An Interview with Chris Durnall, Artistic Director, Company of Sirens.

Hi Chris so to kick things off, what got you interested in the arts?

A passion for books which I’ve never lost. The ideas contained within them have informed everything I’ve ever done. I love words but now I’m just as interested in what lies between them. There lies the drama.

Company of Sirens is working with Sight Life Wales to perform ‘How My Light Is Spent’ at Chapter from the 16th – 20th August. It’s a production which is described as “What lies beyond the purely visual?” How did this project develop and what are your hopes for the future?

For me the attraction of working with the blind and partially sighted was to discover what was possible. Lock down was a double whammy for many of them, marginalised by their condition and the pandemic the situation became frightening as their interactions shrank further and for many disappeared totally. The performance tells their experiences of this time.  

Locating the performance in a forest creates an analogy between lockdown and being trapped in a situation you can’t see yourself emerging from. The only solution being friendship, support and in this case the kindness of strangers.

Last November we presented “With Eyes Closed” performed between both lockdowns. This proved a life affirming experience that audiences responded to and identified with.

Image from With Eyes Closed

With this new piece we wanted to look more closely at when and how each person’s sight was lost and how they have reconnected with some of the things that are important to them.

The copy for the work references the Covid 19 Lock Down. With the successful roll out of the Covid-19 vacancies, the arts sector is hopeful audiences will continue to return to venues and theatres. How do you think artists can best share stories of the recent Pandemic?

The pandemic was the seismic event of our time that artists will need to respond to. I believe this creative response will impact upon the nature of the work for some time. This project came from the participants’ need to express how lockdown impacted on their lives to a lesser or greater extent. There is much humor in the stories and definitely hope going forward.

If theatres want to attract audiences post Pandemic , what do you think they should do?

It seems that some of the ways theatre existed mid pandemic are here to stay in some form.

I personally feel separating theatre from a live and present audience response isn’t theatre. A live audience leads, creates and forms a performance. Without it you have only 50% of the experience. That’s not to say it can’t be appreciated online but you lose the power to inform the drama by your presence and direct response.

Company of Sirens have worked with members of Sight Life Wales before, how did this relationship develop and can you tell us about your creative process?

We led taster workshops three years ago in order to gauge interest and explore ways of working. The work is participant led while we as a company allowed their ideas to come to fruition. They learn skills, gain confidence and meet friends, while we explore a new and original way of extending our practice. 

My background stretches back  to working with companies such as Cardiff Lab, The Practice and collaborations and workshops with European artists. It is this visual and exploratory approach we look to introduce to the group.

The concept of people with sight loss participating in a highly visual performance style is an interesting paradox but hugely appropriate. Restricted by visual impairment the performers want the opportunity to move, and beautiful things occur.  

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers that creatives or audiences in Wales face? If there are any, what might be done to remove these barriers?

I think it lies in the mindset of the creative. We deliver a large programme of work, working primarily with new writers and professional actors and creatives as well as the community and groups with protected characteristics..

I think to be inclusive is to approach each project whoever it may be aimed at with fairness and integrity. It’s a way of thinking that once embedded flows naturally into each process. I don’t believe imposing conditions aids creative work and development. We need to always take risks but that shouldn’t negate inclusivity. 

 If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

Experimentation, risk and the right to fail, without those factors the arts are a museum and we are treading water.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

The fact that current directives will, I believe eventually lead to a fairer natural way for all people to experience the empowering nature of the arts, and that young creatives keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

Working with Sightlife Wales

Thanks for your time, Chris

You can find out more about How My Light is Spent and book tickets at the link below. All performances are Audio Described.

How My Light Is Spent (chapter.org)

companyofsirens.com

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