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Interview: Finally, A Touch of Class at ET

Karen Hall on Delusions and Grandeur

A cellist, improv trained comedian and seasoned performer are not a trio you would expect to see taking part at Camden Fringe… or maybe you would, who knows nowadays with Fringe Theatre? But either way, how about all three in one? That’s what you are going to get if you pop along to see Karen Hall‘s Delusions and Grandeur when it takes up its residency at Hen and Chickens Theatre from 17 – 21 August. Because Karen has worked as all those things and more as we found out when we caught up with her from the other side of the Atlantic as she was packing a bag ready to come join us in Camden.

Are you really all those things; classically trained cellist, trained comedian and writer/performer?

Yep. I’m trying to redefine what constitutes a triple threat in the theatre and settled on those three.

And how on earth do you find the time to fit everything in, or is that why you’ve decided to make use of all three in one show?

Combining them all is partly a selfish pursuit to have all my joys in one place. It’s a lot of late nights or early mornings in the practice chair keeping my chops up and, unfortunately, I do often have to choose between comedy and music when it comes to my evenings or weekends. It’s been lovely having them all together.

What made you decide you wanted to step away from the pit and put on your own show?

I’ve been working in Los Angeles now for close to sixteen years and always doing jobs for someone else. I’ve had some great jobs, too. I was the cellist on Glee for four seasons, I’ve been in the studio for Emmy-nominated scores, and I’ve collaborated with some incredibly talented people, (Like Geoff Emerick who engineered a little album called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club over here.) But I knew it was time to start backing myself and my work. In the whole world there might be five cello-playing, musical-devising, Idiot-trained, clown cellists so I have to jump on the market now before it gets saturated.

Are you bringing your cello with you?

I am! They have their own seat on the flights and I’m hoping they are allowed one personal item when boarding or my luggage situation will need to be reconfigured…

The show is entitled “Delusions and Grandeur”, which has something of a classical feel about it, what can you tell us about that title?

I spent a long time thinking of titles before this one came to me. Everything prior felt too punny or clowny and didn’t honour the music and the craft I’ve dedicated my life, so far, to. This one came to me one day and then the show quickly solidified around it. Honouring the integrity of the music has been very important to me in creating the show. Throughout it I perform Suite Number One for Solo Violoncello by J.S. Bach and I never wanted to diminish the performance of it, although some classical musicians out there would possibly argue I have… 

As for the show, it’s about your contemplations on perfectionism, expectations, and failure. Is it as autobiographical as it seems to suggest?

It’s greatly autobiographical but I also talk about the daunting statistics most musicians or artists face: our high injury rates, our high mental health statistics, our struggles to have a career and balance it, and neurobiologically what happens in someone’s brain when they achieve mastery at a craft. I have to believe based on the numbers that I’m speaking the truth of the majority of musicians; I just no longer have issues in using my voice to lay it exposed and vulnerable along with some of my personal experiences. That’s my clown’s training; to fail, hope, fail again, and to allow others to witness all the feelings and struggles in the process.

Are you still performing in orchestra’s or has the desire to be out front taken hold of you?

My desire to be clowning and/or directly with my audience has taken over! But I do still play in symphonies, and I do still love them. If someone could get me on a Cirque job though, I’d swap them out for a bit.

When we’ve seen orchestras perform, everyone does look very serious (although we suspect they are not really), were you ever told off by your conductor if you tried to bring some comedy into the pit?

I’ve had shushes thrown in my direction and a few stand partners comment that I’m “really funny.” I do a pretty good job of sliding into serious work mode, although I’m also pretty serious in my cultivation and pursuit of nonsense.

How are you finding Camden in comparison to where else you have performed in your career, we suspect a slightly different vibe?

I arrive in Camden soon and I cannot wait! I once did a run-by of all the major London sites on a 24-hour layover but will be staying a full week in Camden this time around. I’m looking forward to being there during the Camden Fringe Festival and am excited to catch other shows, experience pub culture, and find out what it’s like to hustle under my own name.

And give us one more reason, why should we be getting along to Hen and Chickens next week to catch your show?

My charming American accent. 

Our thanks to Karen for finding the time to chat. You can find more about her on her website here.

Delusions and Grandeur plays at The Hen and Chickens Theatre between 17 and 21 August (no performance on 19). Tickets are just £10.50 (£8.50 concession). Further information and bookings here.

And as we say with all Camden Fringe shows, why not look to double (or triple) up on them, there are plenty of shows on at the same and nearby venues.

About Everything Theatre

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