Anon by Welsh National Opera. An Interview with writer Errollyn Wallen and directer Wils Wilson.

Anon, The songs of silent women.

Anon is the secret journey of millions of women, a journey continuing every day, in the shadows. You will be immersed in this new opera as you travel through hidden worlds and find yourself at the centre of heartbreaking stories.

Welsh National Opera mix voices, live soundscapes and contemporary theatre in a groundbreaking new opera. 

Anon is written by Paralympic Games opening ceremony composer Errollyn Wallen and directed by Wils Wilson, (The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart and Praxis Males Perfect).

We caught up with both of them and asked them about the process of making the piece.

No DescriptionHave you worked together before as writer and director?

We worked together on Manchester Lines, which was a new site-specific play with songs for Manchester Library Theatre. Jackie Kay wrote the text and Errollyn wrote wonderful songs. Straight away on that project I loved the way Errollyn’s music was emotionally very direct and powerful, and at the same time musically incredibly intricate.  Manchester Lines was a very happy team – ANON has also reunited us with Amanda Stoodley (designer) and Anna Barrett (lighting designer) from that project.

Can you describe how your working relationship has panned out during this project?

It has made an enormous difference that we knew each other before, so before we started there was already a deep mutual respect and that has sustained us throughout.  We were lucky enough to have a number of development workshops, so the music and theatrical vocabulary of space, movement and story-telling all developed simultaneously. We’ve worked together very closely.  Errollyn is incredibly serious about her work, whilst also being enormous fun – so there’s been a lot of laughter as well as a lot of hard work.  

Is this project a development of the work you have been making so far, or is it a departure?

This is the first time I have directed an opera, so it’s very much a new departure for me in that respect.  Recently I have been made a lot of pieces with music at their heart – Praxis Makes Perfect, a theatre/gig event with the electro-pop duo Neon Neon, and The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, a new version of a Scottish Border Ballad, would be two examples.  So in some ways an opera feels a logical step, in others it’s a leap into a very different world.

ANON deals with issues surrounding female exploitation, trafficking, and prostitution. What led you to explore these important themes in this way? Probably one for Errollyn???  

The reason I was drawn to it was that I have a theory that everyone has an opera going on inside them, but it is rarely heard amid the noise and distraction of everyday life. In the case of these women, their voices are never heard at all, so Errollyn’s act of giving them operatic voices seems to me deeply moving as well as acutely and subtly political.  

Art and politics (in their broadest sense) is a vital, yet at times thorny, interaction. Do you feel it is even possible to make art that doesn’t intersect with politics? Should one even try?!  

If the art you make is connected to the world around you it will inevitably be political. All art is a reflection of the person who makes it, so if you are a political person, your art will also be political!

Do artists have a political responsibility?

I think everyone has a political responsibility.  Where you buy your food, where you live, how you speak to the other people you meet in your life – every choice you make has political implications if you choose to recognise them. 

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As an art form, opera still tends to be associated with an elite. Do you feel that this is changing?

One for Errollyn perhaps. I’m not very well-placed to answer this one – only to say that ANON is proof that it is! 

Have there been any surprises along the way making ANON?

The opera singers and actors have formed an incredibly close bond. The actors look at the singers and think – wow, how do they do that!  And the singers look at the actors and think the exact same thing.  So we all appreciate each other’s talents and everyone wants to give their absolute all to the process. There’s a great feeling of adventure in the rehearsal room and a lot of courage and generosity.  Not a surprise exactly, but something that has made a big impression on me. 

What’s next for you both?

I take Praxis Makes Perfect to Berghain, a which is an incredible nightclub in a massive disused power station in the old East Berlin as part of Berlin Festspiele with National Theatre Wales.  I love my job…. 

Anon is on at the Wickham Theatre, Monday 17th March 2014, and then on tour

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