Category Archives: Deaf arts

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

Resisting the star-making machine…

I’ve always hated the star-making machine – the way even early in career actors can be labelled ‘leading man’, ‘character actor’, ‘supporting role’, etc. Unfortunately I’ve observed this in various actor-training establishments, where the fate of a performer seems decided even before they’re out past the (drama school) gate.

I’ve been invited to final showcase productions for the industry, where graduating actors hope to attract agents or interest from casting directors. I’ve seen young in career performers snatched up immediately and thrust before the cameras (several graduates I saw a few years ago are appearing in major roles in block-buster television series this autumn). I’ve also seen the bias of some of these showcases – the way there are lead parts and other less demanding parts… I’ve seen the disparity in stage-time and tasks of the actor – so when director Kirstie Davis approached me about writing a text for the LAMDA showcase she was directing, I was more than willing.

We settled on a re-working of La Ronde (originally Reigen), Arthur Schnitzler’s scandalous expose of sexual mores across every strata of Viennese society, first produced in 1897. It has an intriguing dramatic structure – a ‘daisy-chain’ of duologues, where two figures interact, then are seen again, with a different partner, in a new setting. When considering how to approach the text, I was less interested in the sexual aspect of the original, and more engaged with the various encounters the characters might experience. Following the feminist notion of self, I was interested in exploring how we are not ‘fixed’ solo entities, but shape-shifters, changing in our roles and engagement depending on context.

The result, LIE WITH ME, was a commission from London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, presented by their FdA Professional Acting and FdA Stage Management and Technical Theatre Students, performed in the LAMDA Linbury Studio and directed by Kirstie Davis in 2017. The play is an exploration of the connections and degrees of separation between individuals in post-truth, contemporary urban life. In my writing, I sought to reflect the realities of our times (Brexit, climate crisis, vloggers/virtual ‘influencers’, refugees and zero hours contracts, et al) – and in a fair and balanced way, with parity to all the cast.

The dramaturgy of LIE WITH ME gives equal playing time to all the performers and when writing, I set myself several tasks: each character had to have some kind of monologue, a meaningful action, and dialogue. The focus was on ensemble acting, and enabling each actor to show their breadth of their skills in two contrasting scenes.

It was terrific to see the work come to live back in 2017 with Kirstie’s stunning production. I always hoped that the text would have a chance for another outing – and so am delighted to reveal it has been selected as the final production showcase for ITI – Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore this November.

Intercultural Theatre Institute

INTERCULTURAL THEATRE INSTITUTE (ITI) based in Singapore, trains artists who want to make original, impactful contemporary theatre. ITI is shaped by theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun’s vision of intercultural learning that draws from a matrix of traditional theatre systems and modern theatre-making.

https://www.iti.edu.sg/acting-school-singapore/

I have a long relationship with ITI and have been teaching seminars on Intercultural Dramaturgy there for over five years. I believe it is an unique training opportunity for today’s theatre makers; its faculty and alumni are impressive and filled with both vision and integrity. It is therefore even more of a pleasure and privilege to have one of my plays feature during their showcase at the stunning Esplanade Theatres in the Bay in November 2019, directed by Phillip Zarrilli.

The challenge that faces me now is adapting the script for a Singapore context, but the student actors are more than capable of guiding me on this. We recently had a readthrough of the text via Skype (certainly not the first time I’ve participated in rehearsals via Skype!). Phillip and I also set the cast specific tasks, from researching possible locations for the scenes to the cultural and political perspective on subjects as diverse as economic migrants, sexual identity and military service. I will document our process as we develop and when I join the company in Singapore later this autumn.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Taking Flight theatre company’s production of my play peeling has embarked on an autumn tour (trailer and details below). Here also is work and a company resisting the normative ‘star-making machine’ – a cast of Deaf and disabled performers presenting a metatheatrical play which interrogates representation of difference on stage, and the position of ‘atypical actors’ in this image-obsessed industry. I wish the cast and crew all the best on the tour and thanks again to director Elise Davison and producer Beth House.

It is only through writing new work, with new protagonists and dramaturgies we may make space for those beyond the limited normative notion of ‘leading ladies’ and the ilk. It is only through the collaboration of directors like Kirstie Davis, Elise Davison and Phillip Zarrilli, and organisations like ITI who challenge and expand the essence of what ‘actor-training’ is, that other voices, other bodies, and other stories get their fair time and space on our stages.

September 

18th Arlington Arts 01635 244 246  https://arlington-arts.com/

20th TheaterFestival Grenzenlos Kulture, Germany

24th Hertford Theatre* + 01992 531500  https://www.hertfordtheatre.com/

25th Malvern Cube 01684 575 363  https://www.malverncube.com/

26th The New Wolsey Theatre 01473 295900  https://www.wolseytheatre.co.uk/shows/pulse-presents-peeling

28th Wolverhampton Arena 01902 321 321  https://www.wlv.ac.uk/arena-theatre/

October 

2nd The Welfare, Ystradgynlais 01639 843163 https://thewelfare.co.uk/

3rd Courtyard Theatre, Hereford* 01432 340555 https://www.courtyard.org.uk/whats-on/

4th Bedales Theatre 0333 666 3366  https://www.bedales.org.uk/events/our-venues

5th Jackson’s Lane 020 8341 4421  https://www.jacksonslane.org.uk/

 Matinees at these venues
+ BSL interpreted post show Q & As at these venues 

Funded by The Arts Council of England, The Arts Council of Wales, Ty Cerdd and Birkdale Foundation. 

 

The Politicized Disabled Body – Performance Matters – Vol 4, No 3 (2018): Performance and Bodies-Politic

The Politicized Disabled Body

by Kaite O’Reilly

Abstract

This is a short excerpt from a public talk that the author gave as part of a residency at University College Cork in Ireland in the fall of 2018. It appears in Vol 4 no 3 of Performance Matters [editor Roisin O’Gormon], a peer-reviewed, open access on-line journal published bi-annually by Simon Fraser University that focuses on all aspects of performance: what it does, and why it is meaningful. Click here for our latest issue.

Minimum Monument, by Néle Azevedo, in Silkeborg-DK, August 2017. Image © Néle Azevedo. Used by permission

The Politicized Disabled Body

Kaite O’Reilly

Theatre could be defined as the study of what it is to be human. For millennia we have come to sit communally—a group of human beings watching another group of human beings pretending to be other human beings. We are endlessly fascinated with each other, yet a place purported to be about the range of human possibility has for too long been circumscribed and limited, especially towards a large proportion of the population.

As I have discussed at length elsewhere (O’Reilly 2017a, 2017b), for millennia in the Western theatrical canon, the atypical body has been used to scare, warn, explain and explore human frailty, mortality, and the human condition. Disability has been a metaphor for the non-disabled to explore their fears and embedded societal values. Although disabled characters appear in thousands of plays, seldom has the playwright been disabled, or written from that embodied, or political perspective. The vast majority of disabled characters in Western theatrical tradition are tropes, reifying the notions of “normalcy.” Some strange untruths have therefore been created and recycled in our dramas for stage and screen: the rich, rewarding reality of our lives replaced with problematic representations which work to keep us different, “special,” and apart. This “othering” of difference (which also includes gender, sexual preference, belief system, cultural heritage, and so on) provides a “useful” slide-rule against which notions of “being normal” and “fitting in” can be measured. These distorted ideas in our entertainment media legitimize the negative attitudes that can lead to discrimination and hate crime.

As a multi-award-winning playwright and dramaturg who identifies culturally and politically as disabled, I have been exploring this territory for several decades, informed by the Social model of disability, working across and between so-called “mainstream” culture and what I coin “crip” culture. I consider disability a social construct—I am a woman with a mild sensory and a degenerative physical impairment, but it is society’s attitudinal and physical barriers which are the disabling factors, not the idiosyncrasies of my body.

In my work I am interested in creating new protagonists, with different narratives, and with different endings, and in challenging and expanding the actual theatre languages at play in live performance through my engagement with the aesthetics of access. I believe re-imagining disability opens up possibilities in content, representation, aesthetics and form—changing the stories we tell, how they are told, and by whom.

Paul Darke (1997, 2003) and other disability performance scholars such as Carrie Sandahl (2005) have written at length about the limited plot lines for the disabled character. Often, as seen again with the 2016 film version of JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You, it is emphatically “better dead than disabled.” In films and plays stereotypes rule—the blind wise “seer,” the evil and twisted mastermind, the hero who overcomes her impairments to “pass” as non-disabled. From Tiny Tim to Richard III to Oedipus, we have been the personification of uselessness, or evil incarnate. These stories and characters are so prevalent, Paul Darke claims the audience believes they understand and know disabled experience, even though it is through a filter that isolates, individualizes, medicalizes or finally normalizes the character. What the audience is experiencing are not the “truths” of our lives, but the long cultural and linguistic practice of ascribing meaning to the atypical body. We are metaphors—something the disabled and Deaf actor-characters in my metatheatrical play peeling(2002) deconstruct, subvert, and ultimately rebel against.

As a playwright, I try to present different protagonists and different stories, often challenging contemporary representations of disability. The survivors of TBI (traumatic brain injury) in my 2008 play The Almond and the Seahorsesubvert notions of brain injury splashed across the media and question who the real “victims” are—if indeed there are any. Protagonists, their journeys and outcomes can be subverted and changed, offering more possibilities and rich, engrossing drama that avoids stereotypes.

This reconsideration of narrative and “protagonist” is just one element in what I coined “Alternative dramaturgies informed by a D/deaf and disability perspective” while Arts and Humanities Research Council Creative fellow at Exeter University’s drama department (2003–06), and latterly while affiliated with Freie Universität’s International Research Centre “Interweaving Performance Cultures” (2012–18). “Alternative” to what? To the mainstream, ableist, hearing perspective. By “alternative dramaturgies” I mean the content, processes, structures and forms that reinvent, subvert, or critique “traditional” or “conventional” representations and routes.

A further example would be the “aesthetics of access”: using access “tools” creatively, and from the start of the process rather than as an “add-on” for a particular stratum of the audience, identified through impairment (“audio description and touch tours provided for the visually impaired…”). I’m interested in a holistic experience, where the entire audience engages with the theatre languages at play through their individual modes of communication: embedded audio description; bilingual work in visual and spoken/projected languages; creative captioning integrated into the scenography design as a central element of the set.

These devices make the work more accessible, but most importantly they challenge the ingrained assumptions and hierarchies in contemporary theatre and culture. When we change the bodies who perform, design, direct, create, and commission the work in our pleasure palaces, when we change the theatre languages used, the processes and practice are inherently changed as well. We can then truly be a place that  celebrates all the possibilities of human variety, challenging notions of “difference” and revoking the old stories and their predictable endings.

Change is coming, with more disabled and Deaf artists coming to the fore across artforms. This is partly owing to the fruits of the UK and US disability civil rights movements, out of which disability arts and culture grew, and the disability arts forums, organizations, and festivals that supported and still encourage this growth. In the UK it is also down to initiatives such as Unlimited, keen to promote, commission, and embed the work of disabled and Deaf artists in the so-called “mainstream” cultural sector on a level never experienced before.

Inclusivity and diversity are currently buzz-words internationally, and although I applaud initiatives that aim to integrate more Deaf, disabled and neuro-diverse practitioners into theatre productions, I have a caveat: the atypical body is not neutral, and placing a disabled figure on stage is not necessarily a radical act in itself. Much relies on the framing, and the controlling artistic perspective, for the atypical body can be used dramaturgically by the director/choreographer to express content and meaning beyond the actuality of the body—and sometimes without the actor’s awareness or participation. My Unlimited/National Theatre Wales production, In Water I’m Weightless, part of the official Cultural Olympiad celebrating the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, is a case in point. Featuring six of the UK’s leading Deaf and disabled performers, and directed by John E. McGrath, the actors chose the content they performed from my authored collection of monologues and also controlled how they were placed and represented on stage. Several of them had had bad experiences of previously being used as a dramaturgical tool to express subtext or create additional material and meaning beyond the content of the performance text.

For me, this is central: having a politicized disability perspective informed by the Social model of disability brings a broadening in attitude, in values, and enables an avoidance of narrow definitions of “normality.” This perspective, when disability-led, encourages impairments not to be viewed as something to be cured or overcome, but rather as an incitement to embrace the diversity and modes of communication, and use these artistically.

Perhaps in the aesthetics of access we can begin changing the experience of theatre along with its languages, and start escaping the tyranny of normalcy.

Copyright (c) 2019 Kaite O’Reilly

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Notes

[1]Unlimited is an arts commissioning program that enables new work by disabled artists to reach UK and international audiences. See https://weareunlimited.org.uk.

Bibliography

https://howlround.com/necessity-diverse-voices-theatre-regarding-disability-and-difference

Darke, Paul. “Everywhere: Disability on Film.” In Framed: Interrogating Disability in the Media, edited by Ann Pointon and Chris Davies, 10–15. London: British Film Institute, 1997.

Sandahl, Carrie. “From the Streets to the Stage: Disability and the Performing Arts.” PMLA120, no. 2 (2005): 620–4.

Rieser, Richard. Disabling Imagery?: A Teaching Guide to Disability and Moving Image Media. London: British Film Institute/Disability Equality in Education, 2004.

O’Reilly, Kaite. peeling. London: Faber & Faber, 2002.

O’Reilly, Kaite. Henhouse.Oberon contempory plays 2004.

O’Reilly, Kaite. Woman of Flowers. Aurora Metro. 2014

O’Reilly, Kaite. Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors.  London: Oberon Contemporary Plays 2016.

O’Reilly, Kaite. The ‘d’ Monologues. London: Oberon Contemporary Plays 2018.

My resignation as Patron of Disability Arts Cymru

It is with the greatest regret I am stepping down as Patron of Disability Arts Cymru owing to irresolvable differences with the chair and board about what constitutes transparency and good governance procedures.

I thank the chair and the board for the time and effort given to responding to my concerns, which have not, however, been allayed. Having been closely involved with the organisation for nearly thirty years, fifteen of which as a board member, I do not withdraw from that relationship lightly.  I will always wish Disability Arts Cymru well and continue to support the staff who are working hard to do a good job, and whose knowledge, expertise and skills are more important than ever.

Kaite O’Reilly

 

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…..

DaDaFest International 2018 and call for artistic uprisings

In celebration of international disability day on December 3rd 2018, I and various guests will be reading from my latest collection The d Monologues at DaDaFest International Festival. This is a particularly meaningful event for me. Apart from being one of the patrons of this brilliant organisation, I am thrilled to be having the English launch of the book on this auspicious day.

The monologues are fictional, but inspired by over one hundred interviews and conversations with disabled and D/deaf individuals across the world over the past decade. The publication includes the Singapore/UK dialogue of difference and diversity And Suddenly I Disappear, an Unlimited International Commission which premiered on both sides of the world earlier this year.

For years I’ve been inspired by Eve Ensler’s ‘V’ Day, where people around the world stage “an artistic uprising” – a global movement to end violence against women. With disability hate crime on the increase, and so many of the rights disabled people successfully fought and campaigned for now being eroded, I feel our visibility needs to increase, along with our ‘voices’.

Engaging so closely with disabled and D/deaf peoples’ lived experience when writing this collection has had a major impact on me. I have tried to reflect the rich, rewarding experience of disabled lives in the monologues, the immense joie de vivre, ingenuity and fuck-you attitude which for me characterises many of my friends and collaborators. I also have not pulled any punches regarding the discrimination and prejudice so many of us face – but all laced with a liberal dose of what I call Crip’ humour.

This December third myself and various leading figures from our culture and community will join me in presenting short monologues at Unity Theatre, in Liverpool. I am hoping that this might be the first in a series of readings, where simultaneously, wherever you may be, people join in celebrating all the possibilities of human variety.

As I write in the introduction:

I’ve always dreamed of an international event challenging negative representations of difference and showcasing the very real talent which exists within our often over-looked communities. The monologue form is portable, flexible, and affordable to stage, either alone or in groups, script-in-hand with little rehearsal, or fully produced in professional contexts. I imagined a chorus of individuals and groups in cities or rural outposts, in theatres or at the kitchen table, in pubs and clubs, hospitals and community centres, schools and colleges, live or live-streamed, coming together across the world in a simultaneous celebration of diversity and what it is to be human. We already have our International Day of the Disabled Person on December 3rd… Perhaps now, with the publication of these texts, we are taking the first actions towards our own ‘d’ day…?

This is a pipe-dream, perhaps – but it is a hope. If anyone reading this would like to stage their own contribution of a ‘d’ Monologue this December 3rd – at their kitchen table or somewhere more public – please let me know – for even if we can’t yet connect or livestream, I could announce the performances happening simultaneously at the event. I already have contributions from my collaborators in Singapore… If this idea appeals, please get in touch through a comment, below, or via the contact button on my website: http://www.kaiteoreilly.com

And if you are in the Liverpool area, come along – the event is free and information and tickets can be booked here. In addition to BSL interpretation, a lipspeaker will be available.

The ‘d’ Monologues launch: 8:00pm Monday 03 December 2018

Unity Theatre,  

1 Hope Place, Liverpool, L1 9BG  

Telephone: 0151 709 4988

https://www.dadafest.co.uk/event/kaite-o-reilly-s-the-d-monologues

A project supported by Unlimited with funding from Arts Council Wales.