Vital Disabled Student Support to be Cut. Save DSA!

Kaite O'Reilly:

Please support this campaign against these cuts and read the post reblogged here.

Originally posted on The Hardest Hit:

Cross-posted from Sarah Campbell, Rolling with the Punches
Spread the word. Tell your MP. Write blogs. Let people know what is happening. We must try to stop this.

You can write to your MP online here.
Please also sign the e-petition here.
Share and Retweet this #ProtectDSA.

After becoming disabled as a teenager, I went to university, obtained a first class degree, then completed a PhD.  While I worked extremely hard, none of this would have been possible without the support of Disabled Student Allowance (DSA), which covers the extra costs for equipment and assistance disabled students may require in order to study at university.

This is why I was aghast to learn that the government has just announced plans to cut DSA.
Couched under the language of “modernisation”, “targeting funds at those who need it most”, “fairness”, is hidden the reality of an estimated 60 to 70% cut in…

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Talent is not the most important thing… William Faulkner.

“At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that — the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance. That is, to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is … curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does. And if you have that, then I don’t think the talent makes much difference, whether you’ve got that or not.”

 William Faulkner. University of Virginia, May 1957.

I’m currently deep in revision – not for an exam (or is it?), but reworking a would be novel. In the midst of this process, for solace and encouragement, I’ve been looking over my collection of quotations from the great and the good.

This Faulkner quotation, above, is refreshing, especially in the light of recent debates about talent and whether writing can be taught (and, yes, I’m talking about you, Hanif  Kureishi  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/04/creative-writing-courses-waste-of-time-hanif-kureishi)

Faulkner’s assertion seems both generous and also insightful – we can train and teach ourselves. It spurs me on to edit, to question, to wonder, to mull…to try and to try and to try until it comes out right.

Something to put on the wall above my writing desk, I think…

Finding the plot

“I guarantee you that no modern story scheme, even plotlessness, will give a reader genuine satisfaction unless one of those old-fashioned plots is smuggled in somewhere. I don’t praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading.”
- Kurt Vonnegut

Narrative, character, motivation and action have been my lodestars of late. I’ve been developing a treatment for an independent television production company, and returning to the basics has been both a struggle and a joy. It feels like a very long time since I considered story arcs and chronological throughlines and even consequential action… The past few projects I’ve worked on in live performance have been using either non-western structures (Told by the Wind and Japanese Aesthetics of Quietude) or post-dramatic dramaturgies (Playing the Maids). It always takes time to shift between media and adjust to their different demands when you work, as I do, across genre, style, and form. I feel like I need to acclimatise, or pass through a decompression chamber, so varied are the atmospheres and their related demands.

So after spending months considering Yugen, the untranslatable Japanese aesthetic principle which means something akin to ‘the hint’, or ‘what lies beneath the surface’, I now have to make the components which create the drama visible, tangible, concrete. It goes against every fibre in my body. I’ve spent months invisibly structuring, and denying narrative closure to create what Ota Shogo described as ‘Passivity in art’ (no ‘meaning’ or narrative is foisted upon the audience – rather, they are invited to participate in the creation of it). As a warm-up I attend a Pitch Your Film workshop led by the very excellent Angela Graham. If anyone can shake me from my current aversion to formulaic structure and GOAL MOTIVATION CONFLICT, Angela can.

And she does, with great aplomb. I love her directness, her clear instructions and thorough understanding of shaping material for the particular medium of film. She cuts through my froth and resistance, giving me clear directions in what I need to do to mould this material for the specific medium and for the activity at hand: a Pitch.

I’ve always loathed ‘loglines’ (‘Jaws in space’ – Alien), and I resist the highly codified and formulaic structures required to give the essence of the drama, even whilst understanding the need of these for such an expensive and commercial enterprise. After much struggling the penny drops – a pitch is told in a three act structure – and with some satisfaction I find my own way to supply what’s required without ‘compromising’ on my writing style and storyline too much.

If that sounds snobbish, I certainly don’t mean it to be. It’s simply a description of this particular writer’s struggle across and between media and form and what each demands. After working as a dramaturg with collaborators on a co-created piece of live performance, it takes a while to activate and then strengthen certain creative muscles which haven’t been used for a while. My character-driven naturalistic action/reaction and then and then and then narrative skills had become flabby. It hurt to flex them, and it was immensely difficult to motivate myself into using my imagination in this way after such an absence – especially when I knew it was well-honed and strong from working in other ways. After Angela’s work-out and then some very serious activity alone, the muscle sprang back surprisingly quickly, and I again started to enjoy working this way. It’s all stuff I know and have encountered as a reader, as a student, as a writer, as a maker, it simply takes a while to re-remember it, to re-enter this particular atmosphere, and with all the equipment needed to breathe and prosper there.

 

 

 

Playing the Euphonium for Little Miss Sociopath’s Pageant, or what Kaite did this week.

I have always secretly loved ‘catch-me-up’ round robins – those annual missives  that coyly condense achievements into two sides of A4, whilst desperately trying not to look smug. I’m afraid this post will resemble that kind of mix and match, for it’s been a remarkable and diverse week, but perhaps not quite in the league  of some of my stateside clan (‘Dorito bagged four hoops this season, whilst Haagen-Daz has embraced the Euphonium as her special skill for the upcoming Little Miss Sociopath Pageant’).

I’m delighted to be awarded a Literature Wales writing bursary, announced late this week. The grant will enable me to dedicate a sustained period to writing fiction. Although known as a dramatist, I’ve published short prose in the past, and am currently revising a first novel.  This award will give me guaranteed ‘fenced off’ time away from whatever it is I do to keep the wolf from the door, to experiment and explore the long prose form. The list of bursary recipients and information on how to apply for future bursaries can be found at: http://www.literaturewales.org/services-for-writers/i/124046/

I’m grateful to Literature Wales for this vote of confidence along with some financial support in these cash-strapped times. I’m used to reading about grants for the arts being slashed, which makes the announcement of twenty-two writers in Wales working through through the medium of English and Cymraeg sharing £81,000 in bursaries for 2014/15 even more cause for celebration. Hurrah. And thank you.

Further celebration this week involved the wonderful Disability Arts Cymru (DAC) and their skills week, where members of their Unusual Stage School have a series of masterclasses and workshops.

Augusto Boal's exercise: making a machine. Photo: Brian Tarr.

Augusto Boal’s exercise: making a machine. Photo: Brian Tarr.

This photo by Brian Tarr shows me apparently conducting the members of USS in one of Augusto Boal’s exercises from the Arsenal of the Theatre of the Oppressed: ‘Machine of Love/Hate’ (‘Games for Actors and Non-Actors’). I was fortunate to have trained with Augusto in the 1980′s and 1990′s, and have used his techniques in applied drama, devising processes, and for conflict resolution across Europe. For the past ten years I’ve been focusing on performance writing whenever I’ve led masterclasses, so it was wonderful to work physically and practically with these beautiful techniques again.

Disability Arts Cymru continue to provide outstanding support, guidance, and training opportunities for actors with physical, sensory, or intellectual impairments. As I said during a lecture at the end of the day, I felt like I had come home – back to Boal’s work, where I started my theatre practice, and to DAC and disability arts and culture.

I’m increasingly concerned about the dilution of expertise and knowledge into catch-all terms such as ‘diversity’. Of course I embrace diversity and promote it in my life and work, but there are particular challenges and prejudices people with impairments face – especially in these difficult days of cuts, the Bedroom Tax and its ilk, criticism of being ‘scroungers’, and the related rise in disability hate crime. An organisation like DAC, who are part of that community and have great understanding, experience, and specialism built up over decades should continue this expertise and not be asked to broaden the scope to a more general ‘diversity’ catchment. I know that this is the way policy is leading, directed from above by politicians, but it seriously worries me that specialist organisations will be weakened this way, and potentially at a time when their clientele will need them most.

The other event this week which I am proud of and certainly will be anything but coy about announcing is my delight and honour to be made DAC’s patron. It is my privilege to be a figurehead for this sterling organisation. I have been part of Disability Arts Cymru for twenty years, and my relationship with Maggie Hampton and Sara Beer goes back to 1986 when we all worked with Graeae Theatre Company, and were part of the Disability Civil Rights Movement. I hope I manage to serve them and the disabled and Deaf people in Wales and beyond, well.

Whilst we are on politics and the fight for civil rights, 陳佾均 Betty, the Taiwanese translator of my performance text ‘The 9 Fridas’ (whom I wrote about in my previous post) has been keeping me informed about the protests for democracy currently occurring in Taiwan. Our discussions began with reference to Frida Kahlo and her political commitment throughout her life – famously appearing in a wheelchair pushed by Diego Rivera, fist defiantly raised, placard in the other hand, less than a week before her death. We were discussing the necessity of finding parallels between the text and contemporary Taiwanese life, and so she broached the issue of the Sunflower Movement.

I was embarrassed and ashamed to tell her I had only the slightest knowledge of this massive civil rights campaign. There has been little coverage on UK radio and TV and after a cursory search I could only find one article in The Guardian online Comment is Free. Betty has sent me a few links, which I reproduce, below. Please look and read, and don’t be as uninformed as I was. Thank you

https://www.facebook.com/sunflowermovement

http://asiapacific.ifj.org/en/articles/journalists-obstructed-as-police-use-force-at-taiwan-student-demonstration

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/25/taiwans-protesters-democracy-china-taiwan-strait

Grace, fluency, and facility… Poet Chris Kinsey on writing and re-writing.

Writers are notoriously curious about how everybody else does it. Apart from the endless fascination with other peoples’ process, we also know there are wonderful lessons to be learned, tips to gather, knowledge to be shared. A few weeks ago the poet Chris Kinsey shared a document with me which she had written for her students about writing and re-writing. I’m delighted she gave me permission to reproduce that here.

 

Chris Kinsey: A personal view of writing and re-writing.

 

I write mainly out of excitement with experiences and from a desire to re-enact and re-live them.

I want to record the physicality and sensations of certain experiences. (Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Gerard Manley Hopkins were the first to make me want to pay attention and write.)

I write in order to find out what it is I want to write. Many writers prefer to have a plan but I’ve never liked to fit into the Procrustian bed of a plan. I need to make discoveries to maintain my motivation. Good ideas mostly fail because they’re good and there’s nothing to work out. It can feel like drudgery to record them.

First drafts are like finding a load of fireworks – full of excitement at experimenting with voices and viewpoints and coining words and images with the most exact visual or aural effects. This stage can be intoxicating. I chase a stream of consciousness, memory and sensation as fast as I can and as close as I can to any event which excites me to write.

Re-writing is best done a day or two after the ‘first thoughts, best thoughts’ rush.

Sometimes it’s as painful and humiliating as a hangover – everything grates or clunks or seems hackneyed, clichéd, laborious, repetitive, monotonous, vague, waffling, tongue-twisterly, O.T.T……. Sometimes it only feels this way. Our feelings are not always the best guide to the quality of our work; especially if they’ve just been hurt by discovering that a first draft doesn’t represent total satisfaction or perfection. Usually there are plenty of nuggets to harvest and frequently this leads to the true or vivid aspects of the subject declaring themselves and a theme or shape emerges. Voice or tone stabilises and distillation begins.

Crop peripheral ideas and images, focus the main ones.

Strive for the most exact, apt images and nouns. Tone up verbs. Tweak and play with word orders (save every change – you may want to revert to an earlier form). Try your piece out on the ear. Cut clichés, repetitions, catch phrases, etc. Etc. Rest. Let it lie.

Return later  – this is the hard part – make sure you haven’t cut some crucial part. And this is the really hard part – make sure you haven’t stifled the life of your piece by over determining it.

Hope for grace, fluency, and facility. Try your work out on someone whose feedback you trust and respect. Someone who will tell you where the work made them stumble is valuable.

Good, spontaneous-sounding, ‘natural’, pleasure-to-read work, often takes between 15 and 30 drafts.

 

*

With thanks to Chris.

Copyright of the above remains with Chris Kinsey 16/2/14.

 

Gender and Playwriting Survey – invitation to participate

Tonic Theatre are currently working with eleven other companies across the UK, inviting playwrights to participate in a survey so they may find more about the connections between gender and playwriting.

Information gathered will contribute to research conducted as part of Advance, a programme exploring how the theatre industry can work more successfully with female artists.

I hope we are all aware of the inequality existing within the industry – a stubborn 2:1 male to female ratio. For a quick fix on stats and data gleaned  from research by The Guardian and Elizabeth Freestone, have a look at: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/dec/10/women-in-theatre-research-full-results

Tonic are encouraging playwrights of any age, gender, or location in the UK to participate in the anonymous survey. It will take 10 minutes upwards to complete, depending on the level of your participation. “We know that it’s not often that playwrights are given the chance to comment on how the industry does or doesn’t work for them, and your response will be vital to the success of Advance and broadening our understanding more generally of the playwright’s experience.”

The Advance programme is exploring how the theatre industry can work more successfully with female artists. Tonic Theatre “..supports the theatre industry to achieve greater gender equality in its workforces and repertoires….Tonic’s approach involves getting to grips with the principles that lie beneath how our industry functions – our working methods, decision-making processes, and organisational structures – and identifying how, in their current form, these can create barriers. Once we have done that, we devise practical yet imaginative alternative approaches and work with our partners to trial and deliver them. Essentially, our goal is to equip our colleagues in UK theatre with the tools they need to ensure a greater level of female talent is able to rise to the top.’

A project worth participating in – and you can until Monday 24 March.

 

You can participate in the survey here:  http://fluidsurveys.com/s/AdvancePlaywrightSurvey/

Further information about Tonic, their projects and their work can be found at: http://www.tonictheatre.co.uk/

 

Llareggub, Welsh Noh, and me.

I’m currently deep in Dylan Thomas territory – the hype, history, and cultural tourism created about the man. I’ve been invited to write an essay on Dylan Thomas by that literary mountain of a man, Jon Gower, who is editing a collection. There is much noise being made about legacy in this centenary of Thomas’s birth, and especially so when living where I do, close to where he spent the late war years, 1944-45.

Some weeks ago the nature poet Chris Kinsey and I took ourselves off for a wander around Newquay, Cei Bach, and St Ina’s Church at Llanina Point in Ceredigion. It’s my local walk, but we were doing it as a literary pilgrimage, following the blue plastic plaques and local hearsay about where Dylan Thomas walked, talked, wrote, and (most importantly for the commercial impact) drank.

I have to confess, I hate ‘The Dylan Thomas Trail.’  These strangely marbled plaques bearing the face of a young Dylan Thomas decorate the odd tree or wall, leaving me mystified as to the locality’s significance. There’s no nearby information and the ‘map’ which the literary curious are supposed to follow to decipher the import of each place wasn’t available and the tourist information office was closed.

The information boards around Newquay aren’t much better. They’re fine for the day trippers to glance at when licking an ice cream on a sunny August bank holiday, but they can’t hold their own against the posters advertising the wild porpoises and bottle nosed dolphins who visit these parts. I also find the ‘facts’ about Thomas so bland as to render any detail invisible. Sure, the local tourist board may not want to go into his drunken exploits and womanising (although that seems to be what everyone wants to discuss), but his literary legacy and strong connection between creativity and place could be drawn a little clearer. Newquay is reputed to be the inspiration for Llareggub (say it backwards), the marine town in ‘Under Milk Wood’, although the Thomases walked, bickered, and drank a longer trail, up to Tal Sarn and Llanon, further up the coast.

So we took ourselves out across the beach at low tide in a wind blowing itself up into a gale, shivering in the February drizzle. Poor Chris was incubating a stupendous cold and wading about in the fresh springs that flow across the beach and into Cardigan Bay mustn’t have helped. We walked up to St Ina’s Church, one of my favourite spots in Spring, when the graveyard and surrounding wood overlooking the sea is filled with bluebells, nodding my approval as always at the revision of one of Thomas’s most famous lines on a headstone by the gate: ‘Go gentle into that good night.’ Chris also shared my enthusiasm for the rewrite, saying on a personal level we wouldn’t want a loved one raging into death.

Writing the essay for Jon has refreshed my relationship to where I live, and reanimated my thoughts about language. characterisation, and playwriting. My focus has been on ‘Under Milk Wood’ and it has been a pleasure and education to revisit this text, especially when in the shelter of one of the nooks in Newquay harbour, ostensibly in the shadow of Captain Cat’s house.

*

Today’s blog has a distinctly Welsh flavour, for my essay on The Llanarth Group’s  cultural exchange with Ami Theatre in Japan last November has been published in the most recent edition of New Welsh Review. An extract of the account of touring ‘Told by the Wind’ to Babylon Theatre in Tokyo, and an exploration of what NWR editor Gwen Davies has coined ‘Welsh Noh’ can be found at:

http://www.newwelshreview.com/article.php?id=706

I’m off to give a last polish to my essay on Dylan Thomas, then head out to Cei Bach to walk along the golden sand and look across to Llareggub/Newquay in this  sudden welcome Spring sunlight.