On the Couch with Deborah Pearson

Deborah Pearson Arts Review On the Couch - photo by Zsofi HeislerWho is Deborah Pearson?
I am someone who conceives of and executes different kinds of performance events, for lack of a better word. When I first started working I used to describe myself as a “playwright” but that doesn’t really describe a lot of the work I make anymore or my working style. I like to collaborate or come up with concepts for live events that push at the boundaries of what I’ve made or seen before, and then try to make those events happen. Sometimes those ideas are very quick and simple (recently I thought that I’d like to start up an open-mic night, for example, where instead of reading out poetry people read out old emails they like), and sometimes those ideas take years, as was the case with History History History. I feel incredibly fortunate to get to spend time thinking through different ways to make work for performance.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
I’m not sure I understand this question – what would I differently if… what? If I could go back in time? Rather than go back in time I’d prefer it if I could watch alternative versions of my life, if I’d made different choices, to see how things might have turned out differently without having to commit to my entire life being different than it is now. For example, I always felt an affinity to the violin and I often wonder if my life would have been different had I managed to get consistent violin lessons. But then again, I was a child, and the reasons I didn’t get those lessons were entirely beyond my control, so that’s probably not something that I could actively change if I went back in time. This is a very tough question!

Who inspires you and why?
I am really inspired by the work that a whole spate of female artists who identify as playwrights are making right now in the United States. I’ve been a fan of Young Jean Lee’s for years, but I’ve also recently heard great things about Annie Baker’s work, The Flick sounded too wonderful for words, and I loved Anne Washburn’s “play” Mr. Burns beyond all reason. I love what they are all doing with text and form, and the extent to which they are making the most of the resources that are on offer when someone does identify as a playwright, while also really pushing the boundaries around form and experimentation in performance. The same goes for Zoe Coombs Marr with comedy and Trigger Warning. I can’t stop thinking about that show – it is so sly and clever, and she really manages to have her cake and eat it insofar as comedy is concerned. I also am a great fangirl of Janet Cardiff, who uses a visual art context to make very narrative and profound work.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I would insist that every electoral system rely on a popular vote rather than a district by district system, that voting be mandatory, and that it also be mandatory for voters to complete a short “quiz” before voting showing that they have some tacit understanding of the issues, otherwise they would be fined!  I’d love us to operate that way for at least one year, just to see how it goes. Also, raising money would not be part of the electoral process, and any corporate lobbying would be banned.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
I Loved Hong Kong when I went there for ArtSnap with my husband last November. It’s an archipelago of 240 islands, so although there is amazing food and nightlife and things to see and do in a city, you can also take a ferry every day and end up somewhere that feels really remote and close to nature within 20 or 30 minutes. It was such a beautiful place to go.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
In London, I take my friends for a walk along the canal in East London, because it’s got a gentle and serene beauty that is hard to come by elsewhere in London, and it’s a walk that locals really value. I give a monthly contribution to the Canal and Rivers Trust for London because I think the canals are such a beautiful part of the city.

What are you currently reading?
Compass by Mathias Enard, published by Fitzcarraldo. It is a wonderful book that is quite similar to W. G. Sebald or Chris Kraus, in that it vacillates between an ode to all the thinkers and artworks that Enard appreciates, and an engrossing narrative. I’ve learned a lot about Viennese classical composers while reading it. The main character also describes being attracted to a female character’s intelligence in such an earnest way, it’s remarkable that somehow feels new to me, but I haven’t read a male character be so rhapsodic about admiring a female character’s intellectual capacities, and admiring them in a way that makes him want to be with her.  It’s wonderful.

What are you currently listening to?
I just watched Amy, the Amy Winehouse documentary, so this morning I was listening to some of Amy Winehouse’s early recordings – a very beautiful recording she did of Moon River when she was a teenager, and one of Someone to Watch Over Me. I also recently heard Pavement’s Brighten the Corners being played in a café and I was immediately transported to being a teenager and adoring that album, so I want to bring it back into my life as soon as possible.

Happiness is?
Giving a chance to the little voice inside that has ideas and wants you to speak up for it.

What does the future hold for you?
I’m going to Toronto after Australia to work on a piece with Volcano that will be an instruction-based piece for 12 guest performers at a time, between the ages of 18 and 24, about young people’s feelings about nationalism and protest. We’re calling the piece Post-National and we’re devising it with a group of students from York University in Toronto who have parents and grandparents from all over the world, but who all identify as Canadian. We’re hoping to tour it to other countries afterwards, to see how different young people in different countries are thinking through their own relationship to nationalism and revolution.

Following its critically acclaimed season at the Brisbane Festival, Deborah presents History History History at The Substation, Newport as part of the 2017 Melbourne Fringe for strictly limited season from 19 September. For more information, visit: www.thesubstation.org.au for details.

Image: Deborah Pearson – photo by Zsofi Heisler