Daniel Lubin interviews HUGH PEARSON, creator of film Jenny, and FINN BURGE, creator of Edinburgh Fringe 2017 play Meat, on Janet Productions and their upcoming show Everybody Shut Up.
So, what is Janet?
F: Janet is a kind of human centipede made up of me, Finn Burge, and you, who are you?
H: I’m Hugh.
F: It’s a production company specialising in theatre and also film, but really it’s an organ for any creative endeavours that our whim takes us towards.
Before we get onto some of the projects you’re doing, I’d like to talk a bit about the manifesto. What does “Disillusionment is central to Janet” mean?
H: I think it’s because Janet is ours, and we’re sort of disillusioned with the world, or the things that happen in it, or the people that are in it, and ourselves to some extent. It’s very hard to get anything done because there’s so much getting done and it’s hard to make anything that’s actually good because people have so many other motives that you can’t make anything that’s new or actually has any objective quality.
And how does that relate to the Janet agenda and how do you want to create the art you create?
F: I think it comes from a position of disillusionment and that means in a way the impetus is in starting again or starting away from everything else. On a basic level that is not unique to us, we look at what everyone else is doing and say that’s not for us, we don’t want to do that.
Is that the ‘empty everythingness’ you mention in the manifesto?
F: Yes, it’s a good term because the emptiness is a kind of lack of thingness, a lack of meaning in things, and there’s so much of that around, it’s kind of like a constant bombardment of things, but the more things there are, the less they mean.
And do you see that in the 21st century or in London, or in UCL, or art…?
H: Probably all… and that’s its own answer really, there’s so much there. I get very exhausted just reading the news or walking around, it’s very overwhelming how much gets produced in people’s brains, and I think what we produce tries to put that across through making things slightly strange, us, ourselves, overwhelming.
In relation to that could you talk about whether Everybody Shut Up is a part of this Janet ideology?
F: So it’s interesting, in developing Everybody Shut Up, we’ve kind of unlearned how to make a play conventionally, and kind of how it’s panned out is it’s been taking different things we’re interested in and knitting them together, and moulding them into something new, as such because it doesn’t exist on the terms of anything out there; it’s very difficult to describe. I think of it as a kind of a soap-opera with a bomb in it.
Could you gloss what it’s about?
F: It’s hard to say, not from a position of coyness, but it’s just about people and how people work and how they interact – or don’t – with each other. In the way a soap-opera or a sitcom is really just about life, we thought what it’d be interesting to do is take these, people, ordinary characters, and melt them.
Figuratively or literally?
F: That’s the thing, you’ll have to come and find out.
If you unlearned how to make a play conventionally, how has your process been different in creating this play?
H: I think mostly because we haven’t created it for a long portion of time. I think that whenever I write things – and I feel like it’s similar with Finn – the point is what we write individually is not to a goal, we tend to move away from a plan of a story and then fill in gaps, as I think often happens. It’s more writing an individual scene or an individual conversation and then building from there.
F: The ideas kind of take us to interesting new places, particularly with Everybody Shut Up compared with other things we’ve done before, we’ve workshopped it with the cast and developed it out of long improvisatory sessions that pulled the project in a direction we wanted, but weren’t necessarily thinking it was going, and I think that’s a preferable way of working in theatre. Because film I think is inherently quite masturbatory – which isn’t to say it doesn’t have a place – but I think theatre is much more of a collaboration. A group masturbation session. But kind of through being inherently collaborative I think, you can’t do theatre on your own, you can’t do it as one dictatorial vision, and that’s what we’ve found with Everybody Shut Up, because when we started we didn’t really know where it was going, and it’s taken us in quite surprising and interesting ways.
So did Meat and Jenny fit into this model of your creative process, and do they react against or contribute to this ‘empty everythingness’?
F: Well Meat doesn’t follow that formula, it was a more traditional play, written with a story and characters and that was how it was supposed to be, whereas Everybody Shut Up has been sort of grown in a petri dish. But I think it was about ‘empty everythingness’. It came from a kind of mood of London, there’s more stuff in London than anywhere else I’ve been, but much less substance, which is a very strange predicament to be in. And that’s kind of what Meat was when I was writing and developing it, filled with lots of different stuff and random things happening and lots of different worlds coming together, but in the end there’s a kind of emptiness underpinning it all.
And Jenny, does that fit into Janetism?
H: It’s about the way everyone relates to something and makes it kind of their own, and in the film with music. It takes what you’d think of as something genuine – someone writing a love song – and then everybody reconstituting it and ruining it. It’s about how the world ruins things that are good, and once you’ve put something out there, you no longer own it, and it’s not really about whatever it was about, it’s about what other people think it’s about and what people want to do with it, and what to take from it. The film tries to overwhelm visually and stylistically in the way its shot and edited and its very experimental, where the protagonist is like the song, as opposed to the people who wrote it. It certainly wasn’t a conscious thing, to make this stuff like this, it just sort of seems to happen and I think that comes from just being alive. The best sort of writing is about what you experience or whatever, and we now experience so much that this is natural, these things end up have such oversaturated content which is just kind of unhappy.
F: Which isn’t a new idea, it goes back to the Bloomsbury group and ‘a heap of broken images’, so I suppose I’m comparing us to T.S. Eliot and Ezra pound – you decide who is which – but we’re better and more interesting.
Just to wrap up, why does the world need Janet?
F: I don’t think the world does need Janet, I think we can come and go and pass unnoticed, but we need Janet, because that’s what makes our stuff good – and I think it is good – because it comes from a place of needing to do it, and being desperate to do it, rather than any other agenda. And when that is the case, we obviously want people to come and see it and enjoy. But first to make the stuff we want to see, I think that’s when other people tend to enjoy it, because it comes from the right place.
H: We just make things that are good or at least entertaining for yourself.
F: That mean something to yourself.
H: And if they don’t enjoy it, that’s sort of fine. But I’d rather that they did. Because I’ll be unhappy.
F: And we’ll lose a lot of money. Which we don’t have.
Janet’s Everybody Shut Up will be playing from 20th-23rd June at St Saviour’s Vicarage. Find more information here.
Featured image courtesy of Nick Brown.