BGWMC & Chimerica’s Vera Chok Shares Her London To Do List
We caught up with Vera Chok to find out more about the Anti-Valentine Festival, and to find out what’s on her London To Do List…
Vera Chok and Charles Adrian present three lo-fi and lovely evenings celebrating Anti-Valentine month.
Expect stories, little films, spoken word, Weirdo Dance Offs and live music, plus the obligatory sandwiches and cake.
How did your Anti-Valentine month come about?
I love throwing events, especially events at BGWMC, which are lo-fi, warm, full of delight and friends – new and old. Writer, performer and broadcaster Charles Adrian and I have a long-standing collaboration of putting together evenings at the club which we believe add to the sum total of loveliness in the world and gosh, isn’t February just one of those months where extra warmth is vital?
The Anti-Valentine festival of three separate evenings is carefully designed to bring together the artists we love, make them do the things they love, and thus, spread some real, chewy, exciting loveliness around. It’s not about bunny-boiling, hand-wringing woe, but a celebration of relish. It’ll be like no other evening you’ve been to (unless you’ve come to my other nights, Samantha’s Sunday Night Supper Club and the Brautigan Book Club) – it’s not cabaret or variety in the way we think of these things now, but a lovely friend did describe it as a cosy performance picnic. It’s pretty international, ignores any “scenes” out there, but features some pretty amazing artists coming together in interesting permutations. Basically, this, like all my events, will be as close as possible to my fantasy evening in, with friends, food, drink and entertainment, but out.
What are the highlights of the festival?
Ach! Impossible question! It’s ALL very exciting as most of our international, boundary-smashing artists e.g. Paula Varjack, Allan Taylor, Natalie Clarke, Dan Hogan – are presenting new work made specially for the festival. I definitely recommend Ms Samantha Mann’s hilariously heartbreaking show, At Home With Samantha – A Show About Love, Death, and Rabbits. Am I allowed to plug my own show, Vera Chok’s MEGA Dance Party XXX!* ? After showing it in Berlin and Seville, I am busting it out in the UK for the first time. This is my first full length solo piece and I am very excited to share it. Don’t forget we’ll be giving out Bernadette Russell’s handmade charms, cake, and sandwiches too!
We love BGWMC, it’s such a unique and exciting venue for new & quirky events. What makes Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club such a special venue for you?
Warren and Charlotte who run it programme with such a sense of fun and adventure. They support artists like me with so much love and generosity and I love being part of a building which throws up surprises at every turn. You never know who you’re going to meet – fire-eating contortionists, book clubbers, naked artists, and my favourite, the actual working men club members themselves.
You were in one of our highlights of 2013, Chimerica, which just won 3 awards at the Critics’ Circle Awards. What was it like being part of the Chimerica phenomenon?
Words cannot express how much the experience means to me. I dreamt about the team last night! (I am a total dork, by the way). The team – cast, crew, everyone behind the scenes – became family and we still meet up, feast (food was a large part of our Chimerican adventures, especially when we go to the West End and close to Chinatown), and josh about like we did. It’s usual to get post-show blues but Chimerica was a phenomenon from the get go. It’s very odd not to be a part of it any more. It was a hugely emotional, roller coaster ride to be a part of a piece that affected so many people so directly. When you have the backstage crew, the costume department and management agog at a run through, the ushers crying at the multiple shows they watched and emailing you about it, and the lovely audience fired up by the questions and provocations posed within the show – debating concepts of heroism, definitions of racism, historical subjectivity, the gender divide – you know that the show is special and thank your lucky stars that you’re part of it. It was tremendous to be working alongside an achingly talented team, all of whom got along famously, which is unbelievably unusual and special. We must drive our twitter followers a bit mad, as to this day, we prefix everything with “Chimeri-“, which is gibberish to everyone apart from us. (Chimerioke, Chimerilove etc.)
Tell us about your favourite secret/offbeat places in London?
- I don’t know the name of the building but basically it’s the shopping centre opposite St Paul’s Cathedral (One New Change), just by the station. You can go to the roof garden for free and in the evening, if the conditions are right, the lights cast a shadow of St Paul’s onto the clouds. Magical! Take a picnic and some pals, and if it ever snows, apparently it’s quite fun up there too!
- Fatboy’s Diner at Trinity Buoy Wharf is always jolly. It’s a genuine diner that was shipped over to the UK. Don’t focus on the food though! It’s charming and the view across the Thames is brilliant. If you’re lucky, you can climb London’s only working lighthouse after a meal, to work off the burger, fries and maltshake!
- BGWMC for entertainment of course! No matter what night of the week, there will be something on that is interesting. Not run-of-the-mill identikit hipster/trendsville stuff, but super fun, laid back, thought-provoking, unusual events from poetry to cutting edge performance to classic club nights.
- For food, tweet any Chimerican to see where they’re eating at the moment. The Hare & Tortoise near Russell Square for laksa, Old Tree Daiwan Bee in Chinatown for breaded pork chop rice, and Eat Tokyo near Trafalgar Square for the bento boxes.
- The singing lift in the Royal Festival Hall ALWAYS cracks me up. It’s the glass lift which sings up and down the scale as you ascend or descend. I love it.
- Ambika P3 is an amazing art venue. It’s underground and MASSIVE and the exhibitions there are usually pretty neat. Also, it’s free.
What offbeat events are on your To Do List in 2014?
- Artist John Walter’s Alien Sex Club. What is it? I couldn’t possible explain and I’m not sure I’m allowed to talk about it yet but it’s happening in Central London around June. Look out for it. And him.
- Poet powerhouse Salena Godden’s Book Club Boutique events, where excellent, wholehearted spoken word artists rock and roll!
- I MUST check out My Malaysian Nyonya Supper Club. I’ve heard the food is amaaaazing.
Oh, and I’ll be buzzing about various venues with my very own show, Vera Chok’s MEGA Dance Party XXX!, an interactive, autobiographical book performed live, smushed up against some poetry and some very silly dancing.
What are your favourite things to do for free or little money in London?
Wander around Brixton Village (you can order food and drink and watch live music up till 11ish pm) or Columbia Road flower market on a Sunday is good fun for hearing the sellers holler. Hanging out along the South Bank and wandering in and out of the Royal Festival Hall. They always have amazing, free stuff going on, AND groups of young dancers rehearse in the public spaces under the Clore Ballroom. You’ll find a cacophony of music and the kids practice routines side by side. On the top floors, you’ll find group meetings, again free to the public and some are fascinating to observe. I once found a group of teenage girls comparing their very particular kinds of dolls. The Tate Modern is a favourite place of mine but smaller galleries e.g. the Camden Arts Centre and the Estorick Collection are great to discover. I like walking around and discovering streets and details on buildings around London. This is usually punctuated by having snack in Chinatown is I’m nearby, now that I’ve explored it more with the help of the Chimericans!
What’s your ultimate London confession?
I very, very nearly moved out of London recently. I had my beady eye on Southend and visions of gazing out to sea on grey wintery days, writing away on my own, being all poetic and suchlike. I envisaged taking up smoking and adopting a middle-distance gaze. Well. I am pretty glad that I shook off those pretensions! Southend IS one of my favourite places – it’s got the longest pleasure pier in the world! – but now that it’s been featured in the Sunday Times magazine as a place for edgy artists, I fear for it! Always a Londoner at heart and glad I’m right where I am.