Last week we put on Shane Koyczan in All Saint’s Church. It was the biggest gig as Say owt me and Stu Freestone had ever undertaken. We approached it with a DIY effort. A co-production with Apples and Snakes’ Kirsten Luckins, the three of us organised tickets, hire, seating, lighting, staging and supports ourselves. So a massive thank you to everyone who came to see the show, caught the supports and clapped, laughed and cried.
The first time I visited the Church was a gig out on by my mate Jamie as Owls Owls Owls featuring ONSIND and Spoonboy and then another OOO gig with Chris Clavin (Ghost Mice). I booked the Church for Buddy Wakefield, x3 times World Slam Champion. The audience were kinda small for that gig, in 3 years the number rocketed thanks to the healthy York scene. But I didn’t really know how to acquire Pas or lighting, Buddy just got up and did the gig.
Earlier this year, we put on Harry & Chris in the space. Again, with very little set-up, just 100ish people in the Church. The main reason is we wanted to try and branch out from our usual home of The Basement and try our hand at something under our control The Church is kind enough to let us come and go as we please, as long as we tidy up and make sure we’re locked up. Rather than signing away our control to venue bookers and bar staff and contracts and splits, it feels, for a single night, ours.
There’s some problematic elements to using a Church, I’ll admit. The fact that as an atheist, I know some people feel uncomfortable under the roof of organised religion. The Church as a whole hasn’t got a great record on LGBTQ+ rights. But I know this particular Church are a far stretch from the arch-villainy of Westboro.
But I think the reason I like using the Church is the DIY attitude of re-using space. There are Churches across the UK which mostly sit empty, and it’s nice to reuse them to support gigs, musicians, poets and the community. Churches were built for all manner of reasons. Praising God an obvious one. Sanctuary (what we might now call a safe space) being one. A place to come together another.
The issue comes from the sanctity-ness of the space. This wasn’t a problem for Harry & Chris and Gecko, their cheeky and silly patter and poems/songs just seemed like a chilled house show. But Shane Koyczan’s poetry is full of hope, joy, power and his delivery suitably impassioned. With that in mind, he was worried that maybe the setting would be a bit ‘Holyish’. We didn’t use a lecturn from the Church, for example. The setting of the Church adds layers. Elements of preaching, of otherwordlyness and of a hierarchy of God, preacher and flock. DIY is meant to reject these structures, and (as we talk about in the latest Say Owt Podcast) I hate it when poets are put on a pedestal. Anyone can write poetry, anyone can share it. We advertised Shane as a superstar, and he is when you crunch numbers, but anyone can crunch hearts.
So I think using Church spaces is highly rewarding, but there are things to consider about the connotations of the space, how audiences perceive performers and how you break down the barriers of performer and audience and power.