Wac Arts InFlight – Meet Leo Kay, InFlight’s new Artistic Director!


InFlight students have started their final term of aerial training, and are now getting ready for their ensemble final performance where they show what they’ve learned, plus engage in collaborative work with other artists from dance, theatre, digital media and/or visual art.

InFlight is a 2 year professional development programme funded by the Arts Council England and delivered by Wac Arts, and two renowned aerial theatre companies: Upswing and Scarabeus. 17 emerging aerialists are being developed by the scheme.

The InFlight final performance is scheduled for the 23rd July at The Old Town Hall building in Belsize Park. The students will work with their acquired skills in disciplines such as trapeze, cocoon, silks and rope as well as harness techniques like abseil and bungee harness.

Performer, theatre maker and Wac Arts alumnus Leo Kay has just been appointed as the new artistic director for InFlight, and will be in charge of delivering the final ensemble performance for this course. We got to chat with Leo and discuss his experience, his memories as a student at Wac Arts, and his vision and ideas for this exciting original piece.

What was it about the InFlight project that sparked an interest and got you to apply for the role of Artistic Director?

Leo: Regarding my interest in applying for this role, initially I was drawn by the challenge of combining the InFlight brief with my personal artistic vision. My first thought was that it was unlikely that I would be selected because I’m not primarily an aerial director.

I am a theatre maker who has migrated from physical theatre into creating participatory and interactive performance and live art. I am a solo artist, as well as a collaborating performer/maker and director on the work of other artists. I work with writers, live artists, MCs and spoken word artists. I almost always create pieces inspired by the personal autobiographical experiences of the artists that I am working with.

As I began to explore what I could build if given this opportunity, I began to get excited by the potential of mixing the epic scale of images that could be created within the aerial form with my intimate form of interactive performance. For the InFlight project I’m interested in working with a broad spectrum of performance experiences, from small moments of interaction to large-scale multi-sensory spectacle.

I was also deeply inspired by the possibility of returning to Wac Arts – this is where I trained between the ages of 13 and 17. Every Sunday (post party or not) I was there at 10 am for ballet, Matt Mattox jazz, contemporary dance, mime or drama. I owe a lot to Wac Arts. I returned in my 20’s and taught for a bit, and have long wanted to give back a little for what I got from my time at WAC. The opportunity of creating a performance where I ouldn use all the artistic forms that I’ve been working on over the past 20 years to service Wac Arts’s vision was a massive attraction when applying for this role.

What is your artistic vision for this project?

The project will explore the international refugee crisis and the nature of both intentional and forced migration. The participating artists will draw on their personal biography and research on the nature of home and rise in homelessness in London. They will also address the rise in xenophobia and human rights violations that dominate the current refugee crisis, as inspiration for the various moments in the show. The project will explore the lines that are drawn to define people as ‘other’, to persecute and segregate.

I’m interested in the question: What can you take with you and what are you forced to leave behind?

The story of migration impacts many families now resident and settled in the UK for many generations. This work will aim to question the myth of nationhood and connect the personal life experiences of the performers with the wider socio-political situation we find ourselves in today.

The work will be a promenade performance. It will move through the spaces of Hampstead Town Hall, offering audiences a chance to access spaces that are never normally used for performance. It will move from large scale interactive performance on the outside of the building, where audience are guided and contextualised within the work, to more intimate interactions inside the building, eventually ending with an image-based physical spectacle. I’m interested in creating moments of high spectacle alongside intimate shared action between audience and performer. I hope that this mix of mediums and forms will create an original, emotional and politically charged work.

In your previous work you have aimed to (taken from your website) create original work that floats between performance and everyday interaction, with an emphasis on participation and intimacy, social and political engagement and unexpected interaction between artist and audience. How do you think these ideas will contribute to the InFlight show?

I think I’ve partly answered this in the question above. The moments of intimate, conversational exchanges between performer and audience in this piece will be as important as the physical and spectacular elements. I often describe my performance as existing within ‘ambiguous platforms’, where the audience aren’t too sure whether they are in a performance, an event or an everyday interaction. Often within this ambiguity, performers and audience can find moments of honesty and humanity, which transcend the standard ‘performance’ experience and stimulate a shift in thinking, or offer new ways to interact. Some of my work is overtly political, whilst other works are subtle, making a political statement through their form and through the invitation to audiences to participate in actions, which challenge hierarchy, conformity and individualism and promote collective communal experience.

The contrast between high theatricality and much more stripped back conversational performance is extremely interesting to me and has been key to the dramaturgy of much of my work. This juxtaposition will also be at the core of this new work for InFlight.

What were your memories of Wac Arts when you attended?

I have so many memories of Wac Arts.

I remember my audition, a drama workshop lead by Celia Greenwood. I improvised a drunken youth about to ‘get it’ from his mum for stumbling home late.

I remember being thrown a shoe in an improv game and freezing, too shy to say my name. My first ever mime class with Zina Dilke.

I remember whooping and wailing in support of who ever was on stage, singing or dancing their hearts out at the end of term performances in the main corrugated iron roofed hall at interchange studios: the old, vibe filled prefab building where Wac Arts was based at that time. A sense of belonging.

I remember master classes with incredible international artists like Diedre Lavelle; A member of Peter Brooks company; and Patsy Ricketts from Jamaican National Dance Theatre Company.

I remember a mime improvisation with my piers: Steven Medlin and Peter Anderson, at an end of term performance, that blew me away and introduced me to the liberation experienced when improvising within a shared creative form.

I remember throwing myself across a space feeling the exaltation of physical liberation in Nigel Charnocks New Dance Classes aged 14.

I remember baked potatoes in the Bar at lunch and never being able to talk to Celia when she asked me anything! too shy!

I remember Marianne Jean Baptist singing with The London Fusion Orchestra at the CUT in Camden as part of London Jazz Festival. Her rendition of ‘Strange Fruit’ tore me apart.

I remember ripping my groin muscle in a dance piece at the same event, with 5 amazing semi professional female dancers who all pushed me down into full splits…something we hadn’t quite rehearsed.

I remember age 13 intimidated by a kid as he asked me what I was listening to on my headphones and saying he wouldn’t like it. He listened to it and said he loved a bit of Janis Joplin…he flipped my preconceptions and taught me about judgment.

I remember touring with the Wac Arts performance arm: Fusion Youth Dance Theatre Company directed by David Glass, Eugene Skeef, Armani Naftali and Celia. Experiencing for the first time the magic of the Edinburgh Festival. When I return to Edinburgh as an adult (independent of my feelings about how commercial and hard edged it has become) and smell the hops brewing beer down the windy streets, I get flash backs to running down those streets age 14 with fellow performers full of excitement and high on life.

You are clearly passionate about social justice and giving a voice to often marginalised individuals; a core element of Unfinished Business’s work. Do you think that this interest came from your time at Wac Arts as the ethos is very aligned?

The artistic ethics and the socio-political vision of Unfinished Business is a combination of the beliefs and political vision of both myself and producer Anna Smith. A couple of the more potent influences on my artistic vision came from my parents, who were very politically active socialists and Wac Arts, which had the greatest influence on my grounding in performance. At Wac Arts I was taught by incredible teachers, I met new peers who shared my passion for performance and I learnt about the ethics and professionalism needed to sustain a career in the arts. Much of my belief in art as a transformational and essential element within society comes from my years of training at Wac Arts.

Having worked alongside so many incredible young artists who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to develop their creativity if it wasn’t for Wac Arts instilled an unshakable belief in me: that we must provide opportunities for people to express themselves, who in our current political ideology wouldn’t otherwise have easy access to do so. It is the diversity in creative voices which delivers creative innovation, politically relevant artwork and ultimately, I believe will contribute to meaningful social change.

What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?

I am proud of different projects for different elements. I’ll list a selection here:

Decypher collective ‘8sixteen32’:

A project that was developed over 4 years, initiated by Amanda Roberts at REP Birmingham and created in collaboration with Polarbear and Charlie Dark. We worked with 5 Grime MCs on a Grime Theatre show that toured England. I directed the show. Giving artistic support to the participating MCs as they transformed from high-energy teenagers bursting with talent, into composed articulate gifted adult artists, felt like a great accomplishment.

The Third Side, Contacting the World

I made this project together with Contact Young Actors Company. It was a main stage performance, mixing large-scale visuals with autobiographical and political content, addressing the uprisings that happened across England in the summer of 2011. Through writing created by the young actors, the piece suggested that the knee jerk right wing reaction was covering up a far darker story surrounding consumerism and disaffection. I was incredibly proud of the mix of mediums, the infusion of satire and the political impact that the piece had.

Unfinished Business

Creating and sustaining my company Unfinished Business (www.thisisunfinished.com) alongside my partner in crime, producer Anna Smith, has itself been a great accomplishment. We have developed several shows, all of which feel like different kinds of accomplishments:
It’s Like He’s Knocking is an intimate interactive show performed by a musician and myself and set in a bedsit. It’s about me, my dad and my granddad and explores themes of mourning, ritual and migration.

Only Wolves And Lions is an intensely participatory show; a meal with an audience of 20, which invites people to discuss the state of community and isolation in contemporary western urban culture.

The Spinning Wheelis the show that I am currently working on in New York with Baba Israel, Yako 440, Richard Ramchurn and Talvin Wilkes. The show brings together all that I’ve learnt from the many performances I’ve created which work with autobiography as source and content. It is both an intimate and personal conversation between a son and his father (who is no longer here), an exploration of artistic legacy through the celebration of 50 years of countercultural political artistic archive and a visual extravaganza using projection mapping to integrate this archive.

I guess I aim to be most proud of the project I am currently collaborating on and this InFlight project is no exception.

More information on the InFlight final performance on 23rd July at The Old Town Hall will be on the Wac Arts website, Facebook and Twitter from April.

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