An Interview with Claire Mckenzie & Scott Gilmour

Hello Claire, so where you & Scott from & where ya both at, geographically speaking?unnamed
Claire : 
At the moment we are both based in Glasgow, although since we’ve started getting more work internationally, we’re travelling around quite a lot! I’m originally from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne but moved up to Scotland to study composition, and have never wanted to leave because of the exciting new work that is constantly being created here. Seeing has I’ve now lived here for 12 years, am a McKenzie and have ginger hair, I think that makes me officially Scottish! Scott is originally from East Kilbride and similarly moved into Glasgow to study, and so far, hasn’t left!

Hello Scott, can you give us a brief outline of the origins of your partnership with Claire?
Scott : Claire and I were both students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and met in my first year of training. I was an actor and Claire was Musical Director. We spoke about stories and ideas we had in common and decided we’d like to try making something together. In my final year there was an opportunity to have a new piece made with The Arches in Glasgow, so I submitted Claire and I (without actually asking Claire…) and I our idea was selected. This became our first musical together; FREAKSHOW. Based on the true stories of Victorian freak performers, it was a site-specific song cycle which then went on a small tour to London, playing at The Roundhouse and Covent Garden Actors Church, before ending up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where is won the Daily Mail Drama Award 2012. It was at this point we decided to form our partnership company Noisemaker. Five years on we’re still having fun telling stories together, and our work is growing and becoming more and more international, through projects like ATLANTIC.

What makes a good musical, & which are your favorites?
Scott : I think a good musical is one where the story matches the style. I think musical theatre suffers from a stigma that’s a direct result of style coming before content or story. However, shows like WEST SIDE STORY or CABARET pair the style with stories big and important enough that it not only matches the size and scale of the style, but they allow the story to be told more clearly, and with more impact, as a result of it being a musical. That’s when musical theatre becomes interesting for me; when the a story can live on in the music audiences are left humming on their way home from the theatre. Some of my favourites are, as I mentioned, WEST SIDE STORY and CABARET. I also loved LONDON ROAD, COLOUR PURPLE and have a definite soft spot for OLIVER.

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What is it about Musical Theatre that makes you tick?
Claire : I’m a musician who loves to collaborate, and I think Musical Theatre is the ultimate collaboration between art forms; all working together to tell a story. I’m a believer that you can’t write a musical alone by yourself in a room; you need to work with other creatives and actors throughout the writing process in order to bring the different elements together and make a musical really work. I’m obviously passionate about the use of music in storytelling, as I think it has such an immediate ability to evoke emotion in the audience, while being a universal language that’s accessible to everyone.

How are you finding the public’s taste for musical theatre in 2017
Scott : Like everything, our taste is changing. The main thing I feel that’s shifting is how audiences watch stories. Stuff like Netflix allows anyone easy access to incredible, complex, beautiful stories and drama. Film is relying more and more on visual storytelling partnering with a rich soundtrack, over lots of text and dialogue. Our relationship to language is changing. We still like to be taken on a journey, but I think we’re a lot better at coping with having moments where we aren’t sure of what’s going on, where we are left confused and unsatisfied but are happy to hang for a resolution. I think that new musical theatre has been a little slower at making this shift in narrative. It’s still such a young form, I don’t think we’ve begun to understand all the ways song and movement can be used to tell new stories that speak about who and what we are. That said, I think people love a blockbuster. It could be the newest Star Wars or Marvel Superhero movie, but when as a big story with a big score comes along, something like HAMILTON, I think people will always want to escape into that.

Can you tell us about the creative processes between yourself & Scott?
Claire : At the start of each process we will spend quite a bit of time together working on the idea and mapping out the structure of the piece. We try and delve into the world of the piece together, by collecting pictures and making playlists to listen to, so we are both on the same page regarding the tone and language of the piece. We’ll then start writing; and generally, Scott will go first and come up with some lyrics and text, then I’ll follow with the music. I always like working with a lyric first as it allows me to be specific in matching the music to each word. We’ll then go back and forwards with the material a few times, being brutally honest with each other, about what we think is working and what isn’t. Ideally as soon as we finish a first draft, we’d want to workshop the material with actors and a dramaturg to start feeding in their responses and continue tweaking until the show is ready for production.

What is the raison d’etre behind your company, Noisemaker?
Claire : As Scott mentioned, we began writing together in 2012 and soon after our first project we formed Noisemaker. We wanted to create and develop new musical theatre together and challenge the form in fresh and innovative ways. A huge part of this is how we use music throughout the storytelling. We don’t always use traditional song structures and instead tell our stories more filmically, trying to create a feeling at times that is not always text or lyric driven. We also tend to pick challenging narrative structures – for example, our last trip to Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 was with The Girl Who, an interactive ‘choose-you-own-adventure’ musical, with 128 possible versions. Each show was unique as it was dependant on a series of choices made by the audience throughout the story – which wasn’t straight forward to write, or rehearse!

Can you tell us about your time at the prestigious Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed, Connecticut, & what have you learnt from the experience?
Scott : The Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed was one of the most important experiences Claire and I have had as a writing partnership. It allowed us to have absolute freedom and space to start a new idea, in the insanely beautiful surroundings of East Haddam, Connecticut, whilst also being able to share our ideas and new material with other writers and hear what they were creating too. Often you can feel a little isolated as a writer; that you need to work alone before anyone else is allowed to come and play. But the community offered at Goodspeed allows you time with similar artists working on a similar process which was just really inspiring for us to work around. As a result of our time there, we’ll be returning to New York in early 2018 to begin developing the piece we started at the Colony into a full new musical, with support from Goodspeed, the National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep.

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This year you are bringing Atlantic : A Scottish Story to the Fringe. Can you tell us about the transatlantic ideas behind its creation?
Scott : We began the process for ATLANTIC back in October 2016. Claire and I had lots of calls and Skypes with the American writers (all at weird times of the day) about what story we felt we all wanted to tell in this setting, and also what was appropriate and right for the students we were working with too. Eventually the idea of home and heritage started to emerge as a fundamental point of difference for both teams. Claire and I’s families both have lived in Scotland for generations, whereas the Americans were either third or fourth generation immigrants.

Atlantic A Scottish Story. RCS MA Musical Theatre student Caroline Lyell (6).jpeg

They began to explain the idea that where many Americans “come from” is rarely America itself and that, for many, there are family and roots to be found all over the world. We took this as our starting point. A SCOTTISH STORY for us then became about looking at the story of an girl who is unable to escape the roots and hold of family and place, to explore the world and see what else might be out there. If it is prescribed where you belong and who you are, can you still be happy there? Is it a curse to never leave? That is idea we explore through ATLANTIC: A SCOTTISH STORY.

Are you in touch with the team in the States producing the American version of Atlantic?
Claire : Absolutely. I think we’ve been in touch with the American team via every platform available in the past few months! But nothing beats working with them in person, and we were very lucky to be able to spend time with them during the Chicago workshop of ATLANTIC in May. It’s been wonderful collaborating with another writing team – something you very rarely get to do – and we’ve learnt such a lot during this process that will undoubtedly shape Scott and I’s writing in the future.


Claire & Scott’s creation will be sailing in to the Edinburgh Fringe

Aug 3-27 : Assembly Hall (15.00)

 

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