Inbox: Mervyn Millar

Feature in Issue 14-1 | Spring 2002

The second in our series of e-mail questionnaires.

Your name?

Mervyn Millar

How would you describe yourself and your occupation?

It’s a point of hesitation. Usually I say ‘theatre director’, sometimes I say ‘puppet maker’ and very occasionally ‘puppeteer’. I’ve never said ‘writer’ – it sounds like a lie. Often I mumble more than one of those, in different orders, fading into incoherence. I suppose if I were to try and be purely descriptive I’d say theatre-maker, but I think I might cross the line into wanker at that point, so the mumbling will continue.

What have you seen, read or experienced lately that has been an inspiration?

Heiner Goebbels’ stunning Hashirigaki. Handspring Puppet Company’s work over the last few years – The Chimp Project and their Ubu and the Truth Commission. Forced Entertainment’s Quizoola. Marcos Valle. Gertrude Stein’s Making of Americans. George Fame. The handle on a bird puppet in a show at BAC. Other people’s enthusiasm. Panamarenko. Georges Perec. Stan Laurel. Jimmy Corrigan, the smartest kid on earth. A huge geometric paper spiral in Fabrica. Syncopation. Steve Bell. Clifton Chenier. An installation in a gallery somewhere which I can’t remember the name of or artist: lots of shiny etched walls, water, sounds, some discreet films… it might be better in my head now than it was. Several others of those. Saturday Night Fish Fry. Some adverts on the telly. A short film with colours about a hot dog seller I read the script of for a BBC competition – it didn’t win of course. Pulleys. The Stone Brothers singing, once – crazy glottals. A big floating inflatable glowing sphere for traffic accidents – I didn’t actually see that, I was told about it. The Museum of. Those subterranean towers NASA have where they just drop things and measure them.

Which of your artistic achievements are you most proud of?

Hopefully the next one and the ones yet to come. I hope the work keeps improving and developing

If you could change one thing (in yourself, your life/art or anything anywhere… ) what would it be?

It’d be nice to think you could open up the minds of some of the billions of bigots and the bloodthirsty across the world, especially in the States. But I’d probably be selfish and make some space for myself to work and keep things in.

What do you think was the best example of theatre in the past year (regardless of whether it defined itself as theatre)?

This wasn’t in the last year (sorry) but a wasp flew past me once, pulled up short, and veered to the ground. It then burst open and a tiny parasite limped out. It was utterly shocking, exhilarating and fascinating, strangely funny, very short and I still think about it. I wish I could say that about theatre!

What does the term ‘Total Theatre’ mean to you?

I don’t like the term – it’s meaningless, as if there were Partial Theatre (discuss…). A good piece of theatre engages you so much you don’t care whether it’s filling in tick boxes; a bad show can be as total as it likes but it still bores. Cleverness, ambition, novelty, technical brilliance are nice to see in their way (and let’s be honest, artistically they can be very, very impressive) but if you want theatre, they’re there for the audience.

Manifesto?

Get on with it.

Mervyn Millar works with Wireframe, the Steam Industry, and as a freelancer. Wireframe’s North Hill Relay, a piece of theatre for audiences of eight at a time, every half hour, is at BAC over Jubilee weekend. He directs Brecht’s Man Is Man for the Steam Industry at the Finborough in May and is designing and directing puppetry for National Theatre Education’s The Tempest, also opening in May. In October, Wireframe present a large-scale installation and theatre piece at the Fabrica gallery in Brighton as part of visions 2002. Website: www.wireframe.org.uk

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Issue 14-1
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