Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Death of Dramaturgy: Genius

 At this point, I'd like to pause. It seems odd that 'thinking about plays' and taking the performance of a play as the basis for study are especially bold steps. But they were. Before the Enlightenment, theatre was discussed either as scripts or subjects for censorship. Like, did you know that plays about religious subjects were more or less banned from 1600 onward in France and Britain? Racine did  a few, but they were just for school productions. Those Passion Plays that were all the rage in medieval times were seen as an anarchic occupation of the Easter story. You'd think they'd be fine in Christian societies, but no.



I suppose the death of dramaturgy was bound to happen: as soon as performance becomes the focus, there are all sorts of ways to study it. It is easier to talk about dramaturgies these days - all different ways of thinking about, or making, theatre. So trying to hold a field of study that is so open was always going to be a tough call. If the Big Idea is... thinking. Well, that's blowing the whole thing wide open.

But this isn't what killed dramaturgy. The problems really start when they invent the idea of the genius. Like I said, the challenge was always going to be Shakespeare. How on earth can theory account for a talent like that?

Both Lessing and Diderot sussed this, and included a 'get out of jail' card. Diderot gave a good description of the genius. Basically, he said, certain people were too cool for school, and could do all sorts of stuff not imagined in your philosophy, Horatio. And Lessing agreed. The rules were handy for a hack, but the genius could really swing.


Before Diderot, genius was a spirit or something: the word comes from a Latin god, and they'd descend on an artistic for a bit, give them the good stuff, then disappear. The Enlightenment wasn't that keen on metaphysical fairies, so Diderot turned it into a personality type. It was someone who combined an extreme sensitivity with the ability to contemplate with detachment, who loved a bit of nature but knew how to communicate.  

The idea of the genius turned out to be very popular with artists -even if it suffered a bit in the translation. And this is what did for dramaturgy... at least the first time. 



Almost immediately, the status of the artist went right up. In 1700, Bach was a jobbing composer with a few good tunes. By 1802, he had a biography that treated him like a saint, including anecdotes about his mastery of the keyboard. 

The Death of Dramaturgy: Performance (comic)


The Death of Dramaturgy: Performances

Okay, the problem with the Enlightenment dramaturgy is that it's a big pick'n'mix counter: neither Diderot nor Lessing ever get down to basics, hitting the subject in media res. Diderot slips all his fancy ideas into a Platonic dialogue between himself and Dorval (a character in his play), and Lessing's essays are responses to the events at the National Theatre. They never develop their dramaturgy from first principles.


But pulling together their various thoughts does reveal that the emphasis in on the theatre-as-event, not theatre-as-a-script. For example, Diderot's Paradox of the Actor, which didn't get published until long after his death, goes into some detail about the skills of the performer. It accounts for the transfer of emotion from stage to audience, and speculates on how the actor can do it. And each of Lessing's essays take a production as their starting point, before he gets wandered. 

If I push it, I might be able to argue that this new interest reflects an Enlightenment appreciation of time and space. Let's see: one of the big shifts in the eighteenth century was the recognition of geological time, rather than Biblical time. If you use the Bible as the basic for your chronology, you get a 'young Earth' - history isn't that long. But with all the Earth sciences going on (although the results weren't in until the nineteenth century), the Enlightenment philosophers did know that the planet was really old. Like millions of years.


This more scientific notion of time is part of a shift in thinking about change. The whole point of absolutist monarchy and, Brecht would later point out, classical tragedy is to demonstrate that change doesn't happen and what does happen is inevitable. Take Oedipus. There was no way that boy could escape ending up in his mother's bed. Or Orestes: he had to knock his mother off (as opposed to knock up, see Oedipus). 

Aristotle and his laws of tragedy realised that inevitably made for exciting drama. Getting rid of the idea that everything was fixed, predetermined, was a strong statement that the old order had to go. Structure of plays, their manifestation as objects in real time: this is all very scientific and realistic. 


I think that part of the thing with the Enlightenment was a desire to use a scientific approach to everything. Newton was the big hero, and he came up with gravity. By taking an object in the 'real world' and not a text (which could be seen as a bit like scripture), the philosophers could act like they were being scientific. 


Dramaturgy is Torture: Louise Quinn @ Mayfesto



SHOWS:  
18th, 19th & 20th May - Tron Theatre, Glasgow
25th, 26th & 27th May -  Traverse, Edinburgh
1st June - Eden Court, Inverness
Running Time: 60 mins | Suitable for 14+
A new piece of darkly comic, gig-theatre, cuts deep into what it is to ‘sell out’ and how we respond to global events. 



MUSIC IS TORTURE is a dark comedy set in Limbo Recording Studios featuring live music and new songs by Glasgow Art-poppers ‘A Band Called Quinn’ who appear in the show as the band Dawnings.
This new piece of gig theatre tells the story of a struggling music producer, Jake, who discovers that his music is being used to torture political prisoners and charts his ensuing moral dilemma. Essentially this is a show about selling out – but it also looks at how people respond to global conflict; how people respond to fear of terrorism. 
Music Is Torture was written by singer/ songwriter Louise Quinn and directed by Grid Iron’s Co-Artistic Director Ben Harrison. The piece is inspired by the research of Berlin-based Scottish musicologist Dr. M. J. Grant into the use of music to promote, facilitate and accompany violent response to conflict.

Ah - starting off - this is a tough subject to be dealing with! I'm talking about for myself, really: it strikes me that you've taken a relevant and contemporary topic, but found a way to relate it to the form of your work. And that might be the place to start... having seen Biding Time, is there much in terms of the way that this show is being presented that will be familiar to me? Is it going to be an example of 'gig-theatre' in the same way?

Music Is Torture, whilst still being 'gig-theatre', is much more of a straight ahead play; because the play is set in a recording studio the music is completely immersed into the narrative of the story.

The action takes place in Limbo Recording studios where we see our protagonist Jake struggling to maintain a sense of self worth having spent the past fifteen years recording the same album by the same band (Dawnings, played by A Band Called Quinn). 

It's a bit of a sequel to Biding Time (remix); what happens to someone after they've been signed and dropped by a major record label, when all they really have left is their soul.

The band are characters in the story but also act as a chorus reflecting and commenting on Jake's moral dilemma as he is offered the chance to benefit financially from the use of his music to torture political prisoners. 

I have also noticed that there is a promise of 'humour' in the production. Was that hard to find, given the subject matter?

I didn't want to write a worthy didactic piece on human rights. The style we have developed with our work is darkly comic and surreal; in a way this highlights the horror of music torture without being too literal. Dr Grant says she sometimes finds it hard to engage people in the subject with academic presentations but the moment she plays a clip from a Billy Wilder film of a character being subjected to a song on repeat, they get it. 

Then there is the musicologist. I am always excited to see influences coming from unexpected sources (although maybe a musicologist is less surprising for you, and I am thinking of the more general theatre community). How did Dr Grant's work inspire you, and is it possible to see traces of the musicological analysis in the show?

Dr Grant is my cousin(!) We grew up in Lanarkshire and as children we would make up stories and put on little performances for our parents. I've always been interested in Morag's work as a musician and admired her involvement in human rights activism. When Morag told me about her work on music torture we were making Biding Time (remix) at the time. I found it hard to comprehend music being used in such a way. I started reading about the songs which had been used and the way their creators had responded when they found out something they had created was being used to psychologically torture political prisoners. 

We have given Robert (Henderson - our trumpet player) a speech which draws upon Morag's musicological analysis (a highlight for me!) and consulted with Morag on the script and performance.

As for the question of selling out: that seems to have been a theme in your work, and I am wonder how far it is possible to draw comparisons with a general complicity with the financial demands of capitalism and the specifics of the case where music is used as a a way of torturing...

For me it was like taking the art vs commerce battle depicted in Biding Time (remix) and dropping it into the much bigger picture of human rights. I think it's a reflection of what's happening in the world today; there are huge sections of society who are disenfranchised and feel justified in choosing to pursue self interest over morality and support the views of the likes of Trump and Farage. It was important for me that the characters were from working class backgrounds as most people who are successful and can afford to pursue a career in the arts are from more privileged backgrounds.

The show depicts how the political can relate to the personal; how global events can impact on a persons life; how interconnected the world is. I saw an anti-trump demonstrator in Edinburgh being interviewed on the news recently who said 'If we don't do something we're complicit'. 

Actually, on that note, I was watching The Men who Stare at Goats, and that suggests that the music-torture technique was kind of the 'dark side' of an attempt to find non-violent ways to fight wars... is there some about the nature of music that puts it in a marginal space in which it can be used for good or evil? and, if so, how do you keep on the side of the light?

As Morag's research demonstrates, the use of music to torture political prisoners effectively breaks the victim down psychologically to the point where they would rather suffer physical torture than be subjected to endlessly repeated music. Sometimes the music torture is accompanied by strobe lighting, stress potions and other physical abuse. 
Torture, and by extension music torture, has been proven to be ineffective at gathering intelligence. Most musicians (for example, David Gray who's song Babylon was used by US interrogators in Iraq) are opposed to their music being used in such a way. Other artists like Metallica and Bob Singleton who wrote the Barney The Dinosaur theme aren't that concerned; other artists like Drowning Pool consider it an honour. 

The character I play in the show is called Evie Phanuel after the archangel who offers hope to those in the depths of despair and I believe music has the power to do this. I think if you put your heart and soul into writing a song, someone somewhere will identify with it and not feel so alone.  

As artists we also use music in a therapeutic manner with community groups and in educational settings; the complete opposite to music torture! 

And on a more theatrical note: what's it like working with Ben Harrison? He is a familiar presence in your productions... does he have an attitude that suits your approach to performance?

Ben is a long term collaborator, mentor and friend. He understands our vision and knows how to achieve it in the form without being restricted by it.



Musicologist Dr. M. J. Grant:

“It can be difficult to get the message out about the reality of torture, especially when it comes to forms such as music torture that to the uninitiated might seem like a joke. This is why artistic treatments of the subject are so important: they can convey much that is important without the whole thing becoming voyeuristic or unduly harrowing. 

I’m excited about this show not just because of the way it explores the psychological mechanisms of torture in a subtle but effective way, but because it draws attention to our own responsibility for the continued use of torture in today’s world.”
Playwright Louise Quinn:
“When Morag told me about her research we were working on Biding Time (remix) which raised issues about art versus commerce. As an artist I found it hard to comprehend music being used in such a way and when I researched artist’s responses to their music being used to torture political prisoners, I got an idea for a script. 

Every day it seems to be more relevant and reflective of what’s happening in the world today; a disenfranchised protagonist who is torn between morality and self interest.”   
Director Ben Harrison added:
“Music is Torture interrogates our complicity in acts of torture but does so in the most shockingly comic way. The Faustian dilemna at the heart of the piece- should I benefit directly from the sufferings of others - is presented with great wit and dark humour making parallels between the metaphorically torturous act of creation and the real torture of political prisoners. 

The live room as a metaphor for the torture chamber is a powerful and resonant image, articulating our globalised and hyper-connected world, made all the more resonant as the show is based on real events.”


Company Information:
Ben Harrison -  Director
Andy Clark -  Actor  TBC
Stephen McCole - Actor TBC
Robert Henderson - Trumpet/ Keys
Steven Westwater - bass
Louise Quinn - singing/ guitar
Bal Cooke - drums
Dani Rae - Producer
Camilla O'Neill - Production manager
Kate Bonney - Lighting Design
Tim Reid - AV
Emily James - Set and Costume Design
Bal Cooke - Sound Design/ Musical Direction
Funded by Creative Scotland.  A Co-production with Tron Theatre. 

A Band Called Quinn are an artpop band from Glasgow, Scotland, formed by Louise Quinn (songwriting & vocals) & Bal Cooke (production & drums). Other members are: Robert Henderson (trumpet & keys - also plays with Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat) and Steve Westwater (bass). They have worked with Kid Loco (produced Luss, their 2nd album), Alex Kapranos (played on their début, Inbetween Worlds), The Pastels (whose releases Bal’s produced / engineered) and Bill Wells. Their music has been used in films, by award-winning directors David McKenzie & Penny Woolcock.

Their album, The Beggar’s Opera, featured songs from award winning theatre company Vanishing Point’s show in which the band toured late 2009 & has sleevenotes by Scottish crimewriter Ian Rankin.

Ben Harrison is the Co-Artistic Director of Grid Iron. He joined the company in 1996, since when the company has won 27 awards for its work. Since 2004 he has been a Director of the Dutch theatre company MUZtheater. Recent work includes Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens for PW Productions and The Tailor of Inverness for Dogstar.

For Grid Iron: Tryst, Yarn, Once Upon A Dragon; Roam (Grid Iron/NTS/BAA Edinburgh International Airport; The Story of the Death of Najib Brax (Grid Iron/ British Council in Beirut); The Devil’s Larder; Naw Nader Men Al Houb (Grid Iron/British Council in Amman); Those Eyes, That Mouth; Variety; Fermentation; Decky Does A Bronco; Monumental; Gargantua; The Bloody Chamber and Clearance.

Tromolo Productions was formed in 2012 by founder members of A Band Called Quinn, Bal Cooke & Louise Quinn. Since then they have produced the award winning multimedia production Biding Time (Remix) which was part of Made In Scotland 2014, toured to Brazil in 2015 & won the Arts & Business Award for Digital Innovation 2015.
They also produced five times nominated short film Oh Jackie based around a duet between Kid Loco & Louise Quinn which screened at Cannes.

Tromolo Productions have also delivered songwriting projects for Platform working with socially isolated individuals with mental health issues resulting in recordings & performances at the Headspace festival.


Music Is Torture from Tromolo Productions on Vimeo.

Dr Morag J Grant studied music and musicology in Glasgow, London and Berlin. She received her doctorate from King’s College London in 1999, for a dissertation on European serial music in the 1950s. In 2005 she was awarded a DFG stipend to pursue research on the cultural history of the Scots song “Auld Lang Syne”. From 2008-2014 she was junior professor of social musicology at the University of Göttingen and leader of the research group “Music, Conflict and the State”, which explored the use of music to promote, facilitate and accompany violent responses to conflict.

Dr. Grant has previously taught at the Humboldt-Universität and at the European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin. From November 2014 to September 2015, she was Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”.


The Death of Dramaturgy: Give me a reason (comic)