GETTING TO KNOW GREG MCLARENTue 19 June 2012
Greg McLaren devised and stars in Doris Day Can Fuck Off; an experimental one-man opera challenging social norms, and revealing the lengths which one man will go to in order to achieve freedom of expression. Greg spoke to Soho Theatre about singing, acceptable behaviour and pain in public performance.
Your show is about spending one month entirely in song. How did you come up with this idea?
I wanted to throw myself off a cliff, in a manner of speaking. I wanted to do something with singing because I find it so incredibly nerve-wracking. What was its history? I fantasised about a period in human history before speech – hairy cave people yodelling to each other across a ravine, primitive hunters singing bison over a cliff – and wondered where all those long sounds had gone. Why does there seem to be less singing, or confidence in making long, loud sounds? I thought the best way to explore these questions would be to confront them directly. In a way it’s a reaction to the body based self-harming of ‘traditional’ performance art with an attack on not my body but on my ego/public persona, my nerves, and using not the shared understanding of the body and physical pain, but the shared idea of public performance and humiliation.
Were there any benefits to the experiment? Did it improve your relationships or lead to meeting new people?
Relationships were turned on their heads. Singing things like “Hello, are you Susan? I’m Greg, I’m staying with you for a few days while I work at the Junction theatre.” presents a totally different reality and how people cope with that is fascinating. I recommend singing to someone when you meet them; it’s a good test for soul. Of the people I met, the special ones are heard in the songs or music of the show. The rest, the probably thousands that heard some part of what I was doing, are in the silences. The whole experience made me appreciate the latent voice that people have and how they mostly burn to use it, it’s not doing so that creates such frustration and paranoia in our society.
I got a lot better at improvising singing and lyrics that communicate urgent things. I had some remarkable times singing with others and we shared a lot of knowledge. Hmm, yes, I got to make a show that is a totally honest expression of a profound period of my life, I didn’t expect that. I think that’s a benefit.
Presumably there were negative reactions too?!
Yes! On the whole, the singing period was pretty miserable. It never came to violence but I got moved on a few times, mostly in a very friendly way, oh, apart from the time a security guard realised I was recording what he said. He turned quite serious. By far the most depressing moments were singing to people that didn’t want to sing back, but also wouldn’t be rude, and so just spoke, completely ignoring the fact I was singing, not even asking why, or asking, like one fabulous woman, “Are you really singing?”.
The show addresses conformity and vulnerability in stepping outside the norm. How did it feel to be viewed as ‘different’ by the world?
It’s not so nice on the fringes of acceptable behaviour. I suppose the closest comparison would be to a touretic cousin that comes to visit for a while, and though terribly charming, is very annoying and disturbs your normal mode of communication. I became a lot more sympathetic to the people in society that are invisible, you know, buskers, beggars, freaks. I felt at times like I was fading out from reality – people had made a collective decision to banish me from their collective consciousness, and I, although apparent, was inconsequential. It’s fucked up, it’s simply a question of market context: sing without a hat in front of you and you’re an incomprehensible mad man. Put a hat down, and you can shove a ferret up your trousers playing a conch, or some other mad shit, and everyone gets it.
Any favourite song lyrics you’d like to share?
A Taiwanese classical singing student at Birmingham Conservatoire sang to me that I could “Live in the world while it’s spinning”, I think she meant live in the word, but either way it’s so beautiful.
Would you do it again?
Yes, but in different places around the world. Actually, I think it would make a great radio show. Any radio producers out there want to take me up on that?< Back to List