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Writer and performer Harry Josephine Giles: ‘My work is about political feeling’

Harry Josephine Giles Harry Josephine Giles

Harry Josephine Giles has created a show at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe exploring the symbolism of a drone. Giles tells Giverny Masso how their work brings together politics and emotion

What was the inspiration behind Drone?
I’ve been working on the text for six years now, and when I started writing it, it was when drones were really starting to emerge into social consciousness. People were starting to understand that they’re military weapons, and I got really interested in what a terrifyingly symbolic technology they are. They’re all about surveillance and violence at a distance. They became a way of talking about my own life and my own anxiety and I essentially started imagining myself as a drone. That was quite a scary thing to do, but it produced a bunch of ideas that I liked.

What form does the show take?
Drone is a live, poetic cabaret. There’s me doing some narrative poetry, then we’ve got live musician Neil Simpson and live video artist Jamie Wardrop. It’s the three of us working together as a cabaret band to tell the story of a drone. She’s a military aircraft, but she’s also an office worker and she’s everything else that a drone can be. The show is part of the Made in Scotland showcase, which is a line-up of some of the best shows Scotland has to offer in theatre, music and dance.

How would you characterise your work?
My work is about political feeling. I’ve got a strong political background and I’ve been involved in activist campaigning for a while, but, in theatre, what really matters is connecting with the emotional reality of politics. It’s about messing with the idea that politics is this separate thing that requires strategic rational action, whereas actually it’s an ordinary part of everyone’s lives.

How did you get into performance making?
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing it. I grew up in Orkney in the northern Isles of Scotland. Community arts is a huge part of life in the islands; I don’t know anyone in Orkney who isn’t involved in some part of artistic production, whether it’s theatre, music, storytelling or something else. The idea that it should just be part of your life is normal. The more I did it as an adult, the more I thought: ‘That’s probably what I should do with my life.’

What other projects are you working on?
I also run a regular cabaret event at Summerhall in Edinburgh called Anatomy and that’s been going for seven years. As well as a performing, I have a career as a writer and poet, so I’m working on my next book that will be out in 2020, which is a sci-fi verse novel about Orkney. I’m also doing a little bit of organisation at the moment around trans and non-binary people at the fringe. There’s a bunch of amazing folk with amazing shows, so we are raising awareness of those shows around the hashtag #TransFringe. It’s very inspired by the Fringe of Colour project.

CV Harry Josephine Giles

Agent: None
Training: MA in theatre directing at East 15 Acting School, London (2009-10); PhD in creative writing at University of Stirling (2016-present)
First professional role: Environment officer for Edinburgh Festivals (2011-14)

Drone runs at Summerhall until August 17. More information is available here: tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/drone




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