Exclusive interview with The Paper Architect creator Kristin McGuire

Kristin McGuire interview by Marianthe Smart

Note: The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of RetoxMagazine.com

Exclusive interview with The Paper Architect creator Kristin McGuire

Above: Theatre production "The Paper Architect".

Kristin McGuire, one half of the incredible duo that created The Paper Architect, talks to Retox

With her husband Davy McGuire, Kristin McGuire is one half of the incredible duo that created The Icebook, Howl’s Moving Castle, and now The Paper Architect, which won this year’s Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award. Having trained as a rhythmic gymnast and dancer, McGuire brings her performance skills to the multi-disciplinary works (of what can only be described as theatre ‘art’) that she and her husband create, mixing papercraft, animation, video projection, dance, and theatre. Together, the McGuires have created a work of vast beauty in The Paper Architect, a beauty we hope to discover a bit more about in this interview.

Exclusive Interview With Kristin McGuire

Retox: Your husband’s background is film, animation and theatre and yours is in dance and choreography – when and how did the fascination with paper come about?

Kristin McGuire: Davy always had the dream of creating a theatre show in which the stage opens up like a blank pop-up book and actors would interact with projections on the pages. In order to present the idea we thought about creating a miniature version of the idea. I've always loved paper and delicate things so I jumped at the opportunity to learn how to create intricately cut pop-ups. When I held one of those cut pages in front of a desk lamp, the effect of the light coming through the paper and casting shadows where paper had been cut out, stunned us to the point that we got a bit lost in exploring the alchemy of paper and light.

Retox: Much of your work has toured all over the world. Are there a wide range of responses to your work and does this ever surprise or inspire you?

Kristin McGuire: I think the reason why we have been all over the world with our work is because it doesn't use language (or very sparsely in The Paper Architect). The responses don't differ much from country to country but the way people express them differs probably because of cultural differences. I remember touring to France and I kept hearing the word "poetique", in England the most used word is "exquisite". At the moment we are back in Japan with a paper diorama installation and I think our Japanese audience enjoys our work because of their rich history in paper craft, miniature worlds (i.e. their zen garden culture) and shadow plays. I enjoy listening to people when they talk about our work because they analyse and interpret and get touched in ways that I could not have imagined. That is indeed very inspiring.

Retox: You do a lot of commissioned work, was it freeing to be able to make something without any rules when it came to creating The Paper Architect?

Kristin McGuire: That question makes me laugh. Commercial work can be restricting or not depending on the people who commission you, and the same goes for the theatre world. There are a lot of rules in theatre that can be very restrictive or at least nerve wrecking because with a theatre show come reviewers and being at their mercy can be worse than fighting for your artistic integrity with a counterproductive myriad of creative directors in the advertising world.

Retox: The Paper Architect is an incredibly moving and poignant piece of theatre, what inspired it?

Kristin McGuire: I think stories that don't have a happy ending can be more powerful and meaningful because they unsettle you and stay with you for longer. Davy is a very compassionate person who gets really affected by troubled people which is probably why he is drawn towards those stories. I simply enjoy the feeling of melancholy. That said, a lot of our work can be ridiculously cheesy and comical. Especially our earlier works feature us playing romantic lovers all the time - after 9 years of being and working together we are probably more drawn towards darker themes (laughs).

Retox: How much has The Paper Architect developed and changed since you first began on the project?

Kristin McGuire: The basic idea never changed that much. With both our theatre shows minimal changes usually entailed a very time consuming process of reconfiguring a huge amount of digital layers. Our shows only work if the interplay between projections and actor is clockwork, which can only be achieved with a very tight choreography. Tinkering with those elements can be very dangerous with deadlines coming up. However, for The Paper Architect we had some initial research and development time during which we made quite a few U-turns.

Retox: Are any of the paper models in The Paper Architect inspired by real places, buildings?

Kristin McGuire: Yes, there are two houses that Davy designed based on buildings near our studio in Bristol. I have recently noticed him examining architectural structures more and more. I think he enjoys the challenge of working out how to translate real objets into paper structures. It requires quite abstract spatial thinking. The models I design (i.e. the forest in The Paper Architect) are usually more based on the sort of fantastical worlds I'd like to live in myself.

Retox: You perform in and direct many of your pieces, including The Paper Architect, is it ever difficult to step in and out of those two roles?

Kristin McGuire: For Howl's Moving Castle we knew that it was going to be a wrong decision to be directing and performing live but unfortunately by the time we realised this one of the producers was reluctant to accept our concerns. I would never direct a show again that I am performing in because I lost control over the show and the cast. For our other projects we are usually part of the "digital cast" because it is easier, cheaper and quicker to film ourselves than to cast someone else. But that is very different to performing life because you can see yourself and check whether it works. In The Paper Architect Davy played Young Stamp, a tiny projected silhouette and I modelled for Ling, also a tiny projected silhouette that springs from the paper architect's imagination. It felt quite natural to direct Davy in front of a white screen as Young Stamp spying on Ling undressing and then to hand it over to him to direct me doing the undressing 5 min later. In the edit Ling and Young Stamp are then placed into the same scene. So the whole process behind the scenes is probably more clinical and practical and therefore easier than one would expect.

Retox: The astounding precision between the video projection and paper cut outs seems incredibly technical. Not wanting to steal any trade secrets, but what comes first, the paper or the performance, and how difficult is it to balance the two art forms?

Kristin McGuire: It is a constant back and forth between paper model, animation and live performance. We could be making a model, then project into it, then amend the model and then change the projection, then test whether the life interaction works and then perhaps go back to remake the model or reshot some footage and so forth. It can be both, very frustrating but also very exciting.

Retox: The Paper Architect (as well as The Icebook) was performed for a very small audience – do you prefer this kind of intimacy in theatre?

Kristin McGuire: Not necessarily. We would love to have bigger audiences but when you work on that scale you have to restrict the size of the audience so that everyone can see what is going on.

Retox: I was particularly struck by the music in The Paper Architect. How do you source this music, and/or is it borne of personal relationships with the artists, as I notice you are very loyal to certain musicians in your works?

Kristin McGuire: I think we both have quite a strong vision of what a piece needs to look like or feel like or sound like. Especially when you use as little language as we do, music can do a massive amount of story telling. Over the years you get to know the style of certain musicians and you know that there might be just the right thing on one of their albums. The three musicians we used for The Paper Architect all share quite a cinematic, minimal but very emotive sound that is touching but it also leaves enough space for all the other elements. I am probably more proactive in sourcing the music because I am always too excited to see the effect a piece of music has when played over a bit of Davy's animation. It can be magical when the two complement each other.

Retox: Can we expect anything new in 2013?

Kristin McGuire: Oh yes! There are 3 projects in Shanghai, New York and San Francisco that are unfortunately confidential at the moment but we are very excited to leave paper behind and explore glass and fabric for an exhibition for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon this November. The piece is called "Sprite Symphony" and it will feature a few noisy but musical fairies in jam jars...

Retox: Thank you for your time and I look forward to hopefully seeing The Paper Architect again, as well as many more new works!

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