19 May 2015
“I tend to gravitate towards inclusive projects where people are trying to communicate with several groups of people.”
Becky Davies is the Course Leader for the BA (Hons) Creative and Therapeutic Arts course at the University or South Wales, and was the set and costume designer for the recent Welsh National Opera (WNO) production Gair Ar Gnawd.
“It means word on flesh. It’s a play on a biblical reference - ‘word made flesh’ - and word on flesh is linked to tattoo artists.
“WNO decided to create an accessible, bilingual and contemporary production around a minority bible translator and a tattoo artist as the main characters, and brought them together in very strange circumstances.
“Their businesses are next door to each other in a chapel which is being used as a make-shift arts centre. But this is under the climate of an industrial takeover, and they are trying to convert the chapel into a casino. So the production has themes of capitalism but also around nurturing and saving the arts as well.”
There would be just two performances of the production, one aimed at local schools in Llanelli and the surrounding area to try and get them interested in opera, and another filmed for broadcast on the Welsh language channel S4C.
“My set design idea was a heaven and hell concept. In the production we had three separate groups involved. We had professional performers from WNO, a semi-chorus of recent grads from various different music colleges including the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and we also had a 50-strong community chorus from the local area.
“The idea behind the production was to engage the local community in opera and so I decided to fully costume the whole chorus to make them an equal part of the production and to be more inclusive.”
Becky's background is one of stage design but also fine art, and she’s currently working on a new production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale with Taking Flight Theatre, which works with disabled and non-disabled actors.
“The production is suitable for touch-tours so all of the costumes are very tactile. For instance, in The Winter’s Tale there is a bear, which has a lot of faux fur on it.
“We also have lots of flowers such as rosemary and marigolds, which create that amazing smell and texture that the audience can take part in.
“Also, the whole thing is audio-described and I can contribute by communicating the costumes through that. These are beautiful problems for me as a designer.”
Designing a theatre set and costumes is a challenge in itself. But being authentic and inclusive for both performers and the audience surely means trading one for the other, right?
“What theatre design gives me is the ability to make anything and problem-solve, and that’s part of what I teach on the creative and therapeutic arts course. So when students come to me and say they want to make a giant something or ask about making an object that looks like it's levitating, I can usually come up with a solution.
“I believe that the challenges and restrictions that are placed upon creating a truly immersive or accessible production actually create these amazing design concepts in turn.
“It’s kind of like if you are an artist and you purposefully restrict your materials to push your mind to come up with something very different.”
Gair Ar Gnawd images by Jeni Clegg and courtesy of Welsh National Opera.
Gair Ar Gnawd costume concept drawings by Becky Davies.
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