QUARANTINE STORY: Jonny Cotsen
Posted: 25 June 2019
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I am a performance artist and an access consultant. Prior to that, I was a secondary school art and photography teacher. I quit my teaching job as a response to the lack of Deaf artists working in the arts in Wales. I wish someone had told me that it is so fucking hard working as a freelancer in the arts, but I have no regrets! I am currently performing and touring with ‘Louder Is Not Always Clearer’, a solo show which is being directed and produced by the brilliant Mr and Mrs Clark. It will be at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Although my work revolves around performance art, I have always loved visual art. I studied Fine Art at University and I am passionate about visiting museums and galleries. Keith Haring, Francis Bacon, Barnet Newman, Marc Chagall and Jean-Michel Basquiat – it is these artists that motivate me every day.
How do you like to spend your time?
I am a dad. My daughter, Tilly, is two and a half years old. She was born the week I did my first ever performance on stage. The beauty of being freelance is I get to be more of my own boss and we don’t work until after 10 am, so the quality time I have with her is amazing. She is that right age where she understands everything, and we are able to have brilliant conversations with her, whether it’s signing, talking, singing or just being silly. I used to enjoy going to gigs, mountain biking, supporting my local footie team, but these days it’s hanging out with her and then folding clothes, cleaning the house and watching Netflix.
How did you get involved with Quarantine’s work?
Richard and Renny came to see my show, ‘Louder Is Not Always Clearer’ at Chapter Arts in Cardiff. They were in Cardiff auditioning for ‘English’, a co-production with National Theatre Wales. Apparently, they really liked what they saw. They invited me for a chat a few days later and asked me to perform in ‘English’. I had never heard of Quarantine and I had no intention of performing for anyone else, but I read a little bit about their work and I really liked what they do, especially the non-actor roles that are involved. I spoke with Rhiannon White (Common Wealth Theatre) and choreographer Jo Fong and they convinced me that I should take the job. I understand now why they told me to take the job because it was the best working relationship I have had, and I am so inspired by what they do and the work that they have made.
In what ways did you work with Quarantine?
The work I did with them on ‘English’ started with a series of conversations. Lots of them. At times I felt a bit apprehensive because I didn’t really understand why we were doing what we were doing, and what the purpose of it was – all I was doing was having these conversations. However, at tech week it really started to come together. I kind of ‘got it’ – what Richard was trying to do. It came together without me realising it… naturally kicked in when I was performing. It was a strange thing. We had lots of fun during the production and it was a privilege to have Jo Fong on the team. She really looked after me when things got tough. I was also blessed to have a fantastic team around me.
Why did you choose to work with Quarantine?
I didn’t. I trusted others and listened to people who have worked with Quarantine before, and they all said this was a great opportunity for me. There was no way I was going to say no.
Why do you think Quarantine chose to work with you?
I don’t know. I think they were inspired by my performance; the fact I am not an actor and that I was telling a story in a unique way that engages with an audience so deeply. Maybe it was that, or maybe it’s because I am an easy person to have a conversation with. I am not sure. Whatever it was, I am glad they wanted to work with me.
What are you doing next?
This year, I am heading to the Edinburgh Fringe with ‘Louder Is Not Always Clearer’. We are part of the British Council Showcase and will be at Summerhall for the whole month. ‘Louder Is Not Always Clearer’ is also part of the national rural dance forum so we will be touring to rural communities around the UK until Spring next year. I am working on a new R&D project that is funded by Unlimited called ‘HHA (Hearing Hearing Aids)’. The purpose of HHA is to create an empathetic piece that will give (hearing) people the opportunity to wear hearing aids and to reflect on how they listen and engage with their everyday world. I am quite excited to see how HHA develops.
I finally got to see Quarantine’s show ‘Wallflower’. It was 5 hours long. The best performance I have seen in a long time. Thank you.