It was recently reported that ‘centuries of domestication have radically reshaped dog’s eyebrow anatomy, making their faces easily readable to people (National Geographic)’. Honeyguide birds in Mozambique have been found to understand humans, guiding hunters looking for bees’ nests only after they’ve heard a certain trolling sound from them. There’s a long way to go in terms of fully understanding the communication signals/patterns of numerous species, but what’s exciting is that we’re beginning to witness how, if discovered, humans and animals can love side by side and work together without miscommunication or danger. Performer and Theatre Maker Pete Lannon explores ideas of human/animal love and communication in SUPERFAN’s production of Like Animals. Showing as part of this year’s Edinburg Festival Fringe at Summerhall throughout August, read on to find out more about the show.
Hi Pete, your show Like Animals will take part in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe throughout August. How are you feeling ahead of the run?
Excited, and nervous – I think like most performers at the Fringe! It’s a demanding but really fun show to perform and we’ve done some more development for this run, so we’re really looking forward to sharing it with audiences.
The show is an ‘investigation into love and communication in human (and not so human) relationships, exploring the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone else’. What inspired you explore this topic?
We were initially inspired by some of the stories we found of animals and humans trying to communicate with each other (two of which became central to the show) – it felt like it asked lots of big questions about human communication, and the way we try so hard to understand other creatures and to project human emotions and personalities onto them, when it doesn’t feel like we understand each other yet. Yes, you can spend years figuring out if a parrot or a dolphin means it when they say ‘I love you’. But how do you know that what you mean by love means the same thing as when another human says it? Or ‘sorry’? These animals and their humans felt like a really intriguing comparison to draw with our own relationship in terms of the difficulties we sometimes have communicating, and in general it feels like humans have trouble sometimes empathising with each other, but at the same time we’re all so desperate to be understood.
How have you approached creating Like Animals with Kim Donohoe?
We’ve been developing the show together quite slowly for about 3 years. It’s gone through several stages of scratch performances, short development periods and work-in-progress performances. We’ve always co-devised it, and as we’ve developed it we’ve brought more collaborators on board. As we both perform in it and it’s really personal – it’s largely about our real relationship – it was super important to us to have people on the outside to help us shape it and to make sure the things we were exploring were interesting for an audience and also safe for us – we want the show to be affecting and cathartic but not be couples therapy for us. The material has developed as we’ve developed as people and we’ve made sure to talk everything through before making it. I think it’s probably encouraged us to try and communicate better!
Like Animals will see Ellie Dubois direct, as you both perform your work. How have all worked together to realise the show?
Ellie is a really close pal and is the other member of our company, SUPERFAN. We all trained together and have worked together for years in different roles, so we have a common language that means in the rehearsal room we can get to the heart of things quite quickly I think. As well as being our collaborator in devising the show, Ellie’s role as director is also really important in helping us to shape the journey of the work, which can be quite tricky with devised performance. So while we have all made the show together, Ellie’s job is much more about being able to see it from the outside and to bring everything together in a cohesive way for the audience.
Have you learned anything new from creating the show?
Lots of new animal facts! Like the fact that dolphins have unique names for each other that they even use when those dolphins aren’t around – they talk about each other behind their backs! And that several species of animals – including dolphins and elephants – have been observed practicing what we might call grieving rituals. Behaviour that doesn’t seem to have an explanation in terms of their survival, but to a human eye looks like paying their respects to the dead.
We also spent a lot of time thinking about classic narrative structures for this show, which isn’t something we have necessarily done a lot of before as our backgrounds are in contemporary, non-narrative performance. It’s been really interesting seeing how we might apply something like the 3-act tragedy or the Hero’s Journey to a non-linear devised performance, for instance. I think it’s really helped to inform the way we structure our work in terms of an emotional journey that’s satisfying, while not necessarily telling a story in a traditional way.
What can audiences expect from the show?
A surreal, but hopefully charming show that asks some complicated questions in what I think are quite playful and sometimes poignant ways. I think it’s a weird, funny show that I really enjoy performing and I think is fun for an audience too. And some pretty ridiculous dolphin impressions.
What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?
I hope it leaves them with lots to think about – in terms of how they communicate with others around them, and maybe about how well they understand each other. On a sort of grand scale, I think we would love it if audiences came away wanting to listen more actively to others, and with more empathy. It feels like we could do with more of that.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers and theatre makers?
Make stuff, and try it out! Performance can only really happen with people, time, and a shared space – you learn so much about your work when you perform it live. Whatever that means for your work, if you can try out early ideas for people – whether it’s just five friends in a room, or at a scratch night or bigger event. But at the same time, don’t feel like you need to take on everyone’s feedback. Trust your gut and make the work you want to see. Try and figure out what the fire in your belly is and make from there.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
Like Animals will be showing from Wednesday 31st July until Sunday 25th August 2019 at Summerhall as part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe Festival. To find out more about the production, visit here…