Why Diversity Matters: Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors

Feature for booksbywomen.org

“You have to see it, to be it.” This slogan seems to be cropping up everywhere in these diversity-conscious days, whether it’s about creating role models or better representation for girls, mature women, or what is increasingly known as BAME – individuals from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic origins. It is particularly important in the media, which supposedly mirrors our society and whose powerful imagery helps shape our values, morals, norms, and ambitions.

Moving image media, theatre, and novels help us understand the world, our feelings, relationships, and social responsibilities, playing a crucial role in communicating what is ‘appropriate’ for our age, gender and cultural heritage.

Female protagonists? No… For far too long women were harridans or eye candy, the supporting cast hanging onto the white male hero’s arm, or being dismissed as a nag and a hag. Black and Asian actor friends despaired at being cast, yet again, as the gangster/drug dealer, the ‘exotic’ princess, or victim daughter forced into an arranged marriage.

These limited and limiting stereotypes proliferate in books, on screen, and stage, and although the situation is slowly improving, these harmful ‘types’ and narratives still linger, constantly reflecting negative images of ‘difference’. Never is this more obvious, I would argue, than in the representation of impairment – part of the diversity argument we still hear little about. The desire to subvert or challenge harmful images of disability is what fired my writing Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, published by Oberon.

Tiny Tim. Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dam. Mrs Rochester, the mad woman in the attic. Captain Hook. Richard III….to name just a few. Since Oedipus, disability has been used in the western theatrical and literary traditions as a useful shortcut to signify evil, helplessness, instability, and a plethora of other negative human traits that inspire pity or fear. The images continue in films: the tormented genius, the evil Bond ‘baddie’, the blade-slashing psychopath, the victim who conveniently leaves the scene either by dying, being institutionalised, or ‘overcoming’ the condition and so ‘passing’ as non-disabled…

To read the rest of this feature, please click here

Feature originally published on http://booksbywomen.org/why-diversity-is-important-atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors-bu-kaite-o-reilly/

LIE WITH ME – London July 2017

‘What’s on’ LAMDA website

Last year my long-term collaborator, the brilliant director Kirstie Davis, and I had a fantastically creative time working with acting students at LAMDA – London Academy of Music and Drama. Part of the ‘Long Project’, we worked with a dozen talented young performers, whose energy and enthusiasm inspired me to go away and write LIE WITH ME.

Fast forward a year, and a different cast (but such is theatre) – and the Summer season has just been announced — tickets go on sale later this week. If you’re in the London area in July and fancy seeing a world premiere presented by the artists of the future – you know where to come…

‘Lie With Me’ LAMDA website

Lie with me

Written by Kaite O’Reilly
Directed by Kirstie Davis and performed at The LAMDA Linbury Studio

A world première, commissioned by LAMDA following a workshop development last year. Inspired by La Ronde, O’Reilly’s Lie With Me is an exploration of the connections and degrees of separation between individuals in post-truth, contemporary urban life.

Please note, this production contains adult themes and strong language.

Thursday 13 July: 7.30pm

Friday 14 July: 7.30pm

Saturday 15 July: 2.00pm & 7.30pm

Monday 17 July: 7.30pm

Tuesday 18 July: 2.00pm & 7.30pm

Wednesday 19 July: 7.30pm

Booking for this performance opens on Friday 12 May at noon.

– See more HERE

“But you know I don’t think in words.” An essay by Kaite O’Reilly.

As part of my on-going Fellowship at the international research centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ attached to Freie Universitat in Berlin, I have been reflecting on my work between Deaf and hearing cultures and disability culture and the so called ‘mainstream’ – most notably my recent work with Deaf artists. “But you know I don’t think in words”: Bilingualism and Issues of Translation between Signed and Spoken Languages: Working between Deaf and Hearing Cultures in Performance focuses in particular on my work with actress, visual language director and BSL expert Jean St Clair and performer/collaborator Sophie Stone.

Originally prepared as a presentation at the centre in Berlin on my 2012 Cultural Olympiad production with National Theatre Wales/Unlimited In Water I’m Weightless (read about it here onwards), editors Holger Hartung and Gabriele Brandstetter invited a longer reflection on the processes Jean, Sophie and I embark on when working together.

The long essay included in this new book quotes both my collaborators at length, and includes director Kirstie Davis’s production of my bilingual play Woman of Flowers. I wrote the part of Rose specifically for Sophie, with Jean working as the visual language creative director. Our process was documented on this blog.

 

Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone working on ‘Woman of Flowers’ 2014. Photo by KOR

The title of the essay “But you know I don’t think in words” comes from an aside Jean made when I requested she answer some questions about our process via written English rather than visual language. I didn’t want to have translation from visual to written language, and Jean is fluent in English. Her being present ‘in her own words’ seemed immensely important for the essay.

I’m delighted to be able to share our creative process, and to acknowledge Jean and Sophie, crediting them for this liminal work, this ‘space in-between’ we inhabit when collaborating across spoken/written English and BSL/visual language.

Talking with poets

Penglais woods, above Aberystwyth. Walking the bluebell trail with Chris Kinsey, April 2017. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

For the past few years I have been undergoing a slow transformation, partly documented in this blog. It has been sedate but determined, rather like the growth of lichen on a tree,  so perhaps a better term might be evolution…

For years my performance texts and plays have been described by reviewers as ‘poetic’ and my writing as having a ‘lyrical’ quality. When I won the Ted Hughes Award for my version of Aeschylus’s Persians in 2011 I almost argued with the judges, asking how could I win such a prestigious award when I was a dramatist, not a poet? (Thankfully the judges were sage enough to ignore my protestations, insisting in their wisdom I was indeed a dramatist and a poet, despite my cries ‘But I don’t write poetry!’)

Many conversations on this subject have followed over the years, some referenced in this blog. I often wondered if my resistance was not towards poetry  per se – I have too many learnt by heart to be considered a poetry denier – but to the idea of me trying to write it. I also suffered from a rather limited definition of what poetry might be.

As my resistance (fear, perhaps?) weathered away, I became aware of how many of my new but close friends were practising poets. When I became seriously ill in 2015, I found what I wanted to read was, of course, poetry, perhaps because, as Robert Frost put it: ‘Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

My friend and poetry-whisperer Chris Kinsey has accompanied me along this journey, generously sharing reading platforms (at Oriel Davies where she was poet in residence) as well as work in progress. Interesting articles on form are sent my way, along with illuminating quotations on writing alongside her extraordinary engagement with the natural world in language. It was a masterclass in itself and a great privilege to witness the creation of her latest pamphlet, Muddy Foxpublished by Rack Press. We ruminate on process, often – to my huge pleasure – when walking along hidden tracks in different parts of Wales. As a former winner of the BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year, she is  attuned both to the natural world and ways to express it. We exchange work and encourage each other in our writing, but never once has she suggested I try writing poetry, not even covertly… (I am confident in asserting this, for as a playwright, I am skilled in detecting subtext and ‘what lies beneath’).

Aberystwyth from above the town. Walking the gorse trail with Chris Kinsey April 2017.

So it is she, alongside Samantha Wynne Rhydderch and Gillian Clarke who have and continue to patiently incubate my on-going evolution as someone who now experiments with poetic form. I have wonderfully stimulating lunches with Sam overlooking Cardigan Bay in a cafe which was previously the post office where Dylan Thomas sent his manuscripts to London – a detail we both find entertaining. The hours disappear in our varied and diverse conversations on live performance, poetry, writing, the voice. Gillian has recently become a more formal encourager, meeting me for ‘masterclass encounters’ as we coin them, part of my Creative Wales Award, granted by the far-sighted Arts Council of Wales (read about this incredible initiative here).

It is only now I am beginning to fully understand the power and influence of talking with poets. These conversations guide, stimulate, provoke, engage, and encourage growth and change. Talking to poets (particularly along the by-ways of our beautiful Ceredigion) should be available on the NHS.

 

The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

 

Ramesh Meyyappan from his website http://www.rameshmeyyappan.com

As announced at the No Boundaries Conference yesterday by Jo Verrent and Tony Heaton, I have been fortunate to be selected as one of the artists for the Unlimited International Commissions for 2017/18. Full details of all of the commissions can be read here.

It feels even more of a privilege than usual to be supported by funders – and not only that, but to make an international collaboration. The award of this commission is bitter-sweet, especially on this day, Wednesday 29th March 2017, when Teresa May triggers Article 50 and turns her back on European unity. If ever there was a time for coming together and connecting across distance and perceived difference, it is now – and I am grateful to Unlimited and all the funders, allies, and supporters for recognising the value of collaboration and international dialogue, and enabling such things to happen.

The blurb:

KAITE O’REILLY – THE SINGAPORE ‘D’ MONOLOGUES

Lead artist / Playwright: Kaite O’Reilly

Director: Phillip Zarrilli

Associate Director, Researcher and Performer: Peter Sau

Producer and Researcher: Grace Khoo

Visual Director and Performer: Ramesh Meyyappan

Disability Advisor and Performer: Sarah Beer

Researcher and Performer: Lim Lee Lee

The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues is an international theatrical dialogue of difference, disability, and what it is to be human, from opposite sides of the world. Inspired by previously unrecorded disabled experience, fictionalised monologues will be precedented across multiple languages (spoken/projected/visual), incorporating aesthetics of access. This performance will set an important precedent: the first multilingual, intercultural, disability-led theatre project created between the UK and Singapore.

Award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly, and internationally respected director/actor-trainer Phillip Zarrilli will lead the team, joined by veteran disability arts practitioner Sara Beer and Deaf UK-based Singapore-born Ramesh Meyyappan with his innovative visual performance skills. Together with Singaporeans Lee-Lee Lim, Grace Khoo and principle collaborator, Peter Sau, the performance will open up a much-needed discourse of disability in quality, accessible disability-led work, never experienced before in a home-grown Singaporean project.
.
The background:
.
I first met Ramesh Meyyappan and Peter Sau in Singapore in the same year, 2004, but in different productions. Peter was performing in a production directed by Phillip Zarrilli at The Esplanade, the graduating production for ITI (Intercultural Theatre Institute, formerly TTRP). There, Peter had the extraordinary privilege to be tutored by T. Sasitharan and the father of Singapore theatre, the visionary Kuo Pao Kun.
Ramesh was presenting his visual theatre adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Tell Tale Heart.’  Contact was firmly established with both independent artists, based on my conviction I would collaborate with them at some time in the future.
Following Ramesh’s work and occasionally participating in his workshops became easy when he relocated to Scotland, where he has been a leading light in physical/visual theatre.  Teaching Dramaturgy at the Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore has enabled me to keep in touch with Peter over the years, and he came to train with Phillip Zarrilli and I at the 2015 Summer Intensive in Wales, where the seed which became The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues was planted.
Peter is passionate about ‘theatre with a conscience’ and with his collaborators producer Grace Khoo, and mentee/performer Lee Lee Lim, they are determined to professionalise disability arts in Singapore and open up a much-needed discourse on diversity, disability and difference.
.
The ‘d’ monologues:

My notion of a portable, flexible, diverse body of work informed by a Deaf and disability perspective and the Social model was initiated in 2008, when Arts Council Wales granted me a Creative Wales to explore the form of the monologue. I am not a fan of verbatim, so had many conversations with disabled and Deaf individuals all over the UK to try and get a sense of lived experience in a disabling world, the political and the personal, spiced by what I call crip’ humour. These encounters inspired a series of monologues I wrote in a variety of styles. These solo texts became the basis of an Unlimited commission, culminating in the 2012 Cultural Olympiad ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ with National Theatre Wales, Wales Millennium Centre and the Southbank Centre.

Cast of ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ by O’Reilly, National Theatre Wales/Southbank Centre 2012, part of the Cultural Olympiad. Cover image of ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. Photo: Farrows/Creative

The creative process, directed by John E McGrath with assistant director Sara Beer, choreographed by the late great Nigel Charnock, designed by Paul Clay and featuring six of the leading Deaf and disabled performers in the UK, is fully documented elsewhere on this blog (search In Water I’m Weightless, 2012). The montaged texts from this collaboration are published in my collected ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’, published by Oberon last year.

This model seemed perfect for a collaboration with Peter and colleagues in Singapore. He, Grace, and Lee Lee would initiate a series of interviews with disabled Singaporeans – lived experience never before documented or shared – and these would create the inspiration for fictional monologues I would write, and the basis of an oral archive. Peter would begin a series of skills-based workshops in Singapore with emerging Deaf and disabled performers, and Ramesh would develop visual theatre sequences.  Phillip Zarrilli would direct emerging work, joined by performer Sara Beer from the UK, with Lee Lee, Peter and Ramesh also performing. It is this r&d stage Unlimited have funded, with the ambition of a full production in Singapore and the UK in 2018.

Style and content of the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues:

We don’t yet know what form and shape this project will take – what tone, what content, what aesthetic – this will all be determined by the next six months and our collaborators. What we do know is the aesthetics of access will be a consideration throughout – and we will have a challenge with translation and captioning in quad-lingual Singapore. We hope our interviewees will have a sense of ownership, and the work will inspire and confound expectation, and the process will be one of symbiosis. I know there will be so much to learn from our Singapore collaborators, and a wealth of riches to be celebrated in this multicultural, intercultural theatre project of communication and dialogue.

UK Collaborators:

Director Phillip Zarrilli and performer Sara Beer are both long-term collaborators. I first worked with Sara with Graeae Theatre in 1987, when, as graduates, we both got our first jobs with this inspiring company. We have worked together consistently ever since, often with Disability Arts Cymru, a great organisation I am proud to be patron of.

Phillip and I have worked internationally as co-creators and collaborators for fifteen years, and has directed many of my plays, recently another Unlimited Commission, ‘Cosy’, which opened at Wales Millennium Centre in March 2016, and featured Sara as the enigmatic Maureen.

Sara Beer as Maureen in ‘Cosy’. Photo: Farrows Creative

What has come clear to me in the writing of this extended blog is the importance of Unlimited in supporting, nurturing and promoting work – in enabling creativity to flourish and artistic careers to thrive. It is such a remarkable hydra organisation with many heads and needs to be congratulated, I feel, for its ground-breaking work and determination to bring about change, its considered efforts for a more equal, and culturally diverse society.

Unlimited is an arts commissioning programme that aims to embed work by disabled artists within the UK and international cultural sectors, reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people. Unlimited has been delivered by the disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts and arts-producing organisation Artsadmin since 2013, and is funded from 2016-20 by Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, British Council and Spirit of 2012.

Unlimited and all the funders: thank you.

#UnlimitedCommissions

http://petersau.com

http://www.rameshmeyyappan.com

http://weareunlimited.org.uk/about-unlimited/

Kaite O’Reilly’s The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues: an Unlimited 2017 International commission

Unlimited, the largest supporter of disabled artists worldwide, unveils latest commissions with £945,000 to support ambitious artistic work

and I’m one of the fortunate.

What follows is the press release from Unlimited. I will write about my project tomorrow and my remarkable collaborators in the UK and Singapore – but this evening it is wonderful to celebrate all of the remarkable talent given this great opportunity….

From the Unlimited Press Release:

An adventurous range of projects giving voice to disabled artists producing standout work that is “must see” not “should see”

Announced this afternoon at the No Boundaries conferences in Manchester and Hull are the six new Main Commissions and seven Research and Development (R&D) awards, and forming the two new additional strands for this round of Unlimited are five Emerging Artists commissions and six International Collaboration R&Ds. These works, selected from a pool of 269 strong applications, of which 60 were shortlisted, span a wide range of disciplines, and have been created by talented disabled artists from across the UK.

Tuesday 28 March| Unlimited today announces 24 ambitious new commissions and awards spanning a range of disciplines spotlighting talented and diverse disabled artists working in the world today.

Funded by Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, British Council and Spirit of 2012, and delivered by Shape Arts and Artsadmin, Unlimited has, since 2013, provided near to £1.8 million in commissions as well as mentoring support to 72 young and emerging disabled artists.

Jo Verrent, Senior Producer, Unlimited says “This year’s commissions have for the first time been divided into three strands – Main Commissions including several research & development awards, and new for this round, Emerging Artists, and International Collaborations, which see disabled UK artists working with disabled artists from across the globe. The response to Unlimited’s commissions call-out has been staggering and we are thrilled to announce the 2017 awardees from 269 applicants. The newly commissioned artists will be developing their works over the coming year and will be unveiled to the public across 2017 and 2018.”

The 2017 commissioned artists include:

Research & Development Awards are granted to:

Emerging Artists commissions go to:

Finally, International Collaborations (R&Ds) are given to:

Tony Heaton OBE, CEO, Shape Arts, says “One of my last but very pleasant tasks as the outgoing CEO of Shape is the announcement of the next round of recipients of Unlimited commissions and awards. The panels have selected a diverse and eclectic mix of work which will amaze and engage, with some surprises! I think the range of ideas we have funded will once again show disabled artists at their creative and ambitious best, so sit up and take notice!”

Manick Govinda, Head of Artists’ Advisory Services, Artsadmin, says “The third round of Unlimited commissions proves that so much exciting, provocative, political and beautiful work is being created by disabled artists. These ambitious commissions carry Artsadmin’s ethos to help develop and produce great work by artists.”

The judging panels comprised independent high profile disabled artists, curators, critics and senior staff members from organisations including Extant, Southbank Centre and Tramway.

Ruth Gould MBE, Chair, Main Commissions Panel & Artistic Director DaDaFest, says “Unlimited is without doubt one of the most significant developments in creating opportunities for disabled artists and companies to lead in the arts. By challenging and exposing artists to wider audiences and critical acclaim, as well as supporting venues and galleries to take risks, Unlimited provide a way for increased recognition and profile raising of the huge talent and creativity that the lived experience of disability presents. I am so proud to be part of this”

Sarah Pickthall, Chair, International Commissions Panel & Director, Cusp Inc., says “These are life- changing artistic collaborations for artists and their proposed projects which will impact local communities internationally and change the way disabled led innovation is experienced and understood.”

Aidan Moesby, Chair, Emerging Commissions panel & former Unlimited awardee says,”It’s essential to provide opportunities for the next generation of disabled artists to develop as professional artists and performers, and as someone who has benefitted from an Emerging Artists commission in the past I know the difference it can make to an artists practice. Not only the funded time and space to work on your ideas but the benefits of being associated with Unlimited are invaluable. My practice has developed beyond recognition over the last three years and it would be nice to think this is the beginning of any amazing trajectory for those commissioned from this panel.”

 

Equality and Diversity Day – Wales International Documentary Festival 2017

Come along to discuss with me and many others why we need diverse voices in the stories we tell…

EQUALITY & DIVERSITY DAY – Why do we need diverse voices in stories we tell?

The Wales International Documentary Festival 2017                  supported by Film Cymru and Film Hub Wales

Thursday 6 April 2017, 11:30 – 15:30
Blackwood Miners’ Institute

Blackwood Miners Institute
High Street
Blackwood
NP12 1AA
United Kingdom
We would like to invite you to participate in a series of exciting events celebrating diverse voices in the creative industries. In partnership with training providers and organisations, Blackwood Miners’ Institute will be the setting for a FAIR of organizations, workshops and networking events.

FAIR of ORGANISATIONS and NETWORKING – 11:30 – 15:30

Chwarae Teg, Disability Arts Cymru, National Autistic Society , SHIFFT Female Filmmakers, Promo Cymru, Film Cymru, Film Hub Wales, BFI BBC, BAFTA Cymru, Creative Europe, Welsh Government, Wales Screen, British Council, BECTU, Community Music Wales, Women’s Aid, Iris Prize.

SOFA TALK – 12:00 – 13:30
Multi-award winning playwright, Kaite O’Reilly (YARD, Peeling, Persians) speaks to Carys Lewis, a Toronto and Cardiff based writer/director/producer (When Black Mothers Don’t Say I Love You, Afiach) about why we need diverse voices in the stories we tell.

WORKSHOPS

CHWARAE TEG 11:30 – 12:30
The leading economic development charity for women in Wales. This workshop will guide you through changes to working practices, whilst covering the implications for both employers and employee’s. Introducing you to modern working practices, how they can be successfully implemented in the workplace and some of the benefits to the organisation.

IRIS PRIZE Festival Director – Berwyn Rowlands 12:30 – 13:30
Distribution – how does it work? The Iris Prize is the world’s largest LGBT short film prize. This workshop will explore how film makers who create what is sometimes called minority interest work can reach a growing global audience by taking full advantage of the post digital world. The workshop will use real examples of LGBT short films which have been successful and some which have not!

DISABILITY ARTS CYMRU 13:30 – 14:30
For over 30 years Disability Arts Cymru has provided information, advice, mentoring and support to disabled artists, across Wales and across art form. This workshop will feature a screening of Changing the Focus, which explores the on-screen representation of learning disabled people in Britain, and the extent to which this representation has changed over the past 50 years. After the screening there will be a discussion with Ben Ewart-Dean and staff from Disability Arts Cymru.

DEMENTIA FRIENDS 14:30 – 15:30
In partnership with Film Hub Wales, this workshop focuses on how to become a Dementia Friend. Many UK cinemas and arts venues are already working to be dementia-friendly but many are unsure how to get started. It’s about learning more about dementia and the small ways you can help. This session will be introduced by the newly appointed BFI Film Audience Network Access Officer and Film Hub Wales Strategic Manager.
TICKETS
Entrance to the Equality and Diversity Day is FREE! Register here through Eventbright.
Festival tickets give access to all film screenings and networking events for the three days of the festival. These are priced at £12.50 and can be obtained at the Blackwood Miners’ Institute box office on the day. Discounted rates are available for schools, colleges and third sector organisations by contacting Aleksandra at contact@widf.info

@widf2017     Facebook: WIDF2017    www.widf.info