Thu 23 Apr 2015
Experimental performance maker Peter McMaster is a dynamic and creative artist whose practice includes solo works, ensemble creations, directing projects and tutoring at degree level for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. His last show was the ambitious, acclaimed, all-male production of Wuthering Heights, which debuted at Arches LIVE in 2012 and came to Behaviour Festival 2 years ago, going on to be a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014. It has since toured widely, attracting praise for its sensitive treatment of the challenges faced by men living in the modern world, and unpicking notions of masculinity with incisive dramatic flair. The play earned McMaster a Platform 18 Award, and The Arches are thrilled to welcome him back for Behaviour 2015 with his latest show, 27.
Alongside co-performer and //BUZZCUT// curator Nick Anderson, the show is a deeply autobiographical exploration of what happens when both men reached 27 years of age. It opens this Saturday, 25 April, as part of a double bill with Dancer by Ian Johnston, Gary Gardiner and Adrian Howells, another movement-based piece. We sat down with McMaster to ask about the ’27 club’ and the use of autobiography in his work, and how his new show engages with this year’s theme of ‘Futures.’
The legendary ’27 club’ of musicians who died at that age seems to be the jumping off point for your new show. What do you think makes these figures so enduringly fascinating?
I think they are fascinating at first glance because it is so easy to be shocked by the fact that these young people who, “had so much going for them” and were so well loved, died at a young age. With most of them, a lot of folk consider their departure as untimely as there is an implicit judgement that because their art was so valued, their death equates to a waste of talent, or a waste of what could have been made. Subsequently, and in the process of trying to make sense of it, I think people immortalise them as superhuman, because that scale of status matches the size of shock and grief their death caused. But actually, when you look into it more and more, they were just people trying to get by in a very complex world. The route they took into celebrity and stardom must take its toll, and if you have a tendecny to be quite hedonistic and partake in extreme behaviours like heavy drink and drug use, the chances of dying are probably quite high. All of this does equate to a rather dramatic story, and when in the international public eye, will always cause a stir.
Maybe they are enduringly fascinating as well because we don’t know how to let go of them, or that it’s hard to let go of them because their legend lives on in mass produced documentation. They are immortalised whether we like it or not. I also believe that the other bottom line is that they were exceptionally talented and often were massively generous in their creative outpourings. People are hugely inspired by them in life, and therefore massively grieved by their death. This takes a long time to process.
The show is also deeply personal and autobiographical for yourself and your co-creators. Is it your most autobiographical piece so far, and do you ever feel uncomfortable exposing your private life on stage?
I think I always strive for a depth of autobiography in my work, but maybe this is deeper than most. I feel my practice getting more finely tuned towards an unfiltered exposition of my autobiography, so maybe it is natural for things to get more exposing as they go along. Sometimes this can be a bit uncomfortable, particularly in this show because we are both naked for pretty much the entire performance. But as a general rule, I don’t do things I am not prepared for so it would never be too uncomfortable. I also see the vulnerability that is implicit in this approach to be quite a generous and opening catalyst for both performer and audience, so I do appreciate its use amongst the difficulty.
One theme of this year’s festival is ‘Futures.’ Does your work on 27 comment on any possible futures for you, society in general, or the discipline of performance?
Not overtly, but there is a facet to the concepts of this work that wonders what kind of future you could have, if you allow yourself to be truthful with yourself; if you allow yourself to be open to who you are, and what kind of life you might lead in this state of honesty. And when juxtaposed with the knowledge of the ’27 Club’ who have all died, there is something quite hopeful for life to be doing these big expressive actions in the live moment, seizing the opportunity to enact ecstatic expressions of joy and suffering. What happens to our lives when this is the way we choose to be in our art works? Could it be inspiring for audiences who watch? What are you left with when the performance ends?
It sounds like 27 will be an intensely physical performance – what preparation or training do you do in the run-up to a show like this?
Make sure that I don’t eat too much! I also practice a lot of physical stretching, some yoga exercises and strong vocal warm ups. But really, that’s not much different to what I normally do when preparing for a show.
Part of Behaviour Festival