theatre can happen anywhere
Nicki Jackowska is the third artist to curate Under The Influence, a Nightingale initiative that invites creative people to explore the themes that have inspired and affected them over the course of their careers.
A poet, novelist, performer and playwright, Nicki has published six volumes of poetry including Behold, her most recent collection, published by Enitharmon in 2009. She has also published three novels and has recently completed a fourth, which is under consideration.
Nicki has invited a number of artists with whom she has worked, or whose work is known to her, to respond directly to her poem Behold, and to the wider issues it raises, such as confinement and erosion of identity. She will present their work, in collaboration with The Nightingale, at a special Under The Influence evening of dance, film, music, improvised vocals, pipes – Irish, Turkish, Armenian – and collaborations at The Old Market on June 27.
Here she talks to The Nightingale’s press manager Nione Meakin about revisiting her work, discovering new artists and why she’s returning to her roots.
Previous artists have responded to Under The Influence in different ways; Wendy Houstoun looked at the major influences on her career while Graham Miller contrasted where his had begun with where it was now. What does Under the Influence represent to you?
“Recently someone emailed me about Under The Influence and said ‘How wonderful. You have created a new work of art from one poem’. For me, that summarises the way I wanted to approach this. I’ve always known a short piece of work can be as ‘big’ as a longer piece but as I’ve revisited Behold – and other artists have responded to it besides – the poem has grown for me and different aspects have come to the fore. Seeing an extract sung, for example, demonstrates that even a stanza can stand alone as something powerful. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and other concentration camps and given my life-long concern with the Holocaust and what it means for all humanity – concerns which inspired Behold – I had in mind that I wanted to create an evening marking the anniversary without it being a memorial. For me, Under The Influence represents an opportunity to consolidate a long-term ambition to present a very different kind of evening.”
What informed your decision to invite the artists you have invited?
“They are all people who I feel have an affinity for the work, and its themes and/or are people I have worked with in the past. Robert White for example is a brilliant piper who has a collection of about 30 ancient pipes going back to Armenia and Turkey and will be joined for the evening by singer Mick Sands who I’ve also worked with previously when we interwove his songs and my responding poems. The work of Laban is well-known to me, and one of our Programme Consultants put me in touch with an excellent Laban choreographer. I didn’t know the work of Alison Curtis Jones but was introduced to her work and found it striking. Participants were given the option of working directly on the text of the poem or working from the original events we are marking and I’m fascinated to see the various directions they will take. All the work is now being woven together into a single, cohesive presentation.”
How do you think your involvement with Under The Influence will affect the way you work in the future?
“I feel the timing has been perfect. I have a completed novel which is also more about collated fragments than linear narrative and I’m pushing for that narrative to be staged as a play or a film. I’m working on a new play as well. I’ve come to the end of being interested solely in writing text. I’m focusing now on how work can be adapted for performance. I’m absurdly busy but it’s a wonderful thing when you get to my age to have this new lease of life. I have an early career in theatre – a performance diploma – and I suppose things are coming full circle in way.”