Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Interview with Lisa Gornick at the Edinburgh Fringe

Interview with Lisa Gornick

Lisa Gornick's Live Drawing Show 
Balcony Room at the Gilded Balloon 
Edinburgh Fringe 2015
5-31 August 2015
Show time: 13:30-14:30

What is your background? Where did you grow up and what is your training?

I was born in London and grew up here. My first language feels like drawing in a way, it started me off. The wild nature of drawing, its improvised quality led me to performing – especially a spontaneous, off the cuff, improvised form. From about 12 years old, I went to teenage drama classes at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and felt freed up to express myself. I loved these classes so much.

Sadly or not sadly, I don’t know, I wasn’t encouraged to go to art school or drama school. Sometimes I wish I had, sometimes I feel I’m just doing it. Maybe I’d have confidence with words like “my practice” or “my craft” – I still have this instinctive way of just feeling my way through drawing or performance – making mistakes, being OK with them – on the good days. I suppose I feel I’m constantly learning either by doing or watching. I did however go to film school after I got a degree in history. The educational trajectory.

I made my first feature film Do I Love You? in 2003 when I found waiting for acting jobs took too long. With my second feature, Tick Tock Lullaby, I began to start drawing again and including it in the film. I renewed my love of drawing and so everything came full circle and now I concentrate on all three.

As a filmmaker and actor first and foremost, how does drawing fit into your repertoire?

Drawing is always there for me. It’s a place to free up my head. To let my emotion, my feeling come out. To surprise and sometimes delight myself. It helps to relax me and thrill me.

You did a performance, Film Drawing, as a way of seeing how drawing and filmmaking were similar or talk to each other. Can you tell me a bit about this piece and what you discovered?

I had a blog called Film Drawing. I love the word “film drawing”. I made it up because I knew what I meant. I wanted, I think, film to be more like drawing. To be fluid, with mistakes, unknowable, fragile, poignant, all the things I find drawing to be. And drawing like film. This contained piece of movement with meaning attached to it (I’m resisting saying a story). And the blog was going to be me drawing about my work, thoughts on film. That was also the reason behind the blog name.

What materials do you use for your drawings?

I love black ink and I love rotring ink pens – not the thin ones but the art ones. I used to have the aluminium one they had, but they stopped making it. I felt bereft – it was my favourite pen and when I lost one, I couldn’t replace it. However there is the rotring art pen, which has a similar nib and if I don’t think about the casing, which is a bit corny in design, the pen itself works well. I like quill and ink for a bit of wild stuff, drips and spurts. Then maybe a rollerball pen. It makes me feel modern to use it. Three ages of pen. I get breathless thinking about pens – excited, desperate to have them nearby. I use watercolour to splash colour, with a brush. Sometimes watercolour pencils. That’s it for now. I want to try acrylic paint soon. 

How different is it to draw in front of an audience, as part of a performance, from drawing in private?

Yes, very different. In a performance, I’m also talking, which is a bit like juggling. When I draw alone I often hum out of tune, in a reverie. Drawing live is exciting – it’s always different. You sense the audience with you on the page. Drawing both alone and in public is very spontaneous and wild, which I like. I suppose a big thing is mistakes in public. You have everyone watching and it’s how you deal with it. But I love mistakes, they make the drawing go a different way and bring something unexpected.

For your live drawing show in Edinburgh, you’re telling – and drawing – the story of Grandma Ray, a Jewish, East End, Cockney from the 1920s. Was Grandma Ray a real character?

Grandma Ray is my real grandma. I realise, and maybe this is a result of studying history, that her story is being told through my lens. All the information in the show is what she told me. Is it the truth? I think it is. It’s now the truth of the show. We tell each other different things on different days. We tell different stories to different people. So I know that some of my cousins saw an early show, and were intrigued by what they learnt about our grandma.

Will you be retelling and redrawing the story for each day of the performance, or is it a cumulative event?

The show has its through line. There is a story being told about my grandma’s life and its effect on me. I sense that a long run in Edinburgh allows for new things to emerge. I’ve read that people keep working on their show whilst running it. While I’m rehearsing it before Edinburgh, I’m finding refinements and additions that I think embellish the show. I also interact with the audience, so each day is different depending on who’s in the room.

Have you done Edinburgh before?

I was a student at Edinburgh University, where I studied history, so it feels like a return. I even talk about being a student in Edinburgh in the show. Whilst at the university, I was a member of the student theatre group at the Bedlam and every year I would be in a fringe show in the summer.

Also, when I left university, while still living in Edinburgh, I became a stand up comic after I did an open call audition for Karen Koren of the Gilded Balloon. She was my agent for a while and I performed an improvised Russian chanteuse character, who was eternally existential and sang about it and flirted with the audience. Maybe a mistake was to move down to London and give up being a stand up performer so quickly, so I’m pleased to be returning to the Gilded Balloon for their 30th Anniversary and reviving a performance about my Russian roots – even though this time I’m doing it sitting down and have got my drawing pad and pen.

Have you ever had any particularly memorable (be they good or bad) audiences?

To be honest, the fact of a live audience is incredible. To be live in front of them as opposed to sitting amongst them for a film or at the back. Audiences are a generous mass of people. I tend to enjoy them, feel fascinated by meeting the thrall of strangers and then them becoming not strange. It’s also scary at times. The liveness, the potential for shyness to take hold or not.

Do you have any particular influences or inspirations?

Many – and then I forget who they are. I’m constantly looking to learn from people around me. You know, I think it’s usually friends that teach you the most. That say something about what you’re doing or what they’re doing and it enlightens you. Or you play with friends and you learn new things. I love going to art galleries and seeing films. I’m actually looking forward to Edinburgh to reengage with live performance. But I also trawl around the web looking for insights.

Can you say a little bit about your project, The Book of Gabrielle? What might we expect to see when and where?

The Book of Gabrielle is a cross platform project comprising a feature film, the drawing show, a book and web videos. Each component stands alone but is interconnected too. They can feed off each other but also remain independent.

The feature film, called The Book of Gabrielle is about a woman, Gabrielle, who wants to draw a sex book, based on her doubts, desires and fantasies around sex. She encounters a famous older Jewish writer who’s a man, who’s successful and who’s already well-versed in writing about his sex life. He’s in a writer’s block and thinks she’ll help him.

The feature film is nearing completion – I hope for it to be ready to be seen end of this year 2015, beginning of next.

I am in it as Gabrielle, drawing the book and interacting with other people in a self-portrait way. The Live Drawing Show is related in that it is my autobiographical story being told. There are similar themes – namely explorations of what is to be Jewish and also lesbian. I am literally live drawing and storytelling, whereas in the film, I’m drawing and storytelling but on camera. Same instruments used just in different ways.

The book that Gabrielle is drawing in the film, will actually be made and come out next year. The web series will be on-going once the feature is completed and hopefully just before the drawing shows commence this August.

I always thought there was a different way of approaching cinema. Branching out from the solitary screen, to a live performance interpretation of similar themes. Having the screen but used in a different way. Then having a book, an object that is made in a film, but being able to hold it for real outside of the film. And a web series, to play, comment and spiral in and out of the all the other media.

All images © the artist
Photo of Lisa Gornick by Liane Harris

Lisa Gornick’s two feature films Do I Love You? and Tick Tock Lullaby have won awards and are distributed worldwide. She is currently in post-production for her third feature, The Book of Gabrielle, a cross-platform production.

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