Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Heads Up Dramaturgy: Kieran Hurley @ Edfringe 2016

Kieran Hurley with Show And Tell

credit: Jassy Earl

A city. Just like this. Right now. A woman staggers home after a two-day bender. A priest who doesn’t believe in God stares blankly at the endless disasters on the TV news. A finance worker tears down a Keep Calm And Carry On sign outside a Café Nero. In just one moment, all their worlds will end.

With an original innovative score by Michael John McCarthy, multi award-winner Kieran Hurley (Beats, Chalk Farm, Hitch) weaves a picture of a familiar city at its moment of destruction, asking what would we do if we found ourselves at the end of our world as we know it.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I don't think it's possible to point to one singular moment of inspiration for a show - at least not this one - so I'll be a bit annoying and avoid answering the question directly. 

I wanted to make something that was about how it feels to live in a
world that is built on catastrophe. I was aware - for myself at least - of this world we find ourselves living in feeling more and more like a constant cavalcade of crisis. The disaster of now. 

I also think it feels like we're living in times of great change, like the end of something big, be it this particular stage of capitalism, or old certainties around nationhood and social structures. I knew I wanted to think around some of this stuff, and I wanted to do it by telling an apocalypse story.

I also really wanted to make something in a kind of DIY way again, like I did when I was first starting out working in a room in the Arches basement collaborating with musicians or whoever before a word was even written. You'd know a show was going to happen at the end of it because there was a date in the programme where I'd stand in front of a room with a microphone with some people. I'd begun to miss some of the urgency and immediacy of making work and meeting an audience in this way, so I rang up Tom Searle (of Show And Tell) who helped me get the necessary stuff in place and away we went.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
After Tom came on board I brought in Alex Swift, who I've been developing a completely different piece with and who I've built quite an important working relationship with over these last couple of years. Alex and I spent some time supported the Playwrights' Studio experimenting with stuff do with form and storytelling and he's really made a significant mark on the work. 

I tend to work with musicians a lot, and I thought of MJ McCarthy for this because of how versatile and collaborative he is and also because he's got a really sharp dramaturgical brain as well as a musical one. Julia Taudevin has had a major hand in everything I've ever made that I perform in, so I knew I wanted her by my side for this again. 

It's true that there's no such thing as a solo show, and everything I do is really collaborative because it's theatre. I knew that I wanted this show to be kind of back-to-basics in terms of process, but that I wanted to take risks and make new demands on myself through that - so I needed a team that I could trust but who could also challenge me and breathe a different kind life into what I do.

How did you become interested in making performance?
Dunno, really. I liked drama at school, I suppose. I have a running joke that I probably always just wanted to be in a band but can't play an instrument, so ended up doing this - hence my longstanding admiration for and collaboration with musicians of various stripes.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Yes and no, in that there are different strands to what I do I think. In terms of this kind of writer-performer work, I suppose it is typical in that I was in a room with some collaborators before the script is even close to finished and that music is a big part of it. But the process towards making each show always feels completely different. I don't have a rule book.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
That's a tricky question and I don't know if I know how to answer it to be honest. It's stories, I just tell stories. My stuff has often been described as political, and that's probably true but so is everything else, all the time, always. 

I can tell you that I think this piece is more challenging than a lot of my previous work, both formally and in tone. It's more angry, more hurt, more difficult - and I want it to be difficult. Sometimes difficulty feels like the most appropriate response to the way the world is. Or maybe it's just a reflection of where I'm at just now. I wasn't interested in revisiting the warm-hearted fuzzy optimism of some of my early stuff, like Hitch. That said, I do hope and believe that there is heart and humanity in here. I hope it cares for its audience. I hope there are still some laughs.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
With all the love in the world for both critics and academics (I tried to be one once, don't you know) I do think this is the kind of question that only one of you guys could really come up with. I've chewed it over and I can't think of a helpful way of answering it and I think it's because, for me, the "strategies of shaping the experience" are just like, the whole of the thing of making the show. It's really important but so fundamental that it's actually pretty hard to summarise it in a general way, and a lot of it is way more instinctive than the question suggests.

What I can say is that I realised recently that basically everything I've made has been a variation on a search for connection and community in the face of a hugely atomised and isolating world. It's about a belief that we need each other, even when the world we've built seems set-up towards the opposite. 

And theatre can be a good place to unpick some of this, for obvious reasons. The real reason I continue to persevere with theatre, for all that it infuriates me a lot of the time, is that I still think that theatre and the stories that live within it can create a space for us to meet with each other and take stock of where we're at, together. And that that matters. So in terms of strategies for shaping the audience experience - that sense of meeting an audience, of being present and alive to each other is, for me, always at the forefront of everything.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Not really, if I'm honest, in that I think that's for other people to decide. There's definitely overlap between what I do and what many of my peers do, and there are other people who I admire hugely, of course. But it'd be presumptuous of me to place myself in a lineage of artists that are better than me,

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