Marc Rees 150
Three years ago, National Theatre Wales and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru joined forces to collaborate for the first time. With the seeds of the idea coming from Jon Gower, I developed the idea of creating a multi-disciplinary production that would fuse theatre and installation. Siân Thomas (creative director) and I were given funding to go to Patagonia to research and develop ideas.
I went out to Patagonia four times in total. It was very important to visit the place more than once. The first visit to Patagonia is a truly incredible experience – the history of the place, the connection with Wales, the epic landscape – all make for a thrilling experience. It's hard to be objective as the place is so enchanting and romantic.
On your first visit, it's very easy to fall under the spell of the mythical world of Patagonia. I wanted to avoid that, and was keen to turn the legend on its head.
I had a very ambitious idea to create a number of performances, in Patagonia and at various locations in Wales, that would happen simultaneously. In the end, this turned out to be a little too ambitious. But I felt strongly that this was an opportunity for the people of Patagonia to tell the story back to us in Wales, and so we needed to find a way of doing this.
This is where the idea for the film came from. The film Galesa was created by Roger Williams and his company Joio. It was a partnership between S4C, National Theatre Wales, and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. I chose chapters from Galesa to be included in the production.
The film is unique: the idea of creating a 'structured reality' – like you see in television programmes – where ordinary people tell a story by reacting to situations created by the director. We had one actress, Elizabeth Fernandez, and her personal story was very interesting. She was an Argentine woman who had learnt Welsh, and had dreamt of being able to travel to Wales to act in Pobol y Cwm since she was a little girl. This is now what she does. The film followed her returning to Patagonia, after becoming a star on Welsh television. As the story develops, we see that she is torn between two lands – feeling at home in both Welsh and Argentinian culture, but not completely fitting in to either. The film follows her as she tries to define her own identity. For me, she was reflecting the pioneers of 150 years ago – she was a modern-day pioneer.
Elizabeth had learnt Welsh and was proud of the fact that she could speak the language. This was also symbolic – we in Wales are also dependent on people learning Welsh so that the language may continue to exist.
Getting input from local people – the ones who live there today, that is – was very important. I knew how to tell the history in terms of position, location, content and so on – but I wanted local people's voices to shape the story.
On a personal level, for me, the most unexpected thing was that Patagonia encourages you to consider your Welshness and your own identity. It's very odd to travel more than 8,000 miles to ask those questions.