Category Archives: Disability arts and culture

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. 

 

Is disability culture going mainstream? ‘richard iii redux’ shortlisted for 2019 James Tait Black Award

I know the answer even as I wrote the title for this blog… No. And define ‘mainstream’ while you’re about it, O’Reilly. And ‘disability culture’… and no, I am not going to turn this blog into one of my academic essays about Crip’ culture and interweaving performance cultures (though I can refer you to where they’re published, if you want to drop me a line, below).

I started wondering about the place of disabled-led work after noticing it seems to be getting a higher profile these days, whether at Edinburgh Fringe or Lee Ridley (aka ‘No Voice Guy’) winning Britain’s Got Talent and heading off on a National tour. The RSC, National Theatre (London) and The Globe are all presenting more diverse casting regarding Deaf and disabled performers in recent and upcoming productions, whilst Ramps on the Moon and Agents for Change beaver away on inclusivity and creatively accessible theatre productions with their regional theatre allies.

This is all brilliant. I’m ecstatic when longterm collaborator Sophie Stone moves from spoken to visual language on a Westend stage in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s ‘Emilia’ and can’t wait for her embodiment of a Deaf Jacques in ‘As You Like It’ at the Globe later this year. And as for seminal moments… Francesca Martinez’s calling out of the Government’s austerity policy (“blood on their hands”) on BBC’s Question Time remains my political highlight of the year (see @chessmartinez pic.twitter.com/3zQUDVLvOa )

The visibility and presence of disabled and Deaf individuals on our screens and stages is finally increasing, which feels like a triumph. I’ve written previously about the importance of representation (in 2012 for The Guardian here Howlround here ). All my professional career I have tried to write and make work that is inclusive and from a politicised disability perspective, challenging notions of normalcy and embracing all the possibilities of human variety. To witness so much talent and intelligence finally taking a rightful place on national platforms is extraordinary and deeply gratifying.

Many years ago I realised that one way I could help bring about change was to use the only power I have as a playwright – to write inclusive plays but also specific parts solely for Deaf and disabled performers. peeling (commissioned by Jenny Sealey for Graeae Theatre Company, first produced in 2002) was the first script where I insisted that the rights were only available to companies casting Deaf and disabled performers in the role. Since then I’ve turned down eleven requests for production from all over the world, when the directors have said “there’s no disabled or Deaf actors in our town/country/planet, and so we’ll cast hearing and non-disabled actresses who will, well, ACT…” Given that peeling is a meta-theatrical play, with performer/actress characters stating: “Cripping up: it’s the Twenty First century answer to blacking-up” I have often wondered how closely the actual script had been read by proposed producers.

Thankfully now, seventeen years on from its first production, there are companies producing the play with sterling Deaf and disabled casts. Taking Flight Theatre Company produced peeling earlier this year in a Wales-wide tour, garnering a 4 star review from The Guardian. They will be re-mounting the production for a tour of England this September – tour dates and information here.

Seattle-based Sound Theatre will present the American premiere of peeling this August. Helmed by director Teresa Thuman, peeling offers “a fresh, if not jolting, perspective.”

Sound Theatre production of ‘peeling’. Caroline Agee. Photo by Kellie Martin.

“Seattle has never seen a play like this before,” director Teresa Thuman states in the press release (reproduced at the end of the post). “The very nature of theatre is to expose and make public all that is human – in every form, every ability. For those who live on the margins, theatre is a way to bring them to the center as fully human beings.”

This notion of putting disabled and Deaf figures centre-stage was at the heart of my co-written text, ‘richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III’. Taking Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’,  the veritable poster-boy of disability-as-the-emodiment-of-evil as inspiration, co-writer and director Phillip Zarrilli and I set out to reclaim historical Richard and ‘re-crip the crip’, as I put it in an essay for Howlround (‘Cripping the Crip’).
Written for long-term collaborator performer and disability activist Sara Beer, we wanted to put her centre-stage in a complex multi-layered solo, where she plays multiple fictional personas alongside an investigation into the historical Richard and Shakespeare’s ‘monstering’ of him.
We’re delighted to be able to reveal this week that ‘richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III’ has been shortlisted for the 2019 James Tait Black Award for Drama.

 

“The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Drama celebrates innovative drama produced worldwide. The prize is presented annually for the best original play written in English, Scots or Gaelic and first performed by a professional company in the previous year. The £10,000 prize is open to any new work by playwrights in any country, and at any stage of their career. The accolade was launched in 2012, when Britain’s longest-running literary awards—the James Tait Black Prizes—were extended to include a category for drama.

The play is a riotous one-woman piece promoting inclusivity in the arts and written from a radical disability perspective.  It challenges Shakespeare’s representation of the disabled monarch and the creation of ‘the twisted body/twisted mind’ trope, satirising the non-disabled actors who have ‘cripped up’ to play the part in the past.

The panel includes students and academics from the University of Edinburgh, representatives from the Traverse Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Schaubuhne Theatre, Berlin, and freelance theatre director Pooja Ghai.

‘This year’s shortlisted plays deal with some of the most pressing issues facing the world today. The innovation demonstrated by each playwright is truly astounding and I would like to congratulate each of them for being nominated for this esteemed international prize.’         Chair of the judging panel Greg Walker Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University

 The Award Ceremony will take place at the Traverse Theatre on Monday, 19 August, 2019 from 16:00-17:30. The other two finalists this year include two US plays: Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris and Dance Nation by Clare Barron.The ceremony will include readings of excerpts from each of the three finalist plays, interviews with the authors, and announcement of the winning play.  Further details here.

This accolade in being shortlisted for this prestigious prize was what prompted my opening question and the title of this blog post – Has disability arts gone mainstream? I am encouraged that a piece of Crip’ culture has been shortlisted for such a ‘mainstream’ award, never mind it being a critical irreverent poke at The Bard and his damaging presentation of physical difference equaling evil, written from a radical disability perspective, with a tone defiantly feminist and Welsh. It is a credit to the unique judging panel of the award that work like ours is valued and promoted. Phillip, Sara and I are hugely excited and thankful about this nomination… but rather as one swallow doesn’t make one summer, one nomination, or one casting, or one appearance on Question Time doesn’t make us ‘mainstream’, or with fair and equal worth and opportunity. But we are trying, and kicking down those doors, and raising our hands and our voices to speak and sign and make ourselves, our stories, our talents, experiences and lives visible.
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PRESS RELEASE: Sound Theatre Company produces ‘peeling’, the U.S. premiere of landmark play about disability.

SEATTLE, WA—In the U.S. premiere of playwright Kaite O’ Reilly’s internationally renowned play peeling, Sound Theatre Company continues staging authentic narratives and breaking new theatrical ground. peeling weaves audio description, sign language, and theatrical spectacle into a no-holds-barred play about representation, women, reproduction, war, and eugenics. With brisk wit and domestic backstage comedy, O’ Reilly’s storytelling style has earned comparisons to Beckett and Caryl Churchill. In an overproduced, postmodern production of Euripides’ The Trojan WomenAlfa, Coral, and Beatty have been cast in bit parts to fulfill a playhouse’s misplaced diversity program; but as tokens, the trio never experiences true inclusion. Sound Theatre centers disability justice by assembling a production team and cast that brings authentic lived experiences to this groundbreaking production.

Following Sound Theatre Company’s 2018 season of Radical Inclusion,
this season explores themes of erasure. To wit, peeling probes at buzzwords like “inclusion,” “diversity,” “authenticity,” and “equal
opportunities” as an extension of Sound Theatre’s ongoing effort to spotlight talented theatermakers with disabilities.

WHAT: peeling, by Kaite O’ Reilly

WHEN: Previews August 8, 9 at 8PM Opening August 10, 8PM Continues through Saturday August 24, 2018

WHERE: Center Theatre at the Seattle Center Armory https://www.artful.ly/store/events/14170

CAST

Carolyn Agee – Coral                                                                                                     Michelle Mary Schaefer – Alfa                                                                                       Sydney Maltese – Beaty

ARTISTIC TEAM

Teresa Thuman – Director
Monique Holt – Assistant Director and Director of Artistic Sign Language Andrea Kovich – Dramaturg
Parmida Ziaei – Scenic Designer
Taya Pyne – Costume Designer
Adrian Kljucec- Sound Designer
Jared Norman – Projection Designer
Richard Schaefer – Lightning Designer/Technical Director
Robin MaCartney – Props Designer
Zoé Tziotis Shields – Wardrobe Crew, Sound Board Operator
Roland Carette-Meyers – Accessibility Coordinator
Francesca Betancourt – Movement Director

This writing life: Summer 2019

My mother always said that life offered a feast or a famine and never a steady balanced three meals a day which might keep our blood sugar and nerves steady. No, it was a juddering, shuddering rollercoaster ride, swinging from gluttony to a wafer and water diet, and I should always be ready for either.

This year so far has certainly been of a generous rather than miserly disposition. I’ve been immensely fortunate with productions and commissions in 2019/20 and pause now, just post-midsummer, with my head spinning and my belly fit to burst. This, I promise you, is not gloating – the famine months will be upon me again soon enough, and I know from past experience what bolsters me through those lean times is the memory of small celebrations when things were bowling along famously, thank you very much. Success and steady employment is scarce enough in this business, so should be celebrated when it dallies in the neighbourhood. But as my friend Chris reminds me, it isn’t entirely luck when things go well, but a reaping of the benefits of work we seeded long ago. And so like the cricket in the fable, I am singing in the sunshine, but also trying to be the ant and prepare for the future.

Aesop’s Fables, Unicorn theatre.

Fables have been very much a companion the past few months as my first small commission for Unicorn Theatre goes into production. “Working in theatre with young audiences is a total privilege and helps make you a better artist” Aesop’s Fables directors Justin Audibert and Rachel Bagshaw said in a recent interview and I totally agree.

My writing commissions when I was starting out were for young audiences, and the first thing I think about when approaching a new script is considering who will be experiencing the event I hope to create. It directs the story, tone, aesthetic and theatre style. After huge state of the nation plays about death, difference, diversity and disability, it was hugely enjoyable to return to thinking about a young audience, and how to select and make current one of Aesop’s Fables for The Unicorn Theatre’s summer production.

Jessica Hayles and Guy Rhys in ‘Dog and Wolf’ by Kaite O’Reilly, Unicorn Theatre. Photo: Craig Sugden

I chose ‘Dog and Wolf’, a little known fable from Aesop’s trove, as I needed to find something that could have resonance for contemporary times and one that could be political (as in the personal is political) rather than archaic or moralistic. Aesop is often associated with ‘the moral of the story is…’ but there’s no moral here, it’s a teaching, which is just as well, as I abhor moralising. I think it’s better to engage through raising curiosity or empathy rather than through the flawed binary of right or wrong. This pithy fable explores quite complex relationships and issues – of ‘ownership’, hierarchy, freedom, and work/life ethics and fitted my politics of preferring to be hungry and free than well fed but not owning yourself.

I hasten to say, my looping, punning, tongue-twistery treatment of the fable may indeed verge on the post-dramatic, but it’s not as worthy as my hand-wringing description, above, suggests. Co-directed by both Justin and Rachel, it appears in the repertoire for both age groups, 4-8 year old and 8-11 years, and runs until August.

I’ve been thinking a lot about perseverance and longevity in career of late. It’s largely due to mentoring two brilliant but vastly different creatives, Gemma Prangle and Lisette Auton. The conversations we’ve had are as instructive for me as them. We’ve been thinking about trying new processes and form, discovering voice and tone while trying to beat that old bug bear, imposter syndrome. Both women are phenomenally talented and forging ahead with new practice and projects. It’s an immense privilege to be going part of the journey with them, reminding them that no, there is no one way to do anything, and part of their task is finding what works for them, and to hell with all the advice and theories about how to… I’m sure I’m not the only one who wasted an inordinately long time worrying that my process wasn’t like what the manuals or the best-selling authors or the Oscar winning screenwriters said was needed to succeed and get ahead.

‘Just do it’, I said during an impromptu lecture with members from Youth Theatres of Ireland who attended a performance of my play Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival. It’s not the first time I’ve been photographed outside a theatre with a large percentage of the audience, nor will it be the last time I’m suddenly press-ganged into an impromptu Q&A. I love it. It’s refreshing and invigorating to speak with our emerging practitioners and the future generation of theatre makers. These young creatives were spectacular, full of insight and curiosity, with a strong social and political conscience. Irish theatre is going to be just fine if these are the makers of the future.

Members from the Youth Theatres of Ireland with me outside the Firkin Crane, Cork, prior to a performance of ‘Cosy’ by Gaitkrash.

Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival was delicious, a wonderful experience of working with six female performers, playing age 16 to 76, at the top of their game. The following short video interviews can give a taste of the company, Gaitkrash, and the lively dynamic whilst dealing with the subject of death from performers Regina Crowley, Mairin Prendergast and Pauline O’Driscoll https://vimeo.com/341828036

http://https://vimeo.com/341828036

The director, Phillip Zarrilli, has his own playful riposte on the subject. https://vimeo.com/345047366

http://https://vimeo.com/345047366

July continues being female-collaborator led, with research and development on a new commission from Wales Millennium Centre, building on my 2017/18 Major Creative Wales Award from Arts Council Wales which had me exploring ‘The Performative Power of Words with Music.’

Sophie Stone and Rebecca Applin in rehearsal in Wales Millennium Centre

Working with long term collaborators composer Rebecca Applin and performer Sophie Stone is an absolute dream, and I will be opening up more about this innovative project later in the Summer.

Meanwhile also in July is the book release of ‘Persians’, winner of theTed Hughes Award for new works in poetry, published by Fair Acre Press.

We will be having a Poetry Party on 1st September at Mid Wales Arts Centre – celebrating ‘Persians’ and the publication of brilliant poet Chris Kinsey’s ‘From Rowan Ridge’, also published by Fair Acre Press. The event is free, and will feature readings from our new books, plus a host of invited poets from across Wales.

Persians’ will be published by Fair Acre Press on 29th July 2019, but advance copies can be ordered from the publisher here. It will also be available via Amazon, online, and all good bookshops from the publication date.

I also have other launch events and workshops happening in early September, with a few places left on my masterclass in adaptations at Small World Theatre, details here.

 

Launch and workshop:

I will be launching Persians in Cardigan at Small World Theatre on 7th September, following a workshop on adapting ancient texts:

Singing the old bones –  new stories from ancient texts. 
Revisiting older stories can be a masterclass in narrative. Myths, fairystories, epics from Ancient Greek drama and the oral tradition survive as they seem to speak to each age anew. These archetypal characters and narratives inspire and invite constant reinvention, yet the old bones remain true. In this practical workshop we will retell, remake and renew, participants exploring individual perspectives on timeless themes, reshaping ancient tales to illuminate something contemporary. The tutor, Kaite, is a repeat re-teller, creating to date three very different performances on the story of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion, and a new version of Aeschylus’s Persians,the oldest verse drama in the Western tradition, which won The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.
We ask participants to come with a myth, fable, ancient drama or story, which we will use to explore the fundamentals of story making: theme, structure, setting, dialogue and character. Through examples of Kaite’s diverse approaches to reinventing existing texts, we will make our own, sparking a new cycle of telling and retellings, seeding work which could be developed further beyond the masterclass.
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Workshop 2-5pm on 7th September 2019, £25.
Small World Theatre | Theatr Byd Bychan
Cardigan | Aberteifi, SA43 IJY
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Booking:
sam@smallworld.org.uk
01239 615 952
smallworld.org.uk
twitter: @theatrbydbychan
Numbers are limited and already almost sold out, but plans are afoot for a further workshop/event in November 2019 at the same venue. 
After the workshop:
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Launch of ‘Persians’ Kaite O’Reilly’s new version of Aeschylus’s classic verse drama. 6pm. Free entry.
Kaite will read from the verse drama and speak about the historical and contemporary contexts of this extraordinary text. There will be a book signing after the reading and launch.

 

What a week! Award nominations, reviews, publications and research and development….

It’s been quite a week…..

On Monday we learned my Unlimited international commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues has been nominated for Best Ensemble at The Singapore Theatre Awards. This is wonderful news, particularly from a disability perspective and regarding inclusivity. Many of my collaborators from Singapore (such as the fabulous Steph, below) were emerging performers, appearing in this first ever all Deaf and disabled-led project in Singapore, directed by Phillip Zarrilli and produced by Access Path Productions. For the quality of the work to be recognised so quickly and so publicly, is a real triumph, regardless of the actual final ‘results’. Those of us who are ‘veterans’ of the UK’s disability art scene (including Sara Beer – also performing in the ensemble) have been hammering on the doors to be given access and opportunity for DECADES. Things are changing in the UK, as across the world, but it is gratifying that this international collaboration – the first of its kind in Singapore – is included in the nominees for this award. The salty old crip’ cynic in me would say award nominees are usually non-disabled actors ‘cripping up’ to play a disabled character. It’s satisfying that for once Deaf and disabled actors are being nominated for playing a variety of ensemble characters (and not a Tiny Tim in sight).

Stephanie Fam performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s international Unlimited commission ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. Sophie Stone in background.

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The week proceeded with a terrific review of my forthcoming publication –  Persians – with Fair Acre Press. National Theatre Wales originally commissioned this new version of Aeschylus’s masterpiece – the oldest extant verse drama in the Western theatrical canon – for Mike Pearson’s site-specific performance on MOD land. The verse drama will be released later in the Summer, and I can’t wait to reveal the glorious cover, featuring several of the performers from the original production, in a special blog later this month. Meanwhile for the curious, a thumbnail of the cover is included in Liz Jones’s New Welsh Review critique of the text, reworked as poetry for publication, here.

Most of the week was spent in Cork, in an r&d with Gaitkrash. I’m not allowed to say too much at present, and apologies for being enigmatic…

I returned back to Wales in the early hours of this morning, reading further positive comments about Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of my play peeling, which is currently touring. It’s in Manchester tonight, and other dates in Wales and Oxford over the next few weeks, finishing this leg of the tour on May 4th in Cardiff. Both The Stage and The Guardian gave the production (directed by Elise Davison) sparkling four stars reviews. Details of the tour can be found here.

The cast of Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera/Raquel Garcia

Finally, this morning I woke to a review of my collected monologues The ‘d’ Monologues in Wales Arts Review. Reviewer Tomos Morris and I met last month  over a cup of green tea for an interview for The Cardiff Review, out later this month. I’m delighted Tom’s extensive research has been put to good use in his critique, which you can read here.

Meanwhile, the fire is burning, the bottle of wine uncorked and a few hours of relaxation beckons….

 

peeling reviews and unpeeling process

Taking Flight production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera

It’s been a week of peeling and unpeeling…. My play peeling headed off on tour in Taking Flight Theatre Company’s commended production, while performer and maker Gemma Prangle and I started unpeeling the creative process as part of her professional development from Arts Council England.

It was a few days of experiment for Gemma as I set her various writing tasks, working across a wide spectrum of styles including stimulating text to generate movement and physical scores. Phillip Zarrilli gave some vocal exercises and directorial advice as we workshopped Gemma’s starting points. I love this kind of work, where I’m part-dramaturg, part-tutor and part-mentor, and especially when, as in this case, the fruits of the explorations are exciting and filled with promise. I sent Gemma off with a series of further exercises to continue developing her considerable writing skills. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to create next.

During the excitement of exploration in the studio this week, there was also the excited gratification of positive critical responses to Elise Davison’s new production of peeling.

One of the greatest pleasures of being a playwright is the privilege of seeing other imaginations at work on your creative impulses. For Taking Flight’s new manifestation, I updated my script, not the first time I have revised the text. The play was originally written in 2002 for Jenny Sealey and Graeae, remounted in 2003 for Edinburgh and a European tour. I adapted it for BBC Radio 3 in the same year, co-directed by David Hunter and Jenny Sealey. A further production (Kirstie Davis for Forest Forge Theatre company) toured nationally in 2011, and there has been countless rehearsed readings in the US. Although I feel immensely privileged in having such a positive response to what in effect is an old play, I am also saddened that the issues of conflict, women’s autonomy over their own bodies and the problematic representation of difference in our theatres are as relevant as ever. When I set out on writing this play at the start of the new century and millennium, I never thought it would take so long for equality and diversity to reach our stages, if not our societies. The continued and increased interest in this play, particularly for its use of creative access, and the way I embedded audio description and sections of bilingualism (spoken/visual/projected language) into the fabric of the script, is therefore bitter-sweet. However, I congratulate Elise Davison and Beth House of Taking Flight and all the brilliant women whose talent, imagination and determination have brought this “fierce and funny” production to new audiences now.

The Guardian and The Stage reviews follow:

Ruth Curtis in Taking Flight’s production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo: Janire Najera

Fierce and funny trio storm the stage in vulva gowns – 4 stars. The Guardian review.

Alfa, Beaty and Coral are three deaf and disabled performers taking part in the chorus of a grandly titled four-hour postmodern epic, The Trojan Women: Then and Now. We watch while they sit and wait for their cues, talking, gossiping and exchanging confidences. Paused in the shadows while the “real actors continue with the real play”, they are defined and limited by the actions and designs of men, who are always offstage, elsewhere.

Elise Davison’s revival of Kaite O’Reilly’s play, originally staged in 2002, is fiercely clever and uncompromising. It packs in far more rhetorical audacity, theatrical richness and complexity of ideas than its 90-minute length would suggest. Often scathingly funny, Peeling is an accessible production that provocatively questions what is being made accessible, for whom and how. Who benefits from including a deaf and disabled ensemble, if the dressing rooms are inaccessible?

Initially appearing in vulva-embroidered ball gowns, designed by Becky Davies and made by Angharad Gamble, the actors Bea Webster, Ruth Curtis and Steph Lacey remain onstage throughout. They are shadowed by Erin Hutching as the stage manager who translates the trio’s spoken dialogue into British Sign Language. The dresses in turn are removed, but the peeling of the title also alludes to other forms of disrobing: of character, theatrical conventions, of the personal and societal expectations of disabled women. Towards its conclusion, one senses that history itself is also unravelling. We are brought to our current historical moment, laden with horrors. The grandiose “then and now” appears to be depressingly apt.

Produced by Taking Flight Theatre, who have been staging accessible productions in Wales for 10 years, Peeling is a show that insists it be viewed on its own terms. The peeling is not for your titillation. It sticks a middle finger up at paternalistic and woolly tick-box exercises in representation and inclusivity. Accessible theatre? Do it properly, it demands. Do it like this.

Bea Webster, Erin Hutching and Stephie Lacey in Taking Flight’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera

‘Thought provoking and entertaining’ – 4 stars. The stage review

After 10 years of creating outdoor plays involving D/deaf and physically disabled actors (performing in spaces as unlikely as woodland and castles), Taking Flight Theatre finally goes indoors with this new version of Kaite O’Reilly’s Peeling, embarking on a national theatre tour.

First performed in 2002 by Graeae, it’s a play within a play. Alfa (Bea Webster), Beaty (Ruth Curtis) and Coral (Steph Lacey) are three actors hovering backstage during a postmodern version of The Trojan Women: Then and Now. Cajoled by an irritable stage manager (Erin Hutching, also BSL-signing), the world-weary trio is convinced they’ve only been employed to tick the ‘disability box’ and to add weight to the equal opportunities monitoring form. They yearn to be an Andromache or Hecuba, each able to recite those character’s soliloquies – all while waiting to deliver their own minimal lines.

O’Reilly is an extraordinarily poetic playwright who specialises in contemporising Greek theatre, so the Trojan Women backdrop here allows her to explore epic themes of war from a feminist standpoint. Yet it’s her more earthy, acerbic wit that hits the notes best in Elise Davison’s confident production. Subjects as trivial as celebrity gossip vie with deeply poignant questions about choice for disabled women, around their own bodies and children.

It’s challenging, but also entertaining. The action is BSL-signed and audio-described throughout, all as a natural part of the onstage action, and there’s plenty of opportunity for the strong cast to send up theatre’s right-on but sometimes cursory attitude towards D/deaf and disabled talent.

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I’m going on tour with the company on two dates this month, with a post-show discussion at Theatr Clwyd on 19th March and Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 26th March, where I believe David Rabey will be chairing the Q&A. The production will continue to tour Wales, Manchester and Oxford this Spring, with a tour of England planned for the autumn. Further details from Taking Flight.

peeling opens International Women’s Day 2019 – first reviews and photos

The cast of Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera/Raquel Garcia

It’s always an incredible privilege and buzz to open a production on 8th March, International Women’s Day. This has now become something of a tradition for me, with ‘richard iii redux’ opening IWD2018 and ‘Cosy’ on IWD2016… I am therefore delighted to make this a hat-trick with Elise Davison’s new production of  my play ‘peeling’ for Taking Flight Theatre Company, which opened at Riverfront in Newport as the culmination of a day of events and celebrations. The extraordinary cupcakes for opening night gives a flavour of what a delicious day it was…

Such naughtiness aside, it’s gratifying to see such fantastic initial critical responses to the production just as the company are setting off to tour Wales, Oxford and Manchester in the coming months (there will also be a tour of England in the autumn).

When I wrote the play originally to a commission from Jenny Sealey of Graeae Theatre Company, I sought to embed audio description into the actual fabric of the text. This is something that we hadn’t seen done before  2002 (when the first production premiered), and has only been done minimally since by playwrights such as the brilliant Mike Kenny. The full text was projected onto the back wall as part of Sealey’s design, and this notion of creative captioning has continued since.

The cast of Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera/Raquel Garcia

I’ve loved that the notion of creative access is at the heart of Taking Flight Theatre’s process and that director Elise Davison and designer Becky Davies (with their many collaborators) have been so imaginatively engaged with the aesthetics of access. I shan’t reveal too much for those who hopefully will catch the production on its Welsh/Oxford/Manchester tour this Spring, and wider English tour in the autumn, but I will say Becky’s access table – initially for visually impaired audience members to get a sensorial taste of the set and costume – is terrific and well worth experiencing…

I’ll be joining the company on tour for a Q&A after the performance on 19th March at Theatr Clwyd and 26th March at Aberystwyth Arts Centre for a post-show chat chaired by David Rabey. Further dates of the tour are available on Taking Flight’s website. I was asked on opening night if the script was available to read – you can get it alongside further texts about difference and disability in my collected Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, published by Oberon.

Meanwhile, here are the first reviews of Elise’s production. I hope you can catch the show when it tours throughout the year – I think it is well worth an outing!

Initial Reviews:

“Taking Flight with Kaite O’Reilly… The show was hailed as a game-changer in feminist and accessible theatre when it was first performed… A strikingly brilliant cast of D/deaf and disabled women are unapologetic in their views and provocations… peeling will challenge audiences to experience theatre afresh..” Full review from Theatre-Wales here.

“…fiery performances… an epic feel magically presented…Heart-warming, funny, emotional and educational, peeling is a beautiful and timely production…A perfect presentation for an imperfect world, peeling deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible as it takes flight…”  Full review from South Wales Entertainment here.

O’Reilly’s text is dense and richly allusive…. There is plentiful bawdy humour alongside the anger in what remains a powerful play… …the most powerful sequence is Alfa’s lengthy, signed poetic monologue, initially untranslated, which is positively balletic in its depiction of past trauma…a lively, witty production..” Full review from The British Theatre Guide here.

Events celebrating International Women’s Day 2019 – Newport, Wales.

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Taking Flight Theatre Company’s new production of my award winning meta-theatrical play, peeling, opens on 8th March, International Women’s Day 2019, at Riverfront, Newport. As part of the celebrations, there are two days of events, discussions, taster sessions and pop-up performances on March 8th and 9th. I’m delighted to be involved in several events, from a panel discussion to an open mic reading of material generated in a creative writing I led in Maindee Library for emerging writers last week.

Half of the full company during r&d week. Taking Flight’s production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly

There are many events happening – details here-   but what follows, below, are events I’m involved with on Friday 8th March:

3pm Discussion: Whose Birthright Is It Anyway? To reproduce or not to reproduce, that is the question.

Join Taking Flight Theatre in an open panel  discussion about how and why decisions about becoming a parent are formed. What are contributing factors of whether people choose to reproduce or not and how these factors, whether they be society or medical, influence D/deaf and disabled people in their decisions.

Chair: Dr Tamse Preece

Panel: Rosaleen Moriarty Simmonds, Bethan Morgan, Dr Tracy Evans, Samatha “Doula” Gadsen and Kaite O’Reilly

4-6pm Taking Flight Theatre Company will be running a whole host of  pop up activities and performances:

– Poetry prefromance from Alice Denny

 – Comedy prefromance by Tafsila Khan a emerging Cardiff based comedian

– Open mic readings of new and in progress work generated in a writing workshop at 6pm.

7.45pm – Opening night of Taking Flight Theatre’s production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly

A play exploring the relationship between women, their bodies and children against a backdrop of man- made conflict. With interwoven BSL, live audio description and English captions. There will be a question and answer session after the show with the writer and company.

Entertainment South Wales preview the production here: Game-Changing Play, peeling To Tour Following International Women’s Day Premiere.

The trailer is here Audio-trailer here

Also, rather excitingly, I gather the opening performance are close to being sold out, but details of the tour can be found here