Breaking through the fog | Nicole Cuschieri

After coming out of a four-month coma, Aldo Cauchi Savona decided to collaborate with a group of friends on Inwardly Silent, a multidisciplinary project charting this journey from limbo state to consciousness. Artistic director Nicole Cuschieri talks about bringing this unique and challenging event to life

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
17 January 2017, 9:00am
Nicole Cuschieri
Nicole Cuschieri
Back in September 2015, photographer Aldo Cauchi Savona suffered a traffic accident that left him in a coma for four months. Now, he has decided to collaborate with a group of friends on Inwardly Silent, a multidisciplinary project charting this journey from limbo state to consciousness expressed through poetry, film and physical performance. Teodor Reljic speaks to the project’s artistic director Nicole Cuschieri about bringing this unique and challenging event to life.

Could you talk a little bit about the origins of the project? What were the initial ideas behind it and how did they evolve over time?

Prior to the accident, Aldo Cauchi Savona and Miriam Calleja had been set to collaborate on a project together, combining photography and poetry. As Aldo slowly began to regain some of his memories, they discussed it again and decided to go ahead with it. Miriam then contacted me to add some eccentricity to the project. Our initial vision has not evolved a great deal. It was always our goal to have a multidisciplinary immersive show that told a story about hope and perseverance. What developed a great deal was the actual content of each piece and the flow of imaginative ideas that came from everyone involved.   

From left: Marilu Vella, Karl Cassar and Joseph Zammit
From left: Marilu Vella, Karl Cassar and Joseph Zammit
The project combines various media – from poetry to film and theatrical performance. How did you set about combining these elements together, and what were the common elements you wanted to keep in mind all throughout the process?

At the start of the project, we decided the ideas should spark from the story that Aldo wanted to tell about his experience of waking up from a coma, unable to recall his memories and slowly having to rebuild his life from scratch. We encouraged him to keep a journal, recording everything he remembered from the day he woke up to that point. He continued to document his feelings and insights about his recovery every day, the main message being that with positivity and hope, the recovery process become faster and less traumatic, finally achieving what he called, being Inwardly Silent. Miriam followed the journal carefully and wrote several poems inspired by Aldo’s words. These poems were then the stepping stones to many unusual and thought-provoking ideas that blossom with the collaboration of several artists from various disciplines. The event is a fusion of poetry, film, dance, music and theatre all uniting together to share the same story.

Mariele Zammit in Inwardly Silent
Mariele Zammit in Inwardly Silent
Given that the project is based on the journal of somebody emerging from a coma, it must not have been the most straightforward starting point. What were some of the main challenges in turning this into something coherent and palatable for an audience?

For me, the most coherent way to tell the story of a journey of recovery was to break it down into the different phases and emotions that Aldo has experienced since waking up. It isn’t so black and white, but I tried to incorporate the most essential parts of his story. For example, him waking up and the confusion and panic that he felt around him. People talking to him, asking him questions which to him seemed like gibberish until his brain started to slowly absorb and understand what had actually happened to him. 

We also explored the way people behaved around him, the lack of understanding most people have about what a person recovering from brain trauma is actually experiencing. Another intriguing aspect of brain recovery is the way the body and the mind don’t always communicate cooperatively. The brain wants to do one thing, but the body refuses to do it. This will be conveyed through experimental dance. And finally, we focused on the message of accepting that sometimes in life, bad things happen and when it does, you have to go back and start again at A. 

Dancers Clara Agius and Lukas Orphéo Schneider at the evocative and intimate venue for Inwardly Silent – the WWII Shelter at the Wignacourt Museum in Rabat
Dancers Clara Agius and Lukas Orphéo Schneider at the evocative and intimate venue for Inwardly Silent – the WWII Shelter at the Wignacourt Museum in Rabat
Why did you decide to crowd-fund part of the project through Zaar? And on that note, what do you make of the funding bodies available to local artists right now? Do you think there are enough opportunities out there for all kinds of projects to get funded?

We decided to seek additional funding as due to the various disciplines, especially the filming part, this project is a rather costly one and due to the venue and the intimate nature of the project, the ticketing will be very limited. So the revenue – along with the funding – didn’t quite cover all our costs. At the moment, we have reached a quarter of our target and we hope to raise the full €800 by the end of the month. The Zaar campaign is an excellent opportunity for local artists to get their projects off the ground, and the Zaar team have been incredibly helpful and been with us every step of the way. 

The Inwardly Silent performance will be taking place between January 27 and 29 at the Wignacourt WWII Shelters, Rabat, with shows at 19:30, 20:30 and 21:30 on each of the nights. Directed by Nicole Cuschieri with poetry by Miriam Calleja, the show features music by Alex Vella Gregory, choreography by Brandon Shaw, and the cast includes Joseph Zammit, Mariele Żammit, Marilù Vella, Veronica Stivala, Karl Cassar, Clara Agius, and Lukas Orphéo Schneider. Spaces are limited to 20 persons each night. Bookings: http://www.creativeisland.com.mt/events/inwardly-silent/

You can support the project’s Zaar campaign at http://www.zaar.com.mt/projects/inwardly-silent/. Rewards for backers include personalised notes from Aldo Cauchi Savona, poetic prints, early-bird tickets to the show and even personal photography sessions with Cauchi Savona himself. Inwardly Silent is also partly funded by the Malta Arts Fund

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Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...