Meet Grandma Ray and her creative granddaughter

One mild evening last October I made my way down to The Betsey Trotwood pub in Clerkenwell to see an intimate comedy storytelling show with live drawing by Lisa Gornick, British artists working in film, performance and drawing, whom so far I have known as a film director (Do I love you? 2002; Tick Tock Lullaby, 2007).

Not quite sure what to expect, as the show was advertised as “a film set meets artist’s desk”, I took my seat being as open-minded as possible and I was thoroughly entertained during the hour that followed. Comedy and pathos did indeed combine with wet ink and watercolour as Lisa took her audience on an exciting journey. We went from the bursts of spontaneous laughter at her grandmother Ray, “a Cockney Eastender who sometimes went posh”, to the moments of a serious and rather sad reflection on the history of closeted LGBTQ people.

I thought Lisa masterfully struck a balance between live broadcast (the audience effectively watching the film, with its characters coming to life with every brush stroke) and engaging performance that included switching not only between accents (from Bethnal Green to Chelsea) but also languages (with insertions in Yiddish, Polish and Russian). Like a multifunctional performing machine, the artist was drawing, talking, DJing and drinking wine, all at the same time.

Lisa’s drawing show is back at Soho Theatre, London on Sunday 8 February.

Here is what Lisa told me about her performance and future plans after the Betsey Trotwood installment of the show.

The form of your show is innovative, combining drawing, real time projection and live commentary as performance. What were you inspired by; how did you get to this point?

The inspiration came from using drawing and voiceover in my films – the feature Tick Tock Lullaby and two shorts. I wondered what it would be like to do it live as opposed to editing it.

I tried it out in an improvised way and then came up with a more structured storytelling show.

I felt like a historian – using the past to construct a narrative through a particular lens

I used to do live performance and was keen to return to it. I also wanted to explore a new way of experiencing cinema. I felt as well that it might be like returning it to the pioneers of cinema who often took on all the roles in front and behind the camera and were often women. It was a low-fi affair – more spontaneous and in the moment.

I love watching artists create: I was inspired by this creation as performance.

Drawing is like improvisation in a way – it’s often quick, unrehearsed and you are led by what’s happening. At best you lose yourself in the pen and let it lead you.

The show is advertised as being about your grandma Ray. She indeed takes centre stage, but it is more of a selective family saga, you also mention finding your grandmother’s diaries. Please tell me more about your research for the show.

I worked on the show with Lucy Lumsden, who helped me shape and direct the show. I would find things and she would say, “Yes, that works,” or, “This doesn’t”. I started off with a performance focused more on the current film I am making, The Book of Gabrielle, a more essayistic show, free flowing about my influences about making a film.

I had a photo of my grandma and Lucy suggested the personal tale would provide a better backbone for the show than an overview of Jewish secular icons like Philip Roth or how sex scenes are portrayed in films, which is what I had initially planned. Once it was more about my grandma, I would go through certain aspects of her life and we settled on those around her roots, her flapper life and her longings.

I felt like a historian – using the past to construct a narrative through a particular lens. This is what I understood to be my grandma’s story.

I felt strongly for all introduced characters, only to remember that your background entails a certain proclivity towards fiction. How much of artistic license did you take in writing your show?

It’s pretty much the truth as I see it – it’s more a selective portrait than documentary. Since I use comedy in the show too, there are heightened moments where I drift into speculation. In a way it’s a comedy history, less a lecture or thesis.

How is the live drawing show situated in relation to your filmmaking practice? What are you working on currently?

I’m in the final edit stage of my third feature, The Book of Gabrielle, which involves a lot of drawing: essentially, it’s about the making of a hand drawn sex book. It’s a cross-platform production with drawing as the underlying connection, the main character draws to figure out what she’s thinking about her sex life. There will be a book, a series of short web films and live drawing performances, featuring probably the protagonist drawing to work things out and find the way through the story she is telling. It connects to how I am making the film and is a live reenactment of the film itself: the protagonist draws the story out but we see her in real time as she works things out.

You can book tickets for the Sunday show on Soho Theatre website.

All pictures courtesy of the artist. They are watercolours made by Lisa during her performances.

Ania Ostrowska laughed and cried at Lisa’s masterful brush strokes