The RISE Canberra Podcast

Chris Ryan and Nigel McRae - Podcast 4

July 14, 2020 Jen Seyderhelm Season 1 Episode 4
The RISE Canberra Podcast
Chris Ryan and Nigel McRae - Podcast 4
Chapters
The RISE Canberra Podcast
Chris Ryan and Nigel McRae - Podcast 4
Jul 14, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
Jen Seyderhelm

Welcome to the fourth RISE Canberra Podcast!

In this episode Jen Seyderhelm is in conversation with comedian Chris Ryan and owner of Smiths Alternative Nigel McRae. Chris discusses the importance of a support network of individuals and organisations in building an artistic career as well as her own drive and self belief. Nigel has had the unexpected luxury of spare time during COVID, and hopes that post pandemic he'll continue to feature a myriad of diverse artistic talent plus be able to spend a night at home in the kitchen.

Produced by Events ACT, RISE Canberra is your new home for experiencing local events and to find new ways to connect audiences with experiences made in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists and businesses.

You can find out more here.

Each fortnight Jen talks to Canberra creators, getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. Check out the rest of the RISE Calendar online at www.risecanberra.com - where you can find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the RISE News page and keep up to date with the Where You Are Festival, on till September.

The RISE Canberra Podcast is produced by Events ACT. The music is Three Times by Dawn by The Screaming Zucchinis.

Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to the fourth RISE Canberra Podcast!

In this episode Jen Seyderhelm is in conversation with comedian Chris Ryan and owner of Smiths Alternative Nigel McRae. Chris discusses the importance of a support network of individuals and organisations in building an artistic career as well as her own drive and self belief. Nigel has had the unexpected luxury of spare time during COVID, and hopes that post pandemic he'll continue to feature a myriad of diverse artistic talent plus be able to spend a night at home in the kitchen.

Produced by Events ACT, RISE Canberra is your new home for experiencing local events and to find new ways to connect audiences with experiences made in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists and businesses.

You can find out more here.

Each fortnight Jen talks to Canberra creators, getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. Check out the rest of the RISE Calendar online at www.risecanberra.com - where you can find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the RISE News page and keep up to date with the Where You Are Festival, on till September.

The RISE Canberra Podcast is produced by Events ACT. The music is Three Times by Dawn by The Screaming Zucchinis.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Welcome to the RISE Canberra podcast produced by Events ACT. RISECanberra is your new home for experiencing local events. You'll find new ways to connect with audiences and experiences made right here in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists, and businesses. You can find out more at risecanberra.com. Each fortnight we will be in conversation with Canberra creators and getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. I'm Jen Seyderhelm. And this episode, I'll be speaking with comedian, Chris Ryan, and one of the owners of Smith's Alternative Nigel McRae.

Chris Ryan:

Hello, I'm Chris Ryan. I'm a Comedian in Canberra.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Chris, I'm going to start this with a question without notice. That is probably not a surprise to you, but I have been thinking about it on the way in today. When I contacted you to do this interview. One of the things that we often do is I'd say we're going to do an interview for RISE Canberra. And the person generally always says to me, that's great, but please tell me what we're going to talk about first so I can have a heads up, but no, you just went, that's fine. What time? And to be honest, that's what I was expecting from you because I knew that no matter what I threw at you, you could take it. I could have probably come back to you, if you'd asked that question and said, we're going to talk about dung beetles, processes and artifacts from Krakatoa, and you still would have said, that's fine, Jen, I'll see you at three o'clock. I love that in you. And I think that resilience is part of what makes a good comedian and a mum and all those sort of things. But have you found that that is a true fact for yourself as a comedian, resilience and being able to deal with whatever is thrown at you?

Chris Ryan:

Well, it, ideally you want to be like that. You're not all the time. Sometimes you think you're ready for stuff. And then things happen that you're just not prepared for like an audience reaction might not be what you were expecting or that what you've become used to. And I guess you'd just try to live in the moment. And I mean, this is an interview, so this is not like in front of a crowd. You're not testing my humour. I felt no, no risk at all. There's no real skin in the game here because I'm just being myself. But in other circumstances, certainly they can be a bit more testing, but I like to be prepared. I think really the resilience is about preparedness in comedy and experience, I suppose helps you to understand that what you've prepared is acceptable in general.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I have known you for a couple of years now, sort of in the early inceptions of when you were really building your comedy career. And in these last couple of months, I've had a fair bit of interaction with some of the comedians around the scene. And one of them is, I'm going to use the word in hibernation. I think it feels like they've gone into a forced hibernation. And someone said to me something the other day of just this whole COVID experience. And they said to me, it's just not funny, is it? And I was really struck with that as a comment in that this is one of those moments where many comedians, the comedy comes out of the everyday moments of life, but it's been really hard to find comedy in the current situation we're in.

Chris Ryan:

I think that's true. I do think that comedy will continue. I mean, it's not going to die after COVID-19, it's just that comedy is not about just looking at the surface of things. It's finding the unexpected joy or hilarity or ludicrousness and same with COVID-19. Yeah. I don't want to do jokes about that everyone else is making in their own homes all the time. You know, those sort of dad jokes or jokes you find in a cracker. That's not what I'm interested in. And I can understand the sentiment that you've been hearing, which is it's not funny. No, it isn't. So you don't want to be doing the hackneyed throwaway comments that everyone's saying in their own workplaces, at the bubblers, you need to actually dig deeper than that and find what's funny about it . Your reaction to what's been happening to your reaction, to your own psyche, to your own family. Why are certain things pressing your buttons that haven't before? What does that say about you? That's what I'm sort of trying to find the funny in, I guess.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yeah. That I understand and respect, and I've noticed that I think we're kind of getting to that point now where we're starting to look for the funny again, like actively need the funny again. And I saw that you're going to be doing some introductory comedy classes with Tuggeranong Arts Centre. And I mean, I saw that that post went up and then immediately a post went up that it was sold out, which says to me that everybody's like, I need a laugh.

Chris Ryan:

Yeah. I hope that people are feeling that way, Jen . And certainly the Tuggeranong Arts Centre has been an enormous supporter of my comedy. And I feel a really great partnership with them as an organisation. They're the first ones to open up their doors and say, would you like to organise a gig? And that also sold out in one night, I guess I'm hoping people are ready for comedy. It feels like they are because they are embracing it quite quickly when it's up for sale. But in terms of a course where they asked me to put it on, I've never claimed to be someone who knows how to teach, but we will learn together. And I figured after eight years in comedy and as an older woman, I figured they're asking me because of who I am and not because I've been claiming, proclaiming that I'm a brilliant comedy teacher. So I think, and that actually has given me great encouragement, there's a lot to be said for that in arts organisations in leadership, to actually just tap people on the shoulder and say, we're ready for you to do this. I think you should just do it because that gave me the strength to believe that I could do it. And I believe , and I know I can, but to have someone else like an organisation say, come and do it. And then for it to sell out, it feels good.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Wow. It is so funny you say this because when I was going to introduce you in the first place, I have of course read that you're the Queen of Comedy in Canberra. But for me personally, you are the leading light. I want to take the gender side out of it because when I started to, I suppose, dabble in trying to do this myself, I saw you. And I thought, if Chris can do this, I can do this too. Like that tap on the shoulder. And I don't think I've actually ever said those words to you beforehand, but sometimes it's just nice to know that that person sitting there is like, well, I've seen her and I can give it a go.

Chris Ryan:

Oh, absolutely. And I think that's pretty much why I wanted to teach the course as well is because I run comedy in Canberra. You know, that's part of what I do with my life. And I want to have more diverse voices on stage, as simple as that, I want more voices on stage and more diverse voices. So I want to hear from people we haven't heard from traditionally and look it's obvious. I mean, it might be hackneyed, but it's traditionally been sort of heterosexual, Anglo Saxon, men of a certain age group that have been very comfortable to start comedy. And I'm really grateful for all those men that I know that are dear friends and allies of mine and others. But now it's really about me helping those that come after me. I'm just this old white lady. And if I'm not intimidating, good, that's what I want in this circumstance. In other circumstances, I wish for people to be intimidated by me.

Jen Seyderhelm:

On that note, I think that also like with radio, like with acting, when you go in, you seek to emulate that person who you want to be like, right? And for all of those spheres, the key component to success is finding your own voice. And that's such a hackneyed term to describe to someone else who's still looking for it, if that makes sense. But I feel now that you, whenever I see you, you feel so comfortable on stage because you know, you know you, you know what you're going to say and what works in your life, etcetera. But finding that for people who are starting out the industry is the hard part.

Chris Ryan:

Absolutely, and it's continuing and it changes. And yes, I indeed wish for people to think that I know what I'm doing when I'm on stage. That's the place where I'm meant to know what I'm doing. But behind the scenes, I'm still finding my voice on certain new matters and finding how far I can push boundaries on things. And, and there are still times I sit down and go, I don't know how to write jokes anymore. God what's going on. But yeah, at the start, I think it's really important for people to take a look at themselves. And instead of being the centre of their universe, perhaps step outside of themselves, look back as if they are an audience member. And what do you see then if you didn't know you, what do you think the audience thinks of you? Just on the surface? I'm not saying it's right or wrong. What do you think that they think of you? They are coming to the gig with that expectation. They look at you, the brain processes very quickly. So they at you and they think, okay, she's like this, this and this. And you need to, I mean, you don't have to, but one way to help find who you are. And what you want to say is to address that and then talk to them about why they're wrong or change it, give it a twist and tell them something they wouldn't have predicted about you. And it's sort of that element of surprise is always part of comedy. But yeah, finding your voice is you have to step outside of the way that you think you are and think about how others might see you and then take them on the journey to find out who you are.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Is it fair also to say that you have to bring along friends and family for the journey too? How did they feel about that?

Chris Ryan:

I don't think that friends and family are particularly interested in how you are on stage. I don't think anything new is happening for them. They've seen you your whole life. And I'm speaking about my own family here. Obviously they're huge and the biggest supporters of my comedy and none of my career would have happened without them, but I don't expect them to be my cheerleaders. I have to be that, I have to have that energy and commitment and self belief. I ask them for support sometimes and say, Oh, am I funny? Am I actually funny? And one of the funniest things that happened is my partner messed with me once and looked at me and just paused and just sort of shook his head a bit. And I was like, well , this is a crisis. We can't even continue to, how are we even in a relationship if you, cause I thought he was being serious, but he wasn't, he was messing with me. But yeah, I don't think that I rely on them to come along on the journey. You do it on your own as with anything. There's

Jen Seyderhelm:

There's a line in all relationships on those things. And I also like that. I'm going to go into a couple of things that I've read on you on your web page. One, that's really relevant to this current situation right now. It's about, I'm not going to be that person who's going to boast about the kids. And I love that as the recurring theme in your comedy As well, because there is, again that's immediately identifiable to a lot of us who have that text in our mind, but don't dare say it out loud. So it's that element of, someone's actually saying what we're all thinking.

Chris Ryan:

Yeah

Jen Seyderhelm:

On the other side of things, at the moment you have the whole, I work best in front of an audience and we're all doing zoom meetings, we're trying to adapt, and for comedy, it's just not made for zoom.

Chris Ryan:

Yeah. I mean, look, as I get older, I'm finding I'm more comfortable with just not black and white. I'm not certain. Yeah . Okay. Look for me. I know that I find zoom excruciating. I don't even want to talk to my best friends on zoom. There was a couple of calls there where I really just wanted to be on the phone so I could be doing something else. I don't like eye contact on video for no reason other than we've got the technology. That's not a good enough reason me. But on the other hand, my friend, Luke Heggie, who's a great comedian. He has been asked to do zoom comedy, like do zoom comedy to corporates. Right. And that goes really well because he's got a legion of fans. They were having some drinks on a Friday afternoon. They got him to do a set of a zoom. And that would have been brilliant. Like, I mean, I would have watched that and enjoyed that. So there's ways and means, but it's, it's not something I'm loving the idea of and certainly haven't done it.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Hmm . What are you hoping for once we do finally start to emerge into whatever we're going to emerge into for both comedy here in the ACT and beyond?

Chris Ryan:

That new comedians come to the fore and start doing open mic. I hope we have the comedy scene come back. So I hope that people who are voluntarily running rooms and hosting events for comedy open mic or performance rooms, I hope they all come back and open up those rooms again. So we actually have stage time in this city. Yeah. I hope new voices come to the gigs and try out comedy and work their way up through the scene and get experience. I certainly hope the festivals come back. That's been devastating for comedians. So yeah, I guess I'm just hoping it comes back. I'm actually looking forward to doing some intimate gigs in lounge rooms and such like, and actually I think I've more than ever during this time, because I've had to , I've definitely engaged with who I think to be my people a bit more. I started a newsletter, I'm developing a database. I'm trying to keep in touch and I'm getting people emailing me from Melbourne, Brisbane, even Canberra, just saying, listen, we really support you. And we really wanted to see a show. We'll be back whenever you're back and keep going. And it's just so lovely. It's been so heartening to get that kind of encouragement and solicited from the Goodwill of people. And it has been a very hard time for artists around Australia and the world. No doubt. We are very tenuous workers. We don't have jobs. We don't have super, we don't have paid leave. We don't have JobKeeper. And that's really hard on a lot of people, but it's not going to make me want to have a day job.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yeah. That I get. And the other thing is for many practicing artists, people kind of think that the event they're going to see, maybe it's a couple of months in the planning, sometimes it's year and a half in the planning. And, I Thought It Would Be Nice, right about now you'd be traveling around Australia doing that show. And when something that has dates that you've set up months in advance to look forward to, and that's key, you look forward to those dates. Having that taken away is well, it's a loss.

Chris Ryan:

Yeah. It certainly is at the start when they were all falling over, the festivals, I was very disheartened. I was sad. I was angry. I was frustrated. I had a show that I'd just finished in Brisbane that was ready to go. And it was the first time I'd actually done it six times before coming to my hometown in Canberra and doing the show. Normally when I was doing shows, I would just do one brand new one hour show in Canberra perhaps once, perhaps twice. And that was it. I had like, Oh, I don't know, over 40 gigs lined up nationally. It was my first national tour. So yeah, it's a big loss, but everyone's been put back and now I guess perspective is everything. There's plenty of people worse off than I, and certainly there's other things going on in the world that are much more serious than my small loss. And interestingly in COVID-19, my partner actually got Barmah Forest virus, which is a, it's like Ross River fever from a mosquito. So actually had I been in Melbourne, doing 30 nights of gigs, I probably would have had to cancel because it's a debilitating sort of arthritic, hideous nightmare. He's getting better now. But in a way I kind of feel quite grateful that that happened during COVID, if it had to bloody happen. Yeah. Swings and roundabouts, you know, hopefully we'll all press on. You asked what you hope for comedy. Well, I certainly hope people have started to educate themselves more on their privilege and that we just get a bit better and stop listening to Sky News all the time.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yes. Now on that, both of us living in Canberra here, where when you take comedy somewhere else and you preface it from the outset with the "I'm from Canberra", there is a certain expectation that people have immediately about what you're like, if you're from Canberra, what does Canberra mean to you?

Chris Ryan:

It's a very luxurious, comfortable place to live. I love it here. My kids have had an excellent education from the public school system within walking distance of our house for which I am eternally grateful. I feel like our Government has managed this health crisis so brilliantly. I personally am very grateful that we have a huge excess hospital on our oval, the school oval that my kids used to go to. I feel like we're, well-governed. I think we are looked after. I think we are a progressive community for the most part, and it's a really great, comfortable place to live

Jen Seyderhelm:

It rocks for the arts. I've lived in various places across Australia. And I know you've lived all around the place. I have never lived in a place that is more supportive of the arts.

Chris Ryan:

Oh , I've certainly benefited from that. And I, appreciate it yeah, definitely.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Just even now in the situation of re-emerging or trying to reemerge, I feel like the ACT is at the forefront of trying to instigate things, to keep our arts community afloat in a, not just here's some money in a , we're going to set up this initiative and we're going to do this initiative. So it's things we can do rather than money that is tapped somewhere airy fairy.

Chris Ryan:

Yeah. Well, I certainly have experienced that from the Tuggeranong Arts Centre and I don't know whether it's because of Canberra or the size of it, but certainly it feels like personal relationships with organisations is easier.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yes. You're absolutely right. And just even the starting conversations on an idea that you have, and they'll be like, well, you bring it to the table, you show me how you're going to make it work. And they'll work with you to do that. For the people who are going to come and see you for these classes, I imagine one of the things that you do share is those tips, et cetera. What's been your biggest learning experience?

Chris Ryan:

There's been a lot. So , it's interesting. What happens if you get any level of success in your chosen artistic pursuit until the point where you are recognised and getting bigger gigs or awarded something until that point, you're really relying on your own belief that you've got something to say and it's worthwhile and you're good at this, or you're getting better or that it's something worth putting things on the line for after that, after the recognition comes, and that can be years, it probably should be years because really it takes a lot of years to be good at anything I reckon , unless you're some kind of Uber genius and there really aren't that many of them, that support you get from that recognition helps. It just helps your self confidence so much. So now that I've had that, I can see how, how much it's helped me, I guess, if it never had happened, I would have still been hoping that someone someday would find out that I was okay. So I guess really, if you can keep a motivation, that's strong enough and a self-belief at at least a level above zero. And if you can always learn from people who are better than you or that you admire, you're probably on the right track. I probably would've liked to have known that earlier because there's a lot of times where you just feel like you're just, you're not worth it. I guess. I don't think I've answered your question very well. It would be great. If more artists could just continue with passion knowing that what they're doing is worthwhile and it doesn't need to be recognised by others for it still to be worthwhile. I don't know.

Jen Seyderhelm:

That is what the value is of just having someone say what you're doing, you're on the right track and keep at it. And I don't often t hink in our tall poppy society and sometimes those little words that are ever so easy to say to someone else aren't said. And so I h ear you, I had a real out loud laugh at something that you did, that i t w as such a J en thing to do in your public service life about writing a letter for the prime minister without thinking and signing your name to it!

Chris Ryan:

So yes, went back into the boss and just said, right , what's next? And he's like, where's the letter? And I was like, I posted it. And he said, well, who did you say it was from? And I was like, me. That was my first day in the job at Prime Minister and Cabinet under John Howard, working for the Council for Aboriginal Workers . So I didn't do that again. I'm going back to the advice bit, particularly now when it's obvious that the arts doesn't mean anything to government, it doesn't mean anything really to the government at all. We still need artists so much. And that's not to say that people that are rubbish, shouldn't be told they're rubbish, but it is worth pursuing art and freeing your mind and focusing on art, whatever it might be, painting, drawing, gardening. I even find gardening to be art. Or comedy. If you're doing that, you're contributing positively to this world.

Jen Seyderhelm:

The recurring theme through all of these podcasts has been exactly that. And it's all very well to talk about the things that we hope for in the future. But actually right now there's a whole lot of people whose livelihoods are on hiatus and perhaps not to return because eventually, as you just said, you don't want to go back or to the day job. But sometimes you get to a point where you have to make that decision for family or whatever other reasons to take a day. The job might not be something that makes your heart sing, but you got to do what you got to do. And I suppose that that is the new normal. I don't want to see where all of a sudden everyone's gone and done what they've had to do and our little wonderful arts hub that we have here in the ACT and beyond deflates.

Chris Ryan:

Yeah. Well , what will happen then is there'll be a lot of people who hate work. A lot of people are doing a really rubbish job, even more so than happens currently.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Amen to that. Well, I'd love to talk about what you've got upcoming, but they're all sold out anyway, but you are going to be at Tuggeranong teaching what I hope will be the first of many stand up classes for people that want to embrace it, Club Sandwich is coming up. But again, you can't go to that, because that's a lso booked out.

Chris Ryan:

We've got another one coming up 14th of August. It hasn't gone on sale yet.

Jen Seyderhelm:

So Mark this 14th of August now, because that was what, 24 hours, less than 24 hours and it sold out. Yeah . So you might want to get on that faster. And Chris I'm really grateful for your time today.

Chris Ryan:

Thanks Jen .

Nigel McRae:

I am Nigel McRae. And I'm one of the owners of Smith's Alternative.

Jen Seyderhelm:

What did you want to be when you grew up Nigel?

Nigel McRae:

I always was interested in the arts. So visual art originally, I sorta had a vision of myself just being a , an artist of some sort, traveling the world and having a great life. So I didn't do the traveling thing, but I am involved in the arts and my life is sort of a nice outcome. Very similar to what I imagined.

Jen Seyderhelm:

It's often so different to how people's lives do pan out. So that actually delights me. A Couple of weeks ago, you had a Facebook post saying the rumours of Smith's demise were greatly exaggerated. Monty Python is wonderful and indeed things are starting again, but it's not how it was. And for you, purchasing Smiths was something that you didn't have to do, but you wanted to do to have a place where you could celebrate artists and musicians. And actually I'm going to quote you, you were saying nothing is too outlandish. Smith's will embrace anything that's got artistic merit or adventure. And, how has COVID affected you?

Nigel McRae:

First off really it's been a blessing for us because we just used to work all the time. We haven't had a holiday at all since we started Smiths four and a half years ago. So it was really great. It was a relief to just drop everything and just sit still for a while and get a lot of sleep. And we climbed Mount Ainslie a few times and cooked dinner for ourselves and so on. So that was beautiful. But underlying, that was just a bit of worry about what it would mean for our future, being uncertain about how it would affect us, whether our finances would hold out and so on. So underlying worry, but on the surface, beautiful, calm, and a nice rest.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Well, it's funny you should say that because I went back and I read an article that had been written when you first took on Smiths . And in that you said, and you're probably going to dislike me for repeating this to you. You're going to make it viable. And then you're going to give it to the staff. And I mean, I've been to Smith many times and every time I go to S mith's, both of you are there so clearly that didn't quite happen.

Nigel McRae:

No I didn't. And also most of those staff have gone as well. It didn't turn into financial success. I mean, I was never going to give it to the staff if it was a liability and it has always been a little bit of a liability, but it was actually just starting to almost pay for itself in the last six months before this virus, which is pretty frustrating.

Jen Seyderhelm:

It is frustrating. And the thing about Smiths is that in the early inceptions, you think about bringing musical artists. But I mean, in the time I've known Smiths , I have been involved in comedy there, I've been to see theatre productions there. I've been to see yes, musical artists, but that was your beautiful, almost point of difference. Definitely point of differences that so many different artistic avenues could have a place there.

Nigel McRae:

Yeah, that is something we like as well. And we do it on purpose and the artistic communities in Canberra can be very siloed and the poets just come and see the poets and the musicians, the musicians, and the comedians and so on. My favorite thing is putting on a show that has elements of all of those things in it and the different audiences get to see what other people are doing for once and meeting each other. And I think it's good to have different types of people getting together and sharing stuff. You get more out of it than just sticking in your little groups.

Jen Seyderhelm:

The hard thing now is of course that the limits around how many people you can have in the space are still confined and bearing in mind that to bring an artist or to pay for any kind of thing, you are anticipating being able to what was traditionally fill the venue. But that's now a different answer to what it was a little while ago. How have you adapted to that?

Nigel McRae:

Well, so we're currently can have 24 people at once. So we're booking some shows where the band will play three discreet shows over the night. So the total audience can be 72, a bit less than the hundred that we used to have, but still viable for them, I think. And also not that much diminished where the audience, because we used to put on, say a two hour show, there might be a support act for half an hour, and then the main act would do an hour. And there's such a hunger for people to go out and see something these days that I feel like they're going to be satisfied to come out, have a couple of drinks, say an hour long show, concentrated show, and then they'll have to make way for the next audience.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yeah. And this is an ideal time, as far as I can see it for people to try something that they haven't done beforehand. I mean, certainly when you're doing stand up or something for the first time, having a small audience is a great thing, because then if it doesn't quite work out, you're not doing it to a hundred people. It's a safer space. Smiths feels like a safe space.

Nigel McRae:

We have always wanted it to be a safe space. And somehow the audiences just work that out. I think it's an attentive audience and also a kind audience. They know that it can be very nerve wracking getting up on a stage. They're supportive.

Jen Seyderhelm:

The braces for those, obviously you can't see Nigel at the moment, but every time I see Nigel, be it, whether or not he's in a jumper or whether or not he's in the singlet top, you're wearing the braces. What's the story behind the braces?

Nigel McRae:

Well, we played in a band long ago called the drunk uncles. That was part of the uniform for the band. So I had to go and buy myself some braces and I immediately took to them. I realized they're very practical. They actually hold up the pants, but you don't have to wear a belt, sort of around your waist . I op shop a lot and it's hard to get pants in exactly your size, but if you're wearing braces, doesn't matter if they're are a couple of sizes too big. So it gives you a wider range of pants to wear.

Jen Seyderhelm:

That is the single best answer I've had to any questions so far. Why don't women wear braces? Anyway, that's a question for another day. Best lesson that you've learned out of the Smiths and Canberra music scene experiences?

Nigel McRae:

I know how to make a coffee now. That's good . That was good lesson . I don't want to say negative things, but it really has been a lot harder than I thought. I knew it'd be hard, hard work to run a venue, but it's been harder than I thought it's taken a lot out of both of us. And I wouldn't really recommend it to many people. You need a wide range of skills and you need to just give up any idea of a personal life. And you know , it's a struggle. There's a lot of enjoyment. There's a lot of rewards and satisfaction and stuff. But if you've only cooked dinner for yourself one night a year sort of thing for four years in a row, it gets a bit wearing. So thus the virus was a blessing.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yeah. I understand that. What are you hoping to see going forward? Once we move into whatever this new normal looks like?

Nigel McRae:

Well, we would like to get back to the way things were to a degree. I mean, there's always lots of performers and there's audiences and Smith's should be just humming along and always full of people talking and laughing and performing and whatever. But we spent a lot of time thinking about how to do things better for us so that we're not a hundred percent involved all the time. So I would like it to be back at full capacity again. But with us being able to step aside a little bit.

Jen Seyderhelm:

When I first came to Canberra five years ago, you can imagine the feedback I had prior to coming here about what Canberra was like. And ex Canberrans were always like, it's an awful place. We couldn't wait to leave. I hear it all the time. And I got here and I fell in love with the place totally unexpectedly, and I get very defensive of it. And I know you were saying again some years ago, about how people who live here often feel like they're here in exile, but have you felt a shift in that over the last few years that you've been at Smith's ?

Nigel McRae:

I definitely say in the last 10 years that the community has changed to see a lot more people who are proud to be Canberrans. There's a lot more ownership of the local art scene and things like the government when they put on a show or something in Haig Park or whatever, they'll just book a whole lot of local artists, which just didn't use to happen. And it used to drive us mad that the government would spend thousands of dollars getting in musical artists from Sydney and elsewhere. And we knew how much talent they was here, but Canberra didn't, that's the sort of thing that really is a big change and going on, I think that will just grow and grow. People will start to know and love the local culture.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Do you feel like you've had a hand in that?

Nigel McRae:

Yeah.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Good. I hope you feel like you've had a hand in that and not just for the musicians, but for up and coming comedians, for the poets. And I just want to come back to the poets before we finish , because you've got That Poetry Thing. Now tell me about how that came about?

Nigel McRae:

Well, originally just a friend of ours who was a poet, it was his concept, his name, he ran it for about a year and then sort of tired out and I was going to , well , we didn't know what to do, but I put it out there. If anyone wanted to take it over and a group of about four or five people from different areas of the poetry scene just put up their hand to run it as a collective. And to be honest, I'm not even that familiar with what happens there. Monday is my night off , but it's good. It's solid. It always brings a good audience and they're good communicators and they're organised, so very happy.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Well, that's also the thing I haven't even mentioned that you do for aspiring authors. They can come down and they can spend time quietly working towards their writing goals. And with the poets, I've had a night at Smith's a couple of years ago where I didn't know the Canberra Seven at this stage, but you pulled out a poem and you had to interpret it. And I read it erotic and the poem was not erotic. But again, the experiences that I've had at Smiths are so diverse. And I imagined that anyone could come and say, I want to do a painting of my stuffed animals. And you would be up for that as well. There is space and time. And you were saying, just then about Monday nights, all the, my era musicians, when they used to go out and they used to do gigging, they would gig every night of the week. And somehow over time, it's become this sort of Thursday, Friday, Saturday, maybe Sunday day or something like that. But those Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night gig, things just stopped. And in COVID times, one of the things I also love about Smith's that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, you've got stuff on. And it's one of the few places that has. And I mean, I realise this adds to your commitments time-wise but it's nice to have something to go see on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night.

Nigel McRae:

Yeah. If we don't have something on the place is empty, I feel like you've got to take every opportunity to get people into your venue to help break even, you know, but there's even with seven nights a week up to 15 shows a week, we're still having to say no to people who want to perform there. I mean, we're just deluged with emails and stuff, but I mean, my role is just to say yes to things that people propose. That's what I do.

Jen Seyderhelm:

So what's the hope for that day when you can retire and enjoy yourself, you're going to go back to performing?

Nigel McRae:

Oh , we do perform occasionally even now, just in amongst, I'll put on a show and we just play a short set. I have a whole lot of projects that are on the back burner, musical things, artistic things. Cooking is nice. Yeah. I'd love to just be able to go to Smith's as a customer, you know, just be there and relax and enjoy stuff.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I understand that totally. It's the same for me with radio. I sometimes don't ever get to just enjoy it anymore. It's usually the make an edit and all those bits behind it. I'm really grateful that we got to have the chat today because I think also it's really important for those people who've had many different interactions with Smiths to get to know the person that they probably see there every night, both of you, and to get to know a little bit more about how that works,

Nigel McRae:

By the way, the both of us she's referring to is my partner, Beth, who's sitting here quietly. We're a duo

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yes. And indeed Beth, I know the ones that resonated the most with you out of that whole conversation from the head nods in particular. Like cooking and that spare time has been so nice. Nigel McRae thank you .

Nigel McRae:

Thank you.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Make sure you check out the rest of the RISE calendar online at risecanberra.com, where you can find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the rise news page. And keep up to date with the Where You Are Festival, which is on until September. The RISE Canberra podcast is produced by Events ACT with support from Talking Canberra 2CC.