In this episode of theoretically theatrical we speak to the wonderfully entertaining Phoebe Angeni. We chat about the difference between writing poetry and for the stage, her new book Longitudes & Latitudes and the absolute necessity of teamwork and community building during a show.
You can hear more from Phoebe at her website www.phoebeangeni.com or @phoebe_angeni on all social media.
My name is Phoebe Anjani and I am a theater maker and poet. I currently living in San Francisco. I do a lot of kind of experimental feminist work, but I also work a lot with classical adaptations and somehow I keep getting involved with musical theater and children's theater. So kind a bit of a jack of all trades as we are in the, theater industry.
Let's start with talking about your writing. So what does your personal writing process look like?
I think it differs for a few things. For poetry, for example, I kind of have to be like in like a flow state, if that makes any sense. It's kind of hippy-dippy, but so am I. And then I treat each poem like a puzzle. I enjoy poetry a lot because. Most of what I do is like a one page piece. and you can kind of really tinker with language and punctuation and formatting and just all the bits and bobs until it's like a perfect little page that's like very loopy and intricate and wonderfully designed and you can kind of hyper fixate on that, which I love.
Then for theater, I find that. My writing process has to be a lot more intentional and methodical. I have to lay things out a lot more clearly for myself because I find longer projects more difficult. Stamina wise, it's hard to keep myself interested. I've kind touch the A D H D, so I have to breadcrumb trail myself along to like maintain focus and maintain.
The passion, not only for thinking of the story, but putting it down onto a piece of paper so that other people can see it, and so that it's translated for other people to experience as well. Right now, for example, I've got like massive timelines going for the project that I'm currently working on.
And it's just helpful to like, Things spread out all over my walls. And all in the environment that I live in. It's a great interior decor as well.
I feel like poetry is like what happens when you're sitting in silence and something like happens. And then I feel like a play is, a very built thing. Where like you have to create spaces for those silences to happen for other people to experience those silences and for them to create their own poetry and their own experience at the moment.
Yeah. I love the term orchestrate there because it is a bit like you are working with a band, it's a completely collaborative experience as a writer. Like you said, you are inviting other artists to riff off what you've done.
Absolutely. And it's such a, a multi-sensory experience.
I think that's in part what poetry struggles sometimes is that the world that we live in and the media that we're really accustomed to consuming is so multi-sensory. And I think that. Like, something that I studied back in university was film poetry. And I think there's like a lot of great potential for poetry to thrive in a mixed media format and in live performance.
But I think in playwriting that's what's already there, , you have to kind of put your director hat on and be like, okay, well how would I actually visualize this scene? Like, what would I want the theater to.
To feel like, what soundscape would I like to hear? What, you know, what would I like to smell in this scenario? So that you can really create not just an internal moment, not just a moment of thoughtfulness, but an external sensory moment where we're all like present together in it.
Would you mind telling us about how you think that the audience for poetry has changed over the years? Do you think the way people receive poetry has changed?
I think it's become a lot quicker. And a lot more, consumable really is how I would phrase it, you get a lot of like Instagram poets or TikTok poets and that's kind of where.
Poetry can live at this point in time. It lives in independent artists who are managing, producing, writing, like publishing their own work. I optioned my latest book originally to publishers.
And I did get an offer, but what I also got back was a lot of feedback that, public like poetry is not a, a super high in demand genre right now. And I'm not a hundred percent sure why that is. Probably some social commentary in there somewhere. The contracts that I was looking at were really not super great. Poets get a little bit shafted on that end. I think they always kind of have historically monetarily. It's not really a profession that you go into that you're like, oh my God, I'm gonna make the big bucks.
It's definitely not gotten any better from so I think that the power right now for poets is to use a lot of the technological advancements in communication, in connection, which is social media, to be like, here, this is who I am, this is how I see the world.
And to be able. To put together your own, work yourself and to distribute it yourself to effectively manage yourself like a small business, I think that's, where poetry is going. Which is kind of weird because when you're a poet you don't really wanna be like an influencer.
Most poets are like cynics and hopeless romantics and people with big old feelings and not a lot of marketing knowledge. So it's a very interesting dynamic, but I think that one that's going to keep getting explored and hopefully as that branches out, the quality of Instagram poets and TikTok poets is just gonna keep getting better. And that we find a way to make that not soul crushing and, and still playful and fun and just a way to like connect better with our audiences on a more like, personal level.
Do you think that writing for you, has a therapeutic aspect to it?
For sure, for sure. I think that writing it does not replace therapy. I think those are two different spheres. However, I think emotional experiences are so at the root of what inspires and drives art and drives writing, that when you're a writer you can't a hundred percent ever separate yourself from your work.
I think for myself it's a, it's a little less separated even cuz a lot of the work that I do is autobiographical. Not all of it, but definitely a lot of it.
And I think that why I've chosen to do that is because I've had so much therapy and so many resources that I've been able to really work through a lot of crazy shit that's happened to me. And. Because I've been able to do that, I feel that I can then be able to put together pieces of art that reflect those experiences in a way that could be helpful for someone else who's facing that, who maybe hasn't had as many resources half of the freaking poems in my book are like, oh my God, I love this person.
And they didn't love me back. And it's like, you know, everyone, everyone has freaking been there. And so of course I wrote those poems when I was in that place where I was like, my heart was ripped outta my chest and then I edited them after the fact that I kind of like got over that shit. Yeah. Which is not shit. It's just a valid human experience that, you know anyone can be in. Oh yeah. And then I put the book together in part, I'm gonna be honest with you in part. This book was a contract to myself. If I put these poems out in the public sphere, Hmm.
People can see them, then I'm sure as hell not ever gonna text him again. That would make me a hypocrite
holding yourself accountable with our
damn Yes. In the public sphere.
Like literally everyone see, see all these embarrassing feelings that I have and yeah. Don't let me text him back. So it's important to experience life. Mm-hmm. To then use those experiences to inspire art. Then to get therapy or to get therapy
And then at the end, we monetize our trauma and we help everyone else who's equally traumatized as us along the way.
So it's like, that's the artist life.
Do you feel that poetry has a certain kind of power as a genre, as a medium?
My favorite part about poetry anyway is that it's so playful and it can be very experimental. And I think that language itself is often a mirror for like the development of society. So it's really cool to see the styles of poetry change and evolve as the way that we interact with each other and the way that we think about, gender, sexuality, everything. As the way that we experience and think about them changes. So does our language, so does our poetry, and it can be a really interesting. Playing field for that to kind of see that mirrored and to see how different people from different walks of life have a different style and have a different voice and can share that voice.
I think that's, that's my favorite part.
How, how do you feel that poetry affects the audience as opposed to the way that theater affects the audience as different mediums and different audiences?
I think that poetry, at least the way that I write it, is a lot more associative as well. So. There is more space for different readers to find different meaning in what I write.
I leave a lot of things kind of up in the air. Sometimes some of my poems are, are pretty straightforward, like, Hmm, I'm sad, blah, blah, blah. Here's some pretty words about that. But like a lot of the poems that I write. It could have like maybe three or four different meanings depending on who you are. I think the theater is similar to that, but when I'm thinking about writing a play, there's definitely a central story that I want people to follow. Ultimately you, do kind of want all your kids on the same line where you're like, yeah we saw the same show here.
A lot of what I do, I like it to sound really nice, especially cuz I think it is such an like a sensory experience, but that's more so my poetry than my plays. My plays are pretty much like, let's sit around a campfire and have a little story.
Would you mind telling us a little bit more about your collection of poems, longitudes and Latitudes?
It's a debut collection of 99 poems for all kinds of love. Whether that be like platonic, romantic, everything heartbreak, existentialism like a lot of kind of naturey poems in there.
Kind of transcendental vibes, some beat vibes and smashing up the world. Hey there's a lot of like critique in here which is funny cuz I feel like I don't share that side of myself. Outside the context of poetry a lot that and my sad poems, I think those are the two that I'm like I, I usually keep a little closer to my chest, a little to my closer social circle.
So writing them and, and sharing them with people has been very intriguing and nerve-wracking about people like, like it, it's supposed to be kinda playful that way where, you know, there are a lot of serious topics in there, but. I think that the way that I am is I like to deal with everything, with a little bit of mischief and a little bit of fun.
There's a little bit of witch in there cuz you know, I am one. It's written to be communicated from like my brain to the reader's brain directly. It's a very kind of intimate exchange.
Not all of them are autobiographical, but Even if they're not, I feel like it's, it's still a very close book. It's like when you're at a sleepover and you have those late night conversations with your friends, you're just like staring up at the ceiling,
it's an intimate conversation.
As a theater maker, what do you like to work on? What's your favorite thing to work on?
Honestly I just love that freaky wild, mad feminine rage vibe. That's my favorite thing in the world. If I could be rolling around on stage screaming at the gods, covered in a bucket of fake blood, like semi food, that's my favorite thing. I don't enjoy watching any sort of like horror.
But God, I love living that vibe and that aesthetic. I love mythology and I love tragic, heroic stories.
You also do a lot of behind the scenes work as as a producer and manager and, and that kind of thing. Do you find that the two experiences are useful in both films?
Absolutely. I think every performer should work backstage in multiple capacities if they can. Working on a bunch of different shows In a bunch of different roles on and offstage. Yeah, you can always tell which performers don't really have a full concept of what's going on around them.
Who are just, you know, I'm here, I'm trained to act, I'm going to do my bit and then I'm gonna go home. Really theater is like such a team sport. And I think that if you're gonna be on a team, you really have to understand what. Everyone playing on that team is contributing. Mm-hmm. Because then you can be helpful to everyone and not just think about yourself.
I know that in my early days as a young actor I was kind of like that, where I'd be like, in tech I'd be like, oh my God. You know, like, why are we stopping? I'm just standing here on stage, like, I'm fucking bored. I wanna like sit down, you know? Mm-hmm. But now I'm like, you know, from my assistant director brain or my stage management brain, I'm like, okay.
Yeah. So they're probably working lights because we're always working lights or like sound or some sort of a projection thing, or we're making sure that something's safe. Just wait for my moment to do my thing, and then I'll do my thing and contribute to the team. And similarly when I work backstage, I get that acting is a high pressure gig. You know, everyone's looking at you, you've got a big responsibility to like carry the show.
Everyone behind the stage can do as much as they can to make you look as great as they can, but in that moment when you know the curtain's up, the lights are freaking on, the audience is all looking at you. Yep. You have to swing that bat and hit the ball outta the park. So it's helpful for me when I'm, in a directorial or a managerial capacity to have that breadth and understanding of like, we all have hard jobs.
I think that when it all boils down to it, working in different different capacities in the theater, just gives you empathy for the whole process because every single job is a difficult job and you have to be really good at that job. Everyone on the team is really pulling their weight.
If I'm doing behind the scenes role, I call it weeding the gravel because if. People don't notice you doing it, but if you didn't do it or hell, they'd notice, you know?
Absolutely. Yeah. So all people see are the pristine gravel drive. They don't see the hours of work that went into making it look like that.
Collaboration is the word mm-hmm. Of the day with theater. It is one of the most collaborative art forms, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
You are forming a little community cuz you're on, you're on production with people. Sometimes if it's a big show for months, maybe years. And
that's, well, if you're, I mean, if you're lucky, if you're lucky, if you get a really long run,
get a gig and mouse trap, you'll be fine.
God. Then you might get bored, but, you know.
Yeah. But yeah.
But feeling bored. Well, security. Yeah. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, creators, artists,
oh my God, do it. Like, I'm, I'm not saying that as like, oh my God, everyone should be an artist because it will actually like, chew you up and spit you out and like suck your soul out through your toes.
It literally will. But what I mean by that is if you wanna do it, like don't beat around the bush, you actually have to do it. Mm-hmm. And that means, Yes. Like submit yourself for things, as many things as you can, but also like get the training necessary to have, to have polished skills to be able to work in the field cuz it is a job.
The way that I started actually in the professional sphere of theater making is it was in the pandemic. I was working at Starbucks and they furloughed us in the pandemic because that was hell for, for hospitality workers.
And so while I was on furlough, I thought to myself, okay. What am I going to do with this time? And I decided I'm going to write direct, perform, produce my own show. And that was my first one woman show. I literally cleared out like an eight by eight foot square little room in my house. I'm gonna literally put construction papers all over the walls. I'm gonna black out the windows. I'm gonna rig like dinky little Amazon lights and like create a black box theater that functioned as a black box theater. Mm-hmm. And I made my own show. I used that time to do the writing, to do all the managing, all the directing, all the producing.
And that was my first. Real like project that I did. It was about taking the opportunity that furlough time gave me. And then I ended up sending that to Fringe and
with the whole fringe experience. The year before they had had like a virtual program. Mm-hmm. And they had talks. So I went to all the talks. I got up at 5:00 AM I went to all the talks, and then people who were doing the talks were like, please email us. Like we're all sitting on our asses in our houses.
Mm-hmm. Like, we have the time to email. So I emailed some people and I got connected with some really amazing theater makers who were willing to help me. Bring my show to Fringe virtually. Mm-hmm. That did really well because of the help of those people. From that, I literally walked to the closest theater by my house and I knocked on the door and I said, Hey, I made a show.
It wasn't shit. Do you have any work? Can I work backstage? They put me in touch with a stage manager who is one of my favorite people on this planet. Mm-hmm. And she was like, do you know what? You can come on as a pa. And then as a pa Then the next year I was assistant director and under studying everyone in their dog.
And if you, if you mean it, that you're interested in working in theater, you know, walk to your theater, ask what they have be willing to do something that you wouldn't normally think that you're gonna do.
It's a wonderful, beautiful job, beautiful community, but it's a lot of graft and you do have to like really put that in to make it happen. Take every single opportunity that comes along its way and make as many opportunities.
I think my, my philosophy has always put yourself in the path of good. Of goodness. Mm-hmm. And how you do that is just like, keep throwing spaghetti at the wall. See what sticks to the wall.
A wonderful admin magician who works for the podcast said that you have to have the audacity that other people have around you. So often you'll find people coming up to you with stuff that you think is mediocre or the really pushing themselves.
If you have the audacity, then you get the experience and then you can use that experience to make your stuff better.
Oh, absolutely. That's, that's so correct. And I mean, what's the worst case scenario?
You fail and you're embarrassed. Like everybody fails all the time and we're embarrassed all the time. At least I am. Treating that with compassion and kindness so if you fail, it's not, it's not a big deal, it's just your experiment didn't work, so let's do another one.
If somebody gives you an opportunity, I, I try and grab it with both hands.
My first instinct is to say yes. Sometimes I have to go in, look at my calendar and go, oh, can I actually do that? But my first instinct if somebody were to say to me, go and climb a mountain, I think. Yes.
Okay, let's do that. Absolutely. Absolutely. And then bring like all the band-aids for your heels and whatever you're gonna need, like mm-hmm.
Try doing new things, and it will be good for you in the long run. And sometimes you're gonna fall over and you're gonna bump your head and it's gonna hurt, but it's okay because we are designed to survive these things. Learn from them and keep on going.
It's good for the plot. It's good for the plot of your, of your own story.
So on that note please would you let people know where they can go if they would like to hear more from you, where they can get your book, where they can keep up to date with your creative projects?
My book is available in paperback on Amazon, Barnes and Noble. A couple of other, like indie book vendors. It's all like online right now. And then it's also available in ebook on Google Books, apple Books, Amazon it's called longitudes and latitudes. If you just Google that by Phoebe Anine, then you're, you're pretty set to go.
For me, I have a little website with all my shit on it. If you wanna look. Ww phoebe anine.com that's what it says on the tin. All my socials are there, but it's basically at Phoebe on. Everything. I do poetry readings on my TikTok, which is fun. And I also post like cute little pics on Instagram
oh, fantastic. Well thank you so much Phoebe for being on the podcast. It has been a pleasure to have you here and it's been so lovely to speak to you.
Oh, thank you so much. It's been so lovely talking to you too, Rosie.