Spies in our skies: the making of The Beauty Parade

Anne-Marie Piazza and Georgina White in ‘The Beauty Parade.’

The Beauty Parade, secret moon squadron, has finally landed, opening at Wales Millennium Centre to full houses and (I am so happy to say) emotional and enthusiastic audiences. I hope to write a full blog post about the process and reactions once I’ve caught my breath – so until then, here’s the programme notes  and an interview in The Guardian newspaper….

 

Kaite O’Reilly
Writer / Concept / Co-Director

“I first heard of ‘The Beauty Parade’ more than twenty years ago, when interviewing former Second World War Codebreaker Molly Schuesselle, who became a close friend. Molly worked with a pilot who dropped hastily trained British female agents behind enemy lines into occupied France between 1941-44 – codename ‘The Beauty Parade.’ Molly kept this information to herself for fifty years, having signed the Official Secrets Act. I was the first person she spoke to in depth about this.

For decades I have wanted to explore the stories of the ‘ordinary women’, nameless in war, who fell between the cracks, who perhaps did not return: women whose exploits even now languish in classified files owing to the clandestine nature of their war work.

An opportunity came thanks to the Arts Council of Wales who gave me a Creative Wales Major Award to experiment with form. Building on my thirty years of working with Deaf theatre practitioners, I set out to explore the creative potential of interweaving spoken, sung, projected, musical and visual languages into a performance, working with long term collaborators Sophie Stone and composer Rebecca Applin. Our process was unusual. I would write the material, select some for Sophie to transform into visual language, we would meet, polish the visual material, video it, then share with Becky, who composed following the tempo-rhythms of Sophie’s visual language. The process and outcome are unusual: the music follows the performer, and not the more usual way around.

I am immensely grateful to Wales Millennium Centre and our producer, Emma Evans, who understood the potential of this project, and who, despite my dogged insistence on the unusual process, still gave us a home.”

Graeme Farrow
Artistic Director, Wales Millennium Centre

Artistic director Graeme Farrow outside Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay

The Beauty Parade tells the stories of incredible women who played a vital, dangerous yet secret role in the Second World War. It’s a privilege to uncover these histories and to honour the invisible women who have, until now, been removed from history.

It has been a delight to co-produce this piece with ground-breaking theatre-maker Kaite O’Reilly. As an artist who has pioneered inclusive practice, her knowledge, experience and flair were integral for bringing these stories to life. She creates work that is thought provoking, creative and accessible.

Together with Kaite, we have explored new and innovative ways of working, and it has been hugely exciting to make work with visual language, music and text. The result is a multi-layered piece, that we hope will be seen and enjoyed by a wide audience.

With this co-production we continue our work that celebrates the voice in all its forms, and the responsibility we have to give a voice to those who have been forgotten or erased from history. We’re delighted to be celebrating these incredible women. It’s a thrill and a great responsibility to play our part in telling one of the most extraordinary stories of the 20th century.

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Spies in the skies: the extraordinary story of The Beauty Parade

Sophie Stone stars in Kaite O’Reilly’s show which celebrates the forgotten women of the second world war with a powerful visual language.

Gareth Llŷr Evans interviews the performer/visual language expert Sophie Stone and the writer, lyricist and co-director Kaite O’Reilly for The Guardian.

Different languages echo, augment and collide … Anne-Marie Piazza, Sophie Stone and Kaite O’Reilly during rehearsals for The Beauty Parade. Photograph: Rhys Cozens

 

Sophie Stone extends her right arm and lets her hand float downwards while moving her fore and middle fingers back and forth. With this gesture, the actor transports us from a lunchtime bar at the Wales Millennium Centre to a moonlit night in occupied France, where women parachute through the sky.

These are the women of The Beauty Parade, written and co-directed by Kaite O’Reilly. The title comes from a codename for a project established by the Special Operations Executive during the second world war. Fluent French-speaking women from England and Wales were recruited and trained as spies and saboteurs, before being flown across the Channel to join the resistance.

Based on O’Reilly’s text and lyrics, Sophie Stone has created a visual language to be performed as part of the work. Describing her process, Stone says: “It’s taking from a language anything that is visually iconic, and can be understood by either deaf or hearing audiences, then morphing it into a different image, led by an emotional context.” Images of war become tactile, modulated by gravity, speed and intensity. But this is not mere translation; it is deaf-led.

Stone identifies as Deaf with a capital D, which asserts deafness as a culture – rich with its own history, arts, languages and organisations – as opposed to solely the audiological condition, marginalised by a hearing world. “It’s not that I can’t hear,” she says. “I don’t hear. It’s self-empowering. It’s important to say.” She would film her sequences – a combination of elements of British Sign Language, with signed poetry and hand shapes – which were then used by composer Rebecca Applin for the show’s music and songs.

“I love the fact that you Google ‘beauty parade’ and you just get all these women in swimming costumes lining up,” O’Reilly says. But the show’s title also hints at a darker irony. These were women who had to use “their homespun beauty, appearing like the girl next door, to slip beneath the radar of surveillance”. These were extraordinary but ultimately invisible performances, undertaken in extraordinary circumstances.

It is, O’Reilly continues, a mostly forgotten history. “Because they were already using aliases, using their noms de guerre, these women fell between the cracks. Because they were often treated as criminals, they weren’t given POW status.” The war came to an end, and these women simply disappeared.

O’Reilly’s text allows for these stories to take centre stage. As a leading figure in disability arts and culture in the UK, foregrounding often marginalised bodies and voices is central to her work. Acclaimed for her writing specifically for deaf and disabled performers, her work invites audiences to interrogate our preconceptions of the centre and the periphery. The Beauty Parade is the first time that music has been central in the development of one of her plays.

On stage, Stone’s visual language, performed alongside actor-musicians Georgina White and Anne-Marie Piazza, is interwoven with O’Reilly’s text and Applin’s music. Sometimes these different languages echo and augment each other; sometimes they collide. But the effect, even when glimpsed early in their rehearsal period, feels viscerally theatrical. By necessity, according to the specific needs of the three performers, they breathe as one: setting the pace, shaping its rhythms and guiding each other.

In our separate conversations, both O’Reilly and Stone playfully suggest that the recent increased visibility of deaf and disabled stage performers was due to it being “fashionable”. But now, as a result of what might have initially been tick-box exercises, it is starting to bear real change. It is an exciting time, particularly for deaf actors, who are empowered beyond doing “lovely things with their hands,” as Stone jokes. “From being let into a room, people have realised that we’re worth so much more than that. It’s more than just fashion. It’s more than just box-ticking. We actually have something that makes the work richer.”

The Beauty Parade – interviews and features 7-14 Feb

Anne-Marie Piazza’s poster as Lillian in The Beauty Parade WMC

Now at the end of the second week of rehearsals for The Beauty Parade at Wales Millennium Centre, we’re excited at how all the different elements of this complex project seem to be coming together beautifully.

Much of the last week has been developing the visual language sequences, Sophie and I working with Jean St Clair and Duffy (Brian Duffy). It is always a privilege to be in a rehearsal room with such fantastic experts in ‘V V’- the Visual Vernacular… I find Sophie’s visual language sequences visceral and deeply moving, especially when combined with Becky Applin’s evocative musical composition. This project began as part of my Creative Wales Major Award from Arts Council Wales – ‘the performative power of words with music’ – so I’m relishing the unexpected emotional kick that comes with the combination of visual, sung, spoken and musical languages.

Sophie Stone in rehearsal in The Beauty Parade. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

I’ve been impressed by the skills of our actor-musician-singers Georgina White and Anne-Marie Piazza. Apart from delivering lines with aplomb, they seem completely unfazed by the breadth of styles Becky has composed in – from Second World War Swing a la The Andrews Sisters, through Torch songs to a cappella. I’m looking forward immensely to next week, when we begin to do run-throughs and combine the design team’s contributions with what we’ve been doing.

It’s also immensely gratifying to find that a subject which has been my obsession for so many years also seems to be capturing the imagination of others. Ticket sales are going well, and there’s been a lot of media interest, with a fantastic feature and interview earlier this week, below.

Information about the production can be seen in my previous post, or here. I’ll be writing further blogs ab0ut our process and collaborators as we draw closer to opening in almost three weeks time….

Meanwhile, here’s a feature in South Wales Life  and a hugely enjoyable interview I had with Nathan and Wayne of Wayne and Wyburn on Radio Cardiff.

The Beauty Parade

The Beauty Parade, WMC, 5-14 March 2020

Hugely excited to begin rehearsals next week for my co-production with Wales Millennium Centre: The Beauty Parade. Below, details and the trailers. I’ll be blogging about the process during the next few weeks.

“We are the secret moon squadrons. Dropped by moonlight to set Europe ablaze.”

It’s the 1940s, deep in wartime, men are fighting on the front line and women don’t engage in armed combat; they keep the fires burning, the factories going, and the children fed at home. Or so we were told…

Pioneering theatre-maker Kaite O’Reilly collaborates with composer Rebecca Applin and performer/visual language expert Sophie Stone to expose one of the most unique operations of the Second World War; whereby ordinary women were plucked from obscurity and parachuted behind enemy lines.

These falling women, spiralling through the dark became saboteurs and silent killers. Sent to spy, to eavesdrop, to encourage the spilling of secrets.

The project’s code name? The Beauty Parade.

A unique collaboration between Deaf and hearing artists, The Beauty Parade is captioned throughout and incorporates live music, evocative songs and visual language to tell one of the most extraordinary stories of the 20th century.

Further information and tickets here

Trailer on Youtube: https://youtu.be/iSL-InGyaVc

We also have the magnificent Sophie Stone presenting a synopsis in BSL in the following trailer: https://youtu.be/qN0-au3qwGw

Intercultural work – Wales to Kerala – The Llanarth Group at ITFoK 2020

Phillip Zarrilli at Kerala’s International Theatre Festival January 2020

Being invited to the 12th International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFoK) was a great honour, and only possible thanks to the support of Wales Arts International (WAI) and Arts Council Wales (ACW).

The Llanarth Group presented Told by the Wind, a performance text co-created between Phillip Zarrilli, Jo Shapland and myself. It’s a mature piece of work – not just in its use of the Aesthetics of Quietude and aspects of String Theory, but in that it is ‘old’…. we first premiered the performance in Cardiff in 2010. Ten years on we are still touring the piece internationally – so far to Evora Festival in Portugal, The Grotowski Institute in Poland, The Dance Center in Chicago, TanzFabrik in Berlin – and this is great delight and privilege. The work deepens through re-visiting it. As dramaturg and outside eye, I have the pleasure of observing Joanna and Phillip’s work as performers as they return to this piece. It’s like a reunion with an old friend – the eventual ease and depth of engagement they create as they ‘attune’ to the material, their history of performing it, each other, time, and the space.

It is a challenging piece for both performers and audiences – 55 minutes of performance predominantly in silence – but one that ultimately is worth the investment, as can be seen by the initial 4 star review from The Guardian in 2010. We were slightly concerned about how this ‘slow theatre for a fast world’ might be received in dynamic India, but as the extensive press coverage reveals, the work was greeted enthusiastically, and with great curiosity and interest. ‘I’ve never experienced this before in theatre’ I was told repeatedly by initially quizzical but ultimately appreciative audience members. ‘It’s almost meditative. I make the story up.’

The aesthetics of Quietude, as described by Mari Boyd in her book of the same title, focuses on an apparent paradox around what she calls (referring to the work of Japanese playwright Ota Shogo) ‘passivity in art’. By not aggressively projecting a ‘message’, or storyline, we open up space for the audience to inhabit, inviting them to meet in a dynamic exchange and the creation of meaning and pleasure.

The interest in the work and in particular Phillip Zarrilli can be seen by the interviews and responses in The Hindu and other Indian papers I have linked, below. Phillip is extremely well known and respected in Kerala. As he describes on his website he is the first Westerner to seriously study kalarippayattu–the South Indian martial/medical art. He began his training in 1976 under the guidance of Gurukkal Govindankutty Nayar of the CVN Kalari, Thiruvananthapuram. Between 1976 and 1993, Phillip lived in Kerala for a total of seven years, with each trip devoted to undergoing intensive training in kalarippayattu. In 1988, he was gifted the traditional pitham (stool) representing mastery by Gurukkal Govindankutty Nayar. When the new CVN Kalari Sangham was founded in 2004, the Tyn-y-parc CVN Kalari in Llanarth, Ceredigion, Wales (UK) was certified as an official kalari of the Sangham under Phillip’s guidance as gurukkal. Inaugurated in 2000, the Tyn-y-arc CVN Kalari was the first traditional kalari operating outside of Kerala.

Phillip and his company The Llanarth Group have been invited to festivals in Kerala on many previous occasions, but this is the first time his work as a co-creator and actor has been received in Kerala, thanks to the support of WAI and ACW. Articles and interviews follow:

Theatre person Phillip Zarrilli on adopting and adapting intercultural techniques in his teachings and works

The actor-director was at the 12th International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFoK) in Thrissur with his play, ‘Told by the Wind’

Phillip Zarrilli, renowned actor, director, acting coach and pedagogue, was in Kerala recently to stage his play, Told by the Wind at the 12th International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFoK) in Thrissur. Despite a hectic schedule, Phillip managed to take time out to discuss his work and interculturality.

Excerpts from an interview…

Interculturality has been central to your work and training process. So, what does ‘intercultural’ mean to you?

To me, life is a process of encounters and negotiations. You encounter something, you respond and negotiate. It’s so unless you’re somebody with a closed mindset, where you wrap yourself within a specific way of thinking, putting yourself in a box, whether about ideas, people, other religions or other cultures. I think it’s much more interesting when we encounter and try to negotiate. So, interculturalism is not just about ‘between cultures’.

It is a way of seeing the world. The question is whether someone is open to a real, face-to-face encounter with others. I think, unfortunately, the world we live in is much more a world of separation than what it was when I was younger.

Do you think interculturality has relevance in the contemporary world?

Sure. Because it’s about encounter and understanding, and wanting to embrace difference. And not just, you know, be in a box, so as to speak. Unfortunately, I think, a lot of politicians are creating boxes, and pitting one box against another.

In the acting studio, the problem with the term interculturalism is that when it was used for the first time, it was limited to the early works that Peter Brook and the other kind of directors were doing when they brought together people from different cultures. I’d call that surface interculturalism.

But, it’s a different kind of situation for those who work in the acting studio, doing it for years on end. There’s a give and take that takes place in a studio. When I first came to Kerala and studied Kathakali in 1976, my teacher MP Sankaran Namboothiri (MPS) was generous with his time.

Both MPS and Killimangalam Vasudevan Namboothirippad, the then superintendent of Kerala Kalamandalam, were people who liked to think. Likewise, my Kalaripayattu teacher Govindankutty Nair was also generous with his time.

The encounters that took place between all of us, in and outside the studio, the discussions, the exchanges of ideas about body, thought and reflection, that willingness to open up, were intercultural.

I have brought together Kalarippayattu and Tai Chi into my practice. For me, this process of negotiation is taking place within my body and through the body-minds of those who were training in the studio with me. Contemporary theatre in Kerala, or in India itself, came about via an encounter with the West. So, it is intercultural on one hand, and still growing with its own rootedness in India.

You recently co-edited a book, Intercultural Acting and Performer Training, with T Sasitharan, Director, Intercultural Theatre Institute, Singapore, and Anuradha Kapur, former Director, National School of Drama. Was that book an attempt to define ‘interculturalism ?’

Rather than ‘defining,’ it was an attempt to open up. My book, Psycho Physical Acting: An Intercultural Approach After Stanislavski, published in 2009, is about my training process. But the purpose of this present book, Intercultural Acting and Performer Training, was to give space to other voices.

There are 14 chapters written by different people, about different dimensions of interculturalism as it exists today. We, the three editors, did not even write a joint introduction. The book has a three-part introduction.

Is there interculturalism, however subtle, in your directorial works?

Told by the Wind is an intercultural performance, inspired by the Japanese art form, Noh. However, it looks nothing like Noh. Only the dramaturgy and our performance are inspired by principles of Noh. I’d call it a subtle form of interculturalism. However, when we performed it in Japan, the Japanese audience who knew Butoh and Noh appreciated it. They could see the subtle elements, the influences.

The 2015 production Playing the Maids, which we did with Korean, Irish and Singaporean Chinese collaborators, was another subtle form of interculturalism. The text was primarily in English, but it had Mandarin, Korean and Irish Gaelic. The Singaporean performer had worked with Wayang Wong, the Javanese classical dance theatre, and her movements were subtly infused with the form. One of the Korean dancers showcased her roots in classical Korean dance.

You have worked with differently-abled actors in some of your works.

I’ve done two plays with differently- actors. One was The 9 Fridas, which Kaite O’Reilly had written. She has been working with differently-abled artistes. Richard III Redux or Sara Beer (Is/Not) Richard III, co-created by me and Kaite, was written for Sara Beer, a Welsh actress who had scoliosis. It was written as a response to the vilification of Richard III, as the epitome of evil because he had a disability.

When I am working with differently-abled artistes, I have to adapt my teaching to their individual needs, not just to a general group of actors.

Lecture by Phillip Zarrilli at ITFoK looks into essence of the art

Acting is about becoming sensorially aware of imagining or remembering. “Consider one dimension of our embodied consciousness, which is also the dimension of our sensorial,” Phillip Zarrilli, actor, director and scholar said, elaborating on ‘Phenomenology of Acting’ in the Special Lecture at the ITFoK on Tuesday.

His play Told by the Wind that was staged on Tuesday was about such a nature of acting when growing awareness would unfold unexplored domains of being.

“It is passive, but also active. It is about listening. When we mindfully attend to something, we take time, it happens through time.”

From this, the theatre practitioner ventured into a contemporary actor’s learning methodology attuned to these concepts; approaching it from the martial arts perspective of being “open to what might happen” instead of anticipating, and how awareness is cultivated and actualised in a performance. They have to perform in a state of not knowing. “We have a score, until it emerges, I do not know what comes next,” he said.

Audience’s role

As actors, we would have to discover by doing and not over-thinking, Mr. Zarrilli said. “It is a series of actions. When I work on it, we do not do analysis. That is for the audience. I should have no anticipation of what flung me or why I am flung. That is the audience’s work. That is not my work as an actor.”

Good response

The 12th edition of International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFoK) witnessed good crowd of theatre enthusiasts from across the world on Tuesday.

The festival that has been conducted with the theme ‘Imagining Communities’ seeks to reflect upon the state of democracy and the need to reflect on alternative voices.

It also provides platform for other folk and traditional theatre forms. In all, 19 plays will be staged at the 10-day festival.An Evening with Immigrants by Fuel Productions Ltd, England, directed by Inua Ellams; Coriolanus, by Mostaghel Theatre Company; Iran, directed by Mostafah Koushki; Cheralacharitham by Nataka Sangham, Kongadu, directed by Sajith K.V. are the plays to be staged on Wednesday.

Three further links to interviews and articles about The Llanarth Group’s appearance at the festival in The Hindu below:

Exploring the domains of being

Kerala Tales

Theatre of Quietude: Poignant tales told by silences

 

 

Fortune favours the brave, but chance favours the prepared mind

Maybe it’s my greed for experience, but I have always wanted to lead several lives, a desire made manifest through my choice of projects and parallel careers. I have been a physical theatre performer, a chambermaid, a live art practitioner and a volunteer relief aid worker in war zones. I have written libretti, radio drama, short film, prose; sold shoes, meat and copy; directed film and dance theatre; been a writer in residence and Creative Fellow; and supervised postgraduate degrees in writing for performance whilst participating in Deaf arts, disability culture and the so-called mainstream.

I think one of the most important lessons I have learnt is never to perceive myself as one thing. This business will often try to label us, slap a convenient sticker on our forehead and file us away under a limiting, narrow definition. Although often seen as perverse, I pride myself on not being easy to define. I try to keep experimenting, taking on new challenges and developing my skills. I’ve often found in the UK that diversity is seen as an anomaly, a vulgar excess to be treated with suspicion. Phrases like ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ damn the Renaissance wo/man. I know writers who have limited their careers and creativity by believing it’s inappropriate to try something new, or that there are set patterns and processes to adhere to (if only they could decipher them), rather than inventing new ones.

But it’s difficult and daunting to initiate projects and career paths, especially when writers are often solitary figures in an industry that seems to work in mysterious ways. How to progress is a central question. I spent years expecting everything to suddenly become clear once I had gained enough experience, but now I don’t believe there is one route, method or direction. This is a territory that can’t be definitively mapped. Yet when I look back over my own career, there is a logical pattern, an apparently designed trajectory, although my progress felt haphazard and peripatetic at the time. The only conclusion I can draw is the importance of being guided through the labyrinth by individual curiosity and passions. It is the only way to stop getting ‘lost’ or losing time in dead-end pursuits.

Too often emerging writers second-guess what directors or publishers want, or copy trends rather than setting them, or enter into a strange ventriloquism using a borrowed voice, not their own. When developing new writers, I encourage them to work from their passion/s, to identify and locate what engages or fascinates them. I’ve found that this engagement will often translate into the quality of the work, providing the writer with their particular viewpoint, whilst sustaining them through the long and often arduous process of rewriting. When writers are truly connected to their material they are unlikely to abandon the project – and I think it essential to finish things – their practice is often richer and more complex and they’re less willing to accept second best. It also means the work has content – the writers have something to communicate.

When I started out as a playwright, it was still usual to send one copy of the script out at a time and then endure an agonizing wait of many months to hear from the agent/literary manager/editor/director, only to repeat the hateful pattern all over again. I learnt to cultivate a third skin (a second isn’t thick enough) and, despite my sympathies for the invariably over-worked literary gatekeeper of that time, to loath the power balance. I wanted to be in control as much as I could be of my life, my work and any emerging neuroses. The depressive, solitary writer waiting anxiously by the letterbox/inbox was all too possible, so I distracted myself by reading widely and hungrily the work of women writers in other countries and centuries and exploring performance aesthetics which had fired my imagination.

My understanding of dramaturgy and the multiplicity of theatre languages bloomed when I became increasingly involved in Disability arts and culture and collaborating with Deaf practitioners, using visual language in performance alongside spoken and projected English. A new horizon of performative and dramaturgical possibilities opened before me, along with new markets and opportunities outside the UK. Without realizing it, I had embarked on my freelance career and begun my own professional development. By following my curiosity and being open to new experiences, writing, and form, I grew – and by developing further skills in application writing and producing, I became increasingly in control. I was no longer the passive female writer and maker, but one who was pro-active, controlling and owning ‘the means of production’.

But writers are often shy creatures, backstage, off-camera. It is asking a lot to expect them to be suddenly dynamic and inventive, which is where networks or informal support systems come into their own. I have a close group of allies and friends who act as sounding boards, dramaturgs, editors and actors for readings of works in progress. We barter and pool our skills, mentoring and nurturing one another. When starting out, we even impersonated each other to bypass nerves or modesty, finding it easier to chase up one another’s contacts and scripts rather than our own. Being part of a community is invaluable, as is learning to collaborate and ask for help. I think being aware to our fascinations is important – being alert and conscious of what fires our imagination – and ready to act on it. Fortune may favour the brave, but as Louis Pasteur advised: chance favours the prepared mind.

© Kaite O’Reilly Extracted from ‘How Did I Get Here?’ The Writer’s Compass. National Association of Writers in Education. https://www.nawe.co.uk

I’m not one for making new year resolutions, but I am mindful of that sense of a fresh new slate many experience this time of year, and so decided to share the above essay commissioned by NAWE many years ago. I hope it may engage and perhaps encourage the many writers I’ve met across the world who follow this blog, and hopefully anyone curious enough to read this. In 2020 I feel we need to be more inventive, connected, and creative than ever before – to be kind and angry, gentle yet strong, resistant and problem-solving. I aspire to have integrity, empathy and what my mother called common bloody decency, given there is so little evidence of that in many current political leaders around the world. I think we also need to feel that the  arts and culture has significance and impact, and we’re not just fiddling while Australia and many other parts of the world burns.

As hate crimes, intolerance, ableism and racism becomes ever more normalised, I feel I have to resist and refuse, offering alternative narratives and representations. That perhaps is the only power I have as a writer – to try and encourage empathy and understanding – ‘othering’ is harder to accomplish when you’ve sensed what it’s like to be in another’s skin.

This is why I am such an advocate for diversity and under-represented voices and perspectives. I try to present these in my work, but also support others making work that is political, fresh, and passionate. I’m delighted to be mentoring Dzifa Benson and Lisette Auton into 2020 – fabulous writers tackling some fascinating and important territory (more of which, in their own words, anon) – and continuing to advise the brilliant Carri Munn on a performance project initiated at National Theatre Wales which is both personal and communal, already packing a tremendous punch.

Further hidden stories and perspectives will be explored throughout 2020 as I continue searching the archives of the South Wales Miners’ Library and Richard Burton Archives, guided by historian Professor David Turner as part of Swansea University’s Creativity Fellowship. David’s specialism is disability during the industrial revolution and with his support and access to his splendid research, I hope to write a series of historical ‘d’ monologues over the year’s fellowship, to join my contemporary The ‘d’ Monologues.

Other professional highlights include revisiting Told by the Wind, a performance using the Japanese aesthetic of Quietude, co-created with Phillip Zarrilli and Jo Shapland a decade ago and still in repertory with The Llanarth Group. We’ve been invited to share the work at The International Theatre Festival of Kerala in Thrissur next month. On our return, Phillip and I will go immediately into rehearsals for The Beauty Parade, a collaboration with composer Rebecca Applin and performer/visual language expert Sophie Stone, seeded in my Creative Wales Major Award exploring ‘the performative power of words with music.’ I will continue working with emerging composers on CoDI Text, a project with Ty Cerdd, and look forward to teaching a masterclass in writing for performance at Ty Newydd with fellow playwright and dramaturg David Lane. After all that activity I will need some time to write and focus, so I am immensely grateful to have been granted a Hawthornden Fellowship, which will allow me a month’s retreat and concentrated work on a new project, linked to my Creativity Fellowship at Swansea University.

All in all, already a busy year… but there is still time to be supportive, part of a community, and to rage against the negativity and fear pedalled to us through politicians and media. Resist.

I wish you all a creative and joyful 2020 – and to resist, resist, resist.

Change will come.

 

 

 

The Writer’s Compass: inclusivity, diversity, innovation

The Beauty Parade. Wales Millennium Centre 5-14 March 2020

A Christmas bauble of Sophie Stone, Georgina White and Anne-Marie Piazza in a seasonal image of my next production, The Beauty Parade. Opening at Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) in March 2020, I’m currently completing the book and lyrics for this performance, working with composer Rebecca Applin and co-director Phillip Zarrilli:

“We are the secret moon squadrons. Dropped by moonlight to set Europe ablaze.”

It’s the 1940s, deep in wartime, men are fighting on the front line and women don’t engage in armed combat; they keep the fires burning, the factories going, and the children fed at home. Or so we were told…

The Beauty Parade has been a project a long time coming… It was inspired by a story told to me by my ‘adopted Grandma’ Molly Schuessele in the early 1990’s, about ordinary women recruited, trained as agents and then dropped by parachute behind enemy lines into occupied France 1941-44. I began exploring both the theme and the form in my 2017/18 Creative Wales Major Award: The performative power of words with music, before being commissioned to bring it to fruition by WMC. A collaboration between Deaf and hearing artists, it exemplifies the innovation in form and aesthetic I have been speaking about recently, at Simbiotic Festival (Barcelona) and for the British Council / Acesso Cultura in Lisbon earlier this week.

Barcelona and the Portugese event featured interactions with directors, programmers and artists, where I argued that so-called ‘access tools’ should be put at the heart of the creative process – ‘the aesthetics of access’. Rather than being an ‘add-on’ for ‘the disabled’ or ‘the Deaf’, I argue that creatively incorporating audio description, captioning, sign or visual languages into our performances from the outset develops the form and leads to innovative, exciting work.

It is immensely gratifying to have interest in inclusivity and work led by disabled and Deaf artists. For decades I and many others have been banging on doors, proselytising about the necessity of diversity not just in bodies on stage, but the stories told, by whom, and how. Working with fabulous composer Rebecca Applin and performer/visual language expert Sophie Stone has been a phenomenal experience, interweaving Deaf and hearing performance cultures into a hybrid, a ‘third way’….

After a short r&d next week, our rehearsals start with the full cast and company in Cardiff at WMC in February 2020. Along with writing the book and lyrics, I’m also co-directing with Phillip Zarrilli and co-producing with Emma Evans of WMC. Tickets are on sale now and further information about the production is available here.

 

From Singapore to Swansea – this writing life

I’m back in the rather wild and windy west of Wales after a stupendously creative six weeks in Singapore, working on a production with Intercultural Theatre Institute, plus a lecture-performance and workshop with Access Path Productions  for Singapore Writers Festival.

I’ve been to the writer’s festival in the past, so it was gratifying to be involved as a writer/performer and moderator this year, with a focus on inclusivity and my work in Disability arts and culture. After spending several decades trying to get past gate-keepers and a crip’ foot in the door, it was a delight to be welcomed and listed as one of the highlights of this international gathering. I gave a few lectures and public talks, reiterating how important disabled-led work is and also reflecting on the power and responsibilities of language. The festival’s theme was ‘A language of our own’ and we discussed how language can heal and hurt – my particular focus was on recent practice amongst politicians and the media in the UK, where language has been used to dehumanise those with difference and normalise disability hate crimes. As I said in my lecture at the festival:

Our voices, our languages, our modes of communication, our perspectives, our experiences – our lives – are important. Being invited to present on prestigious platforms like this is essential and hugely appreciated – in our contemporary situation, in the UK and elsewhere we are witnessing the systematic dehumanisation of disabled people by the government and the state. Brutal benefit cuts under the auspices of austerity were described on 16 November 2017 by the British Medical Journal – not a publication known for its sensationalism – as “economic murder” – with a reported 120,000 deaths caused directly by the current British government’s austerity policies. The removal of services, access and support for the disabled and Deaf communities have been coupled with deeply negative and damaging media narratives which in turn create an atmosphere where abuse, prejudice and violence is further normalised. In the UK, disability hate crime is on the increase – on Weds 9th October 2019 The Independent newspaper reported how violent crime against disabled individuals in England and Wales had increased by 41%, and offences with online element, up by 71%. We need to keep challenging the negative propaganda, the lies, offering diverse perspectives, with alternative expressions of what it is to be human, celebrating all the possibilities of human variety.

I am hugely grateful to the festival’s director Pooja Nansi for her innovative and inclusive programming. Thank you, Pooja, for giving a platform for such important discussions to take place.

Now that I am back in Wales, further conversations about disability and difference will flourish in my collaboration with historian Prof. David Turner as one of the Creativity Fellows at Swansea University, initiated by writer and Professor in Creativity Owen Sheers. We launch this Friday, 15th November:

The Creativity Fellowships are an exciting new initiative that offers two professional artists the chance to engage with and explore cutting-edge academic research at Swansea University.
Owen Sheers said:

‘I’m so pleased to be getting these Fellowships off the ground with two such talented and exciting artists. I hope they and their academic partners will have a fascinating year of collaboration and exploration, which also promises to be a powerful engine for furthering a vibrant conversation between the sciences and the arts at the University and in the wider community.’

Professor David Turner commented:

‘I am thrilled at the prospect of working with Kaite O’Reilly to bring the histories of disabled people to life. Kaite’s commitment to empowering disabled people through the creative arts will provide new and exciting ways of connecting the struggles of disabled people in the past with the experiences of people today.’

The event this Friday is free, tickets available here.

Returning from a long trip always disorientates me – it feels within moments of landing that the previous weeks were a mirage. Certainly adjusting to the temperature change alone is quite challenging – it seems unbelievable as I swaddle myself in thermals that 36 hours ago I was writing at a desk with two fans on high speed directed into my face…

So although the future work beckons – Swansea University, and a ‘Welcoming all Writers’ workshop at Small World Theatre with Chris Kinsey on 23/11/19, details below and tickets here  – it is important to reflect on where we have just been.

Singapore seems very far indeed from Cardigan, or even Rowan Ridge. For the past six weeks I’ve been working with the brilliant Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI), the graduating 2019 cohort and I worked to adapt my reimagining of Schnitzler’s La Ronde for a Singaporean context. Directed by Phillip Zarrilli, designed by Dorothy Png and production managed by Natalie Lim, Lie With Me opened at the impressive Esplanade Theatres on the Bay last week.

Lie With Me featured an international cast of theatre makers and performers who may well be the shaping force of performance in the future, going by ITI’s impressive alumni. A review of the production follows

Lie With Me – a powerful exploration of the longing for intimacy

Lie With Me, ITI

12 Nov 2019
Article by Yaiza Canopoli for Arts Republic Singapore

Written by Kaite O’Reilly and directed by Phillip Zarrilli, the Intercultural Theatre Institute presents the Asian premiere of Lie With Me – a play about human relationships, class struggles, and the quest for intimacy. Led by a cast both Singaporean and international, the play was adapted by producers and actors alike to reflect Singaporean youth, and how we form meaningful relationships with each other. This is achieved by following eight characters, presented in pairs; one character of each pair overlaps and slips into the following couple on stage, threading a cyclical narrative of interconnectedness. The fact that each pair of characters feels lonely and isolated despite the wider connection to the entire cast speaks for itself: the sadness that envelops each character in its own way seeps out from the stage and makes this play relatable and breathtaking.

Lie With Me, ITI. 2019. Ted Nudgent Fernandez Tac-An and Tysha Khan Photos by Bernie Ng

The writing tackles a variety of topics and issues: we encounter poor Singaporeans, immigrants looking for work, sisters battling grief, same-sex couples, women fighting mental health issues, people in toxic relationships, and much more that falls in between these lines. Many of the characters’ struggles begin to blend into each other to spell out a universally human longing for affection and love. As the fights that break out between couples, siblings, and strangers keep us on the edge of our seat, we are left with a deep sense of empathy for people whose actions are morally grey or straight-up terrible. A number of scenes end with characters who have lost their temper asking to be held, to be cared for – love and intimacy attempting to overcome anger and violence.

Lie With Me, ITI 2019. Photo Bernie Ng. Wendy Too and Theresa Wee-Yenko.

The diversity of these relationships is impressive. We even get to witness the delightfully surprising connection that springs up between a self-involved upper-class woman and the prostitute she hires. While the attempt to cover such a wide variety of relationships and issues could have easily diluted the intensity of each story, the genuine nature of the dialogue, the fantastic acting (with wonderfully accurate facial expressions and even walking styles), and the masterful production made for a play that feels real and relevant.

Lie With Me, ITI, Esplanade Theatres in the Bay, Singapore, 2019

Appropriately titled, Lie With Me invites the audience to feel and mourn with the characters as they hold on to the one thing they long for at the end of a terrible day: a moment of tenderness and unconditional human affection.

The cast were: Ted Nudgent Fernandez Tac-An, Tysha Khan, Wendy Toh, Nour El Houda Essafi, Regina Toon, Theresa Wee-Yenko, Jin Chen and Earnest Hope Tinambacan.  For the full review, click here

I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with such extraordinary people, and to collaborate with those from across the world. At the lecture/performance at the Singapore Writer’s Festival, my friend and long-term collaborator Grace Lee Khoo reflected on the difference between inclusive and participatory:

Inclusive means you’re invited to the party. Participatory means you get to dance.

Thank you to everyone these past weeks and looking forward to the future who has welcomed me, engaged with me, and enabled me to dance….