Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Beyond The Border is a festival best known for its efforts to preserve and expand the verbal storytelling tradition, it also makes space for alternative forms of narrative. Hari Berrow talks to Kate Lawrence, director of circus show Holes, ahead of its appearance at the Beyond The Border festival.
Devised by Kate Lawrence, Holes is an aerial hoop performance that takes its performers and audience to other realms, both outside and inside themselves. “When you’re an aerialist, you kind of go into another world, you can fly – you almost inhabit another world,” Lawrence tells me.
“So we wanted to take that idea a bit further. You think of the astronaut looking back at the Earth; it’s that idea of a round window you can look through and see other worlds. We’re also quite interested in the idea of the mirror image that comes with two performers and the question of how you see yourself.”
Created by visually impaired performer Karina Jones and co-performed with aerialist Daisy Williams, Holes uses the visual language of circus as well as the sensory experience of audio description to craft a narrative that is as inclusive as it is compelling.
“We’re trying to embed the audio description into the soundtrack of the show, working with language creatively to describe the visual action,” Lawrence explains. “Traditionally, if visually impaired people go to the theatre and there is audio description, they wear headphones and a person in a booth describes what happening. That always happens after the show is made.
“It’s quite isolating because everything else is muffled, and they can’t hear the other audience members clapping or laughing. We wanted to avoid that and to keep the description in mind all the way through the creative process.
“It’s really important to try and make shows accessible for people who are marginalised. Dance is very visual, likewise circus, so how do you make those things accessible to people who can’t see them? Perhaps people think this is very visual, so people who are visually impaired won’t be interested, but actually, that’s just an assumption.”
The show uses audio description to add texture and depth to the performers’ exploration of other worlds, complementing the circus visuals with a creative and witty description that helps to move the story forward.
“One of the things Karina’s keen on is the presence of multiple descriptions,’ Lawrence highlights. “With traditional audio describer, you’ve just got one person speaking and that’s always going to be from their perspective, their point of view. At the beginning of the show, we have a traditional audio describer that the performers interact with. The traditional audio describer might say, ‘We see such and such‘ and Karina might go, ‘Well I don’t see, that’s the point!’
“As the show progresses, we have different voices, and the performers do a lot of audio description. Some of it is describing what they’re doing; some of it is conversational. A lot of it is exploring the feel of it. There’s one section about lifting each other up, so they’re saying, ‘Put your foot on my leg, now put your foot on my shoulder…’ It’s about finding creative ways to describe what they’re doing rather than just saying ‘the performer puts their foot on the other’s knee’.
Holes is touring Welsh festivals this year, with the potential for future development. Lawrence and the team are keen to hear how audiences respond to the production and their new ways of integrating audio description.
“I hope they enjoy it, and they laugh,” Lawrence smiles. “I also hope they take away a feeling of being included in an exploration of these different worlds, both in sound and in visual. I’m hoping that will be a really rich experience, and that it will have more texture because of that.”
Holes is at Beyond The Border, Dinefwr, Carmarthenshire, Sun 9 July.
words HARI BERROW