Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Danny Krass - Kind of Silence

What does music mean when you can't hear it? That was one of the questions composer and sound designer Danny Krass asked before making Kind of Silence, his new piece of theatre for the Solar Bear theatre company, which opens in Glasgow this week. Loosely drawn from the legend of Echo and Narcissus, which featured in the third book of Ovid's Metamorphosis, Kind of Silence fuses physical theatre and choreography with state of the art technology that enables Krass and co to explore the relationship between them all in a deaf theatre context.

“It's quite a strange thing to be a sound designer on a deaf theatre production,” Krass points out, “and whenever I've done it I've always considered my role to be about making things accessible for a hearing audience. I've worked on a couple of shows for deaf people, which is I suppose where the initial idea for Kind of Silence came from. It always made me think about communication in different ways, and how you might look at that through sound and through theatre.

“Of course, there's never time to look at such fundamental questions when you're doing a show. You're far too busy sorting out the immediate problems, but those questions were always at the back of my mind in the first show I did, then during the second show, Smokies, I came across a piece of kit called a Sub-Pac, which rather than doing what a loud speaker does, which pushes air, it just vibrates into the body. That's interesting, as because it's not audible, you can create work which in principal gives the same experience for both hearing and deaf performers.”

When Krass approached Solar Bear with his ideas about the Sub-Pac, as Scotland's premiere theatre company working with deaf actors and audiences, artistic directory Gerry Ramage became understandably excited by such a prospect.

“Solar Bear programmed something without any of us really knowing what it was,” says Krass. “All we really knew was that we wanted to make a performance that, rather than having different aspects of it accessible to hearing and deaf audiences in different ways, to make something that would be accessible to hearing and deaf audiences together.”

Krass enlisted choreographer Chisato Minamimura, designer Kai Fischer and a mix of deaf and hearing performers to what evolved into Kind of Silence. Krass also brought in Australian musician and electronic auteur Alon Ilsar, who had developed his own state of art piece of electronic percussion, AirSticks. For all this hi-tech conceptualism, it is Echo and Narcissus that contextualises Kind of Silence with a very human pulse.

“There's not a lot of language there,” Krass explains. “There's a lot of choreography, and a lot of visual music, and we ended up with a deaf performer who's really excited about music, and a deaf choreographer who's interested in working with music, but doesn't really listen to it. Echo and Narcissus kept coming up, and that dichotomy between a character who was stuck in a visual loop and a character stuck in an aural loop became really interesting.”

Krass has become a prolific figure in Scottish theatre since moving here from Australia in 2007, and has worked alongside some of the country's more inventive talents. As well as working with Solar Bear, Krass has provided sound design for Catherine Wheels on Stuck, The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk, White and Kes, with Shona Reppe on The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean and Huff, and with the National Theatre of Scotland on assorted off-kilter projects.

Krass has also worked at Traverse Theatre on Quiz Show and The Artist Man and the Mother Woman, and has just come off the Edinburgh Festival Fringe run of Stef Smith's play, Swallow.

“I'm a collaborator, I suppose,” says Krass. “That's what attracts me to theatre. With film it's less of a collaboration. I've not done a single show in Scotland that isn't a piece of new or devised work, and with something like The Voice Thief or Huff, the sound is essential to what happens onstage, but people perhaps don't think about it in the same way they might with a straight soundtrack, and if I'm doing my job properly they don't even notice it. If I wanted to do capital M music I think I'd be working in a different sector.”

Krass recently worked at the Royal Court Theatre in London with the theatre's associate director Hamish Pirie, who previously occupied a similar role at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, on an NHS-based play, Who Cares.

“That was a promenade show,” says Krass, “and it made me think, because I've done The Voice Thief, Huff, The Tin Forest and The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, which were also promenade pieces, and I just wondered if I'm just the promenade go-to guy now.”

Kind of Silence is the first of three initiatives by Solar Bear that take place over the next month, as the company's artistic director, Gerry Ramage, directs a new play by Nina Raine, Tribes, while the following week Solar Bear host Progressions 2015, an international celebration of deaf arts. As Krass points out about Kind of Silence, however, “We're not making a show about deafness. It's more about the relationship between movement and sound, and that opens up a lot of questions about my own practice.

“It's the first time I'm directing a show,” Krass says.”That's not necessarily because I want to be a director, but is more to do with me probably being the only person who wants to explore these ideas in this way. At times the moments of unity and difference that come out feel quite magical and uncanny.

“Because of the nature of the piece, we've had to have an open attitude to things in terms of what the experience might be, and I think that will relate as a collection of things. My hope for it, and the spirit of it, is that it's a bunch of people coming together to try and understand each other better. That's what we're reaching for, and if people can see that we're reaching for something, and if we don't quite get it, that's okay. It's a very human thing what we're doing. Personally, whenever I see a piece of theatre I always ask if it's something I can experience in a new way, and that's the benchmark for my own work as well.”

Kind of Silence, Platform, The Bridge, Glasgow, September 3-4, then on tour to Inverness, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Ayr, Greenock. Tribes tours from September 17-22. Progression 2015 takes place at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, September 24-25.
www.solarbear.org.uk

The Herald, September 2nd 2015

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