Like Athena’s birth – leaping fully-formed from the forehead of Zeus – The Fugitives originally emerged from the Vancouver slam poetry team of Shane Koyczan, C.R. Avery, Barbara Adler and Brendan McLeod, the winning team at the 2004 Canadian Spoken Wordlympics. When they were subsequently invited to a poetry festival in Europe, the group decided to book a few other shows and tour as a band. “We did these group pieces where there was singing and beatboxing and poetry, that was the style at the time,” Adler explains. “We had pieces like that, and because we were going over we needed a name.” Hence The Fugitives. “The response was really good. So we kind of got into it by accident ... it was not very premeditated, there was no sense we were going to be doing this for five years.”
Today, McLeod and Adler are the surviving original members, having parted company amicably with Avery and more recently singer-songwriter Mark Berube. The quartet now includes songwriter Adrian Glynn and multi-instrumentalist Steven Charles. McLeod’s literary credentials are self-evident – his novel The Convictions of Leonard McKinley won the 2006 International 3-Day Novel Contest – while Adler has generally continued to consider herself a performer first. “I’ve never really written for the page, since high school I’ve always been mainly writing for performance. Right now I’m working on a project where I’m collecting stories about places around British Columbia. I’m interviewing people, and then I turn it into a story. I’m trying to find a balance where I’ll write a version that I’ll say out loud and have a performance recording, but I’m also going to try to turn it into a manuscript. I’ll adapt it to the page.”
The hybrid quality of The Fugitives, straddling slam poetry and folk music, multiplies their touring opportunities. According to Adler, “There’s a poetry circuit, especially around the poetry slams, that exists already but it’s getting way bigger in Canada. It exists in Europe as well. Slowly, we’ve also been drifting into more straight music shows. I remember that was a really exciting thing, getting invited to the Vancouver Folk Festival and they were going to have a spoken word stage! It was a really big deal. Now the trick is for a poet to get from the little poets’ stage, which is often a really small stage next to the outhouses or something, to get onto the main stage and get a bigger audience.”
Much of The Fugitive’s set is made up of collectively-composed pieces. “Generally what happens is someone will come in with the bones of the piece or an idea for a piece, and then we’ll give each other homework. We’ll do some of the specific writing separately, then bring it back and edit it.” Adler’s own poetry has been shaped by her experiences with diverse audiences on the road. “The thing that I’ve really been conscious of is the experience of performing poetry in places that aren’t expecting poetry. Doing a little punk club or a folk thing, a place where they haven’t really been educated in what a slam poem sounds like, or what someone speaking at you for three minutes really fast sounds like. It’s really taught me how to adapt a performance to the particular audience. There’s certain conventions of slam poetry that I’ve found don’t really work in places like that. A Vancouver audience that’s really used to slam poetry might be fine with you doing six three-minute slam poems without any banter or very minimal banter between, doing a funny dirty haiku or something like that, but if you go to Fort Nelson where they don’t really have a poetry slam scene, you’re on the hook to mix all of that in with storytelling, and maybe music and things that are a little less about the form and more about really engaging the audience at that moment.”
The group completed a cross-Canada tour in April 2010 in support of their newest CD, Eccentrically We Love. They’re slated to tour Western Canada in March 2011.