Brighton Fringe Festival 2021
Ensonglopedia of the Human
4, 5, 6, 12 & 13 June at 4.45pm
Ensonglopedia of the Human is the new show from award-winning writer John Hinton launching at Brighton Fringe on 4 June 2021. In his first new full-length live show since 2019, Hinton's renown for funny and family friendly songs will reflect on the fragility and resilience of humans through the pandemic. In a first for Hinton, this new show will also be developed into a series of 'webisodes' premiering online from late May.
Hey John, thanks for talking to tNC, how have you been keeping during these rather strange Covid times?
Oh blimey, straight in there with the biggie! Well, it's been a lot about the kids - the periods when nurseries were closed, or indeed when our kids' nursery was closed due to an outbreak amongst the staff, were particularly...interesting, let's say. Generally I just feel very lucky that I and almost everyone I know has made it through to (what we hope is) the other side.
During lockdown did you develop any bad habits that have been hard to break?
How does it feel to be able to have your Premiere at the 2021 Brighton Fringe?
I mean, amazing. But pretty nerve-wracking knowing I'm just two days from standing up in front of a live audience for the first time in fourteen months. And I went to The Warren the other day, and what they've constructed there is just mindblowing - two very special performance spaces, each with a unique feel, so many design features that take Covid restrictions into account. And it looks like being a nice sunny one, too!
What is it about live audiences that excite you so much?
They have live faces, and live voices, and live toes. They're actually there. I was just about starting to get the hang of performing online to an audience of little Zoom squares, but really, there is no rival to the real thing. For me or for them.
Tell me a little bit about Ensonglopedia of the Human, what can we expect?
An Ensonglopedia is a collection of 26 comic songs, all on one topic, one song for each letter of the alphabet. And my topic for this show is "What does it mean to be human?" Some of the answers are anatomical - it means having a big brain, it means standing upright, it means having a thumb that can perform all sorts of crazy manoeuvres. Some are cultural: it means making music and art, living in settlements, keeping pets, waging wars, using language. So I'll be singing at least some of those 26 songs, but you can expect to be involved to some extent, because there's a 'jukebox' element to deciding which songs are played at each performance. You can also expect two of me. One live in-person, and one remnant-of-lockdown-digital-avatar-of-myself who may or may not do his best to disrupt proceedings. If that sounds confusing, good.
What was the inspiration behind your new show?
Well I actually started researching the show before the pandemic hit, so I'd be lying if I said, "Why, the existential crisis that humanity has been plunged into over the past year, of course!", although the pandemic has certainly flavoured the resulting show quite profoundly. I'm often told that I should do a better job of writing songs with a specific audience demographic in mind. So I thought, "Okay, who's my audience? Well, it's humans, innit?" So I wrote a show for them.
Once running how much does a show you always tweaking your show or do you allow it to take on its own life?
As I mentioned, this show has a jukebox element, so no two performances will ever be the same. I always like to leave something in my shows to chance. Seeing a show should never feel like watching a film - the audience's presence must be allowed to impact the performance in a direct and profound way, else we might as well just go back home and watch from our front rooms. That's probably answering a completely different question from the one you asked, but hey, maybe I just allowed the question to take on its own life.
"Never work for free on someone else's project. The Arts Council are your friend. Take risks. Look the audience in the eyes."
Where did your passion for performance come from?
I was dreadfully shy as a child. And I remember a specific incident, where I had to do some public speaking aged about thirteen, and it was awful, and I remember deciding "That will never happen again; I will not be shy; I will speak in public, and I will enjoy it." And blimey, I must have given myself such a good telling off that I've never looked back!
The first time we saw you was in 2009 at the Edinburgh Fringe with your rather ingenious Earth Calling Johnny Acecraft show (the ironic joke you made about not being able to see trough the Giant Eye you were wearing still makes me laugh),Has the way you approach new works changed much since your first fringe productions?
Oh! Hahahahahaha! That giant eyeball is actually just behind me right now. I can't believe you saw that show. I can't believe anyone remembers that show. I certainly don't. Ooh that was verrrry early days. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I'd just written some silly songs and put on a silly costume and got up there and blurted them out. These days...yeah, hmm, yeah these days that's exactly what I'm still doing. Ah. And Carolina who directed that show is the director of this one too. Something about leopards and spots springs to mind.
What has been the best advice you've been given?
That if the perforations on double-sheeted toilet roll don't line up you can just unwind the outer one once more and that'll sort it out.
Do you have any advice you would offer any up and coming theatre company?
Work for free on your own project that you're passionate about. Never work for free on someone else's project. The Arts Council are your friend. Take risks. Look the audience in the eyes.
What 3 words best describe your show?
Irreverent. Upbeat. Alphabetical.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your show?
A free pencil! (Please take them away, I have so many!) Also, loads of new thoughts about what it means to be a human. Also, loads and loads of really annoying earworms.