep. I can’t be the repository for all knowledge on the topic of oppressive patriarchal structures and be a happy person. For my own wellbeing, I’ve had to limit my research reading in this area.

As uncomfortable as it’s been, all of this inquiry has fed into my creative practice, helping me process the complex issues I wanted to address in my stage show. Another silty layer of knowledge has been stirred into my brainbowl. And now that the sediment is settling, I feel less flurried about feminism. I absolutely still feel strongly that there is much to do before we reach gender equality; now that I’ve clearly seen the prevalence of casual and structural sexism in our culture, I don’t think I can un-see it. But I’m reaching that point in my Research Project arc when the book titles on my bedroom floor start to change – less Is There Anything Good About Men? (spoiler alert: there is!) and more Holiday in Cambodia. I’ll be taking refuge in travel memoirs and short story collections for a while, recovering from this intense period of learning.

Now is the “synthesising phase”, as they say in education. Now I take all of the higher-order processing I’ve been doing around feminism and spit out something productive. Or at least, that’s the idea. My project is culminating in this stage show, which is nearing completion. All of my research and personal journey from the past year won’t necessarily be explicitly included in the show, but it has informed the shape it’s taking. I think my writing is richer for it. I’ve added as much nutritional sediment as I can to my internal environment – now it’s time to chuck a fish in and see if it lives.

Not Much To Tell You. (Photo by Erica Wheadon.)

Not Much To Tell You. (Photo by Erica Wheadon.)

If you’re in Brisbane and you’d like to see what I’ve come up with, I’ll be mounting an experimental version of my stage show at Metro Arts’ Friday Night: November (1 November 2013). Would love to see you there!

My first stage show is officially funded!

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My Pozible crowdfunding campaign has reached its target WELL before the deadline! Watch me inelegantly try to say thank you using props and old footage of a cat.

Massive thanks to all my supporters!! You make my heart feel hurty in a good way. The campaign still has 10 days to go before it closes, so I will be doing an official tribute video and social media blitz when it closes, to show my gratitude.

Pledging is still open! http://pozible.com/kaitlynsfirstshow

Not Much To Tell You (Photo credit: Jonathon Hancock)

Developing my first show – and Pozible campaign!

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Well, this is pretty exciting. This year, a pretty big dream of mine is coming true …

I’m putting on my own show!

The Show

I’m creating a full-length stage show – a one-person performance, written and performed and produced by “this guy”. It’s a fusion of poetry, storytelling and stand up, and it’s called Not Much To Tell You. Thanks to the lovely folk at Metro Arts, who are including me in their 2013 Jul-Dec program, I’ll be putting on a public performance of NMTTY in their main theatre this October!

The Campaign

In order to do this, I have to raise some funds to cover production costs. I just today launched a Pozible campaign to crowdfund the costs of developing the show and putting on its first public performance.

Here’s my Pozible video (which was somewhat stolen by a visiting neighbourhood cat):

 

The Stakes

In case you’re not familiar with crowdfunding – you can go and pledge an amount of money (say, $20) to my campaign, and the money won’t get taken out of your account unless I reach my target amount of $700. So, it’s all or nothing. I either raise the full amount by the deadline (the 18th of July), or I get zero funding. High stakes! But there’s something in it for the pledgers – each pledge receives a reward from me (from poetry zines to a personal performance in your living room). Also, you get the warm fuzzy feeling of being part of my show’s journey.

The Place To Pledge: http://pozible.com/kaitlynsfirstshow

Thank you to all the people who have been supporting me – whether it was by reading my blog, or coming to my gigs, or urging me on with my creative practice. You are all wonderful! Creating this show marks a new chapter in my creative career, and having your support behind me makes it possible. And fun!

You’ll be hearing a lot more about this campaign as I flog it over the next three weeks … I’ll post another video soon as I work on writing the show, keeping you updated on my progress. (I’ll try to find a few more interesting hats, to keep the vlog fresh.)

Much love,

KP

 

Inua Ellams: ‘Musical and delicious to the ear’, March 2012

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As part of Waxings blog’s coverage of the Perth Writers’ Festival, I had the opportunity to interview poet Inua Ellams. Here is the feature, as published on Waxings.org, March 2012.

Performance poetry is gradually finding its way out of the grunge-covered back rooms of dark pubs and catching the attention of wider audiences. One of the poets carrying this contemporary artform into the mainstream is Inua Ellams, a Nigerian-born Londoner who recently travelled to Australia to feature at the Perth Writers Festival.

Ellams was invited to the PWF to perform his play The 14th Tale, a one-man show combining poetry, performance, and personal narrative.

I ask Ellams if he had done any theatre before The 14th Tale. “The 14th Tale was my first theatric outing. My first collection of poems was published in about 2009 and I tried to stage the poems with a little bit of banter in between, but it didn’t quite work. There wasn’t a strong narrative, so I scrapped that and wrote The 14th Tale.”

Ellams’ poem-play is autobiographical, following the foibles of his mischievious childhood in Africa, weaving in tales of the men in his family. Ellams describes himself as a born trouble-maker, although he tells me over the phone (and you can actually hear the twinkle in his eye) that now he is making a different kind of trouble.

“Poetry for me walks the line between lyrics and finely, tightly written prose. I think that’s how I try to cause trouble – well, regarding work specifically, that’s how I try to cause trouble. By being aware of the line and walking it and constantly trying to redefine it. That’s one of the ways I cause trouble.”

Walking that line often means not fitting neatly into any one genre. Ellams is an accomplished poet of both the page and the stage but he still feels that he is not quite accepted by either.

“In London, I am often described as a performance poet, sometimes as a spoken word poet, sometimes as a page poet …” Ellams muses. “And sometimes I find that I am marginalised by both groups. There is this line that I seem to walk. And I continually try to further blur the lines, and even at performance poetry sets I just read my page poems. And when I write page poems, I just make them sound as musical and delicious to the ear as songs do.”

Speaking of delicious to the ear – Ellams’s voice is like a song itself. Soft and lyrical. Even when he talks casually, he sounds as if he is riffing on ideas for a new poem. And I think that is exactly the effect this poet is going for. Ellams speaks about poetry with a self-conscious pride, confident in his abilities as a wordsmith. He lacks the self-deprecatory humour that I personally can’t seem to shake off whenever I tell people I write poetry. For Ellams, poetry is not an indulgent activity. It is his craft. And it has held his life together.

Ellams tells me about a close friend of his from Dublin, Stephen Devine. They went to school together as teenagers, and the two boys had a friendship built on a love of language. “He and I would sit down and argue about the colour of the sky. We would just sit there for hours.” Then one summer, Ellams received a phone call telling him that Devine had been found dead, hanging from a beam in his garage. “I guess my world became very destabilised and the part of me that excelled with language, with Stephen, was no longer there. And I started writing to keep that part of myself alive, really.”

Since Ellams often performs his poetry, I enquire as to whether he takes the audience into consideration when writing. A debate that keeps coming up within the performance poetry community is whether a poet compromises their artistic integrity by writing to entertain the audience. Purists say one should perform for their own pleasure only; at the other extreme, entertainers seek only to win over the crowd. Ellams’s philosophy is an elegant compromise. “I always write for myself, of things that complicate me on a personal level. And then I edit it knowing that other people will have to come to this.”

So what does Ellams think of slam poetry, where poets are pitted against each other with only two minutes to please the judges? He hesitates. “I like it and dislike it in an equal sense.”

Ellams illustrates his opinion of slam poetry by telling me the story of a slam where he performed a poem that scored high – “it was the best poem of the night” – but ultimately did not win. “This guy, this huge guy stood up and read this poem about accidentally drinking urine which he found in a bottle of gin. And he got a full 30 points for that.” Ellams laughs incredulously. “I thought, this is never happening to me again.” He hasn’t slammed again since.

Whatever his personal feelings, Ellams is charitable as to the role of slam poetry in our culture. “I do think [slam poetry] has done a lot for the appreciation of poetry. Especially in the West, where we do have this competitive environment which champions oneupmanship and the idea of the individual. So, bringing poetry – which is old and classic and sometimes viewed as a dead past-time – bringing that into the twenty-first century I think has been really afforded and helped greatly by slams.”

Since first performing The 14th Tale in 2009, this already-established poet has written two successive solo shows, the most recent of which is currently touring Britain. Inua Ellams is a rising star of the spoken word scene. There is something about the frankness with which he describes himself and his work that borders on arrogance; there’s a lack of humility. But, as I talk to this charismatic young man, I can’t think of him as arrogant. He is simply focused. Poetry is a very serious craft in which he works hard to achieve a high standard. The Romantics would be nodding in approval. And the fact that Ellams is also crossing mediums to bring poetry to more people – that is just gravy.

Three Strikes (Source: The Blue Room)

“Three Strikes could only happen in LA”, Feb 2012

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A review I wrote for Perth Now‘s coverage of Fringe World, as part of the Buzzcuts Perth program. Published in February 2012 on PerthNow.com.au.

Has Jay Leno ever handed you a steak sandwich? Well, it happened to Brian Finkelstein.

Three Strikes is the true story of ridiculous events from Brian’s life, focusing around the American Writers’ Strike of 2007. At the time of his third strike, Brian was a comedy writer for The Ellen DeGeneres Show in Los Angeles. He found himself walking in circles holding a picket sign for reasons he barely understood.

Three Strikes (Source: The Blue Room)

Brian’s style of delivering his story is at once coarse and endearing. You can’t help liking the guy. You might feel that maybe you shouldn’t like this guy, since he starts off the show by telling the audience to shove their mobile phones where the sun don’t shine. In the beginning, he paints himself as an apathetic slacker with no beliefs or values. However, as the story progresses, Brian teases out more of his past, and reveals key events that brought him to that writers’ picket line in LA. His growing disillusionment with the world has a universal ring to it.

It is a fascinating story, and not just because he met Jay Leno. Brian compares the American Writers’ Strike of 2007 to the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 (an anarchist violent protest over working hours), and he does so with piercingly funny wit.

This one-man show boasts a cleverly written script (by Brian himself), hilarious characterisations, and powerful use of the stage space. With a running time of 50 minutes, the story never overstays its welcome, and it is a brilliant addition to any night out.

The show takes place in the PICA performance space, which is perfectly located in the beautifully decorated cultural centre. Afterwards, you can wander up to the Urban Orchard to discuss Brian’s story over a beer.

Three Strikes finishes this Saturday, so be sure to book your tickets before this master of storytelling jets back to LA. This might be your last chance to see him perform – who knows when he’ll go on strike again?