INTERVIEW: Oberon White

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We've caught up with operatic maverick Oberon White ahead of his headline show at the Roundhouse to talk about this unique performance art piece, his David Bowie influence, and the motivation behind his politically charged peice exploring technology and humanity, I, Pierrot, first debuted at the Edinburgh Fringle Festival. 


So you’ve created a character- Oberon White- for your performances, would you say it’s an alter-ego?


I think it would be fair to call Oberon White an alter-ego, that being said I think most of us have alter-egos.


What is the story of your character Oberon White?


I first started using the name in 2011 after a devising a performance for Carnesky's Finishing School. For me Oberon White is someone slightly otherworldly, magical, surreal and a little bit queer- Oberon is king of the fairies after all! As a persona it's something that has happened quite naturally and gradually from making work with different people, learning new skills and becoming quite deft at applying a lot of glitter to my face in a relatively short space of time.


What was the influence behind the character?


I think David Bowie has been a major influence, growing up around a lot of glam rock being played has definitely had an impact. I love how Bowie is able to constantly shift and change and I think he still manages to have a sense of humour about his work, which I like. A few people have drawn comparisons between myself and Klaus Nomi, as we're both strange, opera-singing clowns. I've become more interested and influenced by drag and queer culture too. David Hoyle manages to be hilarious and devastating in the same breath and I think his style of drag is amazing.


Operatic singing is quite rare to find peformed these days- how is it being so unique in today’s music and performance world?


I don't think it's a case of opera being rare, I think it comes down to exposure to classical music. I don't think I'm unique in performing the music that I perform, but I do love bringing this type of music to new audiences and spaces where they wouldn't ordinarily be heard.


Do you have a history in classical music?


I started having singing lessons after performing lots of musical theatre and when I was sixteen I gained a place with Welsh National Youth Opera. I graduated last summer from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and I've been privileged to work with companies including Bury Court Opera, Opera'r Ddraig and others.


So then did you compose the music for this show, as it is set to an original score?


I did a lot of the sound design on the piece and a collaborator Oli Haylett devised the soundscapes for the sections of spoken word. I met Oli at Trinity and he's a wizard with loop pedals with which he makes some incredible noises. In I, Pierrot I've messed around with a lot of sampled sound: clips from cooking shows, the sounds of eating, wine glasses etc. As well as that I've manipulated and layered my speaking and singing voice, there's a section where I sing a Bach chorale in harmony with myself.


Could you explain to our readers what exactly Cabaret is, what it includes, how its different from other performance types?


As well as a film starring Liza Minelli, technically a cabaret is a performance where there is a bar. Having said that cabaret seems to have different connotations depending where you are in the world and the local traditions of light entertainment, be they vaudeville, burlesque, drag or anything in between. Acts can include anything from clowns, comics, drag artists, magicians, burlesque performers, spoken word artists, singers, dancers, contortionists or none and all of those.


So who is ‘Pierrot,’ the named in the title?


Pierrot is name of a type of clown who originated in the 'Commedia dell'Arte', a form of masked theatre in medieval Europe. From his origins in these travelling groups, Pierrot has flourished and his identity has constantly morphed depending on his time and place, and this mythic quality attracted me to the character.


So what is the motivation behind the creation of this show?


I wanted to create a Pierrot for the 21st century and I was drawn to the different ways in which technology is changing how we interact as humans. The show itself is a series of interconnected vignettes, a series of short form performances utilising song, spoken word and a dash of drag exploring this theme from different perspectives.


You call Oberon White a ‘cyborg.’ What is the reason for exploring the relationship between technology and humanity in this show? Are you in support of technology, or is this more a satirical piece?


I don't completely support or oppose the increased integration of technology into our lives. We live in an age of unparalleled connectivity, we have an incredible amount of information available at our fingertips and we are able to create global discussions at the click of a button. But many of us are almost constantly connected to the internet via our various devices. Through my show I don't want to offer any clear cut advice, but I do hope to stimulate debate on our personal relationships with technology and each other.


What is the process behind a show like this? Between the costumes, music, general idea development?


I originally started developing the piece for my final project at Trinity Laban. I began research for the piece in November 2013, after which I began devising and performing excerpts of the piece at different platforms in the UK and abroad. After securing a slot at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the incredible talented Sarah Mercade came on board to design and produce the final Pierrot costume.


Yeah! I, Pierrot debuted at the Edinburgh Festival last year! How was the reception there? Are you returning this year?


The reaction at Edinburgh was really positive and I had some lovely reviews but I'm not returning this summer.


Are you performing at any other similar platforms?


I will be making appearances at brand new Dice Festival on the 13th June and at Bestival as part of 'The Best of Carnesky's Cabaret School'.



You can catch Oberon White’s unconventional, operatic, performance art show ‘I, Pierrot’ at the Roundhouse this Thursday 4th June. Tickets available here


As well as this you can catch Oberon leading workshops and performing with Magic Maverick theatre company this summer at Pride in London, Brighton's Dukebox Theatre.