Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Anne Chmelewsky: The Lowdown on The Looking Screen

By | Published on Tuesday 22 January 2013


Back in August at the Edinburgh Fringe, ThreeWeeks Edinburgh rated ‘The Looking Screen’ as a 5/5 show, praising it for its humour and poignancy. So when we heard that the show was to hit London for one night only, we quickly caught up with its writer and composer Anne Chmelewsky to find out more.

CM: ‘The Looking Screen’ is a one woman operetta focusing on social media – can you tell us a little more?
AC: It follows the story of Annabel, a single girl who is desperate for love, but who distrusts real-life situations. She’s been in love with a colleague of hers for months, but instead of approaching him in real life, she has patiently followed his every move online,convincing herself in the process that she is the only woman for him. It’s a comedy about love, and technology!

CM: What inspired you to base it around social media, and was it an easy subject to write about?
AC: I wanted to write a story which everyone could relate to. For a long time I didn’t pay much attention to social networking, but then a part-time job in a recruitment office led me to use it more heavily. It showed me how easy it is to feel like you really ‘know’ someone if you’re cross referencing their Facebook / Twitter / Linkedin pages… it’s almost legalised stalking! Most of my friends belong to at least one social network, so it was an easy subject to write about because everyone had stories to share about their experiences.

CM: Does the central character spend a lot of time interacting with a computer? Did this make the writing and staging of the piece more challenging?
AC: The central character, Annabel, does spend a lot of time at her computer! But because we have what Annabel sees online projected on the wall behind her, the laptop isn’t the focus for the audience, and it’s allowed us to work in a lot of movement.

CM: The show is clearly reflective of the times we live in, as more and more people embrace, and live by, social media. Do you think this is a good or a bad thing?
AC: There are many wonderful things about social media; it of course allows us to remain connected to a wider network than we could possibly have without it. We can track primary schoolmates, ex colleagues, etc, and stay in touch. The opera would certainly not have drawn in such large audiences over the past year were it not for Facebook and Twitter; it’s great for advertising and promoting a project or a product.

The danger, of course, is that socially speaking, we are becoming individual products that we ourselves promote by posting our every thought, and collecting comments and ‘likes’ on our anecdotes. We’re developing wider networks, thanks to social media, but the interactions and relationships tend to be less meaningful.

CM: Our sister publication ThreeWeeks loved the show when it was on at the Edinburgh Fringe. Has it toured at all since then, and are there further plans to do so?
AC: Thank you! Since returning from Edinburgh (and catching up on sleep) I’ve done a few rewrites on the show, and we’ve performed at the Bush Theatre as part of the RADAR new writing festival, which was brilliant! I’m not quite sure what will happen after King’s place, but I hope we can do a bit more touring with the show!

CM: You’re a composer;  how did your path towards this career begin? What advice would you have for other aspiring composers?
AC: I don’t feel that I’m in a place where I can give advice to other composers yet! For me it started when I watched Star Wars. I was only about 5, so a bit young to understand the plot, but I would dance around to the music and invent my own adventures. I worked out how to play the main theme on the piano, and then I became more interested in making my own songs.

It was always just a hobby, and I would never have had the confidence to pursue it, were it not for my ‘A’ Level music teacher who encouraged me to send in an application for the composition course at Guildhall (my original plan was to study classics at university). I was so shocked when I got my offer to Guildhall, I called them up to check they hadn’t made a mistake!

I guess the best advice someone gave me was not to give up (which is easier said than done in this industry). I feel that sometimes we can buy too much into the X factor culture, assuming that just because people have talent, they ‘deserve’ to have instant worldwide success. It’s also difficult to avoid comparing ourselves to others when we’re constantly being updated on our peers’ successes and achievements on Twitter and Facebook, which breeds huge insecurities. I never felt like I fitted in to the classical composition world, so I created my own opportunities by putting on my own concerts in small venues, pubs, galleries, comedy clubs, and that’s worked for me so far.

So, my advice would be to stop looking at what others are doing, work hard at writing the best music you can, and focus on what you want to achieve artistically.

‘The Looking Screen’ is performed by Clare Presland, accompanied by Elizabeth Challenger on piano, on 31 Jan at Kings Place. See the venue website for details

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