Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Dramaturgical Drone: Harry Giles @ Edfringe 2015

Drone is a spoken word and sound art performance about remote technology and anxiety. Telling the fragmented story of a military drone’s lives and fears, Drone imagines her as part weapons system, part office worker, part tense background hum. Live sound and spoken word entangle like human and machine, environment and technology, noise and sense. The bleak humour and tender fury of Drone sees the unmanned aerial vehicle as the technology of a neurotic century, surveilled and surveilling, asking how anxious bodies can live as part of systems of astonishing destruction.

“Lashed to the mast of anarchism.” Sabotage Reviews
“Obnoxious.” The Telegraph
“Vile.” The Daily Mail
“But is it art?” The Guardian
“I’ve never heard of him.” Blog commenter

The Fringe1. What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Harry Giles: Three years ago I read the New Inquiry's magazine "Game of Drones", which analysed our in coming drone culture, while I was depressed, lonely and anxious. Instead of writing a poem about myself, I wrote a poem about a military drone who was having all the feelings I was feeling. Then I couldn't stop writing about her.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?

Good question. The easy answer is that I was given an opportunity to perform it that I could believe in: a venue with a good platform at a good time, that meant I was likely to get a decent audience, and through SHIFT/ a collaborative approach that shared the risk. My default stance is "You don't need to do the Fringe", but if you can find a less risky way to tap into that audience, the sirens call.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
I've written this show to make people cry, and feel scared and a bit twisted up. I want them to see humans as complicated machine-like vehicles of alienation and terror, and drones as the defining technology of our anxious age. I want them to be exhilarated by the flow of sound and words, to be caught up in my verse and my sparkly dress and my collaborator's virtuosic music. I want them to leave shaking.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I trained as a director rather than as an actor, so when I make theatre I'm thinking in that spatial, temporal, dramaturgical way: I'm arranging the text and the stage and the audience to communicate a politics, a dialectic, to work with or undermine a set of assumptions, before I'm attempting to inhabit the words as a performer.

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?
Most of my work is interactive in some way: I site myself in a tradition of political theatre that comes from Brecht through Boal and the Living Theatre and the Bread & Puppet Theatre to whatever arts-activist moment we're in now. 

This show is actually very, very different: there's no audience interaction, it happens in an end-on space, with a constant flow of sound and words. It's more like a gig than a performance, in the end, though its more conscious and controlled in its scenography than a gig might be. But despite that, I can still feel that it's come from a tradition of political theatre; I'm just exploring some different dramaturgical models this time.

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 show was actually a book before it was a performance: I had a complete text, and then had to work out if it was supposed to be a show. I usually make work alone; this time I decided I wanted to collaborate equally with a musician (Neil Simpson) to make the performance. Making the show was like jamming with a band: we worked in Neil's bedroom studio, trying out sounds and shapes, playing and replaying the show until it felt ready. Then we did a scratch performance at Buzzcut to see if it worked -- and it did!

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Usually, in my work, I make the audience the central performers, the central meaning-makers of the show: the meaning happens in what they actually say on stage, or how they act within the games I've devised. (That's a lie: of course the tasks I set and the games I play communicate an ideology in their structure as well.) 

This time, the audience are eyes and ears: they're listening to and watching a stream of ideas, and then have to figure out what to make of it all. Sometimes this show feels like the most violent thing I've done to an audience, because I'm assaulting them with a non-stop stream of painful ideas and twisty sounds; sometimes, this show feels like the most gentle I've been with an audience, because I'm giving them space to think how they want to think, rather than playing with them and manipulating them with my strange rules and rituals.

Harry Giles (words) is a writer and performer based in Edinburgh. He founded Inky Fingers Spoken Word and co-directs the performance platform ANATOMY. His pamphlets Visa Wedding (2012) and Oam (2013) are published by Stewed Rhubarb; he was the 2009 BBC Scotland slam champion; and in 2014 was one of six shortlisted for the UK’s biggest poetry prize, the Edwin Morgan Award. His participatory theatre has toured festivals across Europe, including Forest Fringe (UK), NTI (Latvia) and CrisisArt (Italy). His performance What We Owe was picked by the Guardian’s best-of-the-Fringe 2013 roundup – in the “But Is It Art?” category.

Neil Simpson (music) has a very varied practice, deliberately difficult to summarise. It currently includes an interest in embodiment and performativity. In particular, he is interested in the extent to which bodies and objects are humanised, and dehumanised, through performance. Previously, his work has involved music, audience-based and site-specific performances, in addition to sound art installations, film soundtracks, documentary film-making, writing, poetry, and visual art. He has performed across the UK over the last ten years or so, on his own and as part of a duo called Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

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