Interview with David Weber-Krebs about “Silencing”

In episode 32 of TV series “Zaļgalvis (Greenhead)”, which focuses on themes concerning environment, the host Rvins Varde together with director David Weber-Krebs from Belgium goes into forest searching for the sounds of nature. David is in the process of making his new performance “Silencing”, which will take place in The International Festival of Contemporary Theatre “Homo Novus” in Riga, as well as in Kaaitheater, Brussels. In the process David met with three Latvian artists – Jānis Balodis, Kate Krolle and Inta Balode – to figure out whether the human-made sound pollution is slowly silencing nature. The TV series is made in cooperation with “Satori” and broadcasted on Latvian Television as well as on the VFS website. Bellow you can read an extract from the conversation.

David: When I listen, I need to be silent. Like now, in this forest – if I really want to listen to the animals, I have to stop walking and stay there for a while, and then maybe something happens.

Rvins: What it actually means – silencing? I don’t know.
David: You don’t know?

Rvins: No, I don’t.
David: For me silencing is silence and the aim is the action of it, so basically it’s the process of getting more and more silent. And I find it really interesting to work with that in the theatre because it involves the spectator. I had a piece that was called “Tonight, Lights Out!”, and in this piece the principal was that it was a space, like a studio, where you had 78 spectators and each of them had a light switch. And I asked them to switch of the lights and arrive to a total darkness. And the whole story was actually explained through something that was very famous in years 2000, where it was asked to switch off the lights for one hour – the Earth hour. We produce energy together; go to zero energy, for the climate change. And I made this thing in theatre. To see how people react when you ask them to do something as simple as that. It often lasted for a very long time, because when you give an instrument like that to people they become children, actually. So a lot of people were trying to sabotage the system, and the performance often lasted for three hours until we arrived to darkness.

Rvins: Tell me more about your work here, in Riga. What exactly it will be?
David: So, the work “Silencing” is a theatre performance, in which, to say it very simple, in the beginning there is a sound that is produced, sounds that are taken from field recordings, but slowly and surely become more scarce. The volume descends and then you realize actually that as audience you have an agency on that. Of course the silencing is a kind of reference to extinction. To the fact, that nature becomes more and more silent. I don’t know if you know this word ‘anthropocene’? The idea is that humans have changed the world so drastically that every natural phenomenon that exists on the planet is not only nature any more. Human has made a difference of it. Imprint on the planet. In my country, Belgium, there was a test made and in the entire country they didn’t find a place where you couldn’t hear human-made sounds. There are forests, but quite close there is always a road, a highway or something.

Rvins: What did you do in Latvia?
David: I worked with three Latvian artists and before we met for the first time, I asked them to think about a story of silence. But without telling them that it is a piece about climate change, extinction and these things. There was a free interpretation of the assignment and actually all three of them arrived to more intimate stories. Not telling us about the big story of nature fading, but really more personal experiences of what this process can be.

Rvins: So it’s a more local, intimate stories, than global propaganda or something.
David: Yeah, it is. Because actually now this topic of climate change is so present everywhere that a lot of artists are kind of using it almost in an opportunistic way. And I am not sure that this is the way to do it.

Rvins: Why it’s necessary?
David: Maybe it’s a way to arrive together to a kind of natural state. Because we don’t speak together anymore, we don’t make any signs anymore. It’s a very communal moment. I am interested in that. I am interested in society that instead of always creating something more, create nothing, maybe.

Rvins: Or less.
David: Or less, yeah.

Rvins: Is every work of yours connected to climate change and topics like that?
David: I think so, because I used to be very interested in sublime experiences. Sublime meaning something where you are in front of something and you are like – wow! You’re at the same time afraid, but feel fascinated by it. And I realised actually that now in the world that we are living and experiencing, this is not actually a productive thing to do in art. I am much more interested in creating situations of where you have to care for the situation. So, for example, I made a dance piece where I staged six human dancers and one non-human dancer, a donkey, a living donkey. They was choreography on the stage, but the donkey was not trained. So anything could happen. The donkey could decide that the situation was not interesting for him or that humans are not interesting for him and go have a shit in the corner. Or he could just be uninterested at all. So the human performers were walking in a formation and the donkey sometimes was interested, and then he followed them. And then there was this kind of magic moment – the donkey really understood them and there really was some kind of connection. Inter-species connection was made. And in that moment often people were laughing and when they laughed, of course, the donkey looked back at them. And then they destroyed the thing. I am really interested into this act of looking back of this animal, because you as a spectator understand that you are a part of the thing. The whole audience have to be with the animal in that moment.

“ACT: Art. Climate. Transition” is co-financed by the EU’s programme “Creative Europe”. ACT is a European cooperation project on ecology, climate change and social transition. In an era of climate breakdown, mass extinction and growing inequalities we join our forces in a project on hope: connecting broad perspectives with specific, localised possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. ACT is a project initiated by 10 cultural operators from 10 European countries, working in the field of performing and visual arts. More about the project read at