New Voice Project scribe Lorenzo Conti sat down with contemporary performer Kiran Tanna.
What is your approach to acting?
I make theatre and dance, and I write, and I design for theatre and dance, but also poetry and I work in editor on what people text, so when people write books, or poems, or whatever, or plays. I work on that….
So you’re involved in different things.
Yeah, a lot of it around theatre and dance, most of it around theatre and dance
How did you develop your approach over the years? Has it changed from when you started off?
Absolutely. I started making theatre and dance when I was 16, mainly as a writer, with a writer’s perspective. When I came to York, about 8-9 years ago, I got more involved in working in a gallery. I got involved in a lot of exhibited art and found that I could try to put stuff together in a theatrical context. And over time it’s developed a style of its own, I suppose. It’s very visual.I co-founded a company, and I work with a couple of different companies, making different types of work, for festivals and galleries and theatres, but It’s not like the sort of theatre that most people usually go to. It’s more the sort of theatre that you might come across: it may happen in an art gallery, or it may happen in a different environment.
You’re an actor, how has this profession helped you on a personal level?
It’s quite good for confidence, and it is good for improvising. I’ve never trained as an actor, I’ve trained in making theatre, so making theatre images, writing scripts, directing theatre. I’ve found that if you don’t have lots of money already, you have to also be in there, or you have to find people to be in there for free, and a lot of people who are in theatre are actors, and that’s where I come from. I’ve done some acting, but for me, I often put myself in the work, I might be playing an instrument, or I might be performing, or dancing. It depends on what sort of work, but what I find with the acting is that It gives me find the ability to improvise, and to have fun on the fly. I used to work as a sales person in a gallery, and it’s good for that: you can learn to talk to people, and that’s what is really important for acting
You’ve also to come up with new ideas…do you find it difficult?
No, I’ve got too many ideas most of the time! I never get chance to make everything I want to do. The most difficult part is choosing which ideas to take. I’m never short of ideas, and I don’t know if that’s a “me thing” or if that’s the case for most people. I never have to sit down and think about what I want to make, I have to sit down and think about what I AM going to make, and the difference between what I want to make and what I am going to make is the pragmatics, like the money, the facilities, what time of the year it is, which kind of audience it’s going to be. I’ve got five or six projects I’d love to do but I don’t know now if I’m going do anything with them. Sometimes I have an idea, I leave it for a few years and I revisit it. A lot of my making is around opportunity, because you have to be an opportunist. Spontaneity, and then judging when the time is right to get making, is what I was always meant to do.
Can you talk about a theatrical role that you found it easy to interpret?
That is a good question. I’m going to plug something now. That’s what a lot of people do: they plug something that they’ve got on at the moment I’m running a method acting project. I won’t tell you what it is, because that’s going to give you an element of surprise. I’m going to play a person that most people think is a real person. That’s a little bit of a prank, but I’m going to draw it out. So I’ll be meeting people, and people will meet me in the shops, and I’ll be this character.
So it’s ironic…
Yeah, it’s a parody, it’s a version of me: this character is based on me. So I have to look at myself, find what I’m interested in, and turn it into a joke. In order to satirize the world, I use myself as a vehicle. It is going to be a dark-comedy: I’m asking people to laugh at things I’m portraying. The difficult part is finding a part of me that I can emphasize.
And is there a character you struggled with?
There’s a lot of acting that I find difficult; I’m not a classically trained actor. What I find exciting, but difficult, is playing a straight role of a classical character, like Shakespeare or somebody in Chekhov. I love doing it, but personally I’m not a dramatic actor, I’m more a contemporary theatre actor, or at least that’s what I get from the response from my performances. I do enjoy the challenge of classical acting, but there are people out there who have dedicated their life to doing this and playing iconic roles. I’m more into writing something fresh, that I can perform really quickly. The challenge for me is to take somebody’s else work, and then to perform the character that somebody else directed. You need to have a really good director as well. The writer takes the ideas from the playwright, and then the director adapts the original script. Then the actor and the director work together to adapt the director’s ideas. The audience might already know the text, so there’s a lot going on there, especially if it’s a really well-known piece of writing.
Is it a job that augments your creativity?
If I had never tried theatre, I don’t think I would be any less creative than I am, but I don’t know how that creativity would manifest itself. I might paint, write poetry, write novels. I’d like to write a novel, but I don’t have the patience, so I prefer projects. Theatre specifically augments creativity because you don’t just dream it up and then get it on paper, you have to actually build it while you’re performing. This means that you have to keep on being creative. I’ll never get bored of creating stuff.
Is York stimulating for your work?
That’s a great question about York. York is stimulating for my work. However, I don’t think it’s stimulating for the majority of artists that I’ve met. In many ways, a lot of artists see York as a very good starting place. It’s a very unusual setting, and if you want to keep on creating art in a way you’re happy with, you have to do it in a way that challenges the tradition, because York is a very traditional city. There are a lot of people who enjoy culture in York, but they like it traditional. There are other cities like Manchester, Birmingham or Liverpool that perhaps have a far more accessible contemporary art scene for artists, because the contemporary culture in those cities has been for a long time. A lot of artists enjoy working in Leeds. I think it’s easier for them to work in Leeds, Birmingham or Manchester, but I like the challenge of working in York, I like the payoff. I actually like the tension between the difficulty of doing something and then doing it. In alternative cities there’s a lot going on. What I find in York is that there’s a lot of hidden pockets of art going on, and it’s all top quality. York is a much smaller city with a much smaller audience, and I find it’s a great testing ground to try out new ideas.
It’s actually great testing ground to try out work and then take it somewhere else the UK. London is agood example. People make work in London, they show it in London, but it never moves out of London, and then nobody sees it. In York, you have to make it, and then you have to take it out to other places, because the audience here is quite small. But it’s good, it’s like a workshop here, you have to build things and then you have to take it out. It’s a very good place to create; it’s not the best place to show, but in my experience it’s good to create. A lot of artists go to forests or the countryside, or especially in America a lot of artists have retreats, so American artists go to a cottage or a cabin, and then they write because they have that state of mind to be able to do it. York is a little like that: it can be seen as a retreat. It’s a great place to make work, and then you can take it out, further.
What do you like most about this city?
What I like best about York is the vibe of the architecture, and I like the food and drink. That may not be true of everybody, but the most stimulating thing for me is to go out with other people and then enjoy food and drink. That may not be true for other artists, especially people who like working by themselves, but I’ve never worked by myself, I’ve always collaborated and worked with other people. If you meet people in the same room again and again it gets boring, so I like to go out for a drink, and we go to different places and you get to learn different aspects of people. And what is great about York is that these places are all within walking distance, you don’t need to get a taxi, or get dropped off or drive, you can walk. It’s so stimulating for me to be able to walk with somebody, talk with somebody, have a drink with somebody about one project. I would never want to change my context at the moment, it’s so mentally-stimulating
Do you regard York as a city that embraces progress?
I have concerns with York’s ability to progress, not so much the people in the city but the institutions in the city. You have institutions and you have ancient heritage sites which form the bulk of the culture in the city, and then you get people in charge of these institutions, and committees who manage these institutions. They are very interested in the status quo, and you can understand that institutions bring in tourists. If you don’t know the culture of the city and you experience it for the first time, that’s very fulfilling. But I think that the people who live here should be able to talk to these institutions and say: contemporary life is important as well. I think we need to get together and drive at those institutions to raise progress. I think it’s far too easy and safe to say: “Oh we are going to be alright”. It’s going to be difficult to persuade the managers of the institutions to change the way they do things in York for young artists. There’s not the ton of support for young artists, especially where there’s money involved, but it’s getting better. The impetus is on us, as young artists, to put the pressure on by making good art. They’re never going to come to us and take good art, we have to take good art to them
Is there a word that you really can’t stand?
It’s funny because everybody mis-uses it, but I don’t mind it. In fact, I like it when it is used ironically. It’s the word literally. So many people use “literally”, they don’t mean it, but it’s fine. I like laughing at people who get annoyed at certain words. The word “literally narrows and implies emphasis.
Are you proud of being British?
No, I’m not really patriotic. I’m mixed: my dad is from Uganda, and my mother is from the UK. I was born in Birmingham, not in York. If I felt I had to identify I would identify as Western European
How do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? What do you think your life will be like?
There are a few different things I could be doing. I may run a business in York, I may be running a theatre studio or my own projects, or it may be that I work at the university teaching theatre and dance; maybe I’d like to do that part-time
Who is your idol?
David Bowie was a massive inspiration to me. He influenced all or my musical idols. I’m not really one for centralizing or idolizing somebody, but I do have to say that he is at the top. I think that’s probably the fairest way for me to answer that question. There’s been a massive shift and a massive change in the way we see art. It’s much more multi-disciplined now, and David Bowie represented that. You get multi-disciplined artists like me: I write, I perform, I direct. He is the best example of somebody who has opened up a conversation across his career. He helped make us see Art is so much more than the categories we put it into.
From the past or present, is there somebody in theatre that is an inspiration for you?
Yes and no. I respect traditional theatre and traditional writers such as Beckett. He had a massive influence on me. I don’t think there’s anyone working at the moment who has an influence on me. I like Philip Glass and Robert Wilson. I like a big broad spectrum. I like to be influenced by stuff outside theatre and then making good theatre from it.
What is your ambition?
My ambition is to make things that change things for the better. My things would have social, political or creative outputs that change things. Yeah, impact is my ambition.