Wales Arts Review and a Twitter virgin

Original illustration  for Kaite O'Reilly's "The 9 Fridas ( 九面芙烈達 )" Salt Tse-Ying Chiang (江則穎) http://salt-c-art.com/The-9-Fridas

Original illustration
for Kaite O’Reilly’s “The 9 Fridas ( 九面芙烈達 )” Salt Tse-Ying Chiang (江則穎)
http://salt-c-art.com/The-9-Fridas

The lovely chaps at Wales Arts Review have published my rehearsal diary from the weeks I spent recently in Taiwan, working on the 9 Fridas with Mobius Strip theatre company in association with Hong Kong Rep’ for The 2014 Taipei Art Festival. You can read the mix of travelogue and documentation of process here

Meanwhile, the wonderful Sarah Dickenson, playwright and dramaturge extradinaire, has finally got me on twitter. I will be fumbling around trying to learn what the buttons mean and how to be pithy and concise when every fibre in my being revolts and wants to revel and roll around in words, desiring everything to be BIGGER, RICHER, LONGER…… I see it as a challenge, It will be good for me, like haiku (but not, I hope, like cod liver oil).

I will be making an unintentional eejit of myself @kaiteoreilly

Follow at your peril.

 

Being ‘green’ as a playwright and 4 stars for Woman of Flowers

I’m in Cork mentoring Orla Burke, funded by Arts Council of Ireland and Arts Disability Ireland. Over the coming six months Orla will be developing a play, and I will be supporting her and advising her about the script and the profession. Orla will also be writing about her adventures here and I wanted to share some of our conversations this morning about process and creativity.

I always advise writers not to throw anything away. It is hard to ignore the chastising inner critic, but often ideas jotted down and kept become seeds for the future. Going back over my old notebooks have opened up new possibilities. I feel writing can be the greenest profession there is, once we learn to recycle and develop ideas instead of sending them away to landfill. I remember sitting in on a lecture once when researching archeology for ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ and discovering the priceless tomb of Tutankhamen was unearthed under the debris from other digs. Keep your notes and ideas and excavate – you never know what treasure you may find.

Delighted at lunchtime to see a 4 star review from Remote Goat for Woman of Flowers at Cheltenham Everyman this weekend, then touring to Exeter and beyond next week.

‘..an exciting play that featured clever design choices, powerful performances and a creeping, unsettling sense of claustrophobia and fear. 
…[Sophie] Stone uses sign language to stunning effect, trailing off in the middle of her sentences to draw the audience into her own private world… her emotions… expressed through a combination of mesmerising signing and dance.’

Full review here – http://www.remotegoat.com/uk/review_view.php?uid=11380

 

 

Challenging, provocative, yet strangely timeless… Woman of Flowers

Woman of Flowers

Woman of Flowers

Performer Sophie Stone and I were welcomed into Broadcasting House today, to be interviewed by Jenni Murray on BBC Radio 4’s  Woman’s Hour. Jenni came to see the show last night and said she’d enjoyed it very much. She spoke about a conversation she’d had with a member of the audience about the importance of having a Deaf or disabled presence on stage, and how this seems to be increasingly difficult. For me, this just highlights the significance of the work that Forest Forge theatre company are doing and long may they continue…

Our interview about the origins of Woman of Flowers and Sophie’s experience as being the first Deaf actor to train at RADA can be heard again here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0278jsz

I have also guest blogged for What’s on Stage on the power of language and the shaping nature of words and stories…. You can read that here.

We’ve also been getting some lovely reviews and responses on the Forest Forge website. John Foster wrote:

An absolutely terrific production. Very powerful, evocative and gripping, laced with moments of humour, but brilliantly expressive in its performance, direction, and in the lyricism and poetry of the writing in a rich and complex play by Kaite O’Reilly. A wonderful piece of writing, gripping, moving, deeply evocative. The central performance by Sophie Stone-Rose was mesmerising, what a great actor, she held the attention throughout. The other performances were also very effective. The music and soundscape were haunting and disturbing, beautifully conceived and executed. A play embracing modern themes of slavery, power, communication and identity but also concerned with ancient elemental tensions with a powerful sense of landscape, the enclosed world of the forest, and insanity of isolation all deftly forged. Terrific set design by David Haworth and incisive beautifully orchestrated direction from Kirstie Davis. Challenging, provocative yet strangely timeless. Highly recommended.

Teresa Warren wrote how it had particular resonance for the Deaf community  

due to the natural attachment to sign language for many and the importance of having an internal voice which isn’t taken for granted by members of the Deaf community.’

Deepa Shastri wrote:  ‘

I am a deaf sign language and use caption (surtitles) to access the dialogue and have to say that Forest Forge is a great example of their commitment to making the show inclusive (with theatricalized signing in some section.) Without the captions i would have not been able to follow the whole show…[which is] fantastic.’

These last two comments from our Deaf audience members mean a lot. As earlier posts have documented, Jean St Clair, Sophie Stone and I worked hard on re-imagining sections of my poetic text in visual language. It is gratifying to see our efforts and those of our director Kirstie Davis to tell an old story in innovative and accessible ways is appreciated by the audience we hoped to connect with.

Thanks to all for the insightful and encouraging comments. More can be seen on the company website

The production continues on tour until 1st November.

 

In full bloom – Woman of Flowers

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge's 'Woman of Flowers' by Kaite O'Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge’s ‘Woman of Flowers’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

So we have officially opened and are receiving fantastic responses on twitter, which you can read here. We’ve had lots of accolades through the more official channels, with Lyn Gardner on her Guardian theatre blog picking us out as one of the week’s top tickets and there’s a fascinating interview with Sophie Stone on the BBC Ouch blog here. Sophie and I will be guests on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour tomorrow morning, 24th September, at 10am, talking about the show and our creative collaboration with director Kirstie Davis.

The piece is up and alive and breathing (or should that be flying? Being inspired by The Mabinogion’s Blodeuwedd, owls and night birds are a theme throughout the piece…)

We tour until November first and details of the venues are here,

I’m biased of course, for it’s my words and concept, but sitting in The Pleasance Theatre in London last night, I began to appreciate what an unusual piece it is aesthetically. It is a collaboration between Deaf and hearing cultures, but not in the more usual sense of having integrated sign interpretation throughout. There is no translation, we do not use BSL, but a re-imagining of my written text in sections of visual language, interspersed with live music, surtitles, and terse prosaic dialogue, in a setting which is both contemporary and oddly out of time. It is an intense experience owing to the commitment of the cast, who are never ‘off’, and what I and several on social media have called the mesmerising performance of Sophie Stone.  I hope people get to see it. I would love to know what others think of it.

Woman of Flowers continues this week at The Pleasance Theatre London until 24th September, then Cheltenham Everyman 25-27th September, exeter Bike Shed until 4th October, then touring until November 1st.

Woman of Flowers – from seed to bloom

Woman of Flowers

Woman of Flowers

In 2012, when director Kirstie Davis came to see my cultural Olympiad project with National Theatre Wales, ‘In Water I’m Weightless’, we sat and plotted in the  bar afterwards. Kirstie had directed my play ‘peeling’ for Forest Forge theatre company the year before, and we were keen to work together again. Asking me what ideas I had to make a new work if she was to commission me, I waxed on about an ancient story which had fascinated me for years – the story of Blodeuwedd, Woman of Flowers, from the fourth branch of the ancient Welsh treasure The Mabinogion.

Playwrights reworking old stories is not new. Many of Shakespeare’s plots came from received stories, and adaptations and reinventions of existing works is still very popular. One of the things that attracted me to Blodeuwedd was the capacity for the themes in the original to be reinterpreted with resonance for our times.

So in 2012 in the bar of the Wales Millennium Centre, I talked of a tale of duty and desire, of the power of words to create belief systems, and what happens if someone challenges the life already chosen for them – and the reinvention began to emerge. Kirstie and I already had an idea of who should play this transformative woman of flowers – Sophie Stone, one of the cast of ‘In Water…’, who had mesmerised us both with her charismatic performance.

And here we are in 2014, about to open at the Pleasance theatre in London on Monday, and embark on a national tour… Sophie is indeed in the piece, and as gripping in performance as Kirstie and I had hoped – and it’s not just us thinking that; the twitter response to our previews last week have been outstanding and encouraging for the wider reception of the production.

I’m giving a talk at Exeter University on 1st October when the production is at The Bike Shed Theatre (details here ) and this story will be one I will tell about how theatre happens. It is about building relationships with allies and dreaming ideal productions and cast, then plotting and scheming and working immensely hard to make it a reality…

We all know about the negative impact funding cuts are having on the arts; it always seems a small miracle to me that despite the odds people still insist on being creative, and inviting others to sample, to dream, think and enjoy… We need the arts, and we need strong audiences. Whether it’s Woman of Flowers, or an exhibition at your local art gallery, or any live music, poetry, spoken word event or theatre performance occurring in your vicinity – like the Fun Palaces weekend 4th-5th October – do your best to support them. Keep the work alive.

 

 

Making language visual: an interview with Jean St Clair

British Sign Language (BSL)  creative consultant and performer Jean St Clair has been a close friend and collaborator for a dozen years. She has worked with me on many productions – advising on translation/reinvention from spoken/written language into visual language with National Theatre Wales (‘In Water I’m Weightless’, 2012), Graeae (‘peeling’ 2002) and now for a second time with Forest Forge Theatre company (‘peeling’ 2011, ‘Woman of Flowers’ 2014). We have also collaborated on our own production with Jeni Draper as The Fingersmths Ltd in 2006.

Jean St Clair's encouraging feedback to Sophie Sone of 'Woman of Flowers' early rehearsals

Jean St Clair’s encouraging feedback to Sophie Sone of ‘Woman of Flowers’ early rehearsals

I have been working again recently with Jean on Woman of Flowers, my latest script and a reinvention of the Bloudewydd myth from The Mabinogion for Forest Forge Theatre Company. We are in the final stages of rehearsals before a national tour 18 Sept – 1st Nov, and of course Jean has been involved, as central to the production in aesthetic and concept are sections of theatricalised sign and visual language.

I’ve written academically about our collaborative process in translation from written English to visual as Fellow of the International research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’, Freie Universitat, Berlin. It is endlessly fascinating for me, how concepts and ideas I have shaped in printed words and English become visual and are moulded into something else. There has also been increasing interest in this process, and I’m delighted Jean took some time in the midst of rehearsals to answer some basic questions I asked her about her work and this alchemic transformation:

Jean in poster design for 'Frozen' by Bryony Lavery, Fingersmiths last production.

Jean in poster design for ‘Frozen’ by Bryony Lavery, Fingersmiths last production.

I trained with British Theatre of the Deaf, run by Pat Keysell. She was trained in Mime so the language we conveyed was called Sign Mime. A combination of mime and stylised signs. It was not the everyday language deaf people were using. It was pretty much the same when I worked with National Theatre of the Deaf in USA where the ASL (American Sign Language) on stage was delivered in a poetic style.

When I did Hearing at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, a play with all hearing cast, the language I used was the natural language of BSL. It was the same when I did Children of a Lesser God (nb. Jean toured internationally and to London’s West End in this groundbreaking play).

When fingersmiths was set up by Kaite OReilly, Jeni Draper and myself, we were looking into Equality in both languages, English and BSL. It was where we experimented with a variety of styles such as where Jeni would speak English and I would sign BSL but independently of each other as opposed to have Jeni interpreting for me. One style was Visual Vernacular (V.V.) which was not based on English. It came from the concept of looking at the world in a visual way and to capture the images by using facial expressions, hand movements and body language without using either English or BSL. There are some iconic signs such as plane, bird and baby which we could incorporate in V.V.

- Can you explain the difference between eg sign interpreted performances, theatricalised BSL, sign performance and  visual language?

Sign interpreted performances is where a Sign Language interpreter standing at the side of the stage signs what is being spoken on stage or it could be integrated in the performances. Theatricalised BSL is based on BSL but taking on the visuality and expanding on it. Visual Vernacular is independent of English and BSL, apart from using iconic BSL signs.

If you look up the dictionary for Vernacular, it will come up with ‘A vernacular or vernacular language is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, especially as distinguished from a literary, national or standard language, or a lingua franca used in the region or state inhabited by that population.’ Visual Vernacular can be used world wide, it does not matter which sign language you use, BSL, ASL, or Japan Sign Language, the V.V. is invariably similar due to the way it is presented visually.

 When you are working with English text, what is your process when transforming that into a) BSL and then b) visual language?

Both are slightly different. But the basic rule is to understand the text, the meaning, and also to explore whether there is an underlying meaning ‘between the lines’ or whether it is presented in an ambiguous way, then the BSL would need to reflect this. There is no point in signing word for word otherwise the meaning will be lost. For example if one say, ‘you bring sunshine to my life’. We don’t actually use the sign for ‘sunshine’ in that context but to find the interpretation in a sense that we bring sunshine in that person’s life by finding different signs to match the meaning.

With visual language, the process is similar but we look for the visuality and aim to expand the BSL into a highly stylised form. It helps to find pictures and photos within that text to find shape and form

When you are devising yourself – maybe using V.V. can you describe your process?

As V.V. is not ‘language-based’, the process is much more free. You look at the world within and find iconic BSL signs, gestures, facial expressions and movement to match the context. For example if I am to describe walking along the high road, I would describe the buildings, people walking past and to add human behaviour, little things that people may not notice but it is there. One way to use a comparison to V.V. is to watch cartoons, the set up is similar. Wide, medium and close up shots of particular objects or a bird. For the close up, I would describe or act like a bird with facial expression, with the medium close up, I would use my arms to move like wings and for the wide shot, I would use my hand to show the bird flying away into nothingness.

Further discussion of Jean St Clair’s process will follow in a later post.

Dates and venues for ‘Woman of Flowers’ can be found at: http://www.forestforge.co.uk/shows/woman-of-flowers

A taster of Sophie Stone signing the opening speech early in the rehearsal process can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdGdwDWVm9M

And we’ve opened…. The 9 Fridas Taipei premiere

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

So we have opened – and to great responses.

It is extraordinary, the moment in the dress rehearsal when suddenly, for the first time, everything comes together. All those separate teams- the lighting design, the composer and sound composition, the set design, the costume department, the performers and director/playwright, the trusty stage management – suddenly all these individual bodies become one entity…. I sat in The Wellspring Theatre and saw all the aspects discussed in the many production and design meetings come together. It is a wonderful synergy – all the collective energies, imaginations and skills creating something other.

Every time feel like a small miracle. A production is a collective act of will – and faith. I am grateful to all my collaborators at Mobius Strip Theatre Company, the Wellspring Theatre and of course the Taipei Art Festival for this willing, generous and creative cooperation.

O'Reilly with 2 of her 9 Fridas - Bobo Fung and Faye Leong. Taipei 2014.

O’Reilly with 2 of her 9 Fridas – Bobo Fung and Faye Leong. Taipei 2014.

xx