Interview: Travis Alabanza, ‘Do I need to make a drinking game happen?’

Photo: Griff Townsend. 

Travis Alabanza is an award winning writer, performer and theatre maker. After being the youngest recipient of the artist in residency program at Tate Galleries, Alabanza debut show Burgerz toured internationally to sold out shows in Southbank Centre, Sao Paulo Brazil, HAU Berlin & won the Edinburgh Fringe Total Theatre award in 2019.

 Their writing has appeared in the BBC, Guardian, Vice, Gal-Dem and they previously had a fortnightly column in the metro as well as in numerous anthologies including Black and Gay In the UK. In 2020 their recent theatre show Overflow debuted at the Bush Theatre to widespread acclaim and later streamed online in over 22 countries.

Other works for theatre and live performance include Royal Court Living Newspaper, Paines Plough, Free Word Centre, Glasgow Transmission Gallery and more.

Their work surrounding gender, trans identity and race has been noted internationally, giving talks at universities including Oxford, Harvard, Bristol and more.

This year they are returning to Glastonbury Festival to perform at Poetry&Words, and we caught up with them to find out what it’s like to be back and whether they’re the unofficial-official pre-drinks for Lizzo.

Q&A with Travis Alabanza

How does it feel to be returning to Glastonbury for this year’s festival?

It’s a dream! I came to this festival as a West Country teenager, a right of passage, but to be performing here – and for the second time – is amazing. Sometimes touring, or working lots of hours, can feel quite exhausting – but then you get the summer and invited as a job to one of the best places in the world? very nice.

What opportunities, or challenges, does a festival crowd represent?

Well, it’s all about the timings. See last year I was on Sunday midday and everyone was like “Oh damn, sorry” – but I LOVE that timing cus you’re not competing with the late night music and the drinking. I can deal with a hungover crowd, ease them in, but 6pm on a Saturday this time. Do I need to make a drinking game happen? Am I the official Lizzo pres? all tbc!

How important is the performance aspect to your poetry?

It’s more important than the poetry to be honest. I think it’s cool people still call me a poet, but I’ve always just been a performer – who uses words and writing! Nowadays my sets are much more comedy, reading from my book, crowd work – if I can sneak a poem in there then it’s a good day.

You’ve recently been announced as the winner of the 2023 Jhalak prize – how important was that recognition of your work?

It was incredible. The prize brought together such an amazing longlist of authors, so many of whom I’m inspired by, so to be alongside them was wonderful. You put so much work into a book, and so these things really sweeten the process.

Are there any other acts you’re looking forward to seeing across the weekend?

SO many. BootyBass Bristol DJ collective will always bring the vibe, as will Nadine Noor and Pxssy Palace. I am also a huge CMAT fan but also my bf wants to see the Chicks so we are ready for the dash.

Travis Alabanza performs on the Poetry&Words stage at Glastonbury Festival 2023 on Saturday 23 June