PERSON AND PERFORMANCE – ZILLAH BOWES, WRITERS AT WORK

PERSON AND PERFORMANCE – ZILLAH BOWES, WRITERS AT WORK

 

I’m sitting in a café tent with early festival-goers at the beginning of the day. It’s a soft moment before the festival breaks; chatting, screen-tapping, coffee-grinding. I’ve just walked up from Hay town with poet Zaffar Kunial. We talked about performance, about the complexity of not always knowing who you are, while wanting to be yourself, and the desire to perform well, which sometimes requires a persona.

Novelist David Mitchell spoke to us at Writers at Work about the need for a public persona, and to remember we’re putting on a show. Yet in the session on his translation of Naomi Higashida’s Fall Down Seven Times, Get up Eight: A Young Man’s Voice from the Silence of Autism, he conducted a profound Q&A, drawing on his experience of being a father of a child with autism, answering questions with sincerity and compassion.

Amanda Palmer talked to us, while live streaming to 12,000 Facebook followers, about how she sees an audience as individuals, based on early gigs when she actually knew each member. She spoke about how she doesn’t question how she comes across: she is who she is. Yet she also spoke about how performing over and over is the key, because the more you do, the less each performance matters.

Amanda sang to us with a ukulele that she sourced from a Twitter shout-out. In Creep, she threw back her neck, open-mouthed, and seemed to sing from her whole body, from her feet up. I felt like she was offering us her whole self, mediated. And I wonder now if it’s precisely this tension, between person and persona, that gives such divine performance its electricity.

Zillah Bowes is a part of the Hay Writers at Work programme, which is a long-term development programme for selected new Welsh writers.