Douze – Xnthony – September 8th to 13th in Smock Alley Theatre Black Box as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe
Interview with XNTHONY
XNTHONY has a big ambition: he wants to be Ireland’s representative in the Eurovision 2016. In his ‘Speech To The Nation’ on his website, he declares that something has been missing from recent Irish entries, despite being the country with the most wins in Eurovision history. Determined to bring back the glory days of Linda Martin and Johnny Logan, his show DOUZE during this year’s Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival will offer audiences the opportunity to choose the song they would like to go forward in the contest. As a graduate of NCAD, his work to date (notably KITSCHCOCK and My Name Is B) have combined theatre and music to create performances which exist both on stage and online. DOUZE will present his collection of pop songs, backed by his dancers The Penny Slots. Andrew Darley spoke to XNTHONY about his desire to be a popstar and how he hopes his new show will challenge, subvert and potentially push the Eurovision into exciting and unchartered territory.
First off, what sparked your interest in entering the Eurovision?
The idea came to me after I had performed at the last Alternative Miss Ireland in 2012. It was exciting to present fully formed pop performances to a large audience and being able to reach out to people who otherwise wouldn’t know me, on an open platform. AMI is similar to my Eurovision ambition. At the time, AMI had become renowned as a place to develop a career as a drag queen, and I wanted to return the competition to what I believe to be its earlier incarnation, which was a platform for queer, trashy and subversive performance. My ambition to enter the Eurovision is somewhat similar. To perform would allow me a space to present something not usually seen on such a scale. The Eurovision is subversive in its own way and I want to add to that by documenting it and inviting the Irish public directly to have a say.
Were you a big fan of it growing up?
I was and I wasn’t. It was always on every May and I adored Dana International. However it wasn’t until a few years ago I began to see all the exciting layers and issues flying around. It’s a fascinating frame in which to view popular culture and politics.
When you told people you were going to do it, what was the reaction?
I think most people think it’s a joke or that I was somehow approaching it as a novelty type act. Within the show and music there are many fun, gimmicky Eurovision references, however the intention to enter is real, and the rigour in which we went about building the show would suggest a real commitment from me as well as my backing dancers The Penny Slots.
You wrote a ‘Speech To The Nation’ which you note that something has been missing from Irish entries and want to wrangle back the days of Logan and Linda Martin. Why do you think Ireland has lost the touch it once had in the competition?
Ireland needs to forget the past. And this statement extends to all problematic aspects of our shared past. In many ways, DOUZE is an attempt by me to sort of take the hand of people and skip forward to something new and unchartered. I meet many Eurovision fans who are skeptical of what I have to offer because it’s not traditional. It’s a queer and trashy approach. We haven’t moved forward in the competition because the decision making process is really kept to a few ‘mentors’ at the top, and the format of singing on The Late Late Show appeals only to a small minority of viewers each year. DOUZE is going against this tradition by asking people directly.
Have you always wanted to be a popstar?
I didn’t always know I wanted to be a popstar, or at least dream of being a popstar. It will sound a bit surprising but as a youngster I was actually quite shy for a long time. And then one day, I said to myself “This isn’t what I want to be doing”. I’ve always and still do perform on my own and I wanted to bring that to people. There’s something so special about dancing on your own!
Are there any popstars in particular that you particularly admire or had in mind for what you want to achieve?
Everyone who knows me knows I adore Madonna. Her ability to just bring it is awe inspiring. I don’t have much to say about the other popstars out there at the moment. Miley is interesting. Gaga is charming me again. Beyoncé is a fraud and P!nk we miss you!
Putting DOUZE together, were there specific elements that you wanted it to have?
Making DOUZE has been such a challenge! This is due to the sheer endless amount of material out there relating to the Eurovision. It’s taken us nearly 2 years to build it. For a time, I couldn’t settle on an official premise. Did I want songs? Was it going to be a documentary? In the end, it came down to what worked with audiences when we tested our ideas. People responded to the music and the simplicity of the concept i.e. asking for approval and have a fabulous time at it.
Pop music, particularly mainstream pop, is sometimes snubbed as low-brow. In recent years, the Eurovision has arguably become more about the spectacle on stage than the songwriting itself. Were you ever concerned that you wouldn’t be taken seriously in doing this?
I think everyone is taking themselves way too seriously. With DOUZE I believe we do a really good job of mixing both great songwriting with low-fi spectacle. We don’t have the budget yet for giant spinning hamster wheels and besides maybe it could be quite brave to just go out there on stage and sing to one camera with a simple spot light. It could break people’s hearts. Or maybe not…
You recorded a video of you reading out comments people wrote about you and the show on Broadsheet.ie. Is criticism something you can take well?
The one thing I’ve learned is that people who like to criticize and troll also have the worst spelling. I know it’s cynical but seeing those things means I’m grinding up on people in a very particular way and that gives me great pleasure.
As an artist, what are the things in your process that pushes your vision? A few years back, would you have thought you would create a show like this?
I think about this question a lot. The fact is the form my work takes can vary. I’ve made costumes, sculpture, I’ve built ice cream towers using my bare hands. The way in which I’m making the work has changed over time and will continue to do so. I want to make work that lets me express myself and that gives me a sense of control and purpose in my life.
In writing the ten songs in DOUZE, have you discovered anything about writing pop songs? Is it true the best ones are written the quickest?
A good pop song is a tricky thing. You can’t over think it. You can’t think you’re being funny. The best approach in writing a pop song is to try and be as boring as humanly possible. This allows the audience to project their own meaning onto the song. Another approach is to write a pop song about a totally minor detail and blow that detail up. A lot of the songs in DOUZE speak about a particular experience or concept — sometimes over and over again.
You previously performed the show in the UK, what has the reception been like? How has the audience participation and voting worked out?
We performed the show in Paris and the UK as trial runs and in the end it’s the songs that really speak to people. We try to keep audience interaction to a minimum in the show, as I don’t think people really want to be touched by a pop star as much as they think they crave it. Much of the audience interaction is facilitated by my backing dancers in a typically pop star way i.e. at arms length.
This is so I don’t say anything stupid, and they can’t come too close!
What do you think makes a great Eurovision performance?
A great voice.
Considering this is a theatre performance, have you thought about the potential of it coming true and becoming Ireland’s Eurovision entry?
I think if we get the approval of the public during these string of shows, then we can continue on building that support. If we do succeed on getting to the Eurovision I hope we can document the experience in a refreshing way so the public can join me on that journey and truly be a part of it.
For those who come to Douze during The Fringe Festival, what can they expect?
DOUZE runs from September 8th to 13th in Smock Alley Theatre Black Box as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe at 18:30 with a matinee on Saturday September 12th at 1:15. Tickets from http://fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/douze