Category Archives: Disability arts and culture

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.

The d Monologues published by Oberon

It’s been quite an autumn, and the leaves are still burnishing the trees… September has been a blaze of touring, festivals, and launches. My Unlimited International Commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/~UK ‘d’ Monologues premiered at the Southbank Centre in London prior to a whistle-stop tour taking in Leicester, Oxford, and Cardiff, garnering 4 and 5 star reviews along the way – more of which in a future blog.

The Llanarth Group brought richard iii redux to Grenzenlos Kulture Festival in Mainz, Germany, where I launched my latest publication after the performance.

The d Monologues is the culmination of ten years work, featuring solos I have written specifically for Deaf and disabled performers, varying in length from audition-size 3 minutes monologues to the 70 minute one woman show richard iii redux co-written with Phillip Zarrilli. Monologues from my recent international collaboration are included in the book: And Suddenly I Disappear, along with In Water I’m Weightless, my Cultural Olympiad production with National Theatre Wales, featuring extended, new, unperformed and previously unpublished monologues. It also has A Preface in Three Voices, written by John E McGrath, Ruth Gould and Jo Verrent. Below, an excerpt from the introduction.

For a limited time, the collection is available from the Oberon website with a 30% discount, using code DMONO30

The ‘d’ Monologues by Kaite O’Reilly.

 from The Introduction

I like to think of theatre as a place of communication and exploration, of dissent and inquiry: a place of dreaming, of solving, of challenging the present and imagining the future. It’s that communal place where we can express all the possibilities of what it is to be human – so why are the majority of representations still so limited in scope and variety, and the potential of those bodies so prescribed?

I have been angry most of my life. Identifying as a working class Irish immigrant disabled female creates a certain kind of friction, a blistering energy I’ve found best directed into creative pursuits. Some years ago, somewhere along my raging, cursing way, I encountered Gandhi’s advice about being the change you want to see, and so the project The ‘d’ Monologues was born.

These collected solos are the culmination of a decade’s work trying to instigate change through writing work specifically for D/deaf and disabled actors, ‘answering back’ to the largely negative representations of difference in our media and the Western theatrical canon.

Since the Ancient Greeks disabled characters have appeared in plays, but rarely have the writers been disabled or written from that embodied or politicised perspective. The vast majority of disabled characters in the Western theatrical canon are tropes, reinforcing limited notions of what it is to be ʻnormalʼ rather than broadening the lens and embracing all the possibilities of human variety. So prevalent is the atypical body in our stage and TV dramas, the audience(s) assume they know and understand the realities of disabled and D/deaf individuals’ lives, yet few of these narratives are informed by lived experience, and so misconceptions and ableist notions of difference, shaped by the medical and charity models of disability, are reproduced and reinforced.

I wanted to make work solely for disabled and D/deaf performers, informed by the social model of disability. Like gender, I believe that disability is a social construct, and it is the physical and attitudinal barriers which disable us, not the idiosyncrasies of our bodies.

This collection is the culmination of ten years work, with fictional monologues inspired by over 100 interviews, conversations, and interactions with D/deaf and disabled individuals internationally. It brings together new and previously unperformed texts alongside monologues from In Water I’m Weightless (National Theatre Wales/Cultural Olympiad 2012), the 70 minute one woman show richard iii redux, and the multilingual, intercultural And Suddenly I Disappear.

I’ve always loved the notion of disabled and D/deaf performers all over the world presenting with pride and political urgency performance texts which did not reduce them to parodies, metaphors, villains, or inspiration porn stars – different narratives using alternative dramaturgies, theatre languages and channels of communication. These texts did not exist, so following Gandhi’s advice, I decided to be the change I wanted to see.

To buy the collection with a 30% discount, go here and enter the discount code DMONO30 at check out. This code is available for a limited time.

‘I write disabled characters who aren’t evil, piteous, or helpless.’ Read an interview with Kaite in The Guardian Society here

 

How can we avoid stereotyping disabled artists?

Grace Khoo, Ramesh Meyyappan and Peter Sau in Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘And Suddenly I Disappear’. Wesley Loh Memphis West

As Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre appears on the horizon,  questions and debates about representation and work that is led by disabled and D/deaf artists also surface. I welcome these interventions, particularly when those interviewed are disabled and D/deaf artists themselves. I know this seems like an obvious requirement for discussion around diversity and representation, but this has not always been the case… (Cue the many articles and soundbites from self-selected ‘experts’ or spokespeople who weren’t the gender, faith, sexual persuasion or cultural heritage that they espouse about…)

Nina Mühlemann’s piece for the British Council is refreshing in its approach and includes interviews with many of the artists involved in the forthcoming Unlimited Festival, myself included. Her main question of how can we avoid stereotyping disabled artists? is very close to the task I have set myself in my work: How can I challenge, satirise or subvert the stereotypical disabled characters that haunt our stages and screens?

And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues sets out to explore, excavate and expose what have often been hidden stories about difference. Inspired by interviews with D/deaf and disabled people my Singapore collaborator Peter Sau and his team led, plus the conversations I have held for over a decade in the UK,  the fictional monologues smash the cliches and problematic representations usually manacled to characters who happen to be disabled. Here are figures who are funny, sexy, troubled, ambitious, foolish, in love, manipulative, learned, tenacious…. human. Gone are the tragic but brave tropes, the tortured villains, inspiring over-comers, or helpless figures of pity.

Gone, too, is the inaccessible staging. Rather, in Phillip Zarrilli’s production, we embrace complex, multi-lingual storytelling, using live action as well as film. The show isn’t about access, it’s about the innovative use of theatre languages – mixing visual and spoken storytelling in dynamic form, interweaving English with some Mandarin, Cantonese, Welsh and British Sign language sequences. There’s no static sign language interpreter in the corner of the stage, but live and pre-recorded sequences that tell little-known stories physically and visually, with creative captioning throughout.

The company is a combination of Singapore and UK-based performers – and our Singapore team arrive tomorrow! We have a few days rehearsal to revise and incorporate two new company members into the production: Garry Robson and Macsen McKay (who writes on his debut here). I’ve also written new monologues for these guest actors, reflecting the joys and tribulations of lived experience in the UK.

We open Unlimited Festival at Southbank, then go on a short tour, dates below. We hope very much you will come and share some time and a space with us, as we celebrate all the possibilities of being human.

 And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues Trailer: https://vimeo.com/272958421
2018 TOUR DATES:
Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room (London)
5 – 6 September 7.45pm [Unlimited Festival performances]
The Old Fire Station  (Oxford)
8 September  7.30pm
Attenborough Arts Centre (Leicester)
9 September  7pm
Chapter arts centre (Cardiff)
11 – 12 September  8pm.
The ‘d’ Monologues Publication – a collection of Kaite O’Reilly’s solo plays for atypical actors will be published by Oberon to coincide with the UK premiere.
Other links:
Kaite O’Reilly in conversation with British Council Singapore: https://vimeo.com/242969844
The Stage: Writer Kaite O’Reilly on The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues: ‘It’s like the Vagina Monologues for the deaf and disabled’ https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/2017/writer-kaite-oreilly-on-singapore-d-monologues/
 
 
Commissioned and supported by Unlimited, with funding from Arts Council of Wales and British Council.
 
 

And Suddenly I Appear: : Reflections on a disabled-led creative process By Nur Shafiza (Shai).

Nur Shafiza (Shai) writes about working as Creative Captioner with Unlimited commissioned artist Kaite O’Reilly on the Singapore world premiere of ‘And Suddenly I Disappear’ (May 2018). She also reflects on the impact this experience and being mentored by O’Reilly as dramaturg and disability advisor has had on her own wider work.

Self-portrait, Nur Shafiza (Shai).

Working as a creative captioner on the Singapore production of Kaite O’Reilly’s Unlimited International commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues was an insightful process for me. Premiering in Singapore in May 2018, it truly sensitized me to how much access is a basic human right. Captioning for theatre productions is not new to me but captioning inclusively and creatively for D/deaf audiences meant that I had to learn the visual demands of Deaf culture. This entailed incorporating specific details when captioning for D/deaf audiences such as use of different colours, fonts, sizing etc.

While our caption design was catered to D/deaf audiences, the aesthetics of access utilized meant that the captions served to be equally functional and visually pleasing for hearing audiences. This is especially telling as we had hearing audience members complimenting us on the captions in the post-show discussions. In my prior experience as a captioner, I would occasionally hear complaints on how captions are distracting and annoying for hearing audiences who would prefer not to have them.

As a creative captioner, I also learnt how to present text visually in a more evocative and poetic manner. This includes playing with the line breakages in the text, transition effects and even removing punctuation. Captions became not just perfunctory but a real visual treat with the right treatment.

Having learnt the aesthetics of access reminds me, as a theatre maker and a captioner, there is more than one way to receive the show, just as there is more than one way to process the world. We don’t always have to insist that one convention is better or right. We can equally co-exist and make space for each other’s needs if we take the time to meet in the middle. Access is a universal right.

As an Emerging Writer 

Working with Kaite O’Reilly as my dramaturgy and disability advisor has forced me to be aware of my own privilege as a writer/dramaturg who is newly stepping into disability arts. Through the process of writing several drafts for Project Tandem (a Singapore-based initiative developing D/deaf and disabled theatre practitioners, led by Peter Sau), I have had to question myself on my writing choices and thought process.

Why am I portraying disabled persons in such a way? What impression does that reinforce or challenge for audiences? What is the hidden assumption behind my selections from the verbatim text I am using? What are the ethics of using verbatim texts? What does it mean for a work to be disabled led? By what markers do we measure this notion of normal or even disability?

Working alongside actors and artistes with disability in the co-writing process also led the way for me to also really understand and appreciate what it means to create a space for the disabled community to tell their stories. I developed greater empathy and used active listening in order to capture not just their story but their voice in the dramatic script. Being aware of my own thinking processes has allowed me to arrest and side step my own unconscious biases towards disabled persons and assumptions I may have made in my own writing.

On top of that, the practice of removing any mention of a person’s physical condition in my writing was the most impactful for me. By purposefully avoiding the medicalization of the body, the creation of the stories and the shaping of the storytelling was at its most powerful. I began to realize that the drama is not the disability. It is simply in the human condition and experience. Coming to this realization was by far, the single biggest change in the way I approach, process and write my material.

Post- And Suddenly I Disappear (ASID)

The Singapore world premiere of Kaite O’Reilly’s And Suddenly I Disappear (with a UK premiere  and tour in September 2018),has demonstrated how disability can begin to take its rightful place in theatre simply because being disabled is part of human existence. I cannot think of another recent Singaporean production that uses actual disabled actors in a production with content that is disabled led. However, ASID is not just a show about disability led by the disabled – it is universal enough to be received by all audiences.

Kaite’s dramatic monologues calls out and draws attention to “cripping up”- a practise in some of our local theatre companies in Singapore. It also normalizes the everyday lives of disabled persons by refusing to exoticize and objectify persons with disabilities as an Other – neither to be repulsed by nor revered through the lens of the charity, medical or inspirational models of disability. It dares to question and critique how we are representing and treating persons with disabilities by showing that we can create stories that do not need the tired stereotypes of disability we unconsciously fall back on.

The conscious process of enabling access in all areas of production – from the act of ticket buying (a pioneering platform was created by Singapore producers Access Path Productions), ensuring access to the show venue and all the way to employing disabled performers, incorporating the aesthetics of access within the show and the careful creation and curating of stories by distinguished playwright Kaite O’Reilly – has expanded the creative norms and set new artistic standards in Singapore.

By demonstrating not just what can be done on stage but off stage as well, it leads the way and opens up productive discussions for inclusive practices that other theatre companies can adopt and incorporate in their own creative process. Four sold out shows and very engaging post-production talks informs them that it makes both creative and financial sense to begin incorporating inclusive practices for D/deaf and disabled audiences.

And Suddenly I Disappear may very well be a game changer in an industry and society where change can be slow. It may take some time and tremendous effort for other players in the theatre industry to see the value of having access and inclusive practices in all areas of production, but I believe we have already created the space for the paradigm to shift.

And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues premiered at Gallery Theatre, National Museums Singapore, in May 2018, directed by Phillip Zarrilli, produced by Access Path Productions, with a cast of Singapore and UK-based disabled and Deaf performers.

Singapore poster

The UK ‘sister’ production –with new monologues and guest performers, but the same core UK and Singapore-based cast premieres at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room as part of the Unlimited Festival, 5-6 September.
It tours to:
Old Fire Station (Oxford) on 8 September
Attenborough Arts Centre (Leicester) on 9 September
Chapter Arts Centre (Cardiff) 11 -12 September
Video-trailer and details:  https://vimeo.com/272958421
Kaite O’Reilly’s The ‘d’ Monologues will be published by Oberon in September 2018.

Diversity, d/Deaf, difference, disability…. Have the ‘d’ words become dirty with overuse?

Daniel Bawthan performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘And Suddenly I Disappear’. Photo by William AS Tan

‘Diversity’s just lip-service. A meaningless phrase flung around everywhere, without meaning anything.’ Or so I was told yesterday, in a discussion with a disgruntled friend, disillusioned about what’s being done to the ‘d’ word. ‘It’s become trendy, and a way to attract funding,’ he gloomily concluded. ‘I’m tired of all these people who never had any interest in the Deaf or disabled communities before, or people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual or gender identities, now jumping on the bandwagon just because it’s fashionable and there’s potential funding.’

It was a serious conversation, and at times tough, but unlike my friend (a seasoned theatre maker who, like me, has a long history in disability arts), I’m not as disheartened, owing to my recent experiences. I’ve been fortunate to have been party to some excellent work, full of integrity and engagement around this particular consonant. Earlier this year I was working in both Singapore and Hong Kong with organisations and individuals who really want to challenge the lack of diversity in organisations, cultures, and positions of leadership. For me the latter is essential – the work really needs to be led by those under-represented individuals, and the power structure needs to change, as otherwise the same-old, same-old endures. This I think is what troubles my friend – work coined ‘diverse’ which may cast A.N.Other, but in reality is shallow or tokenistic, with no alternative perspectives or content.

The ‘d’ word has been central to my work these past years, and especially most recently with ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’, touring the UK this September after its premiere in Singapore last May. This is work that is Deaf and disabled led, celebrating all the ‘d’s of diversity and difference.

I began working on the project which has become The ‘d’ Monologues back in 2009, with a Creative Wales Award from Arts Council Wales. I wanted to explore the form of the monologue as a means of creating work for a more diverse cast. Tired of non-disabled actors ‘cripping up’,  I set out to write solos and multiple character texts specifically for d/Deaf and disabled performers – what I later went on to call ‘atypical actors’ in my first collection with Oberon.

And Suddenly I Disappear by Kaite O’Reilly. Ramesh Meyyappan, Peter Sau, Lee Lee Lim, Grace Khoo, Sara Beer. Photo William AS Tan.

These were monologues informed and inspired by lived experience, telling stories that perhaps were not so familiar, from a d/Deaf and disability perspective – the original ‘d’ of the monologues – but as time passed and this body of work grew, so too has what the ‘d’ may stand for…. diversity and difference, yes, but how also about defiance, desirable, distracting and delectable? As I wrote for Singaporean rapper/beat-boxer Danial Bawthan in And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues:

“This body…. This body is dangerous. It desires, it delights, it delivers, it dances..”

Exploring other ways of considering our bodies and what it is to be human has been at the heart of my writing for this almost decade-long project. Imagination has played a large part, but so too has anonymous questionnaires and interviews I’ve led since 2009 across the UK with disabled and d/Deaf people and recently in Singapore led by my collaborators Peter Sau and Lee Lee Lim, amongst others.  These conversations about difference have inspired and provoked the fictional monologues I’ve written – I’ve never used anyone’s story or actual words, for that seems to me like theft – but I’ve been directed by and provoked by the many perspectives and multi-voicing it has been my great privilege to be privy to.
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We premiered the fruits of this dialogue between Wales/UK and Singapore at the Gallery Theatre, National Museums Singapore in May 2018, and will bring a revised version, with largely the same DNA, but with some new monologues (and performers) to the UK in September. Singaporean collaborators Grace Khoo, Peter Sau and Natalie Lim will travel to the Unlimited Festival at London’s Southbank Centre in early September, reuniting with Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli, and myself. We will then join with Macs Mackay and Garry Robson, bringing new monologues and energy into the ensemble.
 And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues were always imagined to be a moveable feast – a series of contrasting monologues which could adapt and change according to the venue size, cast and situation. It’s with a heavy heart we leave some of our amazing Singapore-based collaborators behind, but they will have mediatised presences, alongside UK-based performer extraordinaire Sophie Stone.

Tickets are now available for the UK tour:

5-6 September Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, London tickets
8 September Old Fire Station, Oxford, tickets
9 September Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, website
11-12 September Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, tickets
And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues

Video-trailer

I’m delighted that the collected ‘d’ Monologues will be published by Oberon in time for the tour. I’ll give further information about this, including various launches, readings and events, as it becomes available, but it is so exciting to think these texts will be widely available for others to use… to montage the monologues to make a full evening’s performance, to do script-in-hand readings, to use them as audition pieces, or my ideal: a sharing of monologues across the globe on the International day of the disabled person (also, please watch this space….).
‘The ‘d’ Monologues’ will also include the text to the solo performance richard iii redux, co-written with Phillip Zarrilli, originally for that diversity diva Sara Beer (pictured below in one of her personas from the show). The text deconstructs Shakespeare’s villain and challenges the cultural link since Shakespeare’s time between atypical bodies/disability and evil. We also ask wider questions about the nature of performance, representation of difference and the rewriting of history by the Bard – with lots of subversive fun along the way, exploring how Richard has been ‘cripped’ in the past.

Sara Beer in ‘richard iii redux’ Panopticphorography

You can access the fantastic reviews here and potentially catch the show if you are in Mainz, Germany, in September.  We’re delighted that richard III redux heads to Mainz for a performance on 20 September, 2018 as part of this year’s Grenzenloskoultur Theater Festival (‘Theater without Boundaries’), Mainz Kleines Stadt Theater, Germany.
We hope to have the production back on the road in 2019, but until then, here’s the delight of Sara Beer in the richard III redux TRAILER.
As to the issues of ‘diversity’ and whether the ideal is being tarnished from casual over-use…. As a playwright all I can do is keep on exploring what it is to be human, and to question our hierarchies, our power dynamics, and the (mis)representations that can become common currency. Artists and theatre makers identifying as Deaf and/or disabled are presenting work on an unforeseen scale (thanks also to initiatives like Unlimited and DaDaFest) and I can only applaud and encourage this, chivvying on the so-called ‘under-represented’ to be the makers and the directors and the leaders of the future. Whether the word becomes undervalued or not, true diversity will arrive with an expansion in the identities, experiences, politics, ethnicities and bodies of those holding the reins – and perhaps the work of those currently in control is to move aside a little, or learn to power-share.

 

Returning

So I return back to Wales after six weeks in Hong Kong and Singapore, and find myself startled by the vibrant green of grass and the watercolour splashes of pink and blue in the hedgerow as we drive down the narrow lanes. It all feels so very gentle and quaint after the futuristic architecture of Singapore’s waterfront, or the technicolor fantasy that is the newly renovated Sri Krishnan temple on Waterloo Street.

Renovation of the temple on Waterloo Street, Singapore. Photo: Sara Beer

We were fortunate to be staying centrally, in an apartment close to Waterloo Street, and would pass by the temples most days when walking to rehearsals. The Gallery Theatre, where we premiered And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues, is in the impressive National Museums Singapore, built in 1849 and originally called Raffles Library and Museum.

National Museums Singapore

We had a great welcome at NMS, and soon I was acquainted with most of the front of house staff – the curators, security guards, volunteers, and ushers – after giving a series of Disability Awareness Training workshop/talks. There was a palpable interest in making the museum as accessible and welcoming as possible, and it was a real privilege to premiere the production there.

Volunteers setting out the accessible signage

And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues is an international dialogue between Singapore and the UK about difference, diversity, and what it is to be human. Inspired by interviews my colleague Peter Sau and his team held in Singapore, and my own conversations over many years with Deaf and disabled individuals in the UK, the fictional monologues were commissioned by Unlimited, with support from Arts Council Wales and the British Council.

Warming up: And Suddenly I Disappear cast, Gallery Theatre, National Museums Singapore

The production previewed last week, with an audience of students from a series of schools and colleges, who astonished and delighted us with their focus and engagement. We couldn’t have asked for a better first audience – so enthusiastic and curious about the work we presented. I’ve also never been in a situation before, where I had a selfie with a large proportion of the audience.

Part of the preview schools audience for ‘And Suddenly Disappear…’

A real opportunity for discussion and change feels possible at present in Singapore. Diversity and inclusivity are vogue terms here, just as they seem to be everywhere at present, but I’ve experienced less lip service and more action here than in Europe. I am encouraged – there does seem to be a palpable desire for change, and so in interviews, public talks and workshops, I’ve been banging on about the necessity of diversity in our cultural leadership. My concern is that whilst embracing notions of inclusivity and diversity, the same-old, same-old hierarchies will endure, and so a remarkable opportunity to re-examine and reinvent societal structures will be lost.

Our brilliant associate producer Natalie Lim with signage for the production

There is also a misunderstanding about the difference between arts and disability – where the non-disabled provide arts provision for ‘the disabled’ as part of their socialisation or therapy – and disability arts, where disabled artists lead, direct, create and control the product. Disability arts and culture sometimes – but not always – reflects lived experience, and can be a manifestation of identity politics informed by the social model of disability – which sees it is society and its attitudinal or physical barriers which is disabling, not the idiosyncracies of our bodies.

Company members Peter, Steph, Shirley, Ramesh and Grace backstage

My fictional monologues seek to reflect a wide spectrum of experiences, embracing all the possibilities of human variety and challenging notions of normalcy. Love, relationships, extortion, and ‘cures’ are explored amongst other themes. Although many expect me to write ‘disabled themes’ (whatever the hell they would be…), it’s the same material as usual – whatever captures my imagination and makes me want to explore dynamics and situations theatrically – what’s different is the world view and the theatrical languages at play.

I’m wary of ‘telling true stories’, as it is often phrased, when people assume that the story  belongs to the actor performing it, or it is the true experience of one individual. As a playwright, I’m interested in finding the narratives and form that makes the story larger than itself – speaking for a community of people, perhaps, rather than one (perhaps unfortunate) individual.

Interview in Singapore Straits Times

The work has now been realised and shared with the Singaporean audiences, premiering last weekend, 25th May. I will share responses and reactions as they emerge in a future blog, and also cover the live-streamed performance, another innovation in the presentation and touring of the work. At present I am dealing with jet lag and adjusting to the Welsh pastoral outside my window, and preparing the publicity alongside new monologues for the next stage of this project: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues, premiering at Southbank Centre 5-6 September, as part of Unlimited Festival.

Meanwhile – here’s the Singapore poster by our designer Ho Su Yuen….. unusually featuring the director and writer, alongside the cast.

Singapore poster

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And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues by Kaite O’Reilly, directed by Phillip Zarrilli and produced in Singapore by Access Path Productions, is an Unlimited International Commission, supported by Arts Council Wales and British Council. The performances in Singapore were possible thanks also to Singapore International Foundation, Singapore Press Holdings Foundation Arts Fund, NSM, and Kuo Pao Kun Foundation.