Monday, 22 June 2015

Melanie Gall wins the Fringe: Dramaturgy and Knitting

Stitch In Time: A Knitting Cabaret
The Fringe
GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Melanie Gall: What inspired this production was a piece of sheet music. I found it while searching for old Vaudeville songs to program a concert, and, to my surprise, this sheet music turned out to be an entire song about knitting.

“Hm!” I thought, “Knitting…That’s interesting. I host a knitting podcast, I’m surrounded by knitters, and even though I’m a singer who isn’t particularly fond of sticks and wool, I feel that knitting has taken over my life. And I’m not sure that’s a good thing. But maybe…just maybe…I wouldn’t mind it so much if I could sing about it…”

Five years, two CDs and almost a hundred knitting songs later…this production was created.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Edinburgh is like a knitting mecca. There are several yarn stores and knitting groups, as well as a rich history of knitting in the region. Many of the songs were written in the UK, and haven’t been performed in almost a century. It just made sense to present this music concert/cabaret in Edinburgh.

Why did I choose to present this music concert/cabaret during the fringe? Insanity, probably. But the good kind of insanity…

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
The audience will see me, standing at my microphone in a knitting-themed hat (fingers crossed the knitting-themed hat survives the transatlantic voyage…). Stitch in Time is what I like to think of as a concert experience. The songs, the dialogue, the costume – it all gives the sense of nostalgia, letting the past come alive again for a brief hour.

What will the audience think? Well, if they’re not a knitter, they’ll probably start out by thinking: “Good Lord, those are a lot of knitting songs!” By the end, however, they will hopefully get caught up in the genuinely interesting stories and history surrounding this music, and will think that they made a good theatrical choice for the evening (also the pub has truffle fries…knitting music, a pint and truffle fries, can’t go wrong!)

If the audience member IS a knitter, they will probably think: “How delightful! Songs about my craft! AND I’m allowed to knit throughout? What could make for a better…wait. Are those truffle chips?”

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
This piece wasn’t officially dramaturged. I have, however, updated and revised the script from the preview performances before Scotland, based upon suggestions from other performers and writers. The relevance of dramaturgy in this work was to be sure that it could both appeal to hard-core knitters, as well as to a wider audience (women and men).

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?
Stitch in Time features music from both world wars, and has a 1940s, nostalgic feel. It was inspired by other music of the time: Vera Lynn, Glenn Miller Orchestra, etc. I have always had a passion for ‘lost’ popular music, and these knitting songs have, in many cases, not been performed since the end of each war. I feel that my show is very much in the tradition of these historic songs, as I have done a lot of research into musical trends of the past and I am careful to be historically accurate in the musical styles.

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?
It all started with the songs – I chose 14 tunes, did a textual analysis of each one, and researched the composer’s life and works, as well as the cultural references in the lyrics. Then I thought about how I’d introduce each one in a concert, as well as personal anecdotes that were relevant to each piece. From those notes I began to craft the first draft of the script. There isn’t formal collaboration in the process, but I often talk over creative ideas with other artists and they offer suggestions which often prove extremely useful.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
The role of the audience is to have an open mind. Yes, it’s an evening of songs about knitting. And yes, often the initial reaction to that is: “Huh?!” But these songs are cute and funny and poignant and clever, and the stories behind them are actually very interesting. There are usually several people stitching away in the audience, sometimes a knitter consulting instructions or audibly counting stitches… it’s all part of the experience. And did I mention those delicious truffle fries?

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