Masterclass with Kaite O’Reilly at Ty Newydd, June 2016


Lloyd George's former home: Ty Newydd - writers' centre of Wales

Lloyd George’s former home: Ty Newydd – writers’ centre of Wales


I am delighted to announce my return to Ty Newydd, the writers’ centre of Wales, where I will be leading a Masterclass in Writing for Performance in June 2016…

The website has just gone live and you can read all about the residential courses offered here .  Use coupon code TN2015 at checkout to get 10% off 2016 courses until end of January 2016:

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends: A Masterclass in Writing for Performance

Mon 06 Jun – Sat 11 Jun 2016

Tutor / Kaite O’Reilly

Course Fee / From £475 – £625 per person

Genres / DramaPerformance PoetryTheatreWriting for Live Performance

Language / English

Working with participants’ own work-in-progress as well as selected performance texts by established writers, this masterclass will explore:

  • Dynamic openings and arresting starts. How to dive into the action of the moment, avoiding prevarication and ‘set-ups’;
  • How to keep middles taut, engaging, and with driving action;
  • Different kinds of conflict needed for effective drama, and how to map change in the beats, character development, and narrative;
  • Different form and dramatic structures for live performance; and
  • How to draw all to a satisfying close, avoiding the formulaic.

This intensive and practical course will give the participants opportunities to create new work as well as reconsider and revise existing work-in-progress.

The week will be intensely practical, with a selection of specially created exercises to explore new territory in on-going work, or to seed new work. Timed exercises will focus on developing the participant’s individual voice and vision. Practical group workshops will share emerging work, with one-to-one dramaturgical sessions to discuss participants’ projects.

In order to focus on the writers and support their writing, the course will run with only eight select participants. Successful participants will be asked to prepare for the week by reading several selected texts in advance.

To apply for the masterclass, please submit your initial ideas for new work or an outline of work in progress (max. 500 words) plus a paragraph outlining your goals for the week (max. 300 words).



playing ‘The Maids’ video – Wales, Ireland, South Korea, Singapore, Austria….

Earlier this year I was dramaturg and co-creator of an intensely exciting intercultural production between The Llanarth Group (Wales), Theatre P’Yut (Korea) and Gaitkrash (Ireland): playing ‘The Maids’. Documented elsewhere on this blog, we responded to issues in Genet’s ‘The Maids’ in the contemporary global context of austerity and boom.











Paul Whittaker of Hide Productions documented several performances, and I’m really thrilled to be able to post the link for a stunning film he has made of the work.

You can see the work here







A hat trick in 2016… UK, Germany, Hong Kong….

And here’s something I hope I don’t often do – puff out my chest and blog (brag?) about me me me…

I started this blog to write about process and creativity, to document various routes through writing and collaboration in live performance. This is terrific when you’re in the rehearsal room and have wonderful fellow artists to bounce off (and photograph), but it’s perhaps not so riveting (or possible) when in the slow dark hours of solitary revision, or research. This is why I’ve been focusing more on other writers, workshops, and small publishers of late whilst I’ve been cautiously working my way through the tentative revisions of a play and a novel.

But in the midst of what feels creatively like a deep winter, growth stirs underfoot and although it is only November, I already have confirmation of shoots appearing, particularly for March 2016. This is what I wish to share with you today, these emerging green tips…

February 2016 will start with rehearsals in Cardiff on the play I am currently writing. Cosy is an Unlimited commission, which you can read about on my sister blog here.  It will premiere in Wales in March 2016, directed by Phillip Zarrilli  with a cast of six fabulous female performers, and I’ll be posting more about the dates and details of this when the season launches shortly.

March will also bring the German language premiere of my play about the survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury – The Almond and the Seahorse – translated by Frank Heibert as Mandel & Seepferdchen. The premiere will be 24th March 2016 at Mainfranken Theater Wurzburg, Germany. Details in German here. I’m fortunate to have worked before with Frank – he translated my debut YARD  (The Bush Theatre 1998, winner of the Peggy Ramsay Award) for the Maxim Gorki Theatre in Berlin, where it ran for two years as Schlachthaus.

Schlachthaus by Kaite O'Reilly, Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin.

Schlachthaus by Kaite O’Reilly, Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin.

You can see some striking images from that acclaimed production, directed by Martin Kloepfer here. Frank and I have collaborated on other texts, and I feel so privileged to continue evolving this relationship across language and representation with such an admired and skilful translator.

Translation also features in my hat trick of the year, the remounting of my performance text about Frida Kahlo, the 9 Fridas. The closing production of The 2014 Taipei Arts Festival, directed in the Mandarin by Phillip Zarrilli, this Mobius Strip production will transfer to Hong Kong in October 2016, in association with Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. I hope to be back in Taipei for rehearsals and also at the premiere in Hong Kong in the Autumn. The autumn is a fascinating time to be in Taiwan, and my rehearsal/travel diary from the six weeks I spent in Taipei in 2014 was published by Wales Arts Review here.

There are also other projects afoot, publications and writing courses I will be revealing shortly (watch this space!) – but I hope that your own creativity is progressing slowly but surely. It may be winter, but there is still richness and fecundity in these apparent dreary November days.

Fair Acre Press – Maligned Species: ecologists and poets

It’s been a morning of listening rather than reading or writing, thanks to Nadia Kingsley and Fair Acre Press’s new podcast: Maligned Species. I’ve been engrossed, drawn in despite myself to the fascinating and entertaining podcast on spiders by ecologist and broadcaster Brett Westwood. His lively and charismatic talk has taught me more in thirty minutes about this maligned species than I previously knew in my lifetime (an ancient order: spiders have been around for about 400 million years!). Brett offers startling and quirky details which could be wonderful starting points for creativity (the male spider bringing silk-wrapped presents to distract the female whilst he mates with her; bondage and spiders, anyone?) and I can well imagine many reaching for a pen after experiencing these absorbing podcasts.

Which is the point.

Nadia established the Maligned Species project as a free online resource involving both ecologists and poets. The aim is to encourage poetry-writing on the subject of spiders, frogs, stinging nettles, and grey squirrels – culminating in four poetry ebooks – one on each subject.

On the website Nadia describes the project thus:

M A L I G N E D S P E C I E S : P O E T R Y. S C I E N C E. Y O U.

Take a spider, a frog, the nettle and grey squirrel.

Ask an ecologist, expert in their field, all about it.

Invite a poet to creatively respond to this through poetry.

Now, it’s over to you.

Whether you’re a lover of nature, a burgeoning or established poet, or fascinated by what makes these species tick, Fair Acre Press hopes that you will feel inspired by the scientists and poets in our team to write poetry with a more scientific slant…

You can download podcasts and read prompts at hear Nigel Brown give us his scientific slant on the humble frog, and what John Handley has to say about the grey squirrel: listen to Brett Westwood tell us why spiders are always in the bath, and find out from Matthew Oates just how a nettle stings. Then listen to nine poets discuss and read from their own poetry to inspire you to write with a more scientific slant.

Submissions are open in January 2016; with E-Books on sale from February. To enter is free, and monies from E-Book sales will be donated to the ecological organisations – Buglife, Froglife, Plantlife, and the Shropshire Wildlife Trust to help with their vital ongoing work.

So, if you believe that a poet is a species who can respond to scientific facts, then it’s time we got started!





Short poems with Greta Stoddart. Exeter Poetry Festival 2015.

What exactly is a short poem? How ‘short’ can ‘short’ go whilst still retaining impact and sense, giving satisfaction to the reader? These were some of the questions explored by Greta Stoddart and a fantastic group of poet-participants in a workshop for Exeter Poetry Festival I attended this weekend.

A combination of exercises, provocations, and discussion, the short workshop was hugely stimulating and enjoyable, sending this playwright off into the afternoon thinking about words, images, narrative, and something more elusive – what is known in Chinese poetry as tzu-juan: ‘An all-encompassing present… “occurrence appearing of itself”…where the speaker enters both the physical depths of the thing/moment observed and the greater depths of his/her own consciousness.’ (David Hinton Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China.’)

Greta believes that this ‘all-encompassing present’ is one type of short poem, with a narrative present – a snippet of a larger story – and an unreal, dream-like style or approach being a further two kinds. Further examples include the dramatic monologue (The Mother by Anne Stevenson), an opinion piece, or ‘telling’ poem, and humorous work (Ezra Pound’s The Bath Tub).

One of the largest pitfalls of short poetry is how they can be snapshots, mere fragments or impressions. In our group discussion, it became clear as readers we wanted more than the visual or immediate, although the possible impact of that was acknowledged.

Greta asked why we were drawn to the short form, and participants spoke of that white space – the silence – around the short poem, and how that offered the potential for reflection and meditation. The short poem also seemed to ask for less commitment from a reader than a longer poem, although the experience wasn’t necessarily a passive, or lesser one. Its accessibility was appreciated, as was its lightness and portability – you can pick up and learn a short poem easily by heart, and carry it with you, turning over images or questions in your mind long after you have put the physical poem down.

It was joyful to be in a room with such engaged and generous participants, guided by a sure and provoking (in the best sense!) hand. Greta shared examples of short poems with us, and led various exercises where we explored different starting points for new work, and ways to break open old poems which aren’t working, to make them fresh and get at their perhaps hidden, previously inaccessible centre. I won’t reproduce those exercises here, as I feel that is stealing from the poet/facilitator, but I encourage those interested to seek out Greta and attend other workshops she leads. You can find more about Greta, her work, and her workshops at:  Exeter Poetry Festival details can be found here.









Guest blog: The Water Station: ‘Living Human Silence’ by Phillip Zarrilli

‘On 28 September 2015 director Phillip Zarilli published a feature in Exeunt on the links between his performance of Ota Shogo’s “Slow Theatre” play currently touring Norway and the European refugee crisis. It is with great pleasure I reproduce this here, with thanks to Exeunt magazine:

Ota Shogo’s The Water Station: Living Human Silence.                              By Phillip Zarrilli

Hilde Stensland (Norway) and Jeungsook Yoo (Korea) in 'The Water Station' by Ota Shogo. Nordland teater September 2015

Hilde Stensland (Norway) and Jeungsook Yoo (Korea) in ‘The Water Station’ by Ota Shogo. Nordland teater September 2015


Three years ago when Birgitte Strid, Artistic Director at Nordland Teater, invited me to direct the first major production of The Water Station with an international cast since the 2004 production I directed in Singapore, we had no idea that at this specific moment in time there would be thousands of people on the move around the perimeter of the Mediterranean and across Europe.

The Water Station has a very simple structure: in nine scenes a series of refugees/migrants/travellers are on the move coming from a far distant place, and are continuing on the still longer journey toward some place beyond. Some are individuals traveling alone such as The Girl, or Woman with a Parasol; others are in pairs Two Men, or Husband and Wife with Baby Carriage; or in a group: The Caravan. They appear along a pathway. Just behind the pathway is a huge heap of discarded ’junk’—objects left by those on this long journey. Once they appear along the pathway, each individual, pair or group encounters and interacts with a constantly running stream of water flowing from a broken water faucet into a pool of water in a catchment area. Each of the travellers encounters the water in their own way. Some observe or encounter another traveler. All eventually continue their journey toward whatever lies beyond. From the audience’s perspective, where these travellers have come from and where they are going we do not know. They eventually pass out of view…heading somewhere.

Navtej Johar (India), Rune S. Loding (Norway), Leammuid Biret Ravndna (Sami community/Norway)

Navtej Johar (India), Rune S. Loding (Norway), Leammuid Biret Ravndna (Sami community/Norway)

First created and performed in Tokyo in 1981 by Ōta Shōgo and his theatre company–Theatre of Transformation (Tenkei Gekijo), the production subsequently toured central Europe and the US in the mid-1980s. Ōta and his company were searching for a way to stage “living human silence”—how to turn down the volume or “noise” in our everyday lives in order to be present to the realities of our immediate environment. In that moment of quiet the audience become ‘witnesses’ to what is before us today in the immediate present…people on the move toward somewhere else.

In London on Thursday, 17 September 2015 Chinese artist Ai WeiWei and British artist Anish Kapoor initiated an eight mile London Walk as an artistic act on behalf of the refugee crisis in Europe. Both have major exhibitions currently open in London. Speaking to The Guardian, Kapoor explained how “This is a walk of compassion, a walk together as if we were walking to the studio…Peaceful. Quiet. Creative…It is important that artists are not outside the equation, we don’t stand on the sidelines. Artists are part of the story of a response, we cannot stand aside and let others make the response.”

Nordland Teatre’s production of The Water Station is inevitably “part of the [current] equation”. The Water Station is an artistic response to the age-old realities for peoples across the world of migration–those seeking refuge, fleeing persecution, and/or those returning ‘home’ after long-term conflicts. The Water Station reflects Ōta’s childhood experience. Along with other Japanese ex-colonists in China at the end of World War II, as a six-year-old Ōta and his family had to undertake an extremely long and exhausting two month journey of repatriation from China back to Japan. Along with the other Japanese being repatriated, he and his family walked almost endlessly for miles and miles, living in tents, and occasionally travelling by freight train as well by boat. The same experience of course was happening in many locations throughout the world with movements of other people at the end of World War II. In China, the Japanese had been permitted to take what belongings they were able to carry; however, during their long trek, many people on their long road of return discarded what they could no longer carry. As one biographer notes,

‘The themes, scenography and style of [Ōta’s] theatre can be related to these childhood memories. His intense concern with the ontology of human existence can be traced back to the need for sheer survival in his early childhood. A sense of the hardship of living and of the proximity of death characterizes his plays. Wide, bare landscapes through which characters travel, carrying their scanty belongings, provide the setting of all…of his Station plays written between 1981 and 1998 …The weak, disabled, and unwanted are featured in many of his plays.’

With its slowed down everyday movement, this non-verbal performance lasts 100 minutes and creates a completely different experience for an audience from narratively driven, text-based theatre. In his theatre aesthetic, Ōta developed a process of ‘divestiture’–discarding or paring away of anything unnecessary including spoken language so that actors and audience alike are taken out of their everyday world in order to focus on the irreducible elements of our shared human existence—what Ōta calls “the ‘unparaphrasable realm of experience”. The script for The Water Station is a sparse 20 page document—a simple record of the basic staging and images Ōta and his company devised from a diverse set of source materials. Although this is a non-verbal performance, as Ōta explains, “there are words here…you simply can’t hear them.”

Florencia Cordeu (Argentina) and Bjorn Ole Odegard (Norway)

Florencia Cordeu (Argentina) and Bjorn Ole Odegard (Norway)

Given the current refugee crisis, The Water Station has tremendous immediate resonance for all of us within the EU and throughout the world. This production has been planned around an internationally/ethnically diverse cast of ten including Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo (Chinese Singaporean), Jeungsook Yoo (Korea), Navtej Johar (India), Florencia Cordeu (Argentina/Chile), and six actors from Norway including Leammuid Biret Ravndna from the local Sami community, as well as Bjorn Ole Odegard, Ivar Furre Aam, Rune Loding, Stein Hiller Elvestad, and Hilde Stensland. The international cast reflects on-stage the historical, world-wide nature of issue of those seeking refuge during and after conflicts whether either of the two world wars, the horrific period of post World War II Indian partition, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Rwandan genocide, or the current Syrian conflict. Each has produced its own massive ‘refugee crisis’.
But according to Ōta, The Water Station is located not in any single one of the above specific historical instances of migration due to conflicts, but rather “anywhere and everywhere, [in] a place out of time.” One critic described The Water Station as a “quiet chamber piece that speaks in the rich language of silence to the neglected part of the soul”. Writing in The Straits Times, Clarissa Oon described the 2004 Singapore production of The Water Station I directed with an international cast from eleven different countries as

“…a wordless…tone poem whose silent chords struck notes of exile, loss and fraying endurance…[T]he water station [is] an oasis of sorts for thirsty sojourners…[E]ach sequence…told its own story through stillness and the most distilled of movement…[E]ach performer shed his name, cultural marker, and actorly ego. Voices silenced, their bodies were subsumed into the chamber piece, which in turn became an exercise in quietude…the emotions felt frighteningly raw.”

After the premiere run at Nordland Teatre in Mo I Rana, ten miles south of the Arctic Circle, the production tours the district of Nordland with performances in far-flung locations above and just below the Arctic Circle–Sandnessjoen, Mosjoen, Bodo, Svolvaer, Sortland, Stokmarkness, Narvik, Hamaroy, and Bronnoysund.

If we look back far enough, all of us will discover migration in our family histories. I am an Italian-American who migrated to Wales sixteen years ago. My paternal grandfather migrated to the US from southern Italy at the end of the nineteenth century seeking religious freedom. My paternal grandmother’s family migrated to the US from Oxfordshire several centuries ago. Viewing the current production of The Water Station today is equally an act of witnessing, and an opportunity for reflection on what one witnesses both within and beyond the theatre. The roads of Ota Shogo’s play lead through contemporary Europe, to far-flung locations around the world, to traverse our own stories.

Read more about Phillip Zarrilli’s work on his website here

The Price of Self-Employment. Guest blogger: Sophie McKeand

Last spring I met the lovely Sophie McKeand on a Writing for Live Performance  Masterclass I was teaching at Ty Newydd Writers’ Centre on the southern coast of the spectacular Llyn Peninsula in North Wales. I was recently reading her blog and one recent post in particular caught my attention: ‘The Price of Self-Employment’. This is a brave subject – something so important and yet so seldom discussed widely in our industry. I asked Sophie for permission to reproduce her post – and I include details of her biog and links, below:

Sophie: I’m not sure how I imagined the journey when first setting out as a freelance/self-employed writer seven years ago. It’s been a difficult but ultimately rewarding expedition, especially considering the only thought was: forward and onward and don’t look back.

The ego has been shredded, rebuilt, blasted apart, glued back together and shredded again. At 39 I earn a third of the salary I did when I was 27. I don’t own a house or have savings or a pension anymore, and instead of my company car I share an old Renault Espace with my partner (also a freelancer).

I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

Was it Gary Snyder who said we should aim to be ‘famous for fifteen miles’? This is my mantra (although admittedly I work slightly farther afield that that).

Working geographically, as opposed to by genre, means I’m involved in communicating with people across the whole spectrum of my community. Studying to pinpointed PhD depths seems a little redundant here so adopting a more rounded approach means I’ll facilitate poetry workshops with 10 eight-year-olds, or eight ninety-year-olds, or 250 year 7s. I work with people with early stage dementia, NEETS, gifted young writers, adult learners and people with mental health issues. Each group has wildly varying support needs and expectations, and each workshop has to be tailored specifically to meet those needs. I’ll also have at least three or four other workshop plans ready in case of any ‘eventuality’ (yes I have plans B, C, D, E and F in my suitcase every time.

A large percentage of the people I work with have had their enjoyment of literature strangled by a didactic curriculum set by careerist politicians (not the fault of teachers) and this has instilled a fear, not a love, of creative writing. People have become terrified of verbs, pronouns, adjectives, grammar, spelling and punctuation, which is a shame because language is free and belongs to us all.

In these sessions I focus on our shared understandings of language. I want our group to concoct a nourishing, creative stew of ideas, thoughts and imagination to devour. Metaphor, simile and image are the building blocks of great poetry and we all use them, it’s just a case of recognising when we do and learning how to nurture that element of thought.

There is absolutely a skill to being a writer. Developing a philosophy behind the words and understanding the editing process are the next steps for anyone thinking of taking the writing further, but for these initial workshops, for those hours, I want people to forget about how they should write and to just have fun writing.

I’d love to be able to do this for free. Unfortunately that’s not possible. I still have bills to pay. On a good year I’ll earn maybe £14k (pre-tax), on a quiet year £10k (at least then my tax bill is small). I’m lucky my partner in business is also my partner in life, and he’s incredibly supportive. Work wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun without him and as a freelance partnership (he’s a graphic designer and partner in an independent record label)  we manage to pull in enough to pay the bills and have a comfortable, although not extravagant life.

One of the elements I struggle with most is finding suitable rates to charge. At one end of the scale I’ve been paid £130 per one-hour workshop (fees were set by the project coordinator) and at the other end I’ve been offered £15 for one hour because ‘that’s more than the usual hourly rate for staff here’.

I was very grateful for the former, although I wouldn’t dream of asking for that, but declined the latter. This is not because I’m overly precious or egotistical. When you book me you’re paying for eleven years of work: three years of a degree then a year freelancing whilst working full-time before leaping into full-time-self-employed.

When you book me for a half-day please understand I’ve spent at least that time again planning the workshop, sourcing materials, photocopying/printing, researching and imagining just how it will all come together to create a meaningful experience for your group. When you book me for an hour it’s unlikely I’ll be able to work anywhere else that morning.

You don’t have to think about holiday pay, sick pay, tax, national insurance, maternity pay or public liability insurance. There’s no redundancy package or notice period when you decide to use another freelancer (which you absolutely should to ensure your group/s have access to a full range of styles and approaches). I can’t have a bad day, be ill, have the car break down or have a family crisis on a day I’m coming to you because you might think I’m unreliable and not book me again. Perhaps all ‘arty’ people are like that? No. No we’re not. I’m not even going into the raft of DBS/disclosure certificates I have proving that I’m not a danger to anyone.

On top of that I have to ensure I’m still writing. If I’m teaching something I should be actively engaging with that practice myself, so a ‘holiday away’ tends to involve staying at the oasis of literature that is Ty Newydd for a week. This means I’m confident my writing and workshop facilitation are of a high standard.

I perform at events and festivals, give readings and submit work to various publications because these are the benchmarks supporting my assertion I’m a suitable person to come and work with your group. I also make a point of creating at least one or two voluntary projects in my community each year because it’s an important element of who I am and being self-employed allows me the time to do this.

I wouldn’t change any of this. I love every minute of work and wake every morning knowing that, whatever I’m doing, it’s generating creativity and inspiration in my community. I’ve been involved with truly dedicated people at National Theatre Wales, Literature Wales, Oriel Wrecsam, Age Cymru, The Wales Millennium Centre, The Hay Festival, Barnardos, Clwyd Theatre Cymru, Night Out/Noson Allan and various other local, regional and national organisations over the years, and I’m grateful that most try their best to ensure artists are paid a living wage.

I’m living the dream.

Or at least I’m living my dream of working with words in my community and using poetry as a way to help people find their own voice. Witnessing participants discover the confidence to read out work they’ve just written and knowing I helped them achieve that is, to put it bluntly, totally awesome and worth every penny I don’t now earn.

I know budgets are tight, and this can force people to just focus on the bottom line when considering booking a freelance writer, but having the opportunity to work with a writer, musician or artist on a creative project can  make a genuine difference in people’s lives – it’s changed mine incomparably.

Sophie McKeand biog

Freelance poet and workshop facilitator in Y Gogs. Longlisted for the Poetry Society‘s National Poetry Competition in 2014, published widely including in Poetry Wales, Dark Mountain, Earthlines and Adbusters with new work forthcoming in Tears in the Fence (Sept 2015). Performs regularly at festivals and events such as Wenlock Poetry Festival, Green Man, Wilderness and Dinefwr. Works as a freelance workshop facilitator with Literature Wales, Arts Council Wales, Oriel Wrecsam, Age Cymru, Barnardos and more. Organises National Theatre Wales’ Word4Word in Wrecsam and sits on the ntwTEAM Panel (2014). Dysgu Cymraeg.