The director of Get the Chance Guy O’Donnell recently met with writer Dr Branwen Davies. They discussed her training, career to date, a new work in progress ‘Cut and Run’ which will be performed at Chapter Arts Centre this December and her thoughts on the arts in Wales.
Hi Branwen great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I initially trained as an actor at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff after being involved with National Youth Theatre Wales as a teenager. I was interested in performing but realised I was a better writer than an actor and decided to focus on writing instead. My training gave me a really good grounding and introduction to theatre, plays and performance as well as the opportunity to meet some great people who I have been lucky to collaborate and work with later in life. I think actors can be great script editors – knowing what is needed and not needed in scenes and what can be conveyed without text. I think my actor training helped me become a better writer and theatre maker.
The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff.
So what got you interested in writing and the arts?
I’ve always written and I’ve always been involved in theatre in some way shape or form. I wrote plays as a child, took them to school and forced the class to perform them! I wrote whilst at RWCMD and after working as an actor for a few years decided to do a Creative Writing Masters at Bangor University. Whilst doing my MA I was commisioned by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru to co-write the Welsh language play DOMINOS that toured Wales. I’ve since been combining freelance writing work, lecturing and various theatre/performance projects with various companies in Welsh and English.
The writers of DOMINOS, Mared Swain, Branwen Davies, Manon Wyn, and Angharad Llwyd.
You have recently been running some reviewing workshops for schools linked to Cwmni Fran Wens production Mwgsi. How have the young people responded?
It’s been an eye opener talking to young people regarding the hard-hitting production of Mwgsi which is about a young girl who at the end of her A levels discovers she has Leukemia. I admire the young people’s honesty and frankness. They know what they like and don’t like and are able to communicate well their thoughts and reactions to the play. I feel it’s important that a play produced for young people is reviewed by young people – i.e the target audience and that Fran Wen – a company who aim to create exciting theatre that challenges young people with content and form approach schools and offer the opportunity. I’ve had many interesting discussions the past few weeks and enjoyed discussing what a review can be and should be and how to create a vocabulary to talk about performance and theatre and elements involved in a production in an engaging way.
I believe you have been working with older citizens. Can you tell us more about the project you have led on?
It was a privilege to work with the older citizens on the project Lleisiau/Voices with Pontio and Friars Secondary School in Bangor. We spent time with the residents at the old people’s home Plas Hedd at Maesgeirchen Bangor who specialise in care for people with Dementia. We created a verbatim piece of theatre after the students befriended the residents and talked and interviewed them. Seeing the frindships that were formed between the generations was heartwarming. Being able to see the residents as real people with stories and a past rather than patients in a chair and most importantly being able to give them a voice was very rewarding. I have never laughed and cried so much during a project. It really hit home the power of theatre, communication and engaging with the community. The stories that were shared were priceless – Mable’s fun and frolics with the Land Army, Margaret training to be a nurse and escaping from the window after lights out and Morus playing the piano whilst his father sang and his brother played the trombone. The end result was read to the friends and families of everyone involved and was a celebration really of the resident’s lives. But the process of befriending and giving the teenagers an opportunity to get to know the older generation and to share and learn from them was the real power of the project and seeing the residents light up and enjoy sharing and laughing and having fun.It was very real, very human and touching.
Gwanwynn celebrates creativity in older age, with an increasing older population in Wales is their enough support for the creativity of our older citizens?
I don’t think there is enough support for the creativity of our older citizens. There are some important and rewarding projects going on but there needs to be more. I feel we tend to forget or ignore our older citizens when they need to be celebrated. They have so much to share and we have so much to gain from them. Loneliness is such a huge problem with our elderly citizens and I feel an output for creativity would be a huge benefit to combat loneliness and eradicate the stigma of old age.
Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists?
Get the Chance do a great job. There are always barriers and always people fighting for equality and for more diversity. It’s the money element that worries me. The expense and cost of opportunities – even visiting theatres or booking a space! I wish there was more funding to collaborate with different artists on a research and development level. Introducing different artists to each other to experiment and play with different ways of working.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
I would like to see more funding for children and young people’s theatre – theatre that provokes without preaching. Some of the most memorable performances I have seen have been for younger audiences. I still remember some productions that came to my primary school and feel that it is a mistake to steer away from visiting schools and performing at schools. It is the only opportunity some children will have of theatre. I would like to see more funding for the less obvious and less traditional forms of theatre and theatre making too and development of new work. Would be good to take a risk with funding and support less known and less experienced artists – we miss out by playing safe. There is room to push boundaries.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
What excites me? The talent!The practitioners and artists we have in Wales across the board – actors/directors/writers etc I just wish there was more opportunity to showcase the talent across the border and internationally.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
I have just experienced a weekend at Ty Newydd in Llanystumdwy at a writing retreat where I was mentoring 6 new young writers with Elgan Rhys for Fran Wen.
Branwen working with one of the young people at Ty Newydd.
Elgan Rhys working with one of the young people at Ty Newydd.
Photographic credit: Mark Douet
Performance wise I recently saw National Dance Wales and Marc Rees’s P.A.R.A.D.E – yes I’m biased because I collaborated with the text for the performance but I enjoyed the experience, excitement and the spectacle of it all.
Photographic credit: Mark Douet
And lastly to finish what are you currently working on?
Cut and Run is a work in progress that Dirty Protest are developing/performing in the run up to Christmas at Chapter as an alternative Christmas show. You can catch it at the studio in Chapter December 20th-23rd. It’s a one woman show with mosquitoes, Texan tourists and a ticking biological clock!
We spoke to Catherine Paskell, Artistic Director of Dirty Protest about this new performance.
As part of Dirty Protest’s 10 year anniversary celebrations, the company present a development production of a new Christmas monologue, Cut and Run by Branwen Davies. Branwen wrote for Dirty Protest’s very first short play night in 2007 and this is her first full length play for the company.
Cut and Run follows Dirty Protest’s tradition of alternative Christmas offerings and will be performed at Chapter 20th – 23rd December 2017. Tickets can be booked here