Saturday, 28 July 2018

Auld Lang Dramaturgy: Mairi Campbell @ Edfringe 2018

Mairi Campbell: Auld Lang Syne
Mairi Campbell returns the Fringe to tell the story Scotland's Most Famous Song and how it changed her life

Mairi Campbell: Auld Lang Syne is the sequel to her hit show Pulse and picks up the story of her life as she is invited to sing by President Bill Clinton for Sean Connery's Lifetime Achievement Award, how her recording of Burn's classic played a starring role in Sex And The City and why this famous song is misunderstood by the millions that sing it each Hogmanay.

Reclaiming its heritage in a cross artform performance of storytelling, dance and song Scotland's most celebrated traditional musician continues her foray into theatre in a gently compelling tale of scarcely believable serendipity.

As a feature I think either an interview with Mairi about how she continues to move outside music in her performances and why Scotland's traditional Auld Lang Syne image needs a makeover.

2-27 August 4:30pm (not 13 or 20) Scottish Storytelling Centre

1. What was the inspiration for this performance?

A few years ago I decided and wanted to work
with what I happen to have been born into and done in my time.  I like the phrase ‘Dig where you stand’ – that’s it in a nutshell.  Animate my life, learn to detach a bit, find the funny and present a big picture.  It seemed like an authentic and fun extention of being a folk musician.

Auld Lang Syne is a song that’s so well known but we don’t really know that much about it.  It’s a bit of a mystery, and also I hate to admit to this but, I like it and I don’t like it.  There’s that wee calvanist Scot in me – shunning my own culture and then there’s the chest thumping warrier who resents that our folk culture became caricatured and it got really messed up and..and…I’m going to bring it back.
It’s a loaded topic.  Anyway, there it is and I’ve had loads of experiences with that song – some pretty funny.  I’ve also discovered that the song’s way deeper than I realized.  It’s actually really inspiring. The song’s inspired the show.  Never thought I’d say that.

Since 2011 there have been several catalysts for the birthing of this work:  Kath Burlinson’s Authentic Artist Retreats; Paul Oertal’s ‘Discepline of Freedom’ and Nancy Spanier his wife and choreographer;  InterPlay, a multi modal expressive arts process.  I am diving into all three of these processes and it is quite a ride. It can be really, really hard as well, but I think it’s worth it.  

2. Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

It can be.  My previous show Pulse elicited a lot of discussion.
My husband David Francis is a Critical Reponse Process ( a feedback process) facilitator so with both shows we’ve used that process and it’s always resulted in interesting discussions and helped to improve the work.
I played Pulse recently to students at the RCS and there was a great discussion and sharing after.  I love to do the show and then hear how/where it lands.

3. How did I become interested in making performance?

I’m not sure.  I was never into acting or performing.. I was pretty shy about it actually.  Didn’t want to look like I was showing off, something like that – I’ve got some pretty heavy calvinist stuff in the family which was ruling the roost.

However, something changed and now it’s fascinating to me.  When Kath Burlinson said in a workshop one time that the audience can only go as far as the performer will take themselves, that did it.  That gave my internal self permission to play and come out.  InterPlay method is also a great tool box for understanding the point of performance .  The stage is where mirror neuron stuff happens. It spurred me to dig deeper, gradually drop my self conciousness and shyness on stage and show up.

To add to that I have also been a professional freelance musician for thirty years. Singing and playing viola. That started in 1988 after attending the Guildhall school of music, so my interest in performance was always there but not in quite the same way as now.    

4. Is there any particular approach to making the show?

I try to blend multiple expressive modes so there’s a layering process, an unearthing and revealing that takes time. About 2 – 3 years.

I start with the music. That’s my core modality.  Hearing back the tracks is my first inkling of what’s wanting to be made.    Music’s the mood carrier and holds the emotional realm: anger, love, chaos, ease, flow, elation.. The tracks are created with Dave Gray, a musician and producer with a studio near Penicuik called Sound Cafe. We’ve been making music together since 2012.  These are the tracks I use in the shows.

Then there are drawings, some of which which are animated.  Their role is a kind of summary in dot images.  They hold the big picture somehow.  They look like aboriginal Scottish songlines.  

I have my six foot high pendulum which is made from three hazel sticks and a big mill stone that we found on my Great Grandmother’s croft on the island of Lismore. This hanging rock is the only staging for the trilogy. For Auld Lang Syne I’ve just added a stool which is also three hazel sticks.   
In Pulse the pendulum stands on the left hand side of the stage. In Auld Lang Syne it’s on the right. 

Then there the words and the story. That’s what I find the hardest. Words are the hardest but you don’t need that many, thank God.  It’s an 18 page script that I have to memorise. That’s a schlep but great once it’s in.   There are more words in Auld Lang Syne than Pulse about 50/50 music to word.

I like to move my body and have a few groovy moments in both shows.  That’s where the mirror neuron thing really starts happening…although I’m not allowed to flail around on stage.  Kath’s pretty strict about that.


Kath Burlinson is the co-creator and director.  Auld Lang Syne is our fifth co production so we’re very comfortable with each other.  She’s helped me bring out the characters, the story and the form.
Her dramaturgical awareness is sharp, she has a brilliant mind and can really push me but it’s not too much – she knows how to get the best out of me.   Her role is huge in the making of this work.   We like to keep the forms tight, so in Pulse we hooked my story onto the heroes journey.  In Auld Lang Syne there are three braids, each of which have their own story, shape and form.

My husband David Francis has written a couple of songs that feature too.

5. Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I’ve only recently found this blended modalities approach and I don’t think couldn’t have done it before now – I’m fifty two, the kids have left home, I’ve finally managed to learn to play in time and it’s countdown.  So, there’s nothing to lose.  It’s not like my usual productions as they were/are gigs, pure and simple. However, I do think that I’ll be exploring this new approach for some time. It feels very juicy.
Multi modal is my new normal.  The skill is keeping it simple. 

6. What do you hope that the audience with experience?

A heart opening recognition of the fun and frailty of friendship. More about a song they kinda knew and some great music!

Thanks for asking.

References for inspiring people and projects.

·         Kath Burlinson –
·         Paul Oertal and Nancy Spanier -
·         InterPlay -

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