Monday, 22 June 2015

Cat gets Loud about Dramaturgy!

GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?

Cat Loud: I spend a lot of time daydreaming about singing and I get obsessed with songs in phases, and Big Night In started with a playlist of songs that I made for a train journey last year.

And I watched Beaches for the first time, had a good cry and and truly fell in love with Bette Midler.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?

I'm at the very beginning of my cabaret career, and I suppose the Fringe is a big, loud, difficult incubator for this, my first, outing as Cat. The Fringe is a shock to the system in many ways, and it is an experience worth having to know where the show's flaws are, and help me determine where to take Cat next. 

I also feel as though it's the first time I'm able to introduce myself as the job title I want. I've got business cards and everything. The city will be rammed with potential collaborators and audience members to connect with, and I have a legitimate excuse to wear as many sequins as I want and still call it "work". If that's not the ultimate dream, I don't know what is.

I've also been working at the Edinburgh Fringe for years, in different capacities. I've had some of the best experiences at the Fringe, as well as some of the absolute worst. In those terrible, terrible times I've always said to myself "maybe I wouldn't have such a crap time if I was here doing what I really want to do and being my own boss", so this year I'm putting my money where my mouth is. If I still have a crap time, I'll know that it's not the Fringe, it's me. The break-up will be amicable.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
With any luck, they will see the rightful heir to Bette Midler. When I was at school, we used to bandy around the phrase "Witness The Fitness": that's Cat's mantra. I think swagger and sex are key ingredients in cabaret, but the other side to this particular show is it's insistence on stripping away that boldness and exposing a more introverted character. 

 I hope this quieter side elicits a feeling of familiarity. I'm going to add "hear" to this question, because I think the depth of the connection an audience makes with a show of this kind will be dependent on how they respond to the music. Familiarity with certain songs brings out personal narratives, and I also hope audience will be surprised to hear familiar songs sung in new ways, and in unexpected contexts.

The Dramaturgical Questions
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
The key question Finn (Anderson, musical director) has asked me
throughout this process is "Why are you singing this song?" If I can answer that question with a meaningful insight into the lyrics and justify singing them at that particular point in the show, rather than say "because I want to", then the song is of value dramaturgically, I think. 

 As the songs guide the entire show, I'd say dramaturgy is absolutely relevant. I've needed to ask questions about my choices to know that this isn't an ego trip, or simply fulfilling a fantasy, and that Cat can be of service in some way.

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
I'll be honest; I was absolutely terrified of registering this show as Cabaret. Cabaret is sexy. It's just really, really sexy. I'm scared people will be awfully disappointed when I show up. But I do identify with it as a performance style. 

It has offered a platform for marginalised groups and subversive forms of entertainment, of which I think The Introverted Torch Singer is most definitely one. We don't live in a world that understands or caters for introverts.

Cabaret also combines storytelling and theatre with music in a way other genres don't. I've seen Meow Meow, Lady Rizo, Camille O'Sullivan and Frisky & Mannish live, and I'd list them as major influences. They are all masters of reinventing existing songs, and though they are all wildly different in style and use storytelling to varying degrees, they are all musically excellent. I aspire to that, above anything else. And getting away with being a bit ridiculous by blaming it on my genre.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
I'll go back to my original playlist. I choose those songs when I heard a lyric or a chord and I recognised familiarity in it. I started to seriously think about making it some kind of performance when I was at home on the Isle of Mull over Christmas. It was my walk playlist, and I was getting a bit delirious in the 4pm darkness that I started to imagine very vivid characters singing me those particular songs, and began building a narrative that came from those characters.

I should point out that my walks are not normally so intense.

The show developed in collaboration with Finn. I'd bring the set list to rehearsal, and he'd figure out arrangements. Cat developed as a stage persona through these rehearsals, and I wrote Cat's stories as we were going along. The song list has grown, shrunk and been cut over time, and Finn has been instrumental (geddit?!) in it's evolution. The music guided the narrative, how much I wanted to share, and Finn helped make appropriate cuts and additions to say what I wanted to say more concisely and honestly.

In passing one day, he mentioned that he is learning to play the accordion. My grandfather Bobby played the accordion, and so does my Uncle Robert. Scottish dance music signifies Mull and my childhood; in the show, Cat makes a big song and dance about needing to leaving the island, but it follows her wherever she goes. It made perfect sense to include the sound of that particular instrument in the show, and it was a very happy coincidence that Finn plays it.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Cat can't wait to sit on people's knees and touch them, because right now, singing "I Wanna Be Loved By You" to thin air is very uncomfortable. Cat as a cabaret persona demands to be seen, to be recognised, to be loved. Cat as a normal person demands intimacy and genuine connection. Simply by being in the room, the audience fulfil all of those demands, and fulfil the exchange of the entertainer/ spectator, of singing for supper, if supper is a smile and a nod or two.

This is why I know the Fringe is the right platform for this show. It's tough for any company to fill their venue day after day, and I'm under no illusion that I'll experience peaks as well as troughs, but it is most definitely an exercise in practising gratitude for each person who decides to take a chance on me. That's where real connection is. And that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
I do think there is room to go full-on University of Glasgow Theatre Practices and ask performers to identify a few important elements of their show. As long as they don't say "Table. Wires. Chair." you could get a better idea of what textures are at work in what they do. Sound is a big element of mine, so maybe a question that helps the artist self-determine major characteristics like that would be insightful.

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