Friday, 10 July 2015

Live Drawn Dramatugy: Lisa Gornick @ Edfringe

The Gilded Balloon Edinburgh Fringe 2015

This novel multimedia cabaret performance from Lisa Gornick features realtime drawing, music, and comedy storytelling - and takes autobiographical performance in a new and surprising direction.

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?I’m trying to think. The initial spark for a live drawing show:

Initially I did real time drawing on film, and added voice over to the moving image. Then I thought what about doing it live? I liked having pen and ink and watercolour alongside me as I told stories, thought through ideas. People watched the projected image as I spoke into a microphone. I liked the action of it. Maybe the actual doing of it is the initial inspiration.
This present production has a revealing tale about my grandma at
its core. But its a place to jump off from and explore other issues in my life - past and present.

Initially, before the grandma story, my aim was to explore themes connected to a feature film I’m making called The Book of Gabrielle - which also has the act of drawing at its heart. I was aiming to make a cross platform production, around a feature film, live drawing performance, a graphic book and a web series. They would have interweaving themes but also be stand alone works.

In the feature film, I am the person, Gabrielle, who is drawing a book about sex amidst her questions and concerns about it. She meets a famous writer, Saul Bernard, based on an idea of Philip Roth but English, who’s also into writing about sex, but from his particular point of view. He’s in a moment of writers block and is intrigued by what Gabrielle might know. A sparring friendship ensues.

I made an attempt at a documentary type, diary like, live drawing show based around the making of this feature film. I had in the back of my mind Spalding Gray talking about his work in film sitting at a desk, plus I wanted to extend the live drawing performances until now, to an hour. My friend, Lucy Lumsden, was there in the audience and she suggested I find a stronger core to the piece. I said would you like to direct me, she said yes.

I was playing around with ideas about Jewish secular icons like Philip Roth and Anne Frank, and ideas in the film, when I just chanced on a photo of my grandmother in a hat, walking in London in the 1930s. Lucy said, that’s it - that’s your storyline. Your grandma. As I told more stories about my grandma’s life, Lucy and I began to build the show.
As it’s taken shape, I think the show has come back more, to be about aspects of me alongside my grandma and about drawing too. Every show is unique in that, it depends on what aspect I might be investigating in my own life, what happens with the audience and indeed where the drawings take me.

It’s very much a stand alone piece, but I feel it could also be seen as a live companion piece to the feature film, if you wanted to - mainly because there is drawing in both and the fact, that I’m laying parts of my life open in both, in a self portrait way.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Lucy and I both met at Edinburgh as students. We both did the fringe for four years running. She suggested it. I thought why not - return after nearly 28 years…that feels long. 

I want to see how live performance works again. I’ve been so immersed in making films and indeed drawing, that my live performing side has kind of been in the back room somewhere. It feels exciting to bring it out into the light again. The Edinburgh Fringe feels like an epicentre of live performance - I think it’ll be amazing to rediscover that in myself and in others.

I used to do stand up comedy in Scotland - I had a character act where I was a Russian chanteuse - being existential and moody and improvising fake Russian songs. I would weave through the audience trying to pick someone up. Karen Koren was my agent and I did gigs around Scotland. Stupidly I got scared after a couple of bad performances - and I went down to London and kind of gave up the solo performing work. I regretted that from time to time.

So in March, I wrote a message to Karen, asking if I could do my drawing show at the Gilded Balloon, she remembered the Russian woman and she said yes. I know they’re celebrating their 30 years and it kind of feels apt and lovely to be returning to the venue where I started out doing solo performances. Indeed this present show looks at my own Russian roots so it feels like rejoining where i left off.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
I suppose there’s an artist/filmmaker at work feel. I like having inks, pens, equipment, lights, paper on the table, as if it’s my studio or desk.

It’s like you’re watching a process going on. The audience is part of it as I engage with them and interact with their energy. I don’t drag people up onto the stage so if you want to sit back and not get involved that’s fine, but if you like flirting then come along, I like to flirt back.

I hope there’s warmth and humour around. I’m investigating things, my grandmother, my family tales, how it’s affected me. So it’s not all comedy there are moments of pathos too.

Each show has its own unique set of drawings, which are for sale afterwards, so you can take them away with you.

I hope the audience will think, I want to draw after the show. I want to think about the secrets in my family set up.

The drawings are projected as I draw them, there are intimate revelations, questions, enquiries and more drawing. I play music and I draw more. I suppose it will be like watching the process of creativity. Which means it’s not all perfect and there will be mistakes, but they are often the magic you’re hoping for.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Interesting question. I am chewing on it. I know that I was really influenced by seeing The Wooster Group at the Edinburgh festival when I was 17, the year before I came to the university. In fact, between meeting the politics tutor and the Wooster Group and falling in love with a city that had both, that’s why I wanted to be party of the city as a student. The Wooster Group’s theatre language seemed to be about sitting at a desk, and talking into microphones, using video, and text and being kind of like real at the same time as performing. In fact, being more real than performing.

I’m still working on what I think my theatre language is. I feel that watching the process, being part of the moment is part of it. Looking for spontaneity. Looking for chance, the mistake, the real moments is part of what I want to achieve. So this is a theatre language that is about performing without being over conscious about it. Trying to remove the wall between the audience and the performer as much as possible. Having a structure that connects the beginning to the end, but in between letting chance, and experiment and surprise take the lead.

I have always been drawn to the improvised, the off the cuff. Drawing is very much like this and I want my theatre/performing style and form to be like drawing as much as possible. To be fluid and unplanned and full of surprise for both me and the audience.

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?

So as I just said, The Wooster Group got me when I was young and I still have them in my head. Watching some Pina Bausch dances get me. More and more I like to watch modern dance. Don’t do it enough but I get very excited by it. I don’t know enough names. I don’t see live stuff enough. I need to fill myself up with it more.

I’ve been immersed in film a lot - getting influenced by some Chantal Akerman, Agnes Varda, Jane Campion, John Cassavetes, early Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman. I really love film and being an audience of that. But the act of live performance is something I’m so intrigued to investigate more of.

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 choose this show to describe a process as it is really my first full length live drawing show. Initially Lucy Lumsden came in and I went through where I was at with the show I worked out on my own.

How did I get to that one? Came from writing lots of ideas down. At that stage it was more ideas and less a story as the backbone of the piece. I was interested in doing a kind of first person documentary type drawing show on making a film about drawing a sex book. I would just talk ideas and draw. I didn’t totally know what I was doing - I had ideas to talk on, and kind of hoped for the best.

Lucy came and worked on finding a structure. She would laugh at my improvisations and I would note where she laughed as would she and that would be our editing process. Some things have gone by the wayside. But we were trying to find the structure and hope the other things find their way back in if they need to.

We ran the performance, fine tuning. Trying to get a structure in order to allow me to bounce around it. The technical side came with trial and error. And I imagine I’ll keep investigating new ways to use pens, paper, paint as well, computer software, camera set up, projection ideas. It’s started out very low fi and I’ve got an inner technophile that loves trying out machines and techniques. Still harking back to my love of seeing the Wooster Group perform with their machinery alongside my love of pens alongside a desire to fix things electrical - not that I’m good at it, but I love screw drivers and plugs etc.

Then I do test performances with small audiences. Just to get the feel of an audience and to riff off them. I had another university friend, Simon Bayly who also came in to watch stuff and comment recently. It feels so deja vu and gorgeous to have two university friends who remind me of the time I mainly did live stuff to come back in and offer their insights and direction. These people knew me nearly 30 years ago. We’ve all been through a lot of life, but it feels like we’re still playing and creating like we did then now.

I think the process is ongoing. I record each performance and I go over and investigate how it went. I kind of note the good and bad bits. I feel for the show to be alive, it has to be like the first time each time each night, so each show strives to be present to what’s going on at that particular moment.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?

Because I interact with the audience by kind of talking to whoever will engage, drawing them, asking for input - the audience is like another part of the show. It can’t happen without them. They come in and they provide the energy to get things going.

I am confessing to them alongside sharing with them my process. The show doesn’t exist without the dance we do together. I feel intuitive to their mood but also, I like to surprise an audience. Maybe the audience is a bit like a lover, and you’ve got to listen to them too, not be too demanding but also surprise and entice them, I hope. Essentially be yourself with them, so they can be themselves back.

I’d love an audience to feel they had filled in gaps, that they had somehow had a creative time being in the audience. Or that they came away with inspirations and questions and a desire to seek something out or indeed take up a pen and draw.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?Maybe since you are an drawer, an artist, I should draw some of these ideas down for you too. I feel some other ideas might come out away from the qwerty keyboard.

Music, ink, and laughter: join Lisa in her artist’s-room-cum-cinema and watch as her live drawing leads us through the story of her Grandma Ray. A one-woman show with projected images, it’s art meets filmmaking meets comedy. And each show produces a unique set of drawings for sale.

Grandma Ray was an East End Cockney who sometimes went posh. A first-generation Jewish Londoner, Ray’s family emigrated from Russia in 1903. Keen to assimilate and embrace her new environment, she longed to be a liberated ‘flapper.’ Ultimately restricted by convention though, she settled into the confines of marriage – and was left with a constant feeling of being trapped. In word and ink, Lisa brings her to life.

The only Jewish girl at her London school, Lisa fantasised about her Russian past and followed her grandma’s advice to avoid the entrapment of marriage. But does this decision still feel like the right one? As Lisa draws her story out and the audience in, secrets are uncovered and a surprising connection unites the two women across the generations. We discover how families mould us and drawing can liberate us.

Lisa Gornick's Live Drawing Show is an intimate comedy show performed and drawn by Lisa Gornick and directed by Lucy Lumsden (Sky Comedy). They met at Edinburgh University.

Lisa Gornick is a filmmaker and actor returning to the Gilded Balloon for its 30th anniversary. Her two features Do I Love You? and Tick Tock Lullaby have won awards and are distributed worldwide. She is currently in post-production for her third feature, The Book of Gabrielle, a cross-platform production.

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