Category Archives: Disability arts and culture

And Suddenly I Disappear… cycles of inspiration

 

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

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

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

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

How to live and make art….. Peter Sau

Elbow-deep in revisions and new writing for my forthcoming visit to Singapore and the r&d of my Unlimited Commission And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues – I read an artistic statement on the website of Peter Sau, my leading collaborator…. What he writes is so striking, so evocative of the practice we are trying our best to pursue, so encouraging and inspiring, I have to reproduce it here:

 

http://petersau.com

ART & LIFE

THEATRE is an evolving art form that stems from life.

An artist needs to react responsibly and envision open-heartedly.

An artist needs to learn consistently to reflect deeper about his/her practice.

An artist should step out of his/her comfort zones and always find new languages of work.

An artist needs to give importance to his/her heart, mind and body.

An artist should create works that can transcend boundaries, languages and nationalities to reach the universal.

An artist should inspire others to work honestly from the SELF but not be selfish so as to provide vast imaginative and empowered spaces to the audience.

An artist should resist the temptation of consumerism and overproduction.

An artist should reach for depth, not skim the surface.

An artist needs to be mindful of his/her ego.

An artist needs to be truthful and ethical.

An artist should and needs to care.

ACTIVE CITIZENRY.

INCLUSIVITY.

DIVERSITY.

EQUALITY.

A THEATRE WITH HEART.

AN ARTIST WITH CONSCIENCE.

20 Questions…. Paul Whittaker

Continuing my occasional series on probing process and creativity with a wide range of artists, I’m delighted to introduce Paul Whittaker’s 20 Questions

Paul Whittaker

Paul Whittaker is a Cardiff based Artist, Writer and Filmmaker. Having worked as a freelance Filmmaker for over a decade, Paul completed his Masters in Creative Writing at Swansea University achieving the grade of distinction. Since he was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Manic Depression whilst studying for his BA in Film Paul has spent his life exploring his own condition through the Arts and working with the Public Sector. Several of his projects made with Public Health Wales have received National and International recognition. Driven by a desire to continually expand his knowledge base Paul has exhibited as a digital artist, worked in theatre, television, dance as well as independent film. His numerous clients include – The Sherman Theatre, The Old Vic, Channel 4, Mind Cymru, The Kevin Spacey Foundation and Arts Council Wales. His play Gods and Kings opens at The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, 6-9 September 2017, details below.

What first drew you to writing/directing/acting?

Ever since I could remember writing has been a way for me to purge my mind of thoughts that if left unexplored would become rules that limit my existence.

What was your big breakthrough?

As an 18 year old I worked for my father’s architectural practice and people used to come into the office to do photocopying. One day I noticed a man copying a script. It turned out that his name was Glenn Chandler and he was the creator of Taggart. One night I got the courage to buy him a pint and told him that I wanted to be a writer. He accepted the drink and told me to give him a sample of my writing and if he thought I showed promise then he would sit down and talk to me. After reading my work I had three years of weekly writing sessions until I left the village.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

Due to my mental condition I have often written for the wrong reasons. I have written through negativity, arrogance, revenge, contempt, ignorance – my words weighted to make my case in the firmest way possible; but I have only ever experienced success when I write from a place of openness and honesty.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

 Throughout my childhood I constantly read books of fantasy and adventure and every few years I still re-read The Swiss Family Robinson but the writing that changed me was Billy Bob Thorton’s screenplay Slingblade. I saw it after I had been diagnosed and it was the first honest voice about living with a mental illness that I encountered.

What’s more important: form or content?

 For me content has to be first but choosing the correct form to write that content can make or break a project.

 How do you know when a project is finished?

 I don’t know when a project is finished. I have written to deadlines and had to accept that my time was up but, if I can, I like to let work sit and revisit it at a later date so I can read it with an emotional distance and a critical eye.

 Do you read your reviews?

Gods and Kings by Paul Whittaker. 6-9 Sept at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

 

 I am a man who does not do social media or google himself but reviews are different – but you have to know how to read them. The first play I wrote was in response to a lack of authentic characterizations of mental illness. Whilst the members of my audience with lived experience thanked me for my honesty, a reviewer, who generally liked the play, felt unconvinced by the portrayal of my condition thus proving my point.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

 This may seem against conventional wisdom but I believe you should read less and write more. Meaningful success only comes when you discover your voice and stop emulating the voices of your literary heroes. Writing is a craft and you must learn it through hard work, dedication and openness to criticism.

What work of art would you most like to own?

 Though technically not a work of art I would like to own the carved edifice of Hamelin Cathedral in Germany.

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

 I think the biggest myth is that people are out there looking to steal your ideas so you must hide them away under lock and key instead of talking them through with others.

What are you working on now?

 I have my first solo art exhibition coming up in 2018 and I am collaborating on a number of theater and dance productions. Just like every writer I am also always working on a novel that may or may not ever see the light of day.

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

 I think I would have liked to have created any of the works from the Old Masters simply because I cannot paint and I am in awe of their skill. I was so bad at drawing bowls of fruit at school my teacher let me sit in the corner and write to save us both the pain of my efforts.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

 I wish I had known I had some ability. I have countless anecdotes of professionals that I respect telling me that I can write but even as I type this I am still unsure.

What’s your greatest ambition?

I’m not going to lie and not say – be financially secure. It is what we need to follow our dreams. In lieu of that I would be happy just to help someone understand themselves or others better.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

 The only way I have found to counter insecurity is to surround myself by people I respect and listen to their voices over mine.

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

 It wasn’t honest.

 And the best thing?

 I still think about it.

 If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

 In my case if I don’t give my mind something to nourish itself on then it starts to consume itself.

What is your philosophy or life motto?

 Be a shepherd or a wolf but never a sheep.

 What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

 People care and are willing to give of themselves greatly to ensure that a project succeeds.

 What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

 Hannah Gordon.

Gods and Kings by Paul Whittaker

Paul’s production of God’s and Kings runs at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, 6-9 September. Challenging perceptions through powerful drama – further information and interviews here 

Booking details here

For further information about Paul Whittaker and his work, please visit www.hideproductions.co.uk

Five languages, spoken and signed: at work on ‘The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’

Ramesh Meyyappan and Sophie Stone ‘The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’ by Kaite O’Reilly, an Unlimited International Commission

I have known performer/visual director Ramesh Meyyappan since 2004, when I saw his non-verbal physical theatre adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart at The SubStation in Singapore. Since then our paths have continually crossed – at DaDaFest in Liverpool in 2005 shortly after he relocated to the UK, at the Vienna Deaf Theatre Festival around 2006, where I was presenting a paper on my work and was able to participate in his performance workshop. Over the years we have continued to meet, building a friendship and an appreciation of each others’ work. I’ve longed to work with Ramesh since I first saw him on the stage thirteen years ago…. and finally it is happening, in a project which unites the place where we first met with the place we now live.

Ramesh is a performer and visual theatre director for my Unlimited International Commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

I am immensely excited about his involvement in this ambitious project, an international dialogue about disability, Deaf experience, diversity, and difference, from opposite sides of the world. I will be writing future blogs reflecting on our process – it is complex, a multi-layered project involving grassroots engagement and research. My collaborators Peter Sau and Lee Lee Lim, plus other members of the Singapore team are amassing material from interviews  which are inspiring the fictional monologues I am writing. Time is short… We will soon be combining the UK and Singapore teams, collaborating in September to present r&d sharings at Centre 42 in Singapore.

Ramesh Meyyappan and Sophie Stone in T’y-n-y-Parc Studio. The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

This project has allowed me to indulge in playing ‘fantasy cast’…. Once I knew Ramesh was on-board, I knew I had to bring him together with Sophie Stone, a long-term collaborator who I have written parts for in my Unlimited Commission/National Theatre Wales 2012 production In Water I’m Weightless and Kirstie Davis’s production for Forest Forge Woman of Flowers (2014). I also suspected that these two innovative artists wanted to work together – so to be able to bring them together at our initial exploratory workshop at The Llanarth Group’s T’y’n-y-Parc Studio in beautiful west Wales was a dream.

Unfortunately owing to other work commitments, Sophie is not able to travel to Singapore with us in mid September, so we were sure to capture her presence through the project’s filmmaker, Paul Whittaker. The project will combine live camera, pre-recorded material with live action, so it was excellent to film Sophie so she can join us in the r&d as a mediatised presence.

Sophie Stone

This initial weekend of exploration in early August 2017 enabled me to try out emerging material and experiment with multiple languages. Completing the company was director Phillip Zarrilli and performers Grace Khoo, and Sara Beer.

I had given text to the company to translate or reinvent in different languages in advance of our workshop: Sara into Welsh, Grace into Mandarin, and Sophie BSL and visual language, Together  with Ramesh using Singapore Sign Language, we layered five spoken and visual languages together, resting on the baseline of English.

One of the monologues – ‘What Not To Say To A Person Who Is Depressed’ – was explored as an ensemble, simultaneously cutting between BSL, Welsh, English, Mandarin, and ‘Singlish’ – a variety of English spoken in Singapore incorporating Chinese and Malay. I began to appreciate the possibilities of humour as well as poignancy in this multilingual experimentation.

Grace Khoo, Sara Beer, Sophie Stone in rehearsal. The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues by Kaite O’Reilly

It was a phenomenally creative weekend, experimenting with multiple languages and form. Ramesh started creating a physical ensemble piece, responding to texts I had sent him and some extracts from some of our research interviews, and we had a chance to discover collaborative modes.

Sophie will of course be hugely missed when we gather in Singapore in a month’s time – but at least we will have her digitally….. and I can’t wait to get the full company together to start this creative and cultural dialogue.

For more information on Unlimited, go here.

Commissioned and supported by Unlimited, celebrating the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council of Wales and British Council.

The Necessity of Diverse Voices in Theatre Regarding Disability and Difference: Howlround

The Necessity of Diverse Voices in Theatre Regarding Disability and Difference. Excerpt from an essay for Howlround:

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 almost a fifth of the population. Statistics vary, depending on definitions of “disability,” but the World Health Organization estimates 15 percent of the world population as being disabled, whilst a 2012 US Census Bureau estimate brought the figure in at just over 19 percent of the American population.

For thousands of years in the Western theatrical tradition, 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.

Since the Ancient Greeks disabled characters have appeared in plays, but seldom have the writers been disabled or written from that embodied or political perspective. The vast majority of disabled characters in the Western canon are tropes, and not only that, they reify notions of “normalcy” rather than broadening the lens and embracing all the possibilities of human variety. These misrepresentations are so prevalent in Western culture that negative representations of impairment and associations have become ingrained. Strange untruths have therefore been created and recycled in our dramas for stage and screen, and the rich, rewarding reality of disabled peoples’ lives has been replaced with problematic representations which work to keep us different, “special,” and apart. This “othering” of difference (which also includes sexual preference, cultural heritage, belief system, and so on) provides a “useful” slide rule against which notions of “being normal” and “fitting in” can be measured. These distorted ideas enshrined in our entertainment media legitimize the negative attitudes that can lead to discrimination and hate crime.

Richard Rieser in his teaching guide to disability and moving image media, published by Disability Equality in Education, gives an example of how the limited narratives and visual lexicon impacts on people’s consciousness and actions. He focuses on Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, noting how after its release in the UK the previously archaic term “hunchback” reentered common parlance as a derogatory term directed at disabled people. At the same time, The British Scoliosis Society complained to the then minister of Disabled People, Nicholas Scott, about a sudden increase in violent physical attacks against its members—over 100 attacks in the six months following the film’s release, when in the six months previous to this, there had been none.

Images and narratives in our entertainment media help form the mirror reflecting our society, through which, it could be argued, we gain a sense of community, morality, and self. Without a diversity of voices, perspectives, and experiences, prevailing negative attitudes and values remain entrenched and go unchallenged.

Thankfully change is coming, albeit slowly, with more disabled and d/Deaf artists coming to the fore across art forms. This is partly the fruit 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, a funding strand keen to promote, commission, and implant the work of disabled and Deaf artists in the “mainstream” on a level never experienced before.

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

In my work I am interested in creating new protagonists, with different narratives, and with different endings—and to challenge and expand the actual theatre languages at play in live performance through my engagement with the aesthetics of access. I believe reimagining disability opens up creative possibilities in aesthetics, form, and content—changing the stories we tell, how they are told, and the people who tell them.

To read the rest of the article, please go to Howlround

This essay first appeared on 2nd July 2017 at: http://howlround.com/the-necessity-of-diverse-voices-in-theatre-regarding-disability-and-difference

http://bit.ly/2sxogRc

In Conversation with John McGrath – Disability Arts International

Manchester International Festival’s Artistic Director, John McGrath has been a long-term collaborator with disabled artists and disability-led companies. John shares his thoughts on the artists who have most influenced both his own way of working and the wider arts ecology. These include Kaite O’Reilly, Claire Cunningham and David Toole.

An audio description of the interview is available here

The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

 

Ramesh Meyyappan from his website http://www.rameshmeyyappan.com

As announced at the No Boundaries Conference yesterday by Jo Verrent and Tony Heaton, I have been fortunate to be selected as one of the artists for the Unlimited International Commissions for 2017/18. Full details of all of the commissions can be read here.

It feels even more of a privilege than usual to be supported by funders – and not only that, but to make an international collaboration. The award of this commission is bitter-sweet, especially on this day, Wednesday 29th March 2017, when Teresa May triggers Article 50 and turns her back on European unity. If ever there was a time for coming together and connecting across distance and perceived difference, it is now – and I am grateful to Unlimited and all the funders, allies, and supporters for recognising the value of collaboration and international dialogue, and enabling such things to happen.

The blurb:

KAITE O’REILLY – THE SINGAPORE ‘D’ MONOLOGUES

Lead artist / Playwright: Kaite O’Reilly

Director: Phillip Zarrilli

Associate Director, Researcher and Performer: Peter Sau

Producer and Researcher: Grace Khoo

Visual Director and Performer: Ramesh Meyyappan

Disability Advisor and Performer: Sarah Beer

Researcher and Performer: Lim Lee Lee

The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues is an international theatrical dialogue of difference, disability, and what it is to be human, from opposite sides of the world. Inspired by previously unrecorded disabled experience, fictionalised monologues will be precedented across multiple languages (spoken/projected/visual), incorporating aesthetics of access. This performance will set an important precedent: the first multilingual, intercultural, disability-led theatre project created between the UK and Singapore.

Award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly, and internationally respected director/actor-trainer Phillip Zarrilli will lead the team, joined by veteran disability arts practitioner Sara Beer and Deaf UK-based Singapore-born Ramesh Meyyappan with his innovative visual performance skills. Together with Singaporeans Lee-Lee Lim, Grace Khoo and principle collaborator, Peter Sau, the performance will open up a much-needed discourse of disability in quality, accessible disability-led work, never experienced before in a home-grown Singaporean project.
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The background:
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I first met Ramesh Meyyappan and Peter Sau in Singapore in the same year, 2004, but in different productions. Peter was performing in a production directed by Phillip Zarrilli at The Esplanade, the graduating production for ITI (Intercultural Theatre Institute, formerly TTRP). There, Peter had the extraordinary privilege to be tutored by T. Sasitharan and the father of Singapore theatre, the visionary Kuo Pao Kun.
Ramesh was presenting his visual theatre adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Tell Tale Heart.’  Contact was firmly established with both independent artists, based on my conviction I would collaborate with them at some time in the future.
Following Ramesh’s work and occasionally participating in his workshops became easy when he relocated to Scotland, where he has been a leading light in physical/visual theatre.  Teaching Dramaturgy at the Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore has enabled me to keep in touch with Peter over the years, and he came to train with Phillip Zarrilli and I at the 2015 Summer Intensive in Wales, where the seed which became The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues was planted.
Peter is passionate about ‘theatre with a conscience’ and with his collaborators producer Grace Khoo, and mentee/performer Lee Lee Lim, they are determined to professionalise disability arts in Singapore and open up a much-needed discourse on diversity, disability and difference.
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The ‘d’ monologues:

My notion of a portable, flexible, diverse body of work informed by a Deaf and disability perspective and the Social model was initiated in 2008, when Arts Council Wales granted me a Creative Wales to explore the form of the monologue. I am not a fan of verbatim, so had many conversations with disabled and Deaf individuals all over the UK to try and get a sense of lived experience in a disabling world, the political and the personal, spiced by what I call crip’ humour. These encounters inspired a series of monologues I wrote in a variety of styles. These solo texts became the basis of an Unlimited commission, culminating in the 2012 Cultural Olympiad ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ with National Theatre Wales, Wales Millennium Centre and the Southbank Centre.

Cast of ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ by O’Reilly, National Theatre Wales/Southbank Centre 2012, part of the Cultural Olympiad. Cover image of ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. Photo: Farrows/Creative

The creative process, directed by John E McGrath with assistant director Sara Beer, choreographed by the late great Nigel Charnock, designed by Paul Clay and featuring six of the leading Deaf and disabled performers in the UK, is fully documented elsewhere on this blog (search In Water I’m Weightless, 2012). The montaged texts from this collaboration are published in my collected ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’, published by Oberon last year.

This model seemed perfect for a collaboration with Peter and colleagues in Singapore. He, Grace, and Lee Lee would initiate a series of interviews with disabled Singaporeans – lived experience never before documented or shared – and these would create the inspiration for fictional monologues I would write, and the basis of an oral archive. Peter would begin a series of skills-based workshops in Singapore with emerging Deaf and disabled performers, and Ramesh would develop visual theatre sequences.  Phillip Zarrilli would direct emerging work, joined by performer Sara Beer from the UK, with Lee Lee, Peter and Ramesh also performing. It is this r&d stage Unlimited have funded, with the ambition of a full production in Singapore and the UK in 2018.

Style and content of the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues:

We don’t yet know what form and shape this project will take – what tone, what content, what aesthetic – this will all be determined by the next six months and our collaborators. What we do know is the aesthetics of access will be a consideration throughout – and we will have a challenge with translation and captioning in quad-lingual Singapore. We hope our interviewees will have a sense of ownership, and the work will inspire and confound expectation, and the process will be one of symbiosis. I know there will be so much to learn from our Singapore collaborators, and a wealth of riches to be celebrated in this multicultural, intercultural theatre project of communication and dialogue.

UK Collaborators:

Director Phillip Zarrilli and performer Sara Beer are both long-term collaborators. I first worked with Sara with Graeae Theatre in 1987, when, as graduates, we both got our first jobs with this inspiring company. We have worked together consistently ever since, often with Disability Arts Cymru, a great organisation I am proud to be patron of.

Phillip and I have worked internationally as co-creators and collaborators for fifteen years, and has directed many of my plays, recently another Unlimited Commission, ‘Cosy’, which opened at Wales Millennium Centre in March 2016, and featured Sara as the enigmatic Maureen.

Sara Beer as Maureen in ‘Cosy’. Photo: Farrows Creative

What has come clear to me in the writing of this extended blog is the importance of Unlimited in supporting, nurturing and promoting work – in enabling creativity to flourish and artistic careers to thrive. It is such a remarkable hydra organisation with many heads and needs to be congratulated, I feel, for its ground-breaking work and determination to bring about change, its considered efforts for a more equal, and culturally diverse society.

Unlimited is an arts commissioning programme that aims to embed work by disabled artists within the UK and international cultural sectors, reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people. Unlimited has been delivered by the disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts and arts-producing organisation Artsadmin since 2013, and is funded from 2016-20 by Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, British Council and Spirit of 2012.

Unlimited and all the funders: thank you.

#UnlimitedCommissions

http://petersau.com

http://www.rameshmeyyappan.com

http://weareunlimited.org.uk/about-unlimited/