Andrew Dawson is a performance artist. He has directed and choreographed for the theatre and opera. He has worked on several creative endeavors with companies such as Aardman Animations, Red Cape Theatre, and the Metropolitan Opera. His production of The Idiot Colony won Fringe First and Total Theatre Award Winner, Edinburgh 2008.
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Friday, April 1, 2011
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m touring and developing The Articulate Hand. I got the grant from the Wellcome Trust, to create a lecture performance demonstration, about hand impairment. I hope to be taking it to the World Science Festival in June. This year, I will expand the show to a bigger piece that will tour in America next year. I’m also choreographing A Midsummer Nights Dream by Benjamin Britten, for the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. That opens in July.
Who or what inspires you?
Robert Lepage. Particularly, when I saw The Dragons’ Trilogy many years ago. Also Peter Brook, in terms of theatre. In dance, Merce Cunningham. I spend a lot of time being inspired by art. Visual art. That makes a bigger impact on me. People like William Kentridge and Anish Kapoor. The sculptor David Smith, Antony Gormley. Douglas Gordon. Henry Moore, Andrew Wyeth. Films, David Lynch. Particularly, a film called The Straight Story, where he wasn’t all weird and wacky, but just about a guy traveling across America on a lawn mower. I thought that very inspiring and the sort of film that looks like a painting.
In The Idiot Colony, we follow three women in a mental asylum in post WW2 England. The production was visually stunning and very visceral. (I saw it twice!) What drew you to that subject matter?
The three girls, from Red Cape Theatre that created the piece, came to me with a whole file of testimonies and research on mental asylums, where women in the 50’s were locked up for no good reason. They’d had an illegitimate baby. They’d had a relationship with a black man or stole money. Not real mental health issues, but were locked up for the rest of their lives, practically forgotten about. I found the testimonies very moving. I like that theatre can be a reflection on real life and give us a different perspective. We found that the hairdressers in the institutions, that came from the outside, were the people that got the closest to the patients. Because they’re allowed to touch their heads. Because the hairdressers could make that contact with them, the patients talked to them more than to the doctors, so in a way they found they got more therapy there. I found that whole thing completely amazing.
Can you tell us a bit about your work as a performer and how that, if at all, informs your work as a director?
I don’t see myself a practical director. I discovered performing, not acting, and I always wanted to correct my own work. So I was always, sort of, developing this visual style, wanting to tell my own stories. That informed me as a director, because I see it from the performer’s point of view. I’m always trying to create those pictures with them. I find myself more as the collaborator, than as a director. The phrase director, just sounds like you’re pointing, telling people what to do, which I know directors don’t do. But there is something in the word, that feels like your above everybody, where its more you’re in the mix. You just happen not to be in it.
In the age of rapid social media connection, do you feel that theatre makers have to catch up or somehow adapt to what seems to be the shorter attention spans of audiences today?
I think yes, they do. We all need to try to keep in step with things that are moving. I heard the other day on the radio, that teachers are using the fact that kids have mobile phones in the classroom, to find out information on their phones. Rather than trying to ban the phones, they are trying to use it. Sometimes that works, sometimes that’s not going to work, and the same is true with theatre. We have to embrace modern social technologies. In some ways it’s fantastic, it helps us spread the word. Decide to do a workshop or performance? Put it on facebook, and you know that 400 people already know about it. You haven’t had to spend anything on advertising. You can make a short film, put it on you tube, and if you’re lucky, people will discover it. For the fact that you’ve got that outlet for work is fantastic, of course it doesn’t necessarily make it better work. It’s a bit like the invention of the pencil. It meant everyone could have a pencil but it doesn’t make everyone into an artist. So it depends what you do with it. Yes, we have to absolutely embrace it. I haven’t quite got to twitter yet, but I might have to. In terms of people’s attention spans, we still have to work at slowing people down. People are very happy to go the opposite. You get your fast and furious blockbuster movies but people will still want to go on retreats and do yoga. There’s room to embrace and expand with it.
In the light of, recent arts funding cuts, what advice would you give a young director or choreographer starting out on their career?
Be honest about their work. Be honest about the way they approach funding. The Arts Council has been cut, but they’ve also given a lot and upped their money to organisations and new people. There are other places to get money. The thing about getting funding, is that you have to have, genuinely, a good idea. Funding bodies aren’t stupid. They’ll spot a good idea when you’ve got one. You might apply four or five times and fail, but you get the idea of how to tick the boxes. I’ve always gotten funding for projects I really believed in. I think in the first 3 lines you can smell it. In terms of making work, be truly honest and genuine. And to start. It’s hard without money, but because of facebook and you tube, you can start to get your work out there. If you don’t do anything, then nothing will happen.
One would be to make an installation. To make a theatrical type of installation. I love the change of rhythm an audience member has to go through. Rather than turn up for a show at 8, see the show, then leave. Installations mean you can spend 5 minutes or 3 hrs depending on the work. That interests me, to meet the audience in a different way, and that you can create work and not have to be there. The other dream project would be to put together a group of 6 or 7 actors, a little company and do a show.
Final question. Is the director dead?
No, I don’t think the director’s dead. I think there are more and more exciting young directors appearing. There’s always the thrill of live theatre. Even if we televise it or live stream it. There has to be people out there, looking at other people, guiding and creating stories and pictures. That role will always exist and that’s very exciting. You need to have leaders and followers in every situation and in a way the director, maybe that’s all he is, is a leader and an instigator. Sometimes we feel lost and need some directing.
Thanks Andy for sharing your thoughts!
And for your patience! Had some technical difficulties this week and will now refer to Andy as Magneto in future posts.
"You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive." Merce Cunningham