Category Archives: on performance

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.
 
 

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.
.
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

*

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.

 

 

 

Alchemy in production week and technical rehearsals

Ramesh Meyyappan and Phillip Zarrilli in tech rehearsal ‘And SuddenlyI disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues.’ Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

Weirdly, I love technical rehearsals. I say ‘weirdly’ as it is often a very stressful, time-consuming, boring, tiring twelve hours in the dark, with people shouting at you….. (Actually, they’re shouting – and signing, lit with torches – to ensure the safety of those on stage when Dorothy Png, our lighting designer extraordinaire yells ‘Stage dark!’ and we’re plunged into blackout…).

I love tech’ because that’s the moment is all starts coming together – the time when my script stops being ‘mine’ and a script and becomes instead performance – alive in peoples’ mouths and hands. It’s the time when ideas originally communicated in writing on paper, and then reinvented via the director’s approach, transforms and becomes a living collaborative act.

This week I sit in the Gallery Theatre of National Museums Singapore and witness the alchemy of a production coming together…. I’ve been familiar with the performers’ work – but it shifts and takes on a new vibrancy once the lighting,  sound design and videography come into play.

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

This week is also one of interviews and engagement, with the national newspaper, The Straits Times, featuring an (inaccurate at times) interview with Singaporean collaborator Peter Sau and myself. I’m gratified that the arts correspondent Akshita Nanda focused on my desire in the monologues to challenge notions of normalcy and embrace all the possibilities of human variety. Many of these notions are quite new to Singapore, which largely follows the Charity model of disability. Although the UK is far from perfect and has been going backwards in recent years, I have been privileged to be part of the UK’s disabled peoples’ movement and our Deaf arts and disability culture for almost thirty years. My work in the ‘d’ monologues is informed by the Social model of disability, perceiving disability as a social construct, rather as gender, and that it is society’s physical and attitudinal barriers that disable, not the idiosyncrasies of our bodies.

Interview in Singapore Straits Times

This past week has also involved public talks, workshops and engagement around disability awareness training. I’ve given three workshops to the ‘front line’ staff of National Museums Singapore – those engaging with the public, from security guards, to the ticket and information desk, ushers and volunteers. I’ve enjoyed this engagement hugely, warmed by the genuine interest of the participants, keen to dialogue and share perspectives on how we can make the venue as barrier-free as possible, for all. I also love the mischief of walking through the museum, greeting the curators and security guards by sign name…

Sadly, all too quickly, this remarkable project will pass… We open this week, and close this Sunday – and tickets have almost completely sold out throughout the run, thanks to the sterling efforts of our producers and and all involved in bringing this international collaboration to the Singapore theatre-going audience. We will be bringing a version of this work to the UK in the Autumn – announcements of that tour will follow.

As I revel in the dark intricacies of technical rehearsal, I hope this is the start of vibrant, home-grown disabled and Deaf-led professional theatre work in Singapore. Very exciting times….

 

A rehearsal photo diary

We gather speed, hurtling down towards our opening next week.

Daniel Bawthan in rehearsals. Photo by Shai

Shai, our captioner, captured images of the working rehearsal at our new rehearsal space last night.  We have finally moved into National Museum Singapore,  where we will have the world premiere of And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues on May 25th in Gallery Theatre.

Cast in rehearsals ‘In a Row’ Photo: Shai

I have written a series of monologues, which we are presenting in a variety of ways, across spoken, projected and visual languages. The theatre style is shaped by the aesthetics of access, where we are using ‘access tools’ creatively, as an integral part of the work rather than an ‘add on’ – part of the theatre languages at play.

Evelyn our SgSLI at work with director Phillip Zarrilli. Photo: Shai

Last night, we experimented with the audio description to be used during a silent  eight minute sequence our visual language director, Ramesh Meyyappan, has created. Working with Lee Lee Lim, one of our guest performers who is visually-impaired, we have been striving to find the balance between Deaf culture and hearing culture – not overwhelming the visual language sequence with spoken word, but not leaving our VI audience in mystified silence, either…

Ramesh Meyyappan. Photo by Shai

It has been a fascinating dialogue and learning opportunity for all as we create an ensemble piece together – and one that is Deaf and disabled-led, a first for Singapore.

Writer and Stella, stage management, conferring over audio description text. Photo by Shai

Tickets now available….

 

Rehearsals begin for international collaboration

Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, Peter Sau, Lee Lee Lim and Grace Khoo: 2017 r&d ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’

I’m writing from an unusually dreary and rain-lashed Singapore, on the second day of rehearsals for international collaboration ‘And Suddenly I Disappear…. The Singapore ‘d’ monologues’. This Unlimited commission 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 lived experience in Singapore and the UK, I’ve written a mosaic of fictionalised monologues which will be presented across multiple languages in spoken, visual and projected forms, incorporating the aesthetics of access.

I’m currently at the testing phase – trying out material and testing its content, sense, and coherence. It is only day two, but already I’ve been editing and reshaping monologues and thinking of different orders and dramatic structures to create dissonance and counterpoint, shade and light across the various ‘voices’ and experiences I’ve chosen to explore. The cast is an ensemble of experienced and emerging theatre practitioners from the UK and Singapore, who all identify as Deaf and/or disabled. I will be writing more about them and our progress in forthcoming days.

I’m tired now, but it is an excited exhaustion… This production will be the first multilingual, intercultural, Deaf and disability-led theatre project created between the UK and Singapore. After premiering May 24-27 at the National Museum Theatre in Singapore, a version will tour to the UK in September. Further details will follow once the event has been announced in the UK.

Meanwhile, I will endeavour to document the process over the next three weeks as we ask how to make the rehearsals and production inclusive and accessible, whilst also being innovative in our practice and creating new challenges.

Hong Kong, Singapore, Womenspire 2018!

Mid April already, richard iii redux completed for the time being after a terrific Wales-wide tour – and now far-flung travel beckons. I leave next week for Hong Kong, where I will be leading a six day workshop on inclusivity and forms of storytelling for ADAHK

I was last in Hong Kong in 2016 with my performance text about Frida Kahlo, the 9 fridas, directed by Phillip Zarrilli and produced for the Black Box International Festival at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, in association with Mobius Strip, from Taiwan.  It will be fascinating to spend more time in Hong Kong working with local theatre practitioners, learning about their approaches to inclusive practice. I’m hoping to have an opportunity to see new work as well as explore the art centres and galleries of Kowloon, where I will be based.

From Hong Kong I will fly directly to Singapore, to begin rehearsals on my Unlimited International Commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. We have just released tickets for the World premiere of this dialogue about difference, disability and diversity from opposite sides of the world, premiering on 25 May 2018 at National Museum of Singapore Bit.ly/and suddenlyidisappear

The production will tour to the UK in September, and I will give further details of the venues in England and Wales, plus special guests, closer to the time. My thanks, as ever, goes to our funders and supporters: Unlimited, Arts Council Wales, and the British Council, who alongside Singapore International Foundation and Centre 42 will make this innovative intercultural project possible. Meanwhile, here’s the glorious video featuring Sophie Stone, Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, Peter Sau, Grace Khoo and Lee Lee Lim, made by James Khoo with director Phillip Zarrilli:

.

I was wonderfully surprised earlier this week to get an email from Chwarae Teg, informing me I had been shortlisted for their Womenspire 2018 Awards. Chwarae Teg is a charity working to redress the gender balance in the workplace in Wales, with a vision to create: “A Wales where women achieve and prosper.” I didn’t know I had been nominated for the Culture award, so to discover I’ve made the shortlist of four has been an incredible pleasure and privilege, making this quite a week. I’ll be celebrating the talent, passion, and vivacity of women in Wales at Womenspire 2018 at the Wales Millennium Centre on 5th June.