Friday, October 28, 2011

Sean Gill on His Latest Production, "Dreams of the Clockmaker"

By Byrne Harrison
Photo by Beau Allulli

Sean Gill is a playwright, filmmaker, and musician who has written over twenty plays including AenigmaGo-Go Killers!Laurie Deacon & the Night Caller, and Stage Blood is Never Enough. He has directed over thirty feature-length and short films including the Sleepy-Time Time cycle, Mustache PartyThursday Night, and Laughter is the Music of the Gods. His work has been screened in dozens of film festivals from the Canadian Film Centre to the Anthology Film Archives to the Staten Island Ferry. He has studied with Werner Herzog and Juan Luis Buñuel, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. You can find out more at

Your press release basically had me hooked with the words "mystifying," "dystopian," and "splinters and shadows."  Can you give me an idea of what Dreams of the Clockmaker is about?

In general, I’d say it’s about that ancient, mysterious art of storytelling, and the strange, brief, and intimate connection between the spinners of tales and their audiences.  Specifically, it’s the story of a performer who’s in equal parts a gaudy '80’s magician, a Dust Bowl raconteuse, a psychologically damaged little girl, and a self-assured jokester.  She regales us with tales of her possible clairvoyance, her act, the One-Thousand-and-One Nights of the Shadow Lady, and her captivity in the stately mansion of a master manipulator known only as “The Clockmaker.”

What inspired it?

I wanted to create a one-woman show that strayed very far from whatever we want to call the ‘usual fare’–  in terms of subject matter, scope, and bizarre tonal shifts.  I wanted a play that divided itself into distinct segments and very particular moods, yet possessed a cohesive, almost musical flow.  There’s a little bit of everything that I love inside Dreams of the Clockmaker, from H.P. Lovecraft’s madness-plagued narrators to Aldous Huxley’s sanctimonious power-mongers to Yukio Mishima’s utterly, frighteningly, suicidal committed protagonists.

You're once again working with your sister, Jillaine Gill.  Most of the siblings I know could never work together.  What is it about your relationship that allows you to collaborate so well on your plays?

Ever since we were children, putting on impromptu little theatrical revues for our parents in the living room or publishing a newspaper with a circulation of one copy, we’ve worked well together.  We grew up together, we’ve been unemployed together, we’ve made art together.  And somewhere, across several dozen of those plays and films, we’ve developed a sort of creative shorthand that takes most of the stress out of the production.  Also, she’s capable of hitting such (depending on the context) silly, affecting, or simply gutsy notes in her performance that writing for her is easy!

Was there anyone else involved in this production?

Jillaine and I took on several of the roles that would typically be assigned to others (I also did the sound and graphic design, for instance), but as always, I found myself surrounded by terrific collaborators: the brilliant Ben Kato devised for us some radiant, Italo-horror-style lighting, Brandy Rowell managed our stage with élan, some delightfully garish costume pieces were borrowed from the private collections of Rachel Klein and Danielle Marie Fusco, and Jeremy Karafin and Ana Mari De Quesada of the Wild Project were endlessly supportive.
You're known both as a playwright and a filmmaker.  Do you have a preference for one or the other?  Or do you see an overlap?

There’s definitely an overlap.  To me, it’s all sort of the same process, and whichever (filmmaker or playwright) term I happen to define myself as at any given moment is dependent on my primary project at the time.  I’ve made cinematic plays (adapting an entire genre like “the girl gang picture” in Go-Go Killers! or visually approximating the playback of a blackmailed videocassette in Aenigma) and theatrical films (adapting Rachel Klein’s dance piece The Tragedy of Maria Macabre or using theatrical staging and lighting in the Sleepy-Time Time series), and neither seems to overwhelm the other.

You've worked in the past with Rachel Klein on several projects.  Do you find a certain connection between your work and hers?

Rachel Klein is one of those rare individuals who is in equal parts a creative mastermind and a tireless workhorse.  She finds magic in the mundane and beauty in morbidity.  She overturns featureless stones and reveals their hidden grace.  We’ve worked together many times over, and her command of staging and her attention to visual detail are unparalleled.  I highly recommend her current show, The Tragedy of Maria Macabre, which runs concurrently with mine at the Wild Project through the end of the month.

If you could collaborate with anyone on your next production, who would you choose?

This is a tough one, so I’ll focus in the realm of acting.  I’ve always been drawn to undersung actors and actresses who are absolutely fearless, those connected, committed heroes of the stage and screen who can effortlessly tweak the elements of our subconscious like a virtuoso cellist might pluck his instrument.  Men and women like Clu Gulager, Linda Hunt, Brad Dourif, Michael Ironside, Lance Henriksen, John Glover, Susan Tyrrell.  I think I’d just about give my eye teeth to work with any of them.

What is coming up next for you?

Theatrically, I’m looking to mount a full production of a play of mine called Laurie Deacon and the Night Caller which we spoke about when it was featured as a part of Planet Connections’ reading series in 2010.  Filmically, I have a couple of short films on the horizon, including a particularly odd one concerning watery beer and urban archeology called Puttin’ on the Schlitz, and a freakish puppet-tale set in a cesspool called Fresh Piss.

Any final words to your potential audience?

The work is fluid.  Some nights it draws forth guffaws and a spit-take, other nights it extracts self-reflection and a sobering glance, and this is what I love about audiences and this particular work– it’s just you, Jillaine, and the darkened room, and your energy impacts how it will resonate on any given night.  And I suppose I just gave my real answer to your question about the difference between theater and film!

Dreams of the Clockmaker, presented by Junta Juleil Theatricals, will play a limited engagement at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street between A and B), October 17-30; Fridays and Saturdays at 9:30pm, Sundays and Mondays at 7pm.

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