Thursday, May 14, 2015

Q-and-A with Bremner Duthie

I saw Bremner Duthie perform a few years ago at the Seattle Fringe Festival. His show '33 was amazing. Simply put, Bremner is one of the most dynamic performers I have ever seen, in solo work or otherwise. He is the definition of unbridled energy, connection and focus. His performances are similar to watching a tornado unfurl with a lot of excellent singing thrown in. And emotionally, he plays the scales as well. From laughter to tears and back again. 

He is heading to the Dallas Solo Fest in June. Between stints of Bremner zipping around the world (he was in Armenia last week), we managed to get him to answer a few questions.

So, here we go...

Q: Please give us a brief bio, where you are from and how you started in performance? 

A: I was born in NYC, moved to Scotland when I was 8 and spent almost 9 years on that side of the water.  Singing is the first thing that I wanted to do - so I think I can say that I started in performance when I was 6, walking home from school and making up songs. 

Q: What event or desire brought you specifically into the world of solo performance?

A: I was about to give up as a performer after a particularly hard stint of auditioning and being involved in many crappy, exhausting shows in NYC.  I had been kicking around an idea for a solo show based on the music of Kurt Weill, and I thought that if no one was hiring me for roles that I wanted to do, then I'd create something that interested me.  It turned out this show was a hit and provided me with a better living and more satisfaction then anything else I'd been doing. 

Q: Could you tell us about some of your recent solo work?

A: I'm always exploring various kinds of music theatre.  Lately I've been trying to play with the dividing line between the audience and the performer, without dropping into the dreaded world of 'audience participation'.

Q: How would you describe your particular kind of solo performance?

A: I'm a singer/actor, so I'm always asking myself the question - why does this character need to sing at this moment?  As a solo performer, I'm always asking myself the question - why does this character need to be on stage right now and why should the audience care?  I think the sum of those two questions adds up to my style of work. 

Q: What is your favorite thing about doing this work?

A: One of the strange things about being a 'working actor' is how much time you spend waiting for people to allow you to do your work - waiting for the role where you are the right age, height, weight etc etc etc.  Those roles may not be very ambitious or push you to develop your skills - but still, you take the gig, 'cause it's a gig.  I got tired of sitting in audition rooms with a bunch of other balding guys waiting to audition for a walk on as 'Fed-Ex Man #2'.  Solo work allows me to set new goals and push myself with each new show.  

Q: What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?

A: The fear of working as a barista, since I have no other marketable skills.  The joy of being on stage and feeling that I'm sharing some wonderful, fragile moment with the audience as they join me in some crazy dream that I'm trying to create. 

Q: What is your approach to the development process when putting together a new project? Do you create a lot on stage, improvising? More on paper? Tape or video record? Hold readings? Go to a mountain top?

A:  I write a rough draft and then workshop that rough draft - so I'm improvising and making constant changes to the text and performance as I find better options.  I never get to a final draft... I just get to a point where I have to perform tomorrow.  Lately I've been working with a video recording, which is time consuming and brutally honest, but has helped me immensely to focus on what is working.

Q: Who are some of your influences or people that inspire/embolden you?

A: I love the world of 'performance' - so Pina Bauch, Laurie Anderson, Robert Wilson's early work, Mnemonic, Le Coq are some of the names that have really inspired me.  In the last years I've been blown away by the work of young artists touring the fringe circuit playing with form and style in storytelling and performance. 

Q: How do you bridge the gap of the business side of theatre?

A: Endless mind boggling hours of Admin/Publicity/Planning/Budgeting/Website Development etc etc etc etc.... trying to approximate the skillsets of a staff of 10 people... it is an ongoing challenge.

Q: Any advice for some aspiring artist just starting out in solo performance?

A: Don't write shows about your feelings and hopes and dreams.... write shows about characters (and that character might be yourself) trying to accomplish something that is vital to that character and thrilling to the audience...  and only write one show (if you must) about your family's immigrant experience.  Remember that your job is to move, delight, thrill and connect with your audience, and that is insanely difficult to accomplish.  Watch a pro-football game - see how excited people are in the stands?  They should be that thrilled by your performance. 

Q: Links? 

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