Singapore: talks, festivals, performances, artist meetings and a royal reception in a borrowed dress

Kaite O’Reilly at British Council talk, 17/11/17, Singapore Art Museum

 

The past month in Singapore has been a phenomenally busy but rich time. I fly back to the UK later today, having completed my teaching of Dramaturgy at ITI – the Intercultural Theatre Institute – and writing workshops for the emerging Deaf and disabled writers and practitioners of Project Tandem. Last night I presented my British Council ‘Knowledge is Great’ talk: Nothing About Us Without Us – What Can Singapore learn from 30 years of the UK’s Disability arts and culture?’ I presented in the Glass Hall of the beautiful Singapore Art Museum and am so grateful to have had this opportunity to speak about my work and the UK’s disability arts scene. Singapore is currently embracing all things to do with disability and diversity – a time full of great potential for reshaping a more inclusive society and arts scene in the future, although there are many questions, particularly regarding the difference between Disability arts – led by disabled artists, informed by the Social Model of disability and often an expression of lived experience in a disabling world, and arts and disability.

Singapore – natural and manmade

 

It was great to be able to speak about the work I’ve made both within the so-called ‘mainstream’ and with Deaf and disabled collaborators over thirty years, and to share some video and images from productions in the past five years. The response was fantastic, with many questions and comments and right at the end of a lively post-talk discussion, assertions regarding the need for agency and disabled and Deaf leadership opportunities, as opposed to the charity model currently prevalent in Singapore. It was a lively and stimulating event, and I’m thankful for all those who made comments and asked questions. All the organisations and individuals I have met in Singapore have said how dialogue is so important – to discover if there are lessons or shortcuts to be learned for Singapore from the experience in the UK. Every country has its own context and history and will forge its own path forwards to what we all hope will be a more fair and egalitarian future – and if I can assist in this dialogue of difference and diversity, I am more than happy to.

Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, Peter Sau, Lee Lee Lim and Grace Khoo: R&D ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’

 

I was so pleased we were able to share earlier this autumn the work in progress of my disability arts and culture collaboration with Singapore: And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. An international r&d commission from Unlimited, it was a good example of disabled and Deaf-led work and the seeding of work by Deaf and disabled artists into the cultural sector – Unlimited’s mission statement.

Natalie Lim, Lee Lee Lim and Nice the dog, Kaite and Danial Bawthan at the High Commission

This month has also been rich in meetings of the unexpected kind, with an invitation to the High Commission with my fellow collaborators for a royal reception. I attended with Nat Lim,  Peter Sau, Danial Bawthan, Lee Lee Lim and Nice the dog, in a borrowed dress, courtesy of Nat (thank you). Formal attire was not included in my suitcase when I packed to come to Singapore and I was certainly not expecting to meet Prince Charles.

The Indomitable Irishry: Singapore Writers festival

 

I was in Singapore at a great time to indulge my love for workshops, panel discussions and readings, as I coincided with the Singapore Writers’ Festival. Further fortune came with the focus this year being on Ireland, and I was able to meet and hear some of my favourite Irish authors and poets. Notes on these sessions and from some of the talks and workshops I attended will follow at a later date on this blog.

Artist Chng Seok Tin in her studio

 

 

 

A final and most delightful meeting was with artist Chng Seok Tin at her studio. Seok Tin works in an astonishing breadth of mediums, becoming more tactile in her work after she lost her sight many years ago. It was such a pleasure to meet a woman artist so inventive and expressive, who embraces change and learning new techniques and form. I have asked her to participate in my ’20 Questions…’ series and so hope to present more information about her and her work in a future post.

Masjid Sultan, muscat Street, Singapore.

The sun is blazing on this, my last day in Singapore, as I prepare for the chill of the UK and the closing-in nights of winter. I am so thankful to all who hosted me, met me, supported my work, talks and workshops and hope to return in Spring 2018.

Nothing About Us Without Us: Lecture by Kaite O’Reilly. Singapore. 17 November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing About Us Without Us – What Can Singapore Learn from Three Decades of the UK’s Disability Arts and Culture?

“The British Council in association with ITI, Intercultural Theatre Institute  is pleased to bring to you the upcoming British Council  ‘Knowledge is GREAT’ Lecture featuring distinguished playwright and disability artist and advocate, Kaite O’Reilly.

Kaite is a multi-award winning dramatist who works internationally. Winner of the Peggy Ramsay Award, M.E.N. Most Innovative Play of the Year and The Theatre-Wales Best Play of the Year, she was also presented with the prestigious Ted Hughes Award for her re-imagining of Aeschylus’s ‘Persians’ for National Theatre Wales. A leading figure in the UK’s Disability arts and Culture, her Unlimited Commission In Water I’m Weightless was produced at Southbank Centre by National Theatre Wales as part of the official Cultural Olympiad celebrating the 2012 London Olympics/Paralympics. She is currently developing her Unlimited International Commission And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues: a dialogue about disability, diversity and what it is to be human from different sides of the world. She is patron of Disability Arts Cymru and DaDaFest – the biggest Disability Arts/Deaf Arts Festival in the world.

Since 2003 Kaite has been developing what she coins ‘alternative dramaturgies informed by a Deaf and disability perspective’, working within subversive and innovative disability arts and Deaf culture. Join her as she shares her work over twenty five years, showing video examples of her use of the ‘aesthetics of access’ from In Water I’m Weightless (National Theatre Wales / Southbank Centre / Unlimited Festival), spoken / visual languages in Woman of Flowers and other work from her selected Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors (Oberon).

There will be an opportunity for questions and discussion about the differences between Disability arts and culture, arts and disability, and inclusive arts.

Free tickets here.

Ty Newydd Masterclass announced for 11-16 June 2018

 

Ty Newydd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delighted that my masterclass in writing for performance at Ty Newydd, the National Writing Centre for Wales, has been announced.

I will be back in beautiful north Wales, leading an intensive practical workshop for experienced writers between Monday 11 June – Saturday 16 June 2018. This is a special course, for just eight participants, and it always fills quickly,  so early booking is advised. I ask for writers to apply for the course, outlining emerging work, hopes for the week, and any particular areas you wish to explore. I’ve been told by participants over the years that this short ‘application’ focuses minds and moves embryonic projects along even before we gather in Llanystumdwy, so it seems to be useful for the writer as well as myself and Ty Newydd, curating the best course and company.

Masterclass: Writing for Performance

Mon 11 Jun – Sat 16 Jun 2018
Tutor / Kaite O’Reilly
Course Fee / From £495 – £625 per person
Genres / PerformanceScripting
Language / English
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“The tutor was outstanding… I’ve been twice before and I learn more and more each time. Kaite is rigorous, supportive, and exciting to work with.”
Participant on 2017 masterclass.

.This is a masterclass for experienced writers who are seeking guidance with the shaping and direction of their work-in-progress, or who have an idea formulating, burning to get on the page. This intensive but enjoyable week is structured with daily practical workshops and exercises to find entry points for new writing, and skills-based tasks to develop technique and strengthen your work. This will include approaches to editing and revision, developing character, plot, dynamic, and the world of your play. We will explore the most effective dramatic structure for your script or best form for your performance writing, finding clarity about what you really want to say and how best dramaturgically to communicate it.

There will be one-to-one dramaturgical sessions during the week; evening practical workshops; and a chance to share work-in-progress and garnering constructive feedback.

As this is a popular course with an unusually small group for experienced writers (8 participants) there will be a selection process. You will be asked to outline your project, areas of concern you wish to address, and share some work-in-progress, even if just an idea. This will enable the week to be bespoke, structured specifically towards developing the work of the participants. Contact Tŷ Newydd with your application.

An advance reading list will also be provided. At the end of the week you will be ready for the next stage in your writing, with new starting points and techniques.

http://www.tynewydd.wales/course/masterclass-writing-performance/

Ty Newydd, the house:

Built in the fifteenth century, Tŷ Newydd is a Grade II* listed building with a rich history. Famously the last home of former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, it has seen many families passing through its doors over the centuries. The heritage rattles around the rooms in Tŷ Newydd.

The house itself has six bedrooms, two libraries, a large dining room, a kitchen, and a conservatory. It also houses the Tŷ Newydd office. Tŷ Newydd’s outbuilding, Hafoty, includes the tutors’ quarters, and a further six rooms for guests. It also includes a writing nook. The atmosphere at Tŷ Newydd is relaxed and informal, and in feedback, we are told over and over again how conducive this is to creativity.

When you stay with us, Tŷ Newydd becomes your creative space, your home in which to shift about and share ideas with fellow writers. The beautiful grounds looking out over Cardigan Bay were restyled by famous architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in the 1940s, and provide the perfect setting for you to write in peace and quiet.

Singapore rehearsal diary for New Welsh Review….’And Suddenly I Disappear….’

What follows in an excerpt from my rehearsal diary, commissioned by New Welsh Review, documenting part of my process working in Singapore this Autumn on ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’, my international r&d commission from Unlimited. I am immensely grateful to New Welsh Review for providing this feature free – see more on the journal at https://www.newwelshreview.com and here

Stephanie Fam performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s international r&d Unlimited commission ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’ before a still image of Sophie Stone using visual language, Photograph: Kaite O’Reilly

 

 

18/9/17:

We arrive into Singapore at the end of the Month of the Hungry Ghosts. Flaming braziers sit on street corners and outside temples. Paper money from the Bank of Hell and small cardboard models of cars, smartphones, booze, cigarettes and all the trappings of the good life are set alight in the braziers as offerings to the dead ancestors. Zhong Yuan Jie is the period in the seventh month of the lunar calendar when the gates of the underworld are opened to allow the souls of the dead to roam the earth. Relatives burn offerings to appease their deceased family members, ensuring they don’t become ‘hungry ghosts’ up to mischief, jealous of the living and what they have.

Even in its Taoist and Buddhist rituals, Singapore is commercial, taking care of material needs into the afterlife.

We – performer Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli and I – are here for the r&d of  my collaboration between Wales and Singapore, ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’, an Unlimited International Commission and dialogue about disability, diversity and difference from opposite sides of the world.

Singapore is a young nation, a high-functioning capitalist culture valuing commerce and uniformity, where, my producer Grace Khoo tells me, she was raised ‘not to ask questions, to keep my chin down and not to stand out.’ It is recently embracing notions of diversity and inclusion, but its awareness of disability issues and culture are very much in its infancy. How challenging atypical embodiment, disability politics, the aesthetics of access and what I call ‘alternative dramaturges nformed by a d/Deaf and disability perspective’ may be here, I’m about to find out.

The UK has a long and proud history of disabled peoples’ activism, something Sara Beer and I have been engaged with for decades. Our background is punkish, proud and irreverent – ‘nothing about us without us’ is one of the Disabled Peoples Movement’s slogans – ‘Piss on Pity’ another, a badge I still wear. How this will fit with the ultra-conservative Singaporeans and a system that would not have tolerated our direct action of the 90s remains to be seen. A fascinating conversation is in the process of happening.

20/9/17:
We rehearse at Centre 42, a heritage house in downtown Singapore, greeted by my main collaborator, Peter Sau, and herbal teas from the local Chinese medical hall to help counter the excessive humidity. Peter is an award-winning actor and theatre maker, and a friend since my first visit to Singapore in 2004. He and producer Grace came to the UK in 2016 in order to explore disability arts and culture, with the aim to professionalise it in Singapore .

Some of the ‘And Suddenly I Disappear…’ team, including Sara Beer and Ramesh Meyyappan, Lee Lee Lim, Danial Bawthan and Shai outside Centre 42, Singapore.

Together we made an application to Unlimited, building on the model I developed from my 2008/09 Creative Wales award. Then, advised by Eve Ensler and Ping Chong, I explored the form of the monologue, interviewing d/Deaf and disabled people across the UK, using their perspectives, experiences, and opinions as inspiration to write fictional monologues. These were later produced as ‘In Water I’m Weightless’, the National Theatre Wales/Unlimited production, part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It’s important that I write the texts rather than ‘steal’ from the source material, for what are we but our stories? I prefer to invent. This also ensures that the material cannot be individualised, reduced down to one person’s unfortunate experience rather than a synthesis of the collective experience of prejudice we are all complicit in.

In Singapore, Peter and his dedicated team of researchers, transcribers, and translators are partway through intensive interviews with disabled and d/Deaf Singaporeans. These are stories that have gone unremarked and unreported. Despite the new focus on inclusivity and diversity, ingrained beliefs linger, and in many ways difference and disability is shameful in Singapore, so several of our interviewees, although eager to contribute, request anonymity.

The recordings and transcripts of the interviews are remarkable, Peter and his colleagues have eked out conversations of candour and passion. As I write the drafts I’m reminded of my own ‘coming out’ as a disabled person and personal revolution after meeting the social model of disability, which turned everything I previously knew upside down. I’d been reared on the Medical Model, where the body is at fault, requiring medicalisation and normalisation. The social model sees disability, like gender, as a social construct, and it is society and its physical and attitudinal barriers which are disabling, not the body itself. Value is given where previously there was none.

It is no surprise then that many of the conversations ongoing in Singapore prompt tears and extraordinary openness from people so often denied respect. How daunting and exhilarating then is my task – to write fictional work responding to this stimulus, and begin work on embodying these voices.

22/9/17:

Ideas from the interviews are reversed or reinvented, Peter, Grace and Lee Lee Lim advise me on the use of Mandarin, Hokkien and Singlish vocabulary, which help make the rhythms and cadences of the dialogue more Singaporean. The collaboration is shaping into a dialogue, resulting in a series of vibrant, multimedia monologues inspired by lived experience, layering theatrical languages and utilising captioning, integrated audio description and visual language in the aesthetics of access, a first for Singapore. We realise there are seven spoken and signed languages in use in the rehearsal room, reflecting the multicultural diversity and linguistic complexity of Singapore. I feel we’re exploring how stories change in different cultures, languages and contexts…. How do we ‘speak’ to each other?

25/9/17:

I write a choral monologue to be explored in spoken, projected and visual language.

Be like water. Be like a river. You dip a bowl into the river and the river fills it and becomes the bowl. Pour into a pot, it becomes the pot. Treat with fire and it becomes steam…. This is how you will be. Unstoppable. Fluid. Powerful.
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The day I need to submit this diary, just one week after meeting and four days before our in progress sharing, the inclusive company has come together with a startling cohesion. Peter’s team is filled with committed individuals keen to bring about change. Monologues that seemed too edgy and politically challenging on first reading now rise off the page, owned. The sense of pride and celebration is tangible. Sara asks Danial Bawthan, one of our emerging disabled performers, how he is finding the process. ‘Priceless,’ he says. ‘I want to be that water, the water that goes into that bowl.’

And Suddenly I Disappear….Singapore ‘d’ Monologues…..

Some of the ‘And Suddenly I Disappear…’ team, including Sara Beer and Ramesh Meyyappan outside Centre 42, Singapore.

Jet lagged but satisfied after a fabulous but frantic fortnight of research and development in Singapore with my r&d international commission from Unlimited. Time to catch my breath and start reflecting on a fascinating learning experience. Meanwhile, here’s a few images and a blog collaborator Peter Sau and I wrote for Unlimited Impact earlier in the month… On Witnessing….

Sound designer mentor Bani Baykal with emerging artist Danial Bawthan

Singapore ‘d’ monologue rehearsal photos 1

A week into rehearsals for And Suddenly I Disappear…. the Singapore ‘d’ monologues… Sara Beer, Phillip Zarrilli and I arrive to work at Centre 42 in downtown Singapore, the air heavy with tropical storms.

Grace Khoo and Ramesh Meyyappan – in rehearsals for And Suddenly I Disappear,,, The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are working flat-out in preparation for three work in progress sharings at the end of the month – only  ten days of rehearsals for this new inclusive company of UK and Singapore Deaf and disabled artists, working on an International R&d commission from Unlimited.

Rapper Danial Bawthan in rehearsals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text is delivered in multiple languages, reflecting the cultural diversity of Singapore. I’m also working in visual language with Ramesh Meyyappan and find myself writing a rap for emerging Singaporean artist Danial Bawthan.

Teaching Lee Lee Lim the sign for ‘disappear’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time is short, with twelve hour rehearsals leading to the first sharing later this week, but I will try to blog when possible. Meanwhile, here’s an article from Huffington Post this morning

 

And Suddenly I Disappear… cycles of inspiration

 

This is a story of collaboration and inspiration…. of how a project inspired a poem and the poem inspired a design and the design became a poster and therefore the image for the project…

There is a poetic symmetry to this cycle of inspiration which I find hugely satisfying.

I am in the midst of an international collaboration – And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. commissioned by Unlimited, which you can read about here, here, and here. My collaborator in Singapore, Peter Sau, had recently embarked on a massive research exercise, gathering the stories from d/Deaf and disabled Singaporeans to inspire The ‘d’ monologues I would write. One of Peter’s research volunteers, Shai (Nur Shafiza Shafie) became fascinated with the title…. what might the ‘d’ stand for? That tantalising enigmatic letter became a thought, became a response to the project and our ambitions – and became a poem:.

Invitation to D
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Dearest,
Disadvantaged, disempowered
Despised, deprived, downtrod
Deviant, daring and disturbed
Devoutly disillusioned with God
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Destroyed, damaged and dirty
Dishevelled and disheartened
Dismayed, depressed and dreary
Demonised yet defiant
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Determined, deserving, delicate
Different, distinct and diverse
Disabled, deaf and deliberate
Definers of your own dark universe.
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Do it. Defy the disbelievers.
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Disarm them. Deflect them.
Dance around their dreadful hum.
Devour them. Diminish them.
Drown their egos with your drum.
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Decry them. Deplore them.
Dilapidate your despair.
Disturb them. Distress them.
Devastate them if you dare.
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Debate them. Debunk them.
Dig down deeply for the fight.
‎Destroy them. Defeat them.
Drag them kicking to the light.
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(C) Copyright Shai (Nur Shafiza Shafie) 2017
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The project’s UK producer, Grace Khoo, shared Shai’s words with me and I was delighted that our project was inspiring such a creative response from our generous volunteer.
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Then Shai’s poem was seen by our publicity and marketing designer Ho Su Yuen, who swiftly responded with a striking block letter design, using the words from the poem. I, meanwhile, was developing the title of the project. A common theme seemed to be emerging from the video footage and transcripts from the interviews – that of d/Deaf and disabled people being made invisible. This sentiment offered the full title to me: And Suddenly I Disappear…. The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. The new title was passed on to Ho Su Yuen, who immediately responded with a new offering. 
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Various conversations followed and the design went back and forth as it evolved, Grace and Sara Beer (collaborator on the project and development officer for Disability Arts Cymru) advising on making the logo more accessible.
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And suddenly – there it was…. The beautiful bold image, above… the logo for our project, the poster image created from defiant poetry written in direct response to the interviewees who are inspiring the fictional monologues. This is such a wonderful example of how generosity feeds inspiration and creativity generates more creativity…
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With great thanks to Shai (Nur Shafiza Shafie) and Ho Su Yuen for your beautiful contributions.
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Commissioned and supported by Unlimited, celebrating the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council of Wales and British Council.