On translation, lyricism, and alligator meat

I’m juggling projects and tasks at present – and unexpectedly, I’m liking the jambalaya effect (minus the alligator meat). Often I need to focus on one project at a time – it takes an age to get ‘inside’ a project’s DNA, and once there I like to stay until exhaustion demands I step away from the laptop. (Exhaustion? Not necessarily of me personally, but of the thread I’m pursuing. Like a seam of silver running through the earth, it can suddenly stop, or become so buried I know I have to come back to unearth more treasure another time…)

Quite a bit of the work at present is making the most of technology and the miracle that is Skype. For some years, since my work has been produced outside the UK, I’ve been using Skype to sit in on rehearsals remotely – and director Phillip Zarrilli and I are back to that this week, skypeing with Mobius Strip Theatre in Taipei. In 2014 Phillip directed the premiere of my performance text the 9 Fridas about Frida Kahlo for Taipei International Arts Festival; that production will be remounted this autumn and transfer to Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. We will go to Taipei for the final re-rehearsals before flying to HK in October, but meanwhile Skype enables us to revisit the work with the actors in advance, extending our condensed re-rehearsal period.

the 9 Fridas. Mobius Strip (Tawain) in association with Hong Kong repertory Theatre

the 9 Fridas. Mobius Strip (Taiwan) in association with Hong Kong repertory Theatre. October 2016.

The Taiwanese production of the 9 Fridas is in Mandarin, and many have asked me how it is possible to work in a different language. Neither Phillip nor I know Mandarin, but we know the script extremely well, and after a short while communication and comprehension becomes fluid, and it is surprising how proficient we can become at knowing exactly where we are in the script and what the performer is saying at any time.

There is a particular musicality to the dialogue I write – the punctuation, rhythm, pauses, and pace are almost as important to me as what is being said. I think I compose dialogue, needing to ‘hear’ its flow and musicality, its change in texture and syntax as well as content. This has become a focal point in another on-going translation project with theatre maker Martin Carnevali. Some years ago Martin was part of a workshop exploration of the 9 Fridas, and he forged a strong connection to the text and its aesthetic, as well as to me as a creative collaborator. To my great delight, he is now translating it into German for my Berlin agent.

Martin Carnevali

Martin Carnevali working on the German translation of the 9 Fridas. T’yn-y-Parc Studio, Wales, Summer 2016.

Martin fully understands the importance of the ‘sound’ of the words in the mouth, and during the Summer Intensive in West Wales, we took some time together in the T’yn-y-Parc studio for him to read aloud the work he has done. It was remarkable how his choices in German paralleled the rhythm of the spoken English, which was his intention. He would read sections aloud to me, testing it for flow, lyricism, and variety, amending the text as he went along for sound as well as meaning. Occasionally he would read the same section several times, and we would discuss whether there was a syllable too many or too few – whether the text moved in a rhythm appropriate for the content. It was a remarkably visceral  experience, and one I enjoyed immensely.

Martin Carnevali at work translating the 9 Fridas into German

Martin Carnevali at work translating the 9 Fridas into German

This process is still on-going, and we will continue our sharing of text between languages on Skype, although nothing will beat hearing the words within the stone walls of the old Welsh milking parlour, now studio. Nothing, except a German language production, of course.

Summer Intensive: psychophysical text, monologue, movement.

Independent theatre maker Martin Carnevali with Brandy Leary of Anamdam dance theatre, Toronto

Independent theatre maker Martin Carnevali with Brandy Leary of Anandam dance theatre, Toronto

Every July and August Phillip Zarrilli leads a ‘Summer Intensive’, which he describes as “an intensive, ongoing, preperformative psychophysical process of performer training through Asian martial/meditation arts including t’aiqiquan, Indian yoga and the closely related martial art, kalarippayattu.” The first non-Indian to be awarded master status in kalarippayattu, the martial art of Kerala, South India, Phillip has developed an approach to actor-training utilising Asian martial arts to explore body-mind connections through psychophysical disciplines, developing an intuitive awareness necessary for performance.

Every summer participants come from all over the world come to his studio in Wales to train in his approach and learn to apply the principles  to performance through structured improvisations.

This August I was privileged to be involved in the workshop, leading participants from Canada, Italy, Estonia, Jordan, Germany, Portugal,and  England in writing exercises to be utilised in the studio. Working through the senses, the exercises generated original written material and starting points for solo performance scores. Sometimes the text became spoken monologues, or unspoken ‘inner’ monologues to help animate the actor. Some came with work already in development, whilst other participants created material from scratch, guided and ‘side-coached’ by Phillip.

It’s a very different way of writing from my own practice – and a very different way of using text, often to enliven the performer’s inner work, and provoke physical scores or choreography. It was a fascinating and stimulating week, reminding me why one of my definitions of heaven is being in the studio…

 

 

Unlimited Festivals – Southbank Centre and Tramway – September 2016

The Way You Look At Me Tonight, Claire Cunningham

The Way You Look At Me Tonight, Claire Cunningham

The Unlimited Commissions programme aims to embed work by disabled and Deaf artists within the cultural sector, reaching new audiences and shifting perceptions of disability. I’ve just had the confirmed details of the two Unlimited Festivals happening this Autumn in London and Glasgow, and am delighted to say I will be speaking at both.

The first is at Southbank Centre on 6th September , when I’ll be ‘in conversation’ and launching my selected plays Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors. Later in the month I’ll be at Tramway ‘in conversation’ and also leading a workshop/lecture demonstration on 24th September about the aesthetics of access in writing plays and performance texts.

What follows is information from  UNLIMITED:

Tickets are now available for both Southbank Centre and Tramway’s Unlimited Festivals, featuring many of the artists commissioned by Unlimited in 2015 and work we’ve supported through Unlimited Impact.

Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival, London
6-11 September 2016

Join Southbank Centre once again for a festival of theatre, dance, music, literature, comedy and visual arts that celebrates difference with a spirit of artistic adventure, honesty and humour. Read more here.

The festival features work from many of Unlimited’s commissioned artists, including: Nama Āto, Richard Butchins, Liz Carr, Claire Cunningham, Jack Dean, Sean Goldthorpe, Sheila Hill, Noëmi Lakmaier, Kaite O’Reilly, Cameron Morgan, Richard Newnham, Bekki Perriman, Nye Russell-Thompson, Ted Shiress, Craig Simpson, Jess Thom and Aaron Williamson.

Tuesday 6 September 2:00pm – 3:00pm  Kaite O’Reilly in conversation/book launch.

http://unlimited.southbankcentre.co.uk/events/book-launch-kaite-oreilly-in-conversation

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Tramway, Glasgow 15-25 September 2016

Tramway’s Unlimited Festival celebrates extraordinary work by disabled artists with an international programme of performance, visual art, discussions and more. Including new and acclaimed productions, exhibitions and participation opportunities, along with a variety of city centre installations, a family day and a two day symposium focusing on emerging artists. Information here.

Featuring the work from artists we’re working with, including: Nama Āto, Liz Carr, Claire Cunningham, Jack Dean, Sheila Hill, Cameron Morgan, Bekki Perriman, Aaron Williamson and Maki Yamazaki.

atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors

Saturday 24 September  2pm – 5pm

Kaite O’Reilly: Book Launch | Atypical in Action

Join multi award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly as she presents her latest work. Published by Oberon, Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors is the first of its kind. A collection of six dramas, it redefines notions of normality and expands the scope of what it means to be human, while exploring disability as a portal to new experience. Followed by Atypical in Action, a talk and workshop exploring some of the ‘aesthetics of access’ used in O’Reilly’s work.

Both events in London and Glasgow are free, but ticketed, so please book your place in advance.

Disability Arts Cymru Poetry Competition 2016

Image from Disability Art Cymru. Image by Michele Brenton

Image from Disability Art Cymru. Image by Michele Brenton

As patron of the excellent Disability Arts Cymru, I’m delighted to publicise their call for submissions for the forthcoming Poetry Competition. What follows is from DAC. Please contact them, at the information below, with any queries and submissions:

Poetry Competition  Disability Arts Cymru – closing date July 31st 2016

       Prize money & Digital publication

  We invite you to submit work that is in response to the theme of Austerity and/or Extravagance
Two Prizes of £50 with digital & online publication
Closing date July 31st

We look forward to receiving your submissions of poetry, spread the word and share this with your friends and colleagues.

Theme of Austerity/Extravagance: In the light of recent governmental decisions, which affect many people throughout Wales, we want to reflect the feelings about this through our poetry by DAC members, many of whom have been affected by austerity measures. Contrary to this we are also asking for work in response to the theme of ‘Extravagance’.
Judges are Dominic Williams and Sian Northey

for the entry criterea you can CLICK HERE

or for more info call: 02920 551 040
or email: kate@dacymru.com

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‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ review – Disability Arts Online

atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors

Reviews are gold dust. They are even more rare when the publication under the critical lens is a collection of plays. Plays get reviewed in production; they seldom make it into print, never mind being reviewed in print. So owing to this, I am hugely appreciative of the publications who have shown interest and support of my ‘atypical’ and crip’ work by providing critical engagement for my selected plays.

First up is the ever provocative and excellent Disability Arts Online, with a review by  Sonali Shah. I reproduce much of the review here, but you can read the  full text on the website, where DAO readers can find a 30% discount voucher for the collection.

Disability Arts Online: Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors Review July 4 2016 by Sonali Shah.

‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ is a collection of five unique, but equally powerful, poetic and political pieces of drama composed by the award winning playwright, Kaite O’Reilly. Review by Dr Sonali Shah (University of Glasgow)

O’Reilly’s policy and practice as a writer is to ‘put crips in our scripts’.[…] So with this motto in mind, O’Reilly’s ‘Atypical Plays’ present opportunities for disabled artists to occupy the stage and challenge audiences’ assumptions about disability and difference. The writer works together with her actors in a non-hierarchical and innovative way, continuously and purposefully adapting to each unique movement, to create the five theatrical pieces in this collection: Peeling, The Almond and the Seahorse, In Water I’m Weightless, the 9 Fridas and Cosy.

Written in the 21st Century and from an insider lens, these five plays subvert traditional notions of normalcy and encourage the possibilities of human difference to explore the whirlwind of relationships, emotions, choices and identities that, both construct us and are constructed by us, as we all move through life and try to work out what it is to be human.

These texts portray disabled characters as sexy, active and wilful beings in empowering and provocative stories, cutting against the grain of the trope for most blockbusters of stage and screen, which revolve around medicalisation and normalisation using disabled characters as a metaphor for tragedy, loss or horror.

The first play, peeling, described by the Scotsman as ‘a feminist masterpiece’, is a fine example of meta-theatre that explores themes of war, eugenics, and fertility. Written specifically for a Deaf woman and two disabled women (each strong, witty actors and feisty activists), peeling is a postmodern take on the epic Trojan Women.

Although the three characters – Alfa, Beaty and Coral – are consigned to the chorus, O’Reilly makes them central to this play, revealing their real personalities and hidden truths through vocal cat-fights and heckling matches (interpreted via BSL and audio description) while they wait to play the two minute part they have been awarded in the name of ‘inclusion’.

The Almond and the Seahorse is the second script, and the most structured of them all. Written for a cast of five, it examines the impact of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) for the individual and their slowly fading loved ones. Focusing on two couples (where one partner in each has a diminishing memory) it demonstrates the slow debilitating power of memory loss on present relationships and dreams for the future.

Reading this script evokes a sense of how critical and delicate the human memory is. This is reflected in the words of Dr Falmer (the ambitious neuropsychologist character whose beloved father had TBI) – ‘we should not invest so in such perishable goods’ (p.127). The vibrant clarity of monologue, dialogue and stage directions on the page makes it easy to visualise this play on the stage. Highly affecting, the performed text will undoubtedly give much food for thought for the audiences.

The third play in this collection In Water I am Weightless – is an apt title for exploring the heavy burden disability seems to provoke in society as in water it remains hidden. Written for a cast of six Deaf and disabled actors, and entrenched in crip humour and energy of the Disability Movement, the performance script adopts a monologue and dialogue style to create a mosaic of stories of the realities of living in a disabling society and being seen as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘in need’ by the non-disabled.[…] Performed at Unlimited in London 2012, and inspired by a range of informal conversations with disabled and Deaf citizens, this work is really does put “us” in the slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us”.

The 9 Fridas use the artwork of the disabled Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, as a lens to deconstruct her biography including her changing social positioning in terms of her disabled and feminist identities. The last play, Cosy, is a dark comedy exploring inevitable ageing and death.

Together the five plays make essential reading, both for educational purposes and pleasure. Informed by the Social Model of Disability, they have the potential to enact a kind of activism and a change in public perceptions towards disabled people, previously shaped by negative representations in popular culture. Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors offers an entertaining and poetical insight into what is means to be human.

 

With thanks to Disability Arts Online. Please check out this essential website – http://disabilityarts.online – an important hub for discussion, reflection and engagement with disability arts and culture.

Atypical Plays Discount code from Oberon books available to DAO readers here

Take inspiration and above all, endure….

I recently spoke with a friend who said she was blocked, jaded, depressed, and unmotivated – and it was not just the results of the EU referendum which had made her feel this way. Her once beloved project was now languishing in a pile of unread research books and unsorted receipts for her tax return. She said she couldn’t understand her lethargy, her lack of interest in a writing career she had worked very hard to establish. I comforted her as best I could, and then sent her a link to the post, below, written soon after I started writing this blog. She said it helped. Just looking at Frank Hurley’s haunting photographs of Antarctica engaged her; they seemed a worthy metaphor for how she was feeling about her writing (and Brexit): stuck, like the ship Endurance, in ice. She suggested I repost it, commenting on how I haven’t written ‘advice’ pieces like this for some time. I explained this was because I had received no response to the posts, so presumed they were of no interest. ‘Put it up again,’ she encouraged me, so I have. Let me know if you would like to see more of this kind of content.

Touched Up no sharpening

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working….

Years ago I wrote a radio play for BBC Radio 3’s then experimental strand, The Wire. Lives Out of Step was set in Antarctica and used actual wild track recorded on the continent from the BBC sound archives. The play juxtaposed excerpts from the letters and diaries of the early Polar explorers with a fictional narrative highlighting the contemporary exploration (and exploitation) of this frozen desert for oil.

During my research, I became consumed not just with Ernest Shackleton’s South, his extraordinary account of making his way back safely – with all his men – from a glorious but disastrous attempt to get to the South Pole, but also Frank Hurley’s haunting photographs of The Endurance, the expedition’s ship, caught fast in the Weddell Sea, eighty five miles from their destination.

Long after the play was broadcast and the project was filed away and all but forgotten, the images lingered on in my mind. I made copies of Hurley’s iconic images and blu-tacked them above my desk, not quite sure why. As someone who makes their living through being creative, I have learnt to trust my often illogical-seeming impulses, knowing the process is sometimes instinctive and the reasoning will come through, eventually. It was only many weeks later when going into my study with a friend that I saw this overly-familar place afresh, with all its superstitious objects and clutter and mountains of capsizing books – and on the wall above my desk a potent visual metaphor of the process of writing. And enduring. And, despite all the odds, surviving.

ernest-shackletons-ship-endurance

At risk of inviting hubris, I have to state I do not believe in writer’s block. Like Russian-American director/actor Michael Chekov, I believe that the potential of the imagination is infinite and as such, can be endlessly resourceful. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. It needs to be developed and harnessed, fed and nurtured, alternatively shaped and let grow wild.

In my interactions with writers experiencing this ‘block’, it has inevitably been caused by several possibilities, some of which I list, below:

Tiredness. We need to rest and feed our imaginations just as we have to rest and feed our physical bodies. After a period of intense activity, our energy and stores are depleted, so we need to input as well as output. But before I start trying to stoke the fire of my imagination with further fuel, I rest it by having a day looking…. at a horizon, whether seascape, landscape, or cityscape; at art (my personal favourite is to sit in the cool, dimly-lit environment of Rothko’s gallery at the Tate); at a huge cinema screen; at some other vista which seems to satisfy my hunger for seeing and absorbing. Find your own panacea, but be truthful in how long you need to rest. It is possible to rest for all of your creative life.

Research. Or lack of. The one common criticism I’ve heard from directors working with new writing is they feel playwrights don’t research their characters or the world of their play enough. I’ve also found when mentoring writers who are writing naturalistically, if they have come to an apparently insurmountable block and have begun to doubt themselves, the solution invariably lies in the work, as that is where the problem is, not in the writer. A few choice questions about the rules of the world, or the needs, motivations, or backstories of the characters often illicit a loosening of the obstacle, a thawing of the ice, with fresh material to pursue.

But this research needs to be carefully handled. Chekov warns: “Dry reasoning kills your imagination. The more you probe with your analytical mind, the more silent become your feelings, the weaker your will and the poorer your chances for inspiration.”

Chekov’s advice is to actors and embodied imagination, and so needs to be adapted for use by writers, but the overall sentiment holds true.

I think we need to keep juice in our work, especially during the dehydrating process of revising and rewriting. We mustn’t cook it so dry our work becomes unappetising or inedible. It’s wise to leave the work alone for a while when the material becomes too familiar, as we all know familiarity breeds contempt.

But most of all, my advice to writers is never give up.

Shackleton and his men were assumed dead, lost at sea or in the Antarctic wilderness…

Take inspiration, and above all, endure.

shackleton02_home_01

For Frank Hurley’s photographs and Ernest Shackleton’s memoir, see links below:

http://www.kodak.com/US/en/corp/features/endurance/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/South-Endurance-Photographs-F-Jack-Hurley/dp/0747557195

http://www.amazon.co.uk/South-Endurance-Expedition-Ernest-Shackleton/dp/0140288864/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313776824&sr=1-1

Being Atypical at London’s Southbank Centre, 6th September 2016

 

9781783193172_1-2

 

I love a good chat, so am delighted to confirm I’ll be in conversation on 6th September at Southbank Centre, with the London launch of my selected plays Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors. 

The event is part of  the Unlimited Festival 6-11 September 2016: “a festival of theatre, dance, music, literature, comedy and visual arts that celebrates difference with a spirit of artistic adventure, honesty and humour.”

The selected plays, published by Oberon books, gather together many of my performance texts around difference and disability, and have been getting some lovely responses:

‘An invaluable and long over-due collection of untold stories that deserve to take centre stage.’  Lyn Gardner, Guardian

‘Kaite O’Reilly is a poet of the human condition, a singer of temporal lapses, gaps, translations, missed connections and joyful vibrancy. The performance texts collected here show depth, pain and pleasure. They squeeze the reader, asking her to feel a human touch on her own skin, in her flesh, in the nervous system: this is work that reaches out, and demands that we feel sensations in response. You will be moved.’                                           Petra Kuppers. Professor, University of Michigan, and artistic director of The Olympias

The collection includes two Unlimited Commissions: the 2012 In Water I’m Weightless, produced by National Theatre Wales and directed by John E McGrath (who also writes the foreword), and Cosy, which premiered earlier this year, directed by Phillip Zarrilli for The Llanarth Group/Wales Millennium Centre, supported by Unlimited. I’ve included some of my earlier texts, including peeling (originally produced by Graeae Theatre Company 2002/03), The Almond and the Seahorse (2008), and the 9 Fridas, after Frida Kahlo. The latter has yet to be produced in English, but I’ll be heading to Taipei and Hong Kong this autumn, when the Mandarin production for the 2014 Taipei Arts Festival is remounted for the Black Box Festival at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre.

I feel immensely lucky that I have these Autumn platforms to talk about diversity and difference. As the late, much missed Jo Cox stated in her parliamentary maiden speech thirteen months ago, we have more in common than that which divides us.

Links and further information:

http://oberonbooks.com/atypical-plays

http://unlimited.southbankcentre.co.uk/events/book-launch-kaite-oreilly-in-conversation