David Bower: About Carthage, David Bower, Artistic Director at the Signdance Collective

January 28, 2017 by
Our production “CARTHAGE” was written by award-winning Cuban/American playwright, Caridad Svich, who is based in New York. After seeing Signdance Collective’s premiere of “The Other Side of the Coin” at New York University, Caridad approached us with her script.
Caridad felt that our working methodology could be right to tackle Carthage as we play with “so many different registers of language”. A number of other companies had already tried to stage “Carthage” and couldn’t figure out how it could be done. When I read it as a possible piece to work with and to adapt for the stage, I was struck by the beauty and wisdom of her writing. It encompasses within its broad sweep so many different elements that touch upon all our lives, right across the world and all cultures. Universal themes that we all share. The structure of the script has echoes of Kerouac’s freehand bravado, Patti Smith’s candour and Alice Walker’s deep humanity. It advocates on behalf of many who often don’t speak the language of the powerful, whose voices often fail to be heard in a world swept by a tsunami of often conflicting, information overload. Vital voices that need to be heard that are often muted and then succumbed to the forces of oblivion.
Briefly,  the Signdance Collective is a touring performance company that was established in 2001. The company is a culturally diverse team with experienced deaf and disabled artists at the helm. From 1987 the company directors pioneered “signdance theatre”, a fusion of sign theatre, dance and live original music. Since 2001, Signdance Collective has continued to evolve the artform “Signdance-Theatre” initiating international collaborations and working alongside innovative artists, theatre philosophers and performance companies across the world. The directors at Signdance Collective have worked with hundreds of people of all ages throughout the UK and internationally, delivering workshops, and producing new work. The company is one of the first in the world to utilise and introduce the concept of inclusive practice with a specific focus on disability-deaf led team work.
Carthage has been adapted into a Signdance Theatre production, the script explores the political, human and cultural impact of language. The language spoken by the majority often “insists” to many that they have to learn that language in order to survive, to remain culturally credible. Disabled & Deaf people’s voices are often misplaced within this assumed paternalistic framework. If an individual is unable to access that language, it becomes a very real crisis. 
Many people around the world are relocating due to war, famine, ecological events, volatile economics and persecution. Human trafficking is at unprecedented levels and there’s more slavery than ever in the history of humanity. Instances of cultural diasporas are mushrooming. Millions suddenly finding themselves marooned inside an alien and often confused, divisive cultural environment are finding that their voices have become muted. Carthage gives the quiet voice expression, a poetical plea through sign-language, dialogue, dance and theatre for cosmopolitanism, rationality, reason and compassion. An appeal to the wiser part of our nature.
The message is that only when we learn to live and support one another again, can we begin to heal our fractured world. Carthage tackles genuinely important questions. What is it like to feel that you have no voice? How can you find the strength and resilience you need in order to survive and help others to survive? What is “Home”? What is “Love”? What Is “Fear”? Powerful themes which I believe in some sense relates to the position that Deaf and Disabled people find themselves in, and for that matter how all of us across the world, in general, feel about life and our future. 
 Our sister project, “Letter from Afar”, in tandem with the stage production has a crucial part to play in our artistic direction. Collaboration and explanation of our work to the dance theatre and literary worlds means it will help us to foster a creatively dynamic forum among the wider community, a public discussion leading to documentation. Carthage as a work in progress is a strong piece. We carefully craft with a big heart and a desire to engender peace and reconciliation among the culturally alienated. Signdance Collective is immensely proud of the work so far and the positive feedback from discerning audiences. 
 We begin our pilot tour in February through to the early summer 2017 with a series of workshops and performances throughout the UK. The tour will then begin its international dates touring Eastern Europe and the USA. One of the highlights will be a return to my home, Anglesey, where we will be based at Canolfan Ulcheldre in Holyhead. My family are an old family from the Newborough area of Anglesey and have been there for generations. I have many fond memories of childhood summers spent in the Pentre Berw area. This brings to mind my concluding thoughts, a meditation on the theme of memory that is explored within Caridad’s script.
The song of Memory; 
All cultures around the world pass on stories from generation to generation. A lot of fairy tales were written before recorded history. As those stories aged and migrated grafting into each tributary of cultural emergence the stories metamorphosised. Often we see that the story is the same one as the older version. Stories are often ancient stores of wisdom passed on from time immemorable. It is one of the reasons why telling our children stories is vital in helping to build a child’s intelligence. 
 The desert nomads of Australia have a story for every geographical feature right across the entire continent. It is called “Dreamtime” and their body of stories is oral. These stories teach people about the land in which they live and vitally how to survive, where the water is, where to source food, identity, historical events. I highly recommend Bruce Chatwin’s book “On The Songlines”. The songline tradition is as rich as the stories of ancient Greece. 
Dave in Turkey
The Welsh also have a word, “Hiraeth”, wiki sources a definition from the university of Lampeter in Wales;
“..a homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire[1] for the Wales of the past.[2]”Hiraeth bears considerable similarities with the Portuguese concept of “saudade” (a key theme in Fado music), Brazilian Portuguese “banzo” (more related to homesickness), Turkish “gurbet”, Galician “morriña”, Romanian “dor”, Ethiopian “tizita.”
For many people across the world, this feeling is connected to memory. It evokes a lot of emotions and is often a cause of sorrow as well as happiness. When a person has to flee a war-torn land, then all that they are left with, is the memory that they take with them as they are exiled from their home and into a strange land. It is also this memory which could hold a key to peace. It’s time for us to start sharing our stories again, for it is in this sharing that maybe we can begin to heal the wounds that fracture our world.
“Man he dreams himself a heaven. 
He says,
“Stars, can I speak?….. 
I want to learn a new language, 
to return the one that I lost….”
Caridad Svich, “Carthage” (Excerpt)
I hope that you can see our event or get involved in the “Letter from Afar” digital platform by signing up as a member. Perhaps you know someone who lives near the venue and they would like to get involved in the workshops or even just see the performance. Our workshops are accessible to all people and we have extensive access tools. The digital platform will be open to accept your poetry, images, short films, meditations and thoughts relating to the themes as described in the forum. These will be collated as “digital-pieces” and then placed into the virtual gallery. We hope to leave this platform as a permanent site online for all who would like to see it, it will become a part of our legacy. Make a note of our website to find out more about who we are, performance dates, tickets and further details. keep an eye out for our “Letter from Afar” digital platform launch which will be announced on the link below.
Thank you for listening to my story.
Signdance Collective International will begin their UK tour in Holyhead and will also run a series of theatre and dance workshops from 20th – 23rd March which are open to aspiring performers and everyone aged 14+ who is interested in developing their creative skills.  Open workshops for Carthage are from 6:00pm – 9.00pm, Monday 20th, Tuesday 21st, Wednesday 22nd, Thursday 23rd.
Signdance Collective was founded by Isolte Avila and North Wales actor, David Bower and are an award winning international touring performance company.  From Holyhead, Signdance Collective will embark on a UK tour before travelling to New York, Austria and Sardinia.
On Saturday 18th February, a member of the Signdance Collective Outreach team will also deliver a free full day digital engagement workshop from 10.00am – 4.00pm where participants can find more about the pioneering work of Signdance Collective, discuss the themes of Carthage and film their own digital letters which will be published online and shown before the performance on 24th March and subsequent performances in the UK and the USA.
To book tickets for the performance and reserve a space on the residency contact Ucheldre Centre 01407 763361 or email box-office@ucheldre.org


  1. Wow… this is so exciting.I live in Brynsiencyn Anglesey. I am an artist printmaker… much of my work connects with narrative/ storytelling. I was previously a teacher of the deaf … so am doubly interested in the project. Culd i become involved??? Wanda Garner

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