Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Real dead animal Dramaturgy: Charlie Gates @ Edfringe 2015

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Charlie Gates: In 2010 I found a dead cat. I took it home, said a prayer and skinned it. I then took it into the garden and it started to sing. I made a video and knew it could never been seen, the few people I showed told me that! 

If an idea makes me feel sick then I know it’s a good one. That stomach churning, gut wrenching idea that you know will send people sideways. I’ve always wanted to create things no one has ever seen before. To do things no one has ever done.

It began with the animal. I didn’t know anything about life until I’d experienced death, waste and mindless consumption first hand.

I have always been interested in the lost and discarded, I started to incorporate animal parts into my artwork (I studied sculpture) , this lead me deeper and deeper into some really horrific places in which I was confronted with the harsh reality of death. These beautiful creatures tossed aside as if their lives meant nothing. I went vegan and It inspired me to make art on the subject of morality, ethics and on the subject of controversy itself. I make art work and controversial performances using taxidermy.

Sing For Your Life from Richard Morel on Vimeo.

Sing For Your Life evolved from a performance series called D.I.Y Taxidermy Live (2009-13)  A tongue in cheek demonstration where, with audience participation we would skin and stuff a dead animal using just what was lying around the house, taxidermy but Blue Peter style.  During the show, I would regale the audience with tales of how the dead animal came to be in my hands (usually road-kill, pets, donations, bi-products of food industry). I would discuss difficult topics like morality, the ethics surrounding the meat industry and the controversy surrounding these taboo subjects, but in an open and humorous way. It was a little like a bizarre game-show…Where you could eat and win the artwork….

 One day someone interviewed me and asked: ‘What's next?” I told them I was making a musical using dead animal puppets. Privately I had been making videos of animals puppets singing the stories of how they lived and died, knowing full well the public would not approve. When taxidermy hit the quasi-mainstream, I knew it was the time to bring out the big guns.  

I wanted to create something extremely funny, engaging and accessible with a hard hitting message. No one likes feeling like their joining a cult, but make them laugh and you can trick them into learning. 

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Sing For Your Life had just finished a sell out week long run at Vault Festival and someone mentioned we should go to Edinburgh. The thought hadn’t crossed my mind, but once it had been said, I couldn’t get rid of it. I spoke to my producer and there was literally days to get an application in so we just went for it.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Never expect anything, you’ll only be disappointed.

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
It isn’t relevant to me. I don’t even truly know what dramaturgy is. I didn’t study theatre, I’ve never written anything for the stage before so it was a little like finding my way through the woods without a path. I’m an artist; I work on instinct rather than following a structure or rules.

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 don’t see myself as within any tradition, in fact most people would see me as pissing all over them. Traditionalists would murder me, both traditional taxidermists and puppeteers.

I’m really not trying to be clever or conceptual. I have no preconceived ideas about the way things are done, I don’t have rules. Fundamentally I am an artist- I don’t think artists have any rules, in fact I think it’s our job to break them, to challenge the status quo and shine light into darkness, exposing the cracks that underpin our very reality.

I’m interested in the reality of death. These animals are dead and we’re using them to tell the story of death. This isn’t traditional puppetry; I’m not a puppeteer. This isn’t a traditional musical as I’m not a musician. We’ve been likened to Avenue Q and Mongrels but at the time I’d never even heard of either of them.

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?
This process was hard, I’ve never done anything like it before. I’m not a writer, I can’t even spell!  I don’t know the theory, the rules, the way things are done… 

I am like water; my process goes everywhere if it’s not contained. Luckily I have a producer who has managed to channel my creative flow in the right direction.

I have visions. My mind is like lightening, illuminating, blinding, terrifying. I have a terrible attention span and to get me to sit down and focus takes huge effort. I need silence. I need no distractions otherwise my thoughts go everywhere at once.

Sing For Your Life started with the songs. I was doing a part time job invigilating at a gallery, I was trapped in this white box (the gallery) it was dry and flat, somewhere with no escape.
From there I would write poems and then I began to put silent tunes to them. I don’t play any instruments. I don’t actually listen to music. I wrote most of the songs in silence.

Originally the show was only going to be animals singing cabaret style but my producer told me we should have a story. I had to come up with acts and ways to link them all. I sketched hundreds of scenes and scaled it down to the great and most achievable ones, then wrote it all down.

We then took the script to the actors to see what jokes worked, what didn’t make sense. Having outside eyes really helped a cut away the crap. Sometimes when you’re so close to things you can’t seem them.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
If a tree falls and no one is around to see it, does it make a sound?

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