Kae Tempest is a master of all trades. They are a spoken word poet first and foremost, but also a recording artist, novelist, playwright and performer. In 2013 they won the Ted Hughes Award for their work Brand New Ancients. They have released many works including several plays, the most notable being their play Wasted, written in 2013. There are few writers who can craft words in the way Kae Tempest does. Their writing is a passionate and electrifying call to arms, and actors everywhere should experience the power of these words for themselves. Having performed in a production of Tempest’s play, Wasted, I know first hand how invigorating it is to play their characters and speak their words, so I thought I’d share a bit of information here to get you all excited about them too.
“And the days are all dust
and the only thing worse
than losing the trust
of a lover is finding the rust
in their kiss.” ― Kae Tempest, Hold Your Own
Tempest grew up in South East London in a town called Brockley. They graduated in English Literature from Goldsmiths, University of London. In August 2020, Tempest came out as non-binary, began using they/them pronouns and changed their name to Kae.
“But on dark days he likes to walk
Beside the heartsick sea.
And as the waves begin to howl
He drops down to his knees,
And cries for all he’s lost
And for all he used to be.” ― Kae Tempest, Hold Your Own
The Huffington Post describes them as “Britain’s leading young poet, playwright and rapper…one of the most widely respected performers in the country–the complete package of lyrics and delivery. [They are] also one of the most exciting young writers working in Britain today” (2012).
There are many reasons why Tempest and their work are essential for actors to experience. The sophistication and raw nature of their writing, for one, but also the passion and vulnerability with which they speaks their own words. It’s a masterclass in performance. Tempest writes from the perspective of many of their characters, and their empathetic connection with each of those characters resonates through Tempest when they perform. Check out this video of Tempest’s performance on QandA from 2016.
In their performance, Tempest speaks with immediacy. They speak with need and with urgency, their message needs to be spoken and it needs to be heard. There are great acting lessons in watching them perform. How can we, as actors, connect with our texts with the same passion that Tempest does? How can we connect with our characters as though we know them intimately and can see through their eyes? In an interview with The Guardian, Tempest says that they were a “teenage runaway, a school dropout and a drug dealer”, sleeping in churchyards “with my best mate and his heroin addiction, or allowing myself to get in a car with a 50-year-old stranger who bought me beer and cigarettes because I let him touch me”. It is clear that Tempest brings this lived experience into their writing, and their characters are written with a respect, detail and specificity one may only give having lived a life similar to those being portrayed.
Tempest seems to bleed with empathy every time they speak. Each performance seems to cost something for them to give. There is a great respect in them for the nature of performance itself and this is valuable for us as actors to experience.
Tempest is concerned with both the mythical and the mundane of life. They often make comparison between the stories of ancient mythology juxtaposed with the mundanity of modern life. Tempest writes of humans who are struggling, broken or empty. Their characters are desperate for a feeling of real life.
“What happened to us? We go parties now, and we’ve nothing to say to each other ’til we’re fucked. And even then. We spend hours talking about parties from before, things that happened to us once, we spend life retelling life and it’s pointless and boring.” ― Kae Tempest,Wasted
Tempest’s play, Wasted, is a theatrical dream for actors to perform. The characters are complex yet all too familiar for young actors, being in their mid 20s and wondering “where it all went?” All the joy, hope, dreams and optimism of their teenage glory years seems to have left them, and all they now have is nostalgia and dreams of escape.
Tempest builds characters with a wonderful blend of detail and freedom, allowing the actor to bring their own individualism to the roles. Wasted features three characters, Danny, Ted and Charlotte all meeting up on the anniversary of a friends death. The play takes place over 48 hours, where they get together and reignite a flame of inspiration of the past and decide to change things once and for all- that their lives are going to change for the better, now.
The play changes form several times throughout, detailing the main story of the characters, as well as breakout scenes of slam poetry delivered as ensemble, and also lengthy monologues from each character allowing the audience access to their inner workings, a rare and wonderful experience for the audience.
I’d encourage all actors to read this play to see if it resonates with them. Also have an experiment with speaking the words out loud and connecting with the character’s experience. Few texts have allowed me to connect with a character more than Tempest’s writing. There is a physical and intellectual connection that takes place in performance, one that is very rare.
“Look again and you will see the Gods rise in the most human and unassuming of eyes.” ― Kae Tempest, Brand New Ancients
If you like Tempest’s plays, it’s worth listening to some of their other work, such as:
- 2012: Everything Speaks in its Own Way
- 2013: Brand New Ancients
- 2014: Hold Your Own
- 2016: Let Them Eat Chaos
- 2018: Running Upon The Wires
Spoken word performance
- 2012: Brand New Ancients – Ted Hughes Award 2013 (2014 released as CD)
- 2013: Wasted
- 2014: Glasshouse
- 2014: Hopelessly Devoted
- 2016: The Bricks That Built the Houses, Bloomsbury Circus, London
- 2020: On Connection, Faber & Faber, London
Kae Tempest believes in the power of humanity. They also believe in the plight of the natural world, and the desperate struggles of ordinary living. If you are looking for a role or a text that will require your hearts devotion, Tempest has something in store for you. Their work requires utmost dedication from the actor, as their words cannot be spoken without need. Tempest’s work is not mundane, though it is concerned with mundanity. But within the bleakness of every day life is an epic, mythological scale desperation begging for release within the souls of the characters. A similar epic scale of work may only be found in the epic stories of Shakespeare and other great writers of the past.
“We die so others can be born
We age so others can be young
The point of life is live,
Love if you can
Then pass it on.
– We Die” ― Kae Tempest, Let Them Eat Chaos
So, with this in mind, I encourage you to go forth and investigate the work of Kae Tempest for yourself. Here are some links for you to explore: