Giants Are Small was founded in 2007 by artist/director Doug Fitch, producer Edouard Getaz, and Frederic Gumy, after the three years spent making efforts in expanding their experimental developments. Out of their Brooklyn based company, they produce everything from operas and ballets, to educational material for all ages. FLATT’s Jay Wadley had the opportunity to sit down with both Getaz and Fitch.
JAY WADLEY: I’d love to start by learning a little bit about your lives, where are you from and how did you come to be Giants Are Small?
EDOUARD GETAZ: There’s a very physical explanation for the title. I’m Swiss French, from Lausanne. I grew up in Switzerland – very much involved with music. My brother was a festival organizer, jazz mostly, so we started a jazz festival, which became one of the largest jazz festivals in Switzerland. I was 9. He was 17. I designed the poster. He was organizing the festival. Cully, which is the name of the town and the festival, became a destination for musicians. All the big names in jazz came except Miles Davis maybe. I was working in Montreux, too, which is the other big festival in Switzerland.
Then, I had an advertising agency, which was completely my mistake. I created this agency thinking it was going to mostly be about music but we became successful in other things. Which was completely not what I wanted to do. I sold the company at some point because it was not my cup of tea and then I came to New York to study film, because on the path of doing all of this, I became very interested in working with audio-visual elements.
That brings us to 2005 approximately, when I directed a 35 mm short film that went to festivals. That’s basically the time when Doug and I were introduced by a friend of ours, who was my director of photography, and a very old friend of Dougs.
DOUG FITCH: I started, also I guess you could say, musically. When I was four I played the violin. This was in Fargo, ND. It was a wonderful place. We had an orchestra. P.D.Q. Bach was up there and came to a couple of my lessons. Around the time that my brother was nine, I was six or seven, my older brother went and had watched my father rehearsing for King Lear in the local community theater. He was so inspired by the rehearsals of this Shakespearean tragedy that he decided to write his own play called Furious the King.
My mother transformed the basement into a theater with curtains and we got all the neighborhood kids involved and it was a big hit. We had to perform it like 21 times for the community. We’d charge a nickel and give them free Oreo cookies, because we weren’t sure they’d like the thing and we wanted to be liked. That was my first experience with theater. I always liked making things from that point on. By the time I graduated from high school creating was the biggest thing in my life; I even took a puppet to my Harvard interview and it worked. He and I both got in! I did mostly performing in college, but I was making things and designing things.
After college I got into directing and designing. I started an events company with my younger brother who is a mechanical sculptor, engineer, and puppet maker. Then I did a stint with furniture in the Philippines; I had a tree house down there. Interior design propelled me to design a house for Joshua Bell and then Alan Gilbert. Alan then said it was time to do an opera and so we got into that.
JAY WADLEY: Is that how you initially met Alan Gilbert?
DOUG FITCH: Alan Gilbert and I met at Harvard. He was younger than I was. I was an art tutor at the time. He was a young genius music student. He would hang around a lot and was really a good friend.
After that, he invited me into the opera world. Right around that time we (Doug and Edouard) met; it was through a mutual friend with whom I was working on a production called “Soldier’s Tale.” He thought that we ought to meet and he was right.
EDOUARD GETAZ: Doug and I met in funny circumstances because we were invited to a birthday party in a Japanese restaurant. Of course this friend arranged that we would sit next to each other. We had a lot of sake and we got along really well; the more he was telling me about what he was doing, the less I understood. The next day I was flying back to Geneva thinking, “it was really nice sitting next to that guy,” and while taking out a Swiss magazine, the double middle page, I see Doug’s photo!
DOUG FITCH: So you see it was fate.
JAY WADLEY: Can you talk about the actual production itself? Was it all live animation stuff that you were developing at the time?
EDOUARD GETAZ: It was the birth of what we call live animation.
DOUG FITCH: It was a direct kind of rebellious response on my part from having dealt with a bunch of musicians and musicians unions at this point. I wanted to create this tiny, miniature Victorian paper theater, with these stupid little puppets that we just moved back and forth. It was very non-animated; more or less it was a series of moving images or just images in transition. Then we added elements that were pre-recorded of a live dancer. It was very ambitious. We got into this thing where we were inventing a new medium and we had no idea how ambitious it had become until Edouard had come by but we did pull it off.
EDOUARD GETAZ: It was a big success. That was the funny thing because it was not necessarily expected that we would do something.
DOUG FITCH: They didn’t even advertise it as anything other than a concert. They didn’t have any understanding about this stuff.
EDOUARD GETAZ: We were busy with other things and then a dear friend of mine, Frederic Gumy, who also came from the world of multimedia, had been very successful and so we talked and said we wanted to do something in the US.
I was already starting to be based in the US, so basically the three of us got together and smoked cigars and drank whiskey because that’s the way we function. We decided that we would start Giants and do it in a weird way, which is that we kind of conceived it as a little start up company. As well, we had an opportunity in LA, which was to do Peter and the Wolf. We jumped on that. That was in 2008. In Disney Hall. In 2009 we signed a deal with the NY Phil for Le Grande Macabre with Alan Gilbert for his opening season.
JAY WADLEY: I’m sure it’s just an amazing experience for everyone to get to see you guys actually create.
EDOUARD GETAZ: It’s very similar to the drawing style. I remember we sat down once to say what would work before we started, but we kind of defined the style progressively. We were mixing all kinds of things. Then we work-shopped a lot, playing with blue screens and 3d. We did some amazing stuff, with projection. We even thought of putting it into a tent. We almost came close to a deal with Cirque du Soleil to do that. Then that didn’t work so we took the intellectual property of Peter and the Wolf.
JAY WADLEY: One project focuses on the origination of the Dada art movement, I would love to hear more about your involvement in that and your personal connection to Dada.
EDOUARD GETAZ: My personal connection is I’m Swiss and the reason why it’s Dada is because Dada was born in Zurich, the Cabaret Voltaire. The story goes, that in 1916, several major artists’ who had emigrated to Switzerland to escape WWI would gather in this place called Cabaret Voltaire.
DOUG FITCH: It was a totally international gathering at the time. And this was just after, of course, the war had shown everyone that the world was completely in chaos and nothing made sense. So Dada was a post-Futurist response, which was very optimistic, and this was not exactly pessimistic but it was anti-world: anti-establishment, anti-war, anti-government, anti-art. So, that is how it started. It was just like five artists and poets who took over the Cabaret Voltaire. They said they would sell more beer so they were able to go there and play around and they only lasted for about five months – but it changed the world. Then there were Dada movements starting in Paris and NY and Russia, and then Duchamp and major artists came directly from that. The Fluxus Movement after that and Actionist.
EDOUARD GETAZ: The idea for the festival was to imagine what would Dada mean today. I think the thing that everybody does with Dada is kind of re-enact what they did: to remake the collages and make this feeling. It’s great graphically but that’s not what we wanted to do. We wanted to do something very provocative involving big-brotherism, war, and art consumerism. We’ve been taking those things and cooking them into an event.
JAY WADLEY: Both literally and figuratively.
DOUG FITCH: There are two parts to it. One takes place in a gallery, the White Box Gallery, which is wonderful very avant-garde, very progressive stuff and we’ll start there and that’s where we deliver food and hopefully a Dadaistic manner. The food will be part of the exhibition and music will be part of that too. Then we are going to march them down the street in a parade to the Box, the cabaret, where we will in a sense tap into the Cabaret Voltaire. Some things will be probably reminiscent of what actually did happen there and some of these, most of these, will be totally reinterpreted. I think some of the performers are working with us on this thing.
EDOUARD GETAZ: I think it will eventually succeed in being a completely unique experience, where you feel paranoid, observed, and all of this through performance.
DOUG FITCH: My connection to Dada goes all the way back. When I discovered Dada it was like… that makes sense. I was born as an absurdist. I don’t really know how it happened, but I’m infused with Edward Lear and of course Dr. Seuss. But early on Dada made more sense than a lot of other things to me.
JAY WADLEY: I am curious also to follow up on that. I can see the influences on your visual style from those artists. I’m curious to how you came about that and if that developed over time or were you always very distinctly influenced by Dadaist art?
DOUG FITCH: No! I wasn’t. Not in high school. I learned about them sometime in college but I remember it wasn’t until I went to Europe. I went to cooking school in Paris and thought: what’s going on, this doesn’t make sense? But it makes so much sense. Reading about the Futurists and the Dadaists and about Duchamp, it was always something that was very much a part of my inspiration.
JAY WADLEY: It seems like it comes through in all of your design elements. I love seeing the through line in your creative process. You can see those influences in each element of your work. Did you know the work of HK Gruber?
DOUG FITCH: Particularly his piece called Frankenstein, which I had heard the NY Phil. play at Symphony Hall. I liked it very much. Gruber himself was performing. It’s this wacky kind of pretty Dadaistic Weimar-era feeling to it, Cabaret sort of.
Our aim here is to get the idea of bringing dirt into the museum. All the musicians, rather than sitting on their chairs, will be sitting on hay bales. We’ll make a bunch of rustic music stands and then timpani, harps, and myself will be over on this side.
JAY WADLEY: What’s the size of the AXIOM Ensemble?
DOUG FITCH: 13 people in this case. It’s a concert hall. It’s not a theater. So we are pushing these mediums together, which I think is interesting. One of the reasons I like it so much is because when you go to a concert in a concert hall, it’s really about the audio experience, but it’s also a visual experience. People forget that it’s beautiful to watch those instruments being played. They are beautiful objects.
DOUG FITCH: There is something very interesting to watch the music being made as you hear it and your attention is sort of drawn to that fact while there is another world simultaneously happening.
JAY WADLEY: Do you ever have plans to take these on the road?
DOUG FITCH: Yes, of course.
EDOUARD GETAZ: To London next year, at the Barbican. Spring 2015.
DOUG FITCH: We have always, when we started talking about Le Grande Macabre, planned on going around the world with it, but there is a challenge in explaining to people what this is when they say, “Is it an opera production?” They keep calling this a semi-staged production and there’s nothing semi-staged about it. It’s fully staged. It’s got costumes and full lights and sets and everything is there staged. The only thing that is different is that the orchestra is present.
EDOUARD GETAZ: I think the classical world has played against itself a lot by marketing itself in such a boxed way. Today we have an office in Times Square do to our relationship with Broadway people.One woman from the Jude Jansen Group said, “I didn’t know that this existed! This is phenomenal, this is incredible!”
JAY WADLEY: You touched on something that I thought was interesting, the collaboration with established music, established pieces and narratives. What about creating new narratives and new structures? Are you looking to collaborate with new people?
DOUG FITCH: Yes, of course. We also do different things on our own as well. My thing with Cory was inventing an entirely new narrative. Actually it is based on fables, but completely reinterpreting old fables into new music. I also just directed an opera called The Dwarf and put it in a new venue in an incredible old place on 46th Street, near Grand Central Station.
EDOUARD GETAZ: Now I am working on an interactive documentary for iPad based on a true story of a kidnapping. It’s very interesting. We also have our own labs outside of Giants Are Small. Peter and the Wolf will ultimately become an app for kids.
DOUG FITCH: We have a for-profit company and we’ve been working for non-profit companies. We help each other do these various things too. I am the godfather of his kids. I just produced this ticket yesterday for his risk project. It’s all about inventing these little…