JOHN MORAN: the genius

In verbatim on June 7, 2012 at 11:34 am

John Moran is really interesting. I met him while I was working on Mayfest Theatre Festival and this interview originally appeared on the Mayfest blog. This was an email interview – and John replied to me within about half an hour of my sending the questions over. I met him later and did a short video interview with him while he smoked a roll-up outside the Brewery Theatre rehearsal space. The photo is one of his promotional images. 

Imagine you are an audience member coming out of John Moran: the Con Artist, all aglow. How are you feeling about what you have just seen?

Well, being that this will be a new work (never performed before), I hope I feel that John did a decent job of remembering all his cues while on stage! But seriously, I strive these years to create works which are immediately intimate. I feel that the media has become so ever-present in our lives – yet from a place so afar – that theater now has a chance to rebel against such notions. So I strive to present work in a way which counters that.

People seem to love classifying your work as something-dash-something else. But what is your definition of what you do?

I honestly don’t know how to answer that…without dashes that is, myself. There are a lot of styles and artists I admire, but I’ve not encountered another artist whose work is like mine, honestly. I hear that statement so often over the years, I guess it must be reasonably true. To me, it goes back to my childhood when I dreamed of becoming an animator, in the classical sense of that idea – hundreds of thousands of drawings, synched to a soundtrack (which I learned that they recorded mostly in advance, and used the soundwaves at the edge of the film as a guide along the way). To be quite honest, my original efforts at creating a full soundtrack before anything else, came with that idea. And then, with my first completed opera (in 1987) the only way to see a visual for me, was to ask performers to move exactly to that, as if they had been animated. And … I found a style that way. I came to love providing the visuals for the soundtracks with physical movement on stage, and through that found a lot of ideas I’m still trying to explore.

Iggy Pop, Uma Thurman, Philip Glass, Allen Ginsberg – big-hitters one and all. Was it the big names that had a big effect on your work or were the quieter ones more influential?

Phil was definitely a very big influence in my work, and in my life: his obvious use of repetition for starters, had a deep affect on me. But – particularly as time goes on – I find the idea of celebrity means very little to me. My work is my own, I feel, basically. But I think people’s attitudes have a big affect on the choices I’ve made over the years. Allen Ginsberg was a very dear friend, although his work itself (please don’t tell him via seance or something), never spoke to me as much. What I remember about Allen, was him shouting in the airport about how much he loved marijuana, or demanding to a producer in a long car ride that a massive projection of his anus be displayed at the finale of the theater work he had written the libretto for. The producer declined, but Allen’s fearlessness and honesty affects me to this day.  I won’t however, be projecting anything at Mayfest this particular year.

If you and your work could make the world a different place in just one way, what would you want that that to be?

The obvious answer, would be that everything that one does, has a musical and choreographed quality. Everything I do is based on that idea. But really, what would make me happy, is if seeing my life could inspire someone to believe in their own mythology, and to hopefully be a person freed from the ideas of greed, or self importance. These messages might not be as obvious, but this is an idea that guides me more as life goes on. The idea that an artist would be considered ‘important’, is not half as valuable as feeling a real connection with someone.

You’ve been touring internationally since 2007 … it must have taught you a lot about people, the world and yourself. Of all the things you’ve seen, all the people you’ve met and all the things you’ve learnt, what sticks out most in your mind?

To be honest, it’s made me feel that chasing fame is an unproductive (and often hypocritical) thing to do. When I lived in New York City for years, I became obsessed with the idea of ‘making a mark’ somehow. That I must be remembered somehow, for what I’d created. After seeing so many faces and places now over the last years, I feel a revulsion at the idea of self importance, or arrogance. There are audience members I remember every day, as cliche at it sounds, who were in some way wanting to tell me something about themselves after a performance. I also often think about a time, years ago now, when I was homeless for a time: how few of the ‘important’ people in New York were there for me. Several years after that time, I wrote to a long-time producer at Lincoln Center, in New York, and asked her – without anger or accusation, but out of curiosity – why they hadn’t been there for me, after such celebration of my work on their parts, in years earlier.  I asked several New York producers that question, actually.  And without fail, they each responded with utter indignation: how dare you even ask such a question. And with threats, frankly, that my career would certainly be over after having done so. It wasn’t true, first of all. And secondly, I lost ‘my’ respect for them: they were afraid to be human, and so what do they have to say about the arts?

The Blind Tiger is our festival speakeasy with an open mic every night. If we were to provide the ukulele player, what song would you sing for us?

How about Hello Darling, by Conway Twitty : )

Obviously, we think Bristol is the greatest place on earth, but where really does it for you?

Bristol is a very nice city, it is a truth!  For me, Bangkok and Amsterdam are my personal favorites, for writing, people watching, etc.  Somehow, I just feel at peace in those two cities.

Last but not least, you are standing waiting to come onstage for your first Mayfest 2012 performance. How are you feeling?

(scared as hell)

This interview was originally published on the Mayfest blog.  Mayfest is Bristol’s annual festival of contemporary theatre, produced by MAYK in collaboration with Bristol Old Vic and in association with organisations across the city. // // 


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