What were your desire and the initial questions when starting to work on a performance dealing with reproduction and parenthood? Why did you choose to stage this work as a musical?
DAWN started from my personal experience of making a child with my wife and reflected on the complexity of family making from various perspectives. I didn’t only want to share our homosexual/queer experience, which was highly medicalized but to produce a work that speaks about the many experiences of making families and being part of them. The work also sets out to look at the child as an ambiguous figure of hope, a figure that some of us live for, a figure for which in certain narratives our future is responsible for. And then what happens when we decide not to reproduce or can’t, who then is the future for if we don’t have any children? The work for me was to make a statement, to say yes to family beyond biology, in all its constellations, with all its troubles, complexities, joys, and support it can offer.
Who doesn’t love a musical – right? In conceiving DAWN as a musical firstly I wanted to connect to my early encounter with dance and theatre. I remember as a child with my mother I used to watch endless musicals on TV from the 1950s, “Singing in the Rain”, “Westside Story”, “The King and I”, etc. It was the only access to art or culture that I had growing up in a working-class area in Northern Ireland during the troubles. Secondly, dealing with the thematics of family and reproduction which at times can be heavy and emotional I wanted to juxtapose it with the lightheartedness and humor that the musical allows through song and dance. At the moment I am very interested in working with these bigger genres of dance and theatre such as the musical, opera, and ballet that seem inaccessible because of their size, history, and male-dominated form. In all, leaning into these genres and borrowing principles becomes a way in which I can work with bigger groups, bringing together my interests in dance, text, song, and music and entangling this with socio-political thematics.
The music, songs and texts are written by you and your team. How was the working process on DAWN?
The process of DAWN has been one of the most powerful and generous projects I have done and this was because of the devotion, softness and openness of the team. It was really important for me to create a work that allowed for a collaborative way to share our personal experiences and to work together to find the right context to make them public. Due to creating a bigger work in the middle of the pandemic the concept and shape of this project took many twists and turns, from a black box, to a playground, to 3 parallel spaces, and in the end produced in an industrial space. We had a vision for all of these spaces which brought hyper flexibility and possibly to the work. From the beginning, I was very much interested in world-making as a way of sharing our individual perspectives through collective formats. We spent a lot of time creating practices around ‘worlding’ either through singing, improvised song making or storytelling. This led to developing methodologies around auto-fictions supported by our dramaturg Mila Pavičeivč in which we entangled personal stories with myths, or entwined all our stories together, or combined past, present and future as one narrative. During the process, I asked Claire, Colin and Moss to write a song, based on some of the topics that had been reoccurring for them over the research, and then together we worked on the musical arrangement and setting. We spent a lot of time together talking about being a child, or parent, having kids or not having kids and our fears and joys connected to these experiences. Our talks spilled into lunches or became dances, or songs, or mini-musicals and at times we just played music together. Creating DAWN was about building a small world in which we wanted to share with others our personal stories that are maybe just like yours or someone’s you know, or new perspectives on doing families.
What do you think, where does the human need of creating a family or families come from? And on a personal level, how do you define family for yourself?
What a question! Gosh, the family structure can be great, but it can be toxic. I grew up in a huge Irish Catholic family, on my mum’s side, I had 32 first cousins and everyone lived within 10-15mins of one another. I remember a lot of joy from that time, the parties, playing, exploring and sleepovers. Family was central to daily navigation and there was deep comfort in the many. My life now is very different in that my partner and I both live very far from our families so we are pretty much alone in bringing up our son – which I find very challenging. Due to living circumstances being based in the city and a capitalist-driven society that produces an individualistic way of life I feel pushed into a secular way of doing and producing family. Also not to mention having a child in the middle of the pandemic solidified us as a small household. I find it fundamental to have other folks closer and involved in the upbringing of our child to escape the duality of parenting, so currently, we are working on extending and changing our living situation to work against this. I also think our ideas of how we think a family should look and act are very much influenced by Hollywood. When we look around, there are many different constellations of families evolving from divorce, death, adoption, love and desire, but often these ways are not upheld within society.
The need to reproduce, I can only answer for myself, which was connected to doing family differently and being public in that difference. I love to be confronted by the questions that are asked to my partner and I such as: ‘who’s child is it?’ And we say ours, and then the next is often, ‘but who carried it’. The idea of biology and belonging becomes very important for people paired with the need to know who his real parent is. In consciously choosing to make a family as in our constellation it obviously can’t just be an accident, I was personally excited to be with another person as they experience the world. The element of play, slowness and innocence that has entered my life expands my horizon on humanity as never before. I am also learning a lot about deep resilience, understanding, and care at all costs.