Content warning: sexual assault mention.
On 29 March, Edinburgh University’s Amnesty International Society hosted ‘Speak Up!’, at Paradise Palms. In benefit of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, ‘Speak Up!’ was a night of slam poetry, stand-up comedy and live music with a particular focus on female empowerment and the power of the spoken word.
Hosted by members of the Improverts, the night was filled with a supportive atmosphere which was helped by the room packed with people and the pink fluorescent lighting which soft-focused moments of awkwardness and pause, which the event often had in abundance.
While the event featured musicians and comedians, it was the poets that stole the show. Particular highlights were Phoebe McGowan and Nicole Li who each read their original poems, detailing their own very personal experiences. McGowan gave a fast-paced, rhythmic rendition of her poem that spoke of love at first sight. It was a piece filled with longing and desire and made more intense and impactful by her rapid delivery. Li performed an interesting and moving piece about dealing with depression at university. It was an engaging performance that included many relatable moments and detailed the struggle of grappling with one’s mental health while having to deal with the obligations that come with university life.
Another highlight was an impromptu performance from Paradise Palm’s Asha Zing who performed two original pieces. As a member of The Honey Farm, a Scottish all-female hip-hop group, her delivery superseded those of the more beginner performers, though she did have her nervous moments when she emphasised how she often had her bandmates beside her. Her pieces were honest and spoke of sexual assault, racism and female empowerment, while her seemingly spur of the moment decision to perform added another level of intrigue to the performance.
In terms of the other performances, Jenny Jones’s performance of original music was a highlight among the live music and Rory Fell’s pun-filled set was the highlight among the number of stand-up comedians who performed.
However, there were moments of awkwardness which is to be expected from a line-up of amateur, student performers. It was usually due to ill preparation in terms of material and an inability to recover once a joke failed to land and fell flat. Many times, nerves seemed to overpower performances and either a rowdy crowd member or an increase in chatter from the audience was enough for the focus to be taken away from the stage.
Despite such moments, an atmosphere of good feeling continued throughout the night, which was bolstered by the emphasis placed on female empowerment. A focus was put on the privileged position of the performers of being able to openly and unapologetically speak of deeply personal matters without any censors. Music and poems that spoke of the power of being a woman cemented the supportive atmosphere and a rendition of Maya Angelou’s ‘Phenomenal Women’ epitomised the message of the evening.
Overall, while moments of awkwardness and pause were frequent, it was unavoidable and inevitable as live performances of original material by nervous and beginner performers are never going to be perfect. It was an enjoyable evening, all in support of a very worthwhile cause.
Image: Lydia Willcocks