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From its humble beginnings on the Eastside airwaves to a fully-fledged, not-for-profit organisation promoting the position of poetry as an artform and mode of expression, the Red Room Company has certainly gone from strength to strength. Papercuts is Australia’s only nation-wide poetry education program, with Red Room’s Artistic Director Johanna Featherstone emphasising it’s about, “Encouraging young people to encounter poetry in unusual ways allows them to experience poetry as a journey, that isn’t necessarily about getting something right or finding an answer.”

Along with acclaimed poet and spoken word performer Candy Royalle, you have the opportunity to make this Mardi Gras season about something more than sequins at the Company’s Festival-incorporated poetry workshop. Royalle gives us hints about the journey in store …

Candy, what first drew you to poetry? A need for self expression and the desire to be heard. Both still reign supreme as the reasons I remain doing it.

Is it possible to really learn the ‘secret’ of spoken word? Spoken word or performance poetry has to have some element of entertainment. It can’t be just about the artist – if that’s your driving force stick to writing for the page. If you think about what holds the attention of the audience, what helps them to connect to you, what they will relate to (essentially know your audience) you’re more likely to be successful. By no means do I mean compromise your art but there is a balance that needs to be struck so that both performer and audience feel fulfilled and that the journey was worth it.

How important do you think programs like Papercuts are? Incredibly important. The work that Red Room does, and its impact, cannot be underestimated. When I was at school, we were never offered these sorts of workshops and I would have loved it. Instead, I was shown only one side of poetry – stuff that I truly struggled to connect with, and it nearly turned me off completely! Furthermore poetry should be accessible – not some elitist art form reserved for a select few for it is such an incredible form of human expression and Red Room with its Papercuts program really does work to make it accessible.

What will poetry bring to the experience of Mardi Gras, and vice versa? I appreciate that Mardi Gras is a celebration of gay culture and lifestyle and that it is a time for gay people to feel connected to a community of like minded people. Sometimes, however, the parties and the parade, the sheer scale of it, can drown out the arts and culture aspect that many Queer people contribute to the community. Furthermore, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and actually disengaged – particularly for teenagers still unsure of the whole scene. I hope that whilst Mardi Gras can bring the fun times and the platform, poetry (and storytelling) can contribute that sense of connectedness that a lot of Queer teenagers, young adults and veterans are seeking.

What is one thing you hope participants will walk away with? I hope participants understand that they deserve to be heard and then feel empowered to do so with some of the tools I will help them develop. Everyone has a story, storytelling is part of what being human is and how we communicate and I believe poetry is one way we can tell those stories – I hope the participants walk away feeling the same way.

Jan 25, 10am-4pm, The Mullins Studio, Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, 597 High St, Penrith,