It’s Delightful… It’s Delectable…. It’s Disability…

Posters, slogans and imagery from the Disability Arts Movement, launch of NADACA

What a few days it’s been! As one of the patrons of DaDaFest, I was honoured to attend part of the 2018 DaDaFest International Festival in Liverpool this December 3rd – the international day of disabled people. Flying in from Norway, where I’d been part of The Elders Gathering at Norwegian Theatre Academy in Fredrikstadt, I landed immediately into a discussion about the past, future and present of disability arts. Editors Colin Hambrook and Trish Wheaton of the very excellent Disability Arts Online led a provocation which was live and live-streamed, asking Are we in an era post-disability arts? I personally feel we are not (I almost wish we were, but equality and inclusivity have much further to go before I’m giving up on this provocative, innovative cultural expression) and some lively discussion was had by all. Trish and Colin’s original provocation is available here and I would highly recommend it…

Introducing the discussion was the ever powerful Allan Sutherland and his radical poetry transcription work – ‘Transcription poetry as a vehicle for documenting the lives of disabled people’. Allan performed ‘Thalidomide Acts’, a cycle of transcription poems based on a series of interviews with the performer Mat Fraser.

Mat Fraser in action… Photo courtesy of D4D. http://d4d.org.uk/thalidomide-acts-mat-fraser-electric-bodies/

‘Thalidomide Acts’ is the first outcome of the ‘Electric Bodies’ strand of the D4D project: Disability and Community: Dis/engagement, Dis/enfranchisement, Dis/parity and Dissent. This is an AHRC-funded research project which investigates the evolving ways in which we as disabled and non-disabled people express, perform, experience and practice ‘community’. Allan’s fantastic presentation was ‘responded to’ by his colleague on the project, the great Colin Hambrook.

The afternoon progressed with two more titans of our movement, Tony Heaton and David Hevey (Chief Executive of Shape Arts), launching the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) – some wonderful provocative art archived, remembered, and celebrated. Tony selects his top five pieces of disability art here 

Again, I would hugely recommend a visit to the archive at www.the-ndaca.org: Telling the Heritage story of the Disability Arts Movement.

My extraordinary December 3rd continued with the UK launch of my latest collection of fictional monologues written specifically – and solely – for D/deaf and disabled performers, inspired by lived experience.

 

I was thrilled to introduce and launch ‘The ‘d’ Monologues’ at Unity Theatre, Liverpool, with a sterling cast of unexpected readers – and by that I mean few of them were ‘officially’ performers – but highly experienced public speakers, provocateurs, educators and activists…. major figures from the disability movement and disability and D/deaf cultures. I was honoured to have my words in the mouths and hands of the artistic director of DaDaFest, the brilliant and talented Ruth Gould; sculptor, visionary and disability arts activist Tony Heaton, senior Unlimited producer and diversity guru Jo Verrent and the magnificent director, writer, performer, firebrand and general all round mayhem-maker Julie McNamara appeared via video. Further input on film came from excerpts from my recent Unlimited International commission ‘And Suddenly I Disappear’ with the sublime Sophie Stone (featured on the cover of my book, above) and emerging artist, beatboxer, rapper Danial Bawtham, contributing from Singapore.

The collection was well and truly launched, and with such magnificence from all my contributing readers… Thank you, I am so grateful (and not nearly as hung-over as I anticipated…).

A 30% discount on the full price of The ‘d’ Monologues may still be available via the website, with code DMONO30 at https://www.oberonbooks.com/the-d-monologues.html

Returning to Wales, I was delighted to receive the poster for a student exploration of my post-dramatic text about the brilliant Frida Kahlo the 9 fridas.

Poster of the 9 fridas by Kaite O’Reilly – an exploration by students from University of South Wales

In the programme notes written to accompany the experimentation, I wrote:

I’ve been obsessed with Frida Kahlo for most of my life. I first came across her startling, uncompromising self portraits in my teens and quickly joined the ranks claiming her as inspiration and a disability icon. We were the community of freaks, crips and ‘difficult wo/men’ (and i reclaim these terms and use them admiringly) who were frustrated by traditional representation which invariably reduced Kahlo’s fierce and multilayered life to one of tragedy. Disability has long been used in the western theatrical canon dramaturgically – what David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder describe as “narrative prosthesis” – and as a metaphor to explore nondisabled values and fears. This astonishing and powerful woman has numerously been presented as a little broken betrayed wife, reduced to an ableist heterosexual cliche. ‘the 9 fridas’ is a response to these narrow depictions.
From my close study of her paintings, biography, personal letters and journals, I began to understand quite how remarkable her life and art were, and remain. I began to note her multiple identities and their inherent paradoxes: a communist who embraced consumerism and appeared on the cover of Vogue; an artist claimed by the Surrealists who insisted that what she painted was her own reality; a promiscuous bisexual monogamist who longed for a traditional family; a ‘fem’ who cross-dressed and darkened the hairs of her monobrow and top lip…She identified her cultural heritage as pre-Colombian indigenous on her maternal side and European Jewish on her paternal line and herself as a citizen of Mexico and the world. A life-long radical, she refused to allow her childhood polio and the devastating road accident aged 18 to limit her activities and ambition. The invalid in a full-body plaster cast hidden away in the back room of her childhood home had a mirror hung above her bed and picked up a brush and changed art… Her story is defiant, she is the protagonist of her own life (‘I give birth to myself’) who constantly broke out of the restrictions of her gender, disability and age.
In response to the reductionist depictions of her life, I decided to write ‘the 9 fridas’ with a mosaic dramaturgy – multiples of figures who both are and are not Frida Kahlo – each figure with distinctive detail and perspective, but which, when combined, would give the ‘full’ and whole picture of her many-faceted self.
I’m delighted that the students presenting this exploration are claiming both the text and Kahlo as their own…. and can’t wait to experience THEIR 9 fridas….
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Hours after writing these words (on a train travelling from Norway to Liverpool), I opened up negotiations for a possible production of the performance text in Spanish in Costa Rica next year. Despite the text having been translated into several languages, the only other professional production to date is the world premiere, directed by Phillip Zarrilli for Möbius Strip and Hong Kong Repertory Theatre at the 2014 Taipei International Festival, later transferring in 2016 to Hong Kong. It is a huge delight that the text is being picked up and proving of relevance to our current and future generations of theatre makers.
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The final course in this extraordinary banquet of disability arts and culture came this morning, with the audio trailers for Taking Flight’s 2019 production of my play ‘peeling’. Both texts – ‘the 9 fridas’ and ‘peeling’ are published in my collected ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ by Oberon.
I will be writing further about Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production – directed by Elise Davison and produced by Beth House – with news of the cast, our dates and opportunities for engagement during the tour (I will be doing some post-show discussions for some of the Welsh dates). I am also going to lead a workshop for women leading up to the opening – more details later, as they emerge.
The production opens on International Womens’ Day, 8th March 2019, at The Riverfront, Newport, then touring Wales, with an English tour in autumn 2019.
Here is the English language audio trailer:

In shadow, never centre stage, 3 performers await their brief moment in the light. But who would want to explore these bodies? Who will receive their stories? Their words have been buried in dust, through the long corridor of time. We will unearth them here. We will hear them echo in the darkness.
This city will fall.

Alfa, Beaty and Coral wait… wait while once more the action plays out elsewhere. Once more they form the chorus to someone else’s lead.
But… this city will fall.

With interwoven BSL, live audio description and English captions at every show, peeling challenges you to experience theatre afresh. Whose stories do we tell? And who will be there to bear witness?

Here is the Welsh language trailer – and we will no doubt have posters, flyers, and BSL trailers soon!
What an incredible end to a year – and a sense of such engagement and interest in disability arts and culture…..

One response to “It’s Delightful… It’s Delectable…. It’s Disability…

  1. I agree that we are not yet post-disability. We are not post-colonial either. Oh the lengths people will go to erase difference, eh?

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