Interviews Theatre Writing

Cecilia Knapp: Finding Home

Cecilia Knapp is a writer, performer and poet who has performed at some of the UK’s most popular poetry nights, such as Bang Said the Gun, numerous festivals including Bestival and Brainchild, and has been featured on 1Xtra, and XFM.

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She was recently made a Roundhouse Resident Artist and was mentored by acclaimed writer Polarbear for a year as part of their influential poetry scheme. In May 2015 she was commissioned by the BBC to write new work to be showcased on player.

We caught up with Cecilia just after her Brainchild show to chat about her work, her inspirations, her work with C.A.L.M, and pancakes vs french toast.

Hi Cecilia, how are you and what are you up to?

Hello! I’m very well thank you. Currently sat on my bed with my cat drinking coffee and trying to write new things. Not bad for a Tuesday afternoon really.

How was your summer?

It’s been gorgeous so far. Summer is festival season so I’ve been reading at a few festivals as well as rehearsing and performing my one woman show – Finding Home – at the Roundhouse.

I’ve also been doing some teaching, at Huddersfield Uni as well as in schools, a prison and for charities. I love that part of my work.
Working with people who don’t think they can write and helping
them tell their stories, having the pleasure of getting to know them and hear what they have to say.

In between all of that I’ve been doing the obligatory park dwelling with cans of beer and attempting barbecues in temperamental weather, so yeah it’s been pretty cool.

We (almost) caught up with you at
Brainchild Festival. How was that for you?

It was amazing. I love Brainchild. I love how small it is. You can
walk from your tent to the main stage in a matter of minutes but
it’s packed full of interesting people and artists and kind humans.
The care and attention put into how it looks and what there is to do
is so uplifting. There’s amazing panels and talks and films and
dance and pop up performances and hula hooping and jam
sessions and it just reaffirms your faith and hope for the world. I
hosted and performed in the spoken word sessions in the Forum.
There were so many people there to listen and the writers were all
incredible.

Are you happy performing your work live, or more or
an on-page person?

I can’t really decide that because they are two such different things.
I enjoy performing because I enjoy the telling of the story, the
energy of the crowds, the shared experience of it. There’s
something really special about that moment, that collaboration
between writer and audience. You can vibe off the people in the
space.

But writing, or reading on your own off the page is also incredibly
important to me. Sitting down and writing is my time to figure out
my thoughts and make sense of the scramble that they are when
they are in my head. I can’t explain the feeling I get when I write
something that helps me make sense of a feeling or a situation I’m
experiencing. It’s like this complete, serene calm mixed with pure
joy and I don’t get it from anything else.

What first got you in to writing?

The discovery that it made me feel good. I was in my own head a
lot as a kid, making up stories, wanting to know other peoples
stories and asking questions. Knowing other peoples stories made
me feel less anxious and alone so I just used to write it all down.

Tell us a little about your Roundhouse residency and
work with Polarbear?

When I first moved to London I was feeling a little lost. I didn’t
really know what I wanted to do. I went to see a poet who lectured
at my University do a reading in Soho and I saw a poster for a
Polarbear show. I went home and watched him on Youtube and
was so excited by what I saw.

I saw he was running a poetry course at the Roundhouse in
Camden and went along, not knowing what to expect. But in short,
it changed my life. I met 5 other aspiring writers who became some
of my best friends. We used to sit in a room every Sunday
afternoon, the 6 of us and Polarbear, writing, trying new things
and reading them to each other. It gave us the space to find out
who we were as writers. We were all at a stage in our lives where
we were lost and needing direction. It was so serendipitous that we
all came together at that time, this group of misfit aspiring writers
bundled into a room telling their stories to each other. The
Roundhouse continued to support us afterwards, giving us gigs
and opportunities. I became a resident artist there and they gave
me rehearsal space, advice and endless support. They still do.

What’s happening with Finding Home now? How was it to make such an ambitious piece?

Finding Home did really well when we last ran it in late May 2015.
We had 2 sold out nights at the Roundhouse as part of their spoken
word festival. The plan is to tour it, starting with the Cheltenham Literature Festival in October, where I am also one of their guest
curators. I’ll be doing Finding Home as well as some exciting other
events I am in the process of planning. Then we’re taking it on the
road early 2017.

I want the show to be seen by as many people as possible because
at it’s heart is this message about loving yourself in spite of
everything. It’s about finding your home physically, finding a place
to call your own, but also finding the home within yourself. The
show is about a lot of things; growing up as a girl with a single Dad,
falling in and out of love, moving away from home, meeting
important people, but predominantly it’s about the suicide of my
older brother Leo and how you deal with losing someone in that
way. The show aims to be candid about this type of bereavement
because it’s a topic that is so stigmatised in our society. I want to
demystify bereavement and loss through storytelling and sharing
this experience so anyone who has been affected can feel less
alone.

It was hard making such a charged and personal piece, but my
ambition to get this story out there and try and help others in this
small way made me power on through the times when I felt like I
just didn’t want to have to say it out loud anymore.

Which writers inspire you?

Great story tellers. I’m reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche at the
moment. Every book of hers I read I get completely lost in her
worlds. I also just finished Max Porter’s Grief is a Ting With
Feathers which is the most beautiful thing I think I’ve ever read.
It’s about Grief, like Finding Home but approached in a different
way, part poetry, part memoir, part allegory. It’s a beautiful
example of how writing can address and confront these enormous
and terrifying emotions.

What’s on your Netflix watch list?

I am so ashamed to say that I’ve never seen Breaking Bad. Every
time I say that I haven’t seen it someone gets incensed so I need to
just watch it so I don’t have to deal with the incredulous cries
anymore.

What’s in your headphones?

At the moment ABRA, Eska, Christine and the Queens and
Anderson Pak. Oh and James Blake’s new album is delicious.

You work with C.A.L.M. How did that come about?

After my Brother Leo died my awareness to suicide and metal
health was opened. I heard that suicide was the biggest killer of
young men in the UK which is a truly shocking statistic. A really
close friend of mine, Jack Rooke was working with the charity and
I asked to go along to meet them. They are a tiny organisation
made up of the most wonderful, dedicated people. I felt instantly at
home and wanted to start helping. I became an ambassador but I
wanted to do more as well. I really believe in the transformative
power that creatively expressing yourself can have. Writing has
saved me at times, I really believe that.

I wanted to put on an awareness raising night for C.A.L.M that
promoted this idea, using great writers, musicians and comedians,
so Jack and I did just this and called it ‘Save the Male’. We did the
first one at the Roundhouse 3 years ago and still put them on
regularly. We have been to Bestival, Leefest, Secret Garden Party
and all over London promoting C.A.L.M’s message that we need to
talk more openly about suicide and mental health.

What do you have coming up that we should know
about?

Keep your eyes peeled for Finding Home tour dates on my website,
as well as other poetry gigs coming up in London and across the
UK. I’m working on a new piece of theatre with a company called
I.O.U which will also be touring next year. I also run a lot of
workshops if anyone wants to try their hand at some writing. Also,
check out C.A.L.M. as we have another show with them in
September.

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What’s your most pressing ambition?

I just want to keep getting better and keep making work. I’m
currently working on my debut poetry collection but I’m also
writing a novel. It’s early days but I’m enjoying it.

Biggest disappointment?

You get set backs all the time as a freelance artist, gigs that fall
through, finding out some one else has been chosen for a
commission, funding applications getting rejected. But you just
have to remember to be grateful for what you have. I’m so lucky I
actually make money from something I love so much. I’ll never
stop being grateful for that.

Rainy days or beach lazing?

Give me a beach and a book.

Pancakes or french toast?

Pancakes every time. With maple syrup.

Brexit of Brexin? Why?

Brexin. It broke my heart when we left. I’ve always seen myself as
European, part of a bigger community, a rich and diverse
community. I’m more than a bit terrified of being left on this tiny,
Tory run island without being part of Europe. We are living in very
dark and unstable times and I think the most important thing is to
continue to love. To send as much love out as possible. Keep loving
and creating and fighting against hate and unfairness.

You’ll find latest news, event information and videos on Cecilia’s website here.

Table portrait by Charlie Carr-Gomm.

About the author

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