Cultural Storytellers: Gus Simonovic
Gus Simonovic talks to Renee Liang about taking poetry as 'performance art' to the people, taking his projects to the next level with ART Venture and taking away ideas from a research trip in Europe.
"I am going to be travelling around like a bee, visiting as many flowers as I can in one trip, collecting nectar and bringing it back home to make."
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I first met Gus many years ago, when we were both new entrants to the world of poetry performance. The very first time I saw him was striking. It was at the Going West Slam, and he was ‘reading’ a poem he’d written in English – but being uncertain of his second language (Gus wrote poetry in Serbia before he emigrated here), he’d asked a friend to read for him.
Since then, we’ve both come a long way, and our paths have crossed often – sometimes even competitively (at Slams). Confidence in English is no longer an issue …for either of us. And some very exciting things are in the offing. His project 'Printable Reality', with a vision to raise a profile of performance poetry and bring it to the widest possible audience in NZ, has been taking shape over the years.
Gus is about to become an alumnus of the ART Venture program, funded by Arts Regional Trust to fast track creative entrepreneurs. As a result, he is currently in a process of forming a trust - Poetry/Spoken Word Art Trust NZ, which will assist poets and spoken word groups to access performance opportunities and collaborate with like-minded creatives.
He’s also been busy curating a number of events, notably performances and readings at the Wallace Trust’s Pah Homestead, and recently a new monthly event at The Library Bar in the Viaduct. Printable Reality produced the Literatti’s spoken word performance show One Question for this year’s Auckland Fringe.
And in case you were wondering if he ever slept, in the last few months he’s also developed a solo spoken word show and CD "iWas" and a multimedia collaboration show (with dancer/choreographer Siri Embla, also featuring a bunch of talented musicians and visual artists), Lover’s Walk, both to be performed at the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe festival.
I caught up with Gus ahead of his trip to Europe, during which he plans to connect with key creative organisations in order to bring ideas back to NZ.
Why poetry/spoken word?
For me this is one of those “how-long-do-you-have” type of questions. This question is like asking me why do you breathe? Why do you open your eyes? If I have to give a rational explanation, I would say that not enough attention or value (or funding!) is given to expressing one’s feelings. The emphasis of our busy lives is on maximising our potential, meaning success-based, measurable outcomes... And once we have achieved those, so what? The only way I can personally go beyond that level is expression through poetry.
Poetry is not just a beautiful string of romantic lines (although it can be that ) or a loud rant of frustrated youth. Those beautifully crafted lines are conveying the truths of the human condition and enhancing the feeling of togetherness in a personal experience. Poetry is proven to be transformational: a very powerful self awareness tool and a vehicle for social change. It can promote wellbeing and help the development of young people.
Spoken word is an ancient form of sharing the gift of poetry. There is something special about reading a poem in a quiet corner of your room, there is something special in hearing those words directly from the author.
Joy is shared, the choice – is yours.
What does your company ‘Printable Reality’ aim to do?
In today's society, we all live by lists: “to-do lists” and “shopping lists” and “wish lists”. Printable Reality wants to put POETRY on everybody's wish list, and your to-do list, and shopping list – and make those lists into poems.
Our aim is to provide a conduit to bring the joy of poetry as a 'performance art' to the widest possible audience across New Zealand; through the spoken word to inspire, comfort, educate and celebrate people of all ages and cultural backgrounds. To transcend boundaries between creative genres and discover new forms of collaboration which will inspire and develop professionals working in the arts sector.
Printable Reality has been inspired by, and modelled on, Apples and Snakes UK – a hugely successful organisation which takes poetry to the people through performance and education.
After a couple of years of experimentation and development of Printable Reality through performance and multi-media collaboration, the project was accepted in 2010 by ART Venture; a mentoring and development program designed to take entrepreneurial creative businesses to the next level of viability.
What have been the benefits of participating the Arts Venture program?
There are numerous benefits of participating in the ART Venture acceleration program for creative entrepreneurs, ranging from personal development to accelerating my project and enriching Auckland's art scene.
The default attitude of the artist is that you give your most intimate self to the process of creating art. If people get it or not is irrelevant to you in the evening... but in the morning you have to eat. ARTv is that bridge to take you from being a creative person into being a creative entrepreneur and to help you find the model that will enable you to do that continuously. Being an artist and being able to live off your art is what ARTv teaches you. Creative entrepreneurship provides the means for the art to be presented and delivered to the audience and for the art to be sustainable for the artist.
The ability of the ART Venture facilitation team to identify and support creative entrepreneurs from across all art disciplines is a major factor in the development of income-generating arts in Auckland. I was privileged to be accepted into the 2010 intake.
The input of the talented participants and the skills of the facilitation team enabled my to focus on outcomes and carry out my activities in a more professional and focused way.
ART Venture also helped Printable Reality find the most suitable business and legal structure for its activities and is supporting my visit to the UK in July to observe and study under the auspices of Apples and Snakes UK and at the same time to take two Printable Reality's newest poetic-theatre productions Lovers Walk and iWas to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
What are some of the most important things you’ve learnt this year?
Primarily presentation and communication skills. And the ability to create and follow a strategic business plan was a huge learning step for me in this demanding role that I employed myself in.
I learned that the intention to put yourself out there and share your vision, so long as it is genuine and purposeful, does pay off.
A couple of years ago when asked by friends: “how is the poetry going” I used to reply jokingly that if things progress at this rate we will be in Hollywood in three years. Presenting two Kiwi-made poetry shows at Edinburgh this year, I almost start believing that!
Finally, I have to admit that I cannot learn enough tolerance or patience.
Where are you going on your research trip, and who are you meeting?
I am going to have the chance to spend an hour or two with people who I would like to spend a lifetime with. I am going to be travelling around like a bee, visiting as many flowers as I can in one trip, collecting nectar and bringing it back home to make.
I will be based in London for a month doing an internship at the offices of Apples and Snakes, the centre of performance poetry in the UK, learning everything I can about their operations and business model. During that time we will be attending two major poetry festivals and have series of meetings.
On a long list of people that I will have a chance to meet are the likes of a person who heads the only University course on performance poetry, a leader in the field of poetry-dance collaboration, people who know in depth not only UK but the US and European poetry scene. And that’s only a “day job”, I will be a part of organising poetry events and perform on almost every single night.
When I get to Edinburgh I will be attending series of artist development workshops and seminars as well as having the chance to catch some the best theatre and spoken word performances in the world.
And of course spending as much time as possible with other poets, performers, festival organisers, publishers, producers, promoters and other creative professionals.
Who inspires you?
Byron inspires me in an ideal sense. The poets who I have found most inspirational on a personal level over the years have been Neruda, Rumi and Tagore. When it comes to contemporary poetry, there is no one to match David Whyte, who has developed innovative ways to share poetry with the public.
What inspires me the most - young people, who are discovering poetic expression and finding innovative ways of sharing that powerful and fresh wisdom.
What do you hope to bring back to NZ?
A sustainable business model. An understanding of a model that can work for Printable Reality and inspiration and enthusiasm for myself.
Now here is the question: how many poets are there in NZ? 100s, 1000s, what do you think? But maybe there are three poets who can put “poet” in their tax return form. Printable Reality's aim is to make that 30 or 300 or 3000. There is no available statistic on how many New Zealanders have had a chance to explore and discover the true power of poetry. Maybe 1-2% of our population? To be modest – we want to double that, to start with.
How do you develop your performances?
In collaboration. Working in isolation can have some advantages in your formative years, but it can be limiting. Also if/and you join a band or a troupe you give up some of your personal expression. In collaboration you keep all your personal input and add it to the big picture. You challenge yourself to give your best. Whereas ‘in a band’ you find your place within given boundaries, here there are no boundaries and you give of yourself in your most raw and authentic way.
Our performances are multi-disciplinary and multi-layered. At the same time they are designed to create a space for every audience member to enter and engage with content, on a most personal and intimate level.
How would you like to involve the community in your work?
Communities have something to share beyond entertainment and we want to be a part of that. We engage with the community already through delivering poetry in a variety of unconventional venues, such as restaurants and bars, gardens, galleries, festivals, fashion shows. One of the things I aim to bring back from the UK is their model of running poetry programmes in schools, workplace and the wider community.
We will be looking at forming partnerships with social services and working on developing and delivery of educational programs to diverse audiences across all demographics, including 'at risk' groups. We want to explore ways in which poetry can really be “our voices uncensored and un-moderated” and create a platform where every New Zealander's voice can be powerfully heard.
Printable Reality is a concept whose time has come. It sits on the cusp of contemporary creative thinking and demonstrates the fusing of genre boundaries and the opening up of new possibilities for integrating the arts into the lives of ordinary New Zealanders. It has only touched the fringe of its potential.
What events have you got coming up?
29 June 8pm, 1 Pekenham St, Viaduct
“LIVE at The Library Bar” - a diverse evening of tunes and stanzas in the cosiest bar in town. This event runs every last Wednesday of the month. Special guests this coming Wednesday are Caitlin Smith and Ben Brown. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register for the Open Mic.
22 July 1pm, at TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, 72 Hillsborough Road
A special National Poetry Day edition of our regular “In VOICE and Music” event at Pah Homestead. Prominent Auckland poets and some fresh new talent perform on the theme “Brave New World”, including former Poet Laureate Michele Leggott, Peter Bland, Stephanie Johnson, Michelle Bolton, Alexandra Fraser, Michael Onslow-Osborne. Contact email@example.com for more info.
The list of our UK/Europe performances is too extensive and for the most part irrelevant to New Zealand readers. The highlight obviously is Edinburgh from 6-14th August. Our show “Lovers Walk” was invited to be a part of the fabulous Going West Festival at the beginning of September, but we will be taking our show on a short tour of Europe at that time.
Our biggest GLOBAL event at the moment is an Indigogo online fundraising campaign aimed to help us cover some of the costs of taking our Kiwi-made shows to UK and Europe. Please get involved by visiting http://www.indiegogo.com/Lovers-Walk-A-Poetic-Journey-In-8-Scenes and join our amazing family of supporters.