collecting, assembling and people speaking gaelic: talking dramaturgy with Martin O’Connor

collecting, writing and people speaking gaelic: talking dramaturgy with Martin O’Connor

See how we go, see how we go. Thank you. I guess I wanted to start off by asking you a bit about your practice, about your background. I had started off by doing a bit of research, just looking at your website, and saw you had been involved in a lot of projects that engage with verbatim, the recording of other people’s things…oh thank you.

                                                                Coffee arrives

Yeah those processes of putting different bits of material together. I’d love to hear more about that work.

Yeah I don’t really know how that started, but it is certainly what I’m kind of pushing at the moment, when I’m making my own work, looking for work. I’ve always worked with people, always worked with young people. I suppose for me it was a way to bring together lots of different strands of my output from performance and playwriting and all of that. I suppose what happened is that I started to get more interested in dialects and more natural forms of speaking. So then I got more interested in how you can write those in the first place, how that is textually represented, how you can then work with an actor to recreate that

And perform again

these kind of conversations. So I was really interested in that in terms of recreation and the restaging of things. What happened was that I started to do spoken word and playwriting in this Glasgow dialect, and I suppose that led me in to, when I was working with children and young people, into thinking about how do I capture this as it is, I don’t need to make it up.

We were talking about my experience of the Writer’s Room, I joined about two years ago and I sat down to write a play and I just couldn’t do it, I felt like a fraud.

And these two things were happening at the same time. I can see myself at Garage Band watching these two files in a crossfade, but it did seem that it was natural that I started to become less interested in the writer’s voice. I really had started to remove any trace of the writer’s voice, and to work with characters whose language, where they didn’t have the means to express themselves. So I was starting to pair it right down. Trying to go for a natural performance style in writing. But at the same time that voice was coming up because I was speaking to more people, and then I actually joined those two things together, because I think, either way, if I am trying to write like that I do feel a bit like a fraud, and if I’m just mining other people for their way of speaking, that also feels fraudulent. So I was trying to bring those practices in the same place, together, to try and go right I’m interested in language, I’m interested in, you know, all sorts of performance with a real authentic participation, working in socially engaged settings with people, with their stories, and then how to represent their voice.

That’s a really complicated way of saying it, but those two things seem to come together quite nicely. Now, I suppose, I’m stuck on these ways of working, and seeking work, looking for work.

…and I know there’s no such thing as authenticity and there are books about how authenticity is not real in theatre, but it is kind of a personal quest for me to always find the, to find authentic voices and people, and then the real challenge is to find out how to represent that in the right way

Maybe preserve that

How to transcribe it, how to write, but also how to preserve that link absolutely, how to keep it connected to where it came from, its roots, how to represent it in the right way

Because there is that link between language and identity, which I think is really interesting

I’ve got an interest in identity too. I’ve got a bit of a bug-bear about Scottish voices on stage which are either comedy, the fool, the drunk, the junkie, they are silly or whatever, and I think I like to try and challenge that quite a lot. To find real Scottish voices I suppose

And to show that they are unique, that each voice is unique to each person

Of course

I definitely get that with northern accents, the northern fool, it is a trope

Yep

I’m used to seeing quite a lot

Yep yep

So do you, in your work in participatory settings, do you consider it a dramaturgical work, in the sense of pulling together all this information, and sort of having to assemble it into a dramatic structure?

Absolutely. Yeah, again I don’t know that started, and where the first piece I did was. Right now I’m doing a project with Janice Parker, she’s working with older dancers, some of whom have dementia. She’s in a collecting phase at the moment, it is on my mind because we were talking about it the other day. So we’re still in a collecting point in this project, so we haven’t really thought about how it comes together. So it is for now about enjoying that collecting process, a couple of months of just being recording recording recording, and I haven’t even begun to transcribe a lot of that stuff yet. Again, we are still looking for more to collect.

And then the assembling I suppose comes from, well I’ve collaborated with other artists before, and then we’ve assembled it together, normally I would pick out certain texts that I like. I always transcribe as well, because I can’t listen and edit from sound, I have to transcribe. To see the words on the page.

Is that because you identify as a writer? Because that’s your skillset?

I know, so pretentious isn’t it?

No, not at all

I think it is because I need to see it all in the one place. To see what comes next, an order and stuff like that. When it just sound, I have no idea what comes next, I just get lost

You can’t place it

Uh-huh. So I always, even when working with the same person, will collect and then assemble

I suppose that’s the two parts of the craft. You’ve got the practicals of collecting and assembling, but then when you are assembling, you are re-ordering, you are representing it, with massive ethical baggage that comes with it

People talk a lot about verbatim and ethics. Without wanting to go too much into it, some people have some very adverse reactions to it, but I wonder, how difficult do you find it, when you are editing it, what ethical things are going through your mind?

For me, I’ve managed to avoid any ethical fallouts by staying with the people. You know, I would never, go in, interview you, say thank you very much, and send you an invite to the opening night. I will always try and build in the crafting part throughout the project. I wouldn’t want participants to fall out at any point when I then “take over”.

So yeah, I think I’m really really preoccupied with the ethics of it

So I’m working with the Children’s Hospice Association just now, and I’m writer in residence for a year there, and I’m making a sound piece for them. This is my first time working on a sound piece and I’m amazed at how you can manipulate people’s voices, not just in writing when you can copy and paste, but when you can stop mid-sentence, chop it off, and put on the end of another sentence. You can actually change the words that came out of people’s mouths. That feels like a huge responsibility and I don’t know how I feel about that.

I suppose they are co-writers as well in a sense?

Yeah. But then. I do find it a hard balancing act, to try to redeem control, to say that I’ve written it as well. That’s a really hard thing. Because they haven’t just written, it is written with me, the crafting bit is the writing bit, and it is so important – I had some feedback on something recently that was ‘Oh yeah, that’s what kids say, that’s what they are like, you know?’ and I thought, yeah but, I did that though, it isn’t just them.

So as much as I say this is this is your piece this is your piece it is co-written, they go through the whole project, they are credited, they’re there, they are giving feedback, that it is theirs as much as mine, I still find it difficult to say ‘Oh, it is my work.’ And I want to say that, you know? I find it very difficult to claim it.

I suppose it is difficult to define the boundaries of what you are claiming?

Well it’s all mine!

Laughter

Well especially when it is your idea. You’ve caught me at the time when I’m in the middle of a couple of projects in which this feels really pertinent.

It sounds like, just that experience of collecting, is a really pleasurable form of research. Do you view it in the same way as you might when doing research for a play, that burrowing down, keeping on going, seeing where you end up or is it more structured, you’ve lined up who you are going to interview, and it is more mapped out in advance?

Sometimes I have approached groups, I have done that, but sometimes that project is offered to me as well, where other people want me to do it. I suppose that’s then their project, so maybe that’s different. When we did the piece with recovering alcoholics recently, that was really intense, we did it with six groups for nine weeks. We went back week after week after week. It is very hard when you work with people who are in a different situation. You know they are there to do something else, we jump in and say “Hiya, have you got five minutes to talk to us?” We could only get through a couple of people a day, but we kept ploughing at it. That was really beneficial because they could see that we were really serious. They got to know us, we became faces, regular faces. So, I do prefer that idea – and something I’ve just proposed, I’ve proposed a short collecting period as well – because I think it about having really focused work. Having said that there are pieces I’ve made where I’ve collected pieces here and there over a period time. But I think for participants it is really important that they see there is a bit of a focus, and that they know you are a regular person, who is there until you’ve got something. You don’t just fly in and fly out.

Trust feels important. A lot of the conversations I’ve been having here have stressed that when working with a dramaturg, or working with someone in a dramaturgical manner, possibly because things like editing and assembling are quite murky to understand from the outside, they are quite introverted practices I suppose, but that trust seems to very important. Do you find you need that trust when working not just with participants with collaborators?

There is a trust thing collaborators?

Yeah. I suppose do you find you work with people who trust you from the outset?

Yeah I think it is all built in. I don’t think there’s ever a case where I have really just approached someone I’ve never met, or an organisation I’ve never worked with before, and just said “Hiya.” You know, it never feels like it happens like that, it is a much slower process over a period of time. Maybe when I started out, I did meet a group and say “I want to write your stories” and everyone was a bit suspicious. And I’ve learnt that that all has to come first, and I haven’t learnt the hard way, but from experience I know that actually the big question is “What are you going to do with my words? How am I going to be presented? Can I trust you?” I know that, and so you always have to start with that. I always take a sort of softly-softly approach.

Working with the recovering alcoholics we were there a long time so we could take it very slowly, we could see people again as well, which was also a benefit to that project, people could come back and tell us more if they then felt they could trust us a bit more. So I know, I pre-empt people’s suspicion.

I also have to pre-empt people’s expectations as well. With every person who has suspicion there is someone with expectation, someone who thinks “Ah we’re going to be in a film” That’s pretty hard as well.

You’ve got manage that, so that disappointment doesn’t come in the line. It sounds like a lot of the work you are making isn’t for stages, so its installations

Yeah I guess this is another thing with the stage I’m at. Participatory work exists in a completely different place. One verbatim piece I did, about six years ago, was for the Glasgay Festival, and that ended up on a stage. People could come to see it. It was very much crafted into a play.

There have been performances, but I guess they haven’t sat on main stages in that way. Because participatory work seems to sit outside that, and that’s a massive question, about how venues and organisations rate this sort of work.

I wonder if, because you were talking about the time it takes to build up these relationships, whether currently that doesn’t fit into that model

You have to have something written in order to approach a venue, or a company. I think that’s a massive issue because I think companies would be very happy to take a play that’s been researched from real people’s stories, that’s a very very different thing, when you turn it into a play, and you write about your research, that’s a very different thing from using people’s words.

There’s a question of fidelity there

I suppose it is a spectrum though isn’t it? Let’s say I’m going to interview you, and there’s that recording at the bottom, which can be heard, then you can move on from that to where it can be transcribed and read, then it can be transcribed, written down and used in a different way, or it is going to be really edited down, or it will form part of a play.

Then at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got research. Where I interview you for your experience, and then I go and write a play based around your experience.

So I think that’s a massive spectrum there. I think I have done something on all of those levels.

I noticed from having a look at your website, that you have worked as a dramaturg with the Scottish Opera?

They did employ me as a dramaturg, yeah

Can you tell me a little bit more about the project, it was for the commonwealth games?

Yeah, that’s right. That was a really long process. I had been working with Scottish Opera for a while and they approached me to, through the education department they were doing a massive program for the commonwealth games and this was well up the line, about 2 years before it. It was a massive community opera and they were working with different communities, and as part of that some of the countries wanted Scottish Opera to come to them and share the work that they were doing. We wanted to do a two-way thing, we’ll deliver, we’ll share more about our practice and all that, and we’d like to know more about your culture, about your music, your language and all of that, which was then going to feed into the final opera, which was all being composed and stuff.

So I went with the composer and a film-maker, and worked, collecting – it was just the collecting thing again – and so I worked quite closely with the composer and we did loads of work, loads of music workshops and lyric workshops, and storytelling workshops, and we collected loads of stuff. That all ended up in the final composition, it was amazing, but I suppose a lot of my work, formally not much happened with it. We did talk about a collection of things, about this sound thing available for download, but it never really came to much because I ended up co-directing the work

So that was a really strange relationship I was having with myself, because after I did all that, I then co-directed the work, on a stage.

Wow, a total shift

You mentioned before the start of this about a job you had interviewed for with the title of dramaturg, but I was wondering if you did feel there was a politics around the word, or if that word is off-putting, or an academic or intellectual barrier that is erected by that word sometimes

I don’t know if this is what you’re talking about but I think when we started talking we discussed working in a dramaturgical way, and I think I might say that to people, because a lot of people do understand what the word is. I think in the past I maybe did mention the word dramaturg, maybe in a bio or something, because I knew I was working in that way. I very quickly changed because there are people who do that [off-put by it]. Also in my understanding they have to be quite objective, they have to come in ask questions, they’ll come in, they’ll observe, they’ll ask questions and they don’t really get too involved. Obviously they are still part of the creative process.

But there’s still a writer, a writer works with a dramaturg, or a dramaturg can be in a devising process, but not necessarily as a writer.

I’ve had people, in fact, I did have a job where someone came to me and said “We don’t want you to write it, we’ve collected all this stuff, we want you to write it”

I basically ended up writing it, and I wasn’t credited as a writer. More recently I dramaturged something and I didn’t want to be credited as a writer and they have credited me as a writer. So I know that dramaturgs exist, and I know that I don’t do that, because I am much more creatively involved in the writing, it is not just about being objective or asking questions. There’s a mad murky overlap between writer and dramaturg, and I think sometimes people will approach, well, I think they approached me and asked me to dramaturg it rather than write it because they didn’t have any money to pay a writer.

Are the fees different?

I don’t know how significantly, but I know there’s a writers fee, which should be set in stone but isn’t ever.

But I suppose a commission is definitely more than paying for someone to be in a room three or four times

So this other company couldn’t pay me to be a writer, but they had all this stuff and asked me for help. So we found two days where I sat with them and I worked, I suppose, as a dramaturg. But not really. I worked as a writer giving script advice, or something like that. Actually in that situation I sat with them and I didn’t touch the keyboard, you know? I said you might want to take that out, you might want to put this here. I was very clear I didn’t want to write a play for £600.

Which is very important

Of course it is

I find it interesting, and am slightly wary of those contexts

The word can be bandied about quite a lot

In a trendy, but semantically shallow kind of way

So I wouldn’t use dramaturg. In those situations, I’d just say I can give you script or text advice, or writing advice.  You just have to be careful about what your name is being attached to. Like I said, I’ve been in these two opposite situations, where I did write it and I wasn’t credited, and where I was credited when I didn’t write it

It seems mad that you don’t get the credit you want

The one that I asked for? Yeah

You’ve worked a lot, teaching in a further education context, and also with Tron Young Company as well. I was chatting to a drama teacher, near a…loch. I’ve forgotten the name of it. A school next to a loch. Loch leven!

(Interview forthcoming – Andy 26.10.16)

They were talking about how they felt, when they were working in the classroom, they felt they were teaching the students about dramaturgical practice and things like that. I was wondering if in your work as a director at the Tron, you saw it in the same pedagogical way, or if the relationship was different?

I think a lot of it comes from research. I did do a masters, and I was doing research, all kinds of different research. I do bring that into it. Yeah, ideas of collecting, and categorising. In fact at Pokey Hat, which was our showcase

Was that the one in an ice-cream van?

pokey-hat-photography-by-tommy-ga-ken-wan

Pokey Hat. Photo Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Yeah. A family friendly show. Bubble-gum feeling. But actually, that took a lot of academic style when creating that script, because we did lots of research with people. I transcribed it all, categorised it all into what people were talking about, and actually those categories then became the four scenes we created. So it was an analytical process that it turned into, which is really odd because it became this family musical. But I definitely took that approach, in the way I collected the material, that I would do in research.

For the Tron Young Company. So Tron, and Firefly sort of happened at the same time. I was really determined when working with them, well I think anyone is in that work, to try and capture the young people’s voices and all that, but I was really interested how do we capture them in a verbatim way? Like, what are we doing when we do that in a verbatim way? So that was about some new processes for me, investigating new processes when working in verbatim with young people. So what I did there was collect collect collect for months, record record record, improvisations, recording it all, and all that. And then, but still giving them a script. Giving them a point where the devising stops, and then I give myself a writing period, work the magic, and then present it back to them as a script where they can also experience a read-through, learning lines, working with the text.

I think this is really important. When you get into devising, especially with young people, it gets into this state where it is always shifting, and people will love that, it’s great, and it can even shift right up until it’s on stage, great, I know plenty of practitioners that work like that. But for me, I felt that working with participants, there had to be a definitive thing. I feel that in devising work, language and text are so far down the priorities, it doesn’t matter how you say that thing, you’ve said it over and over again, you know what you’re doing. Sometimes I feel that no one has that eye on the text.

So when I was at Firefly I would work with directors to help finalise the script, and then work with the performers to, and again it is about how do you make it representative. If originally it is a woolly-text, how do you formalise it, in a woolly-way?

To preserves that woolly-ness

Woolly-ness, exactly, that’s really important. So in the new show I’m doing at the Tron, there is lots of overlapping dialogue and people speaking at the same time and people miss-hearing what they are saying, or tripping over their words, because I wanted to recreate what came up in impro, to recreate what came up in discussion. So that’s built into the text. So when I’m working with the young people they will start to add-lib, they will start to swear more. So that’s built into the script, the ad-libs are built into, the overlapping stuff is built into it, we don’t need to add it. So that’s where I’m at just now with them just now actually, is to have a really sophisticated textual piece that comes from a real conversation, informal, and recreates that style.

With Firefly and with Tron that has been a process of trying to discover that. And of trying to give them these two experiences, of devising – their input, their verbatim, all of that – and then presenting it back to them, in a scripted form.

And I suppose questions of ‘How much do you fictionalise the work?’ So, for the last show we did, which we’re doing again in November with the Tron Young Company, my main input as a writer was the structure and the timeline. I came up with that idea and then fitted everything else around it.

And actually I would then, in the process of writing it, go “oh it would be good if we had a scene here where these two characters met” and I would go back to them, and see if we could improvise, or discuss with them what might happen then.

So you always repeat the methodology, rather than cutting corners. It sounds like in the work you are making you are trying to be very precise with language, even if that precision is to preserve an imprecise-ness if that makes, but it interesting.

I’m a Nazi. Is that alright to say on this?

We’ll try to put it in context, maybe.

It has to matter, someone has to preserve that, because that’s really really important. If I was to write that, that would be a judgement the writer would make, and we can’t forget that when it is being devised. We can’t just say that’s the way it comes out, there’s a way it comes out. So I’m very precise, quite military when it comes to how the text should be, gaps, pacing

It is interesting, because more ‘traditional’ approaches

It is, it totally is, and I know I’ve got feet in all sorts of camps just now, because as much as I’m working in socially-engaged practice just now – that’s the amazing title we’ve given ourselves, and it is quite trendy – and I’m working with contemporary theatre makers, like Janice Parker Projects, who are all working in lots of different ways. But yes, still very traditional as part of that. Yeah and it is tradition, because tradition is words isn’t it, we see words on a page, in a play form, as traditional.

But it is almost as if in what you’re doing, there’s a higher value on the words, whilst fidelity to the text is considered important in a stage play context, the way you are working with language, means that language has more meaning, because it is tied to a source that actually exists

It is tied to a source that exists but also tied to an idea, what it is trying to do with that source that exits. What am I trying to say? Tied, to, an intention, to an ambition, or it is tied to yeah, trying to do something with it. And that comes through in the process, whatever process it has gone through, because I’m so, because I’m so tied to the text, that is has to come through in the text too

That’s really interesting. I was. I don’t want to keep you too long

Listen I could talk about this all day

Good

It is helping me as well

One thing I was reading about very briefly, is that you’ve been doing a lot of research into dialects, Scots dialects, in the isles and stuff like that. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about that project.

Yeah I suppose it is like what I was saying before, when I started to factiously write in dialect, I wouldn’t know what it was actually, I’d call it Glaswegian, I’d call it vernacular. It has only been in the past couple of years that I have really learned a lot about Scots language, not dialects. So the idea that I thought I was always writing in dialects, or vernacular, but I was actually writing in Glaswegian Scots, which is a language, but a lot of people don’t believe it is a language.

So we have English and Gaelic, but obviously some people don’t like Gaelic either. I don’t know if you’ve been following any of the chat about Gaelic

So, well I did my undergraduate degree in English Language/Linguistics through in Edinburgh, yeah I did a lot of modules on Gaelic, and it is an incredibly contested area, in a way that seemed profoundly unhelpful

The guy who made the map, did you hear about this one, on social media? This guy writes for The National so he’s very pro-independence, he’s a “nat”, and he has produced – and he’s been working on this for a very long time – he’s produced maps in Gaelic, Gaelic names for places. And there’s been a massive, massive stooshie. A massive outcry about this because people are so offended he would make a map with their place having a Gaelic name because their argument is that Gaelic never existed in that part of Scotland, therefore how can you give that a Gaelic name?

(See this article for more information about the maps produced by Paul Kavanagh)

That’s just a perfect example of people who are really offended when it is not about them. The idea is that he was making a map for himself, and for Gaelic speakers, it’s no-

I’m being interviewed!

You don’t work

I am, I’m being interview. How you doing?

Alright, how are you?

This is my cousin-in-law

Oh hi

This is Andy

Andy

Hello Andy, how you doing?

He’s doing some research, and I’m the perfect person to ask

What is it, insanity in the suburbs?

No like. Theatre and language and stuff. We’re talking about linguistics right now.

Well I’ll let you get on with it

What are you doing?

I just popped in to see what was on. There’s this gig I was looking to see this month, no next month, October, see if there’s still tickets for it. I’ll see you later

See you later

Enjoy your interview

See you soon

Erm. That’s really weird. Sorry what was I saying. But this idea that we have English maps and we say I dunno, what, Germany. I bet Germans don’t say Germany. It’s an English word for us to understand these place names, we anglicise those place names. Why can’t he do that, I don’t know what the phrase is, Gaelic-ify these places names?

I just find it incredible. That people are so threatened by this language, the same people that’ll say this is a dead language and it is in decline and what’s the point, and yet they get so affected by it.

I just find this whole thing completely fascinating, and the same thing happens with Scots. Again in The National people have started to write columns in Scots, and everyone has got a problem with it, because they think it is a made-up language, because they think it is parochial, they think it is backwards looking. What I’m interested in, is the process in which I discovered that I’m speaking Scots, maybe not the kind of Scots I normally would right now because I’m being recorded

Well you’re more than welcome to

But if I’m speaking in my home I’ll speak in a normal Glaswegian way, with words that are Scots. The Scots language is a language made of all the different dialects and versions in Scotland. And also I do believe there’s a Scottish English as well that I speak

Anyway, you’ve done Linguistics, maybe you can tell me the rights or wrongs of that, but when it comes to Scots, English and Gaelic, I’m making a project about that just now, and that was borne out of a desire to really but Scots and Gaelic centre-stage – I’m learning Gaelic as I go, I’m not a native speaker – but that was about, I had started to do that, Theology was a piece I did about the catholic mass and that was in Scots.

theology

Theology. Image Credit : eoin carey photography

That was about elevating Scots into a place where it has got more worth, and I’m really interested in the poetry of Scots, not Scots Poetry, but the poetry, the idea of the poetry in our everyday language. That’s what I’m really interested in, and this project I’m doing just now, about Scots and Gaelic and English, as part of the research for that I travelled to Stornoway, and all the Western Isles, North Uist, South Uist, Shetland and Orkney, and started to record people talking about their own voice, in their own voice.

So the relationship they have to their own voice, and it is about absolutely, was black and white. What happened in Shetland and Orkney were that people were embarrassed about the way they spoke in, they spoke that way at home, in their own way, but they went to school and they were told to speak English. They were embarrassed. One girl was in remedial because she, you know, was told she couldn’t speak properly. Even though that was the language she spoke at home.

And that is, not my direct personal experience, but definitely something I can relate to, and definitely something I can relate to when talking to other people from Glasgow. That’s how they feel when they hear their voice, they are embarrassed by it, ashamed by it, they have been told that it is not the right way to speak.

However, when I went to the Western Isles, it was much more different. They were proud of the way they speak, they were preserving it, it was very much alive, it was very distinct from English, they know that. And so, they had less embarrassment. And when I said to them “Oh but do you know people in Glasgow are getting upset because train signs are being printed in Gaelic?” they had no idea that that would even be a problem, because why would that be a problem, you can speak as many languages as you want, languages can exist in the world, what’s the problem.

So I felt it was really important to do a research project that was looking historically at what our languages have been, how we speak every day, and the relationship people have to that today, and the problems that causes.

There you go, in a nutshell

I find it really fascinating

I just wish people would get over it, you know? You see these things: Some People Are Gay, Get Over It.

Some People Speak Gaelic
Get Over It

The word progress really frustrates me at time, because I think people think progress is synonymous with just subsuming difference into something that’s already there, and surely the more progressive thing is just to have all these different languages bopping around, and also people that are able to slip into them, talk in different ways, communicate in different ways

If you went around Glasgow telling everyone they were bilingual and didn’t know it, they wouldn’t say they were, they wouldn’t think it was a different language.

Och, you know. It’s the Scottish-cringe thing. When we’re just embarrassed by anything that’s just remotely our own culture. And that’s really depressing.

And it’s because Scottish and English are obviously sister-languages, they share a lot of the same things you know, but it has been subsumed, that’s the right word isn’t it

English, as a language, is such a colonising language.

A monster

And only spreading further and faster really. Wow.

That’s all a work in progress right now though, so I’m not sure what it’s gonna be, it’s all in the pipework.

I suppose I find it interesting because. Because part of the reason I’m doing this research is that I’m interested in having more discussions about the research and ideas that go into work, and seeing it as being as valuable as the final output, so it is all the work, I suppose

I suppose with that project, at the moment I’ve done the collecting, and now I need to sit down with it and go into the next phase.

So…the pleasurable bit is over now, here comes the hard work

Yeah I find it really interesting. I suppose my interest in dramaturgy comes from a desire to talk more about the whole practise of being a writer, or a director, or an artist of any kind, rather than continually judging things on their outputs, on performances and things like that.

Yeah. Absolutely.
And I feel like that is. The process has to start, or that whole process is about, like we were talking when working with other people there has to be that understanding right at the beginning. Those beginning stages are mega mega important. I know that the project I’m doing with Janice right now, she doesn’t know what’s going to happen at the end of it – which is fine – but it feels like, I would be worried if something comes out of it that could have been addressed right now. Yeah.

Does that make sense?

Yeah. I suppose. Do you view. I suppose. With the project

Did you get tickets?

Aye, still got tickets, I’ll have to check if my companion is coming along

Who is it? Who is it you’re going to see?

Robin Hitchcock

Robin Hitchcock. Robin Hitchcock?

Don’t know.

Right I’ll see you soon

Okay

Yeah sorry, do you view the. In a process which is quite research heavy. I’m interested in how the performance sits in the importance you attach to it, or when a project finishes in that sense? Has a project finished before the performance? Or possibly, yeah. I guess I’m just interested

Yeah I think it’s really hard isn’t it? Because not one of those projects has had the same output. And they’ve all manifested themselves in different ways. I don’t have a formula for that part. I think that’s really interesting. I have lots of formulas for the collecting part, lots of tricks, not tricks

Techniques

Techniques that I employ.
But I think at that point, from the collecting finishing, it can just branch off and I’ll start to edit in different ways, I’ll use material in completely different ways. That’s just when the unknown happens, and looking back, so many of the projects, that I can tell you about the collecting phase, but how it got to performance is sometimes a bit vague, isn’t it? Especially if you’re collaborating with someone, they might bring their own process to it and you just sort of it fit into that. So it is hard to know, at what point these decisions were made. Unless it is like the Glasgay piece and you know it is a stage show, on these dates, and this guy is performing it.

So that does happen. You do have a date for the performance and you are working towards that.

But a lot of the time I’m still in control of what the performance is, and actually in a lot of these cases I was still in control of when and how and all these as well you know. So I suppose it is different if you are working on your own project and you take that to final performance, or if someone is employing you to do this kind of work for a performance, or an event, or something. So. Yeah. I think it is hard to have a blueprint.

Lastly, just out of curiosity

Lastly, lastly? Why do we have to finish?

We don’t have to. Well I’m paranoid about keeping you too long really

I know, you need to transcribe this as well

I was interested in asking you about two things. There’s the turntable project, which I had a wee look at before this, that seemed really interesting, and I was wondering about that relationship to music.

Well the turntable project just goes against everything we’ve just spoken about. For Turntable, I was asked to come on board with MJ, the musician. But no apart from the music, it was actually the same as everything else. It’s anecdotal, it’s experience, it’s personal, and I suppose the music is just a stimulus for that. Actually turntable was not recorded, these conversations were not captured in anyway, not transcribed, not being used to. They exist.

Turntable was amazing. We are working on a new version where we do work with some of the stories but they are not scripted, it is not documented in that way. The Turntable that we’ll do next is almost based on our experiences of doing Turntable already, and the stories that come out are going to come out of our own memories of doing it.

You come to the turntable, and you tell us the story, and it is just a dialogue between two people about music, and it’s just about the moment of doing that. A lot of the work I do I say that that in itself, the conversation that we’re having, is the artwork. You have a conversation with me, you’re engaging with a process, and however you are involved it doesn’t matter, because this relationship we are having is an artistic relationship. That’s it.

turntable_3510_lo-brian-hartley

Turntable. Image Credit: Brian Hartley

So in turntable that’s it, that’s all it is. Turntable exists in that conversation, over that turntable when the music is on and then that’s it. And it’s not gone, we carry it on

And it informs

Informs everything. And hopefully a participant will feel something about going back into the past and sharing a memory, and hopefully they’ll go home and listen to that album or whatever. Hopefully it’ll unearth something for them. And so, that’s a very unique project.

There’s a lovely economy to it. Deceptively simple. And as you say, this genuine exchange

And hugely popular, people really appreciate being able to talk to you about a musical memory that you have. So if that ever makes it to Turntable 3, yeah it’ll be interesting to see what process that goes through. A lot of that will be just from our memories of the project, so there won’t be anything too specific. We might rewrite them from memory. Or based stories on very non-specific, general feelings and experiences we’ve heard.

So that’ll be a whole new dramaturgical experience

Amazing. And what was the other thing I wanted to ask you about? Oh yeah, just your poetry practice as well. I’m performing a poem of sorts in a week, and was thinking a lot about, how dramaturgically I am approaching this poem. I was wondering if these similar things about collecting, assembling and structure really inform your approach to poetry

My – I find it hard to call it poetry as well, labels and what have you – I do use the term spoken word. I know it is a pure naff term for some, but I know sometimes I just can’t call it poetry. Because it is. What they are, are little monologues or linguistic things. They are, this is, I can’t really explain what they are.

But they are definitely not poems?

Well no. I try to exist in a poetry context. I perform at poetry nights. I’ve done stuff at the Scottish Poetry Library but I never feel at home. Because I’ve got this performance. But when I’m in performance I’ll say I’m a poet.

Yeah the spoken word, again. It came through at the same time that I was thinking about dialect and vernacular, and started to really think about Scots language, and the value that we place on it, and the poetry that exists within our everyday language. So, I started to write these pieces that all became Theology, and that was this big spoken word piece.

A lot of time I do lists.

Yeah. So repetition is a big part of it as well. There’s one called My Liver, which is about drink and alcohol. And it’s about  ‘my feet are killing me’, ‘my face is killing me’, ‘my heid is killing me’, ‘this walks killing me’ ‘my job’s killing me’ and so, repetition and these things.

And. I can’t think anything off the top of my head.

But definitely working with structures, working with repetition, working with recurrent themes and recurrent words

It’s really great.

Oh Hello

Hello

Hello

I have done a bit of chopping up with scissors.

Nice

Which I had always avoided because I’d thought it was too wanky

I suppose if you don’t tell anyone, you know they just get the poem at the end

I dunno. I was working with someone and we did document it on Instagram. Got a lot of likes though, people liked it, and we did cut it up.

Actually for this Hospice piece I did cut it up, it was too massive. I had to print it, and cut it up.

So I suppose it is cutting it up, that’s Dadaism isn’t it. But I do it now with copy and paste

Which is kind of a faster way to do it

You don’t have to and find your scissors!

It sounds really interesting work

And I hope, that when you hear it in performance, it doesn’t come across as being this analytical cut and paste job, because you’re working with a performance style. I try to make it natural. I try to make it natural and elevate it.

I suppose that’s two different things.

But that’s my thing, trying to make it natural, and then elevating it into poetic form, into something where people can watch it and go that has some linguistic worth, even though it is Scots, or even though it is the stories of a young person, or even though it is the stories of someone who is recovering from alcohol, or an older woman with dementia.

…Sorry I’m just chatting now

No not at all

You’ve got to transcribe all of this

(I did have to transcribe all of this – Andy 26.10.16)

I’ll stop recording now, and we can keep on chatting

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