Category Archives: on performance

From Singapore to Swansea – this writing life

I’m back in the rather wild and windy west of Wales after a stupendously creative six weeks in Singapore, working on a production with Intercultural Theatre Institute, plus a lecture-performance and workshop with Access Path Productions  for Singapore Writers Festival.

I’ve been to the writer’s festival in the past, so it was gratifying to be involved as a writer/performer and moderator this year, with a focus on inclusivity and my work in Disability arts and culture. After spending several decades trying to get past gate-keepers and a crip’ foot in the door, it was a delight to be welcomed and listed as one of the highlights of this international gathering. I gave a few lectures and public talks, reiterating how important disabled-led work is and also reflecting on the power and responsibilities of language. The festival’s theme was ‘A language of our own’ and we discussed how language can heal and hurt – my particular focus was on recent practice amongst politicians and the media in the UK, where language has been used to dehumanise those with difference and normalise disability hate crimes. As I said in my lecture at the festival:

Our voices, our languages, our modes of communication, our perspectives, our experiences – our lives – are important. Being invited to present on prestigious platforms like this is essential and hugely appreciated – in our contemporary situation, in the UK and elsewhere we are witnessing the systematic dehumanisation of disabled people by the government and the state. Brutal benefit cuts under the auspices of austerity were described on 16 November 2017 by the British Medical Journal – not a publication known for its sensationalism – as “economic murder” – with a reported 120,000 deaths caused directly by the current British government’s austerity policies. The removal of services, access and support for the disabled and Deaf communities have been coupled with deeply negative and damaging media narratives which in turn create an atmosphere where abuse, prejudice and violence is further normalised. In the UK, disability hate crime is on the increase – on Weds 9th October 2019 The Independent newspaper reported how violent crime against disabled individuals in England and Wales had increased by 41%, and offences with online element, up by 71%. We need to keep challenging the negative propaganda, the lies, offering diverse perspectives, with alternative expressions of what it is to be human, celebrating all the possibilities of human variety.

I am hugely grateful to the festival’s director Pooja Nansi for her innovative and inclusive programming. Thank you, Pooja, for giving a platform for such important discussions to take place.

Now that I am back in Wales, further conversations about disability and difference will flourish in my collaboration with historian Prof. David Turner as one of the Creativity Fellows at Swansea University, initiated by writer and Professor in Creativity Owen Sheers. We launch this Friday, 15th November:

The Creativity Fellowships are an exciting new initiative that offers two professional artists the chance to engage with and explore cutting-edge academic research at Swansea University.
Owen Sheers said:

‘I’m so pleased to be getting these Fellowships off the ground with two such talented and exciting artists. I hope they and their academic partners will have a fascinating year of collaboration and exploration, which also promises to be a powerful engine for furthering a vibrant conversation between the sciences and the arts at the University and in the wider community.’

Professor David Turner commented:

‘I am thrilled at the prospect of working with Kaite O’Reilly to bring the histories of disabled people to life. Kaite’s commitment to empowering disabled people through the creative arts will provide new and exciting ways of connecting the struggles of disabled people in the past with the experiences of people today.’

The event this Friday is free, tickets available here.

Returning from a long trip always disorientates me – it feels within moments of landing that the previous weeks were a mirage. Certainly adjusting to the temperature change alone is quite challenging – it seems unbelievable as I swaddle myself in thermals that 36 hours ago I was writing at a desk with two fans on high speed directed into my face…

So although the future work beckons – Swansea University, and a ‘Welcoming all Writers’ workshop at Small World Theatre with Chris Kinsey on 23/11/19, details below and tickets here  – it is important to reflect on where we have just been.

Singapore seems very far indeed from Cardigan, or even Rowan Ridge. For the past six weeks I’ve been working with the brilliant Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI), the graduating 2019 cohort and I worked to adapt my reimagining of Schnitzler’s La Ronde for a Singaporean context. Directed by Phillip Zarrilli, designed by Dorothy Png and production managed by Natalie Lim, Lie With Me opened at the impressive Esplanade Theatres on the Bay last week.

Lie With Me featured an international cast of theatre makers and performers who may well be the shaping force of performance in the future, going by ITI’s impressive alumni. A review of the production follows

Lie With Me – a powerful exploration of the longing for intimacy

Lie With Me, ITI

12 Nov 2019
Article by Yaiza Canopoli for Arts Republic Singapore

Written by Kaite O’Reilly and directed by Phillip Zarrilli, the Intercultural Theatre Institute presents the Asian premiere of Lie With Me – a play about human relationships, class struggles, and the quest for intimacy. Led by a cast both Singaporean and international, the play was adapted by producers and actors alike to reflect Singaporean youth, and how we form meaningful relationships with each other. This is achieved by following eight characters, presented in pairs; one character of each pair overlaps and slips into the following couple on stage, threading a cyclical narrative of interconnectedness. The fact that each pair of characters feels lonely and isolated despite the wider connection to the entire cast speaks for itself: the sadness that envelops each character in its own way seeps out from the stage and makes this play relatable and breathtaking.

Lie With Me, ITI. 2019. Ted Nudgent Fernandez Tac-An and Tysha Khan Photos by Bernie Ng

The writing tackles a variety of topics and issues: we encounter poor Singaporeans, immigrants looking for work, sisters battling grief, same-sex couples, women fighting mental health issues, people in toxic relationships, and much more that falls in between these lines. Many of the characters’ struggles begin to blend into each other to spell out a universally human longing for affection and love. As the fights that break out between couples, siblings, and strangers keep us on the edge of our seat, we are left with a deep sense of empathy for people whose actions are morally grey or straight-up terrible. A number of scenes end with characters who have lost their temper asking to be held, to be cared for – love and intimacy attempting to overcome anger and violence.

Lie With Me, ITI 2019. Photo Bernie Ng. Wendy Too and Theresa Wee-Yenko.

The diversity of these relationships is impressive. We even get to witness the delightfully surprising connection that springs up between a self-involved upper-class woman and the prostitute she hires. While the attempt to cover such a wide variety of relationships and issues could have easily diluted the intensity of each story, the genuine nature of the dialogue, the fantastic acting (with wonderfully accurate facial expressions and even walking styles), and the masterful production made for a play that feels real and relevant.

Lie With Me, ITI, Esplanade Theatres in the Bay, Singapore, 2019

Appropriately titled, Lie With Me invites the audience to feel and mourn with the characters as they hold on to the one thing they long for at the end of a terrible day: a moment of tenderness and unconditional human affection.

The cast were: Ted Nudgent Fernandez Tac-An, Tysha Khan, Wendy Toh, Nour El Houda Essafi, Regina Toon, Theresa Wee-Yenko, Jin Chen and Earnest Hope Tinambacan.  For the full review, click here

I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with such extraordinary people, and to collaborate with those from across the world. At the lecture/performance at the Singapore Writer’s Festival, my friend and long-term collaborator Grace Lee Khoo reflected on the difference between inclusive and participatory:

Inclusive means you’re invited to the party. Participatory means you get to dance.

Thank you to everyone these past weeks and looking forward to the future who has welcomed me, engaged with me, and enabled me to dance….

 

 

 

 

On adapting ‘LIE WITH ME’ for Singapore. ITI. Theatres in the Bay, Esplanade 7-9 November 2019

In 2017 I was commissioned to write a play for the graduating acting students of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), working with director Kirstie Davis. It was an intriguing invitation: What kind of performance text could I write which showcased eight young actors, but which avoided the entrenched hierarchies of ‘principal’ and ‘supporting’ actors? What kind of script would enable parity of time on stage for a large cast, while also showcasing individual talent?

The answer came through Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen, more widely known as La Ronde, a controversial play written in 1897 critiquing sexual mores and class ideology through a ‘round dance’ of encounters between eight figures from all sections of society. Banned in its time and not produced until 1920 in Berlin, the play has continued to be a useful vehicle for generations of theatre makers to explore the moralities and sexual/social issues of their age.

My version borrows heavily from the dramaturgy of the original – this ‘daisy chain’ of encounters – but I was interested in more diverse interactions other than the solely sexual exchanges, as in Schnitzler’s work. Although some of the figures’ status at times deliberately echoes those in La Ronde, the content, references, exchanges, settings and outcomes are completely different and original.

This production for Intercultural Theatre Institute is an exploration of the connections and degrees of separation between individuals in post-truth, contemporary urban life. What lies do we tell each other – and ourselves – in order to survive in an increasingly ‘throw-away’ consumerist society? How do we package ourselves to be attractive both to the work market and potential partners? What are the evolving ‘rules’ of sexual encounter in a ‘swipe right’ culture?

We wanted this text to have resonance for the ITI 2019 cohort – it was important they had ownership of the content, the explorations of relationships and dynamics, and that the script reflected a city they recognised. With this in mind, we began a revision of the text weeks before rehearsals began, via skype, setting the actors research tasks which stimulated me while also informing me of the politics, attitudes and practice in Singapore of everything from online ‘influencers’ to funeral rites, migrant workers to gay marriage. When director Phillip Zarrilli and I arrived in Singapore and began our intensive rehearsals, we invited the actors’ involvement in adjusting the language of the text and its specific cultural references, so it would be familiar and recognisable to them as contemporary Singapore.

But this is not meant to be a snapshot of Singapore – what this exercise has revealed, and whatSchnitzler’s original shows, is the ever-changing, multi-layered nature of our cities and the shape-shifting nature of the self. A city is experienced through many lenses, situations, and personal, economic and political perspectives – it is folly to try and encapsulate ‘all’.  But I hope we have caught something of the present, captured a sense of the precarious  times we inhabit, and the challenging future our young people face.

I am indebted to the actors for their knowledge, generosity and enthusiasm during this exhilarating adaptation process, grateful to the excellent company and crew and the always surprising, ever-steady guidance of our director. It is a privilege and delight to work in Singapore, especially with the unique and essential ITI, who I have been fortunate to be associated with as part of their international faculty (intercultural dramaturgy) for many years. Long may you continue! Good luck to the graduating cohort as they take on the world!

Lie With Me

Presented by Intercultural Theatre Institute
In Collaboration with Esplanade — Theatres on the Bay

Written by Kaite O’Reilly
Directed by Phillip Zarrilli
​Performed by ITI’s 2019 graduating cohort

What are the evolving ‘rules’ of sexual encounters in a ‘swipe right’ culture?
What lies do we tell each other and ourselves in order to survive in an increasingly ‘throw-away’ consumerist society?
How do we form genuine relationships in this post-truth unstable world?

ITI presents the Asian premiere of Lie With Me, led by the award-winning team of playwright Kaite O’Reilly (“a writer to cherish” – The Guardian; “thought-provoking and entertaining” – The Stage) and director Phillip Zarrilli (“masterful artistry” – Disability Arts Online; “intellectual audacity coupled with sophisticated storytelling” – Wales Arts Review).

Performed by the international cast of ITI’s graduating cohort, Lie With Me takes a clear-eyed look at contemporary urban life in Singapore, through glimpses into the lives of eight young people trying to find their way in the world.

Performances will be live-captioned.

Tickets: https://liewithme.peatix.com/?lang=en-sg

Singapore

I’m in Singapore, returning to work with old collaborators Access Path Productions and Intercultural Theatre Institute  (ITI) and new partners Singapore Writers Festival. After the sudden snap of cold weather and signs of morning frost when I left the UK, Singapore is like swimming in a hot broth. The air at times feels liquid and languorous, but it is the beauty of the place and extraordinary mingling of cultures, cuisines, languages and belief systems that has me suddenly staring, standing stock-still in the street, entranced.

I’m teaching some seminars in Intercultural Dramaturgy at ITI, while the graduating cohort are in rehearsals with Phillip Zarrilli, preparing for the Singapore premiere of LIE WITH ME, my reworking of Schnitzler’s La Ronde.

Intercultural Theatre Institute: outside the rehearsal room

It is rare for a writer to have a second chance with a published or produced piece of work and I feel immensely fortunate to have the opportunity to rework LIE WITH ME  for a Singapore context. The student actors have all been assisting in this revision, researching specific topics such as funeral practices, the law and attitude regarding homosexuality, online ‘influencers’ and employment law, amongst other apparently obscure subjects. I originally wrote the play for a London-context, reflecting the experience of urban life for young people in a metropolis. Shifting the context to Singapore has been fascinating. As a playwright I’ve been surprised and excited by the amount of editing and re-writing I’ve had to do, to make the context credible for Singapore. I’ve had to reinvent some of the figures, such as a refugee – very common and current in an European context, but not here. It’s been intriguing exploring alternative characters and dynamics and I’m immensely grateful for the research and suggestions the actors have given me.

Phillip Zarrilli leading his psychophysical approach to actor-training

Prior to the daily rehearsals, Phillip Zarrilli leads the students in his psychophysical approach to actor-training, using kalarippayattu, yoga, and tai chi. One of the focuses is ‘atunement’ to the space and each other on stage.

The elephant pose. Kalarippayattu. Phillip Zarrilli with 2019 ITI cohort

LIE WITH ME differs from the original (first produced in 1897) in that it focuses on encounters and interactions of all kinds, not just sexual. It raises various questions, such as how do we form genuine relationships in an unstable, post-truth world? What are the ‘rules’ of sexual engagement in a ‘swipe-right’ culture? What lies do we tell ourselves and each other in a throw-away consumerist world filled with ‘alternative facts’?

The production opens at the Esplanade Theatre Studio on 7th November and runs until 9th November. Tickets and information are available here.

Other activities while I am here in Singapore include a lecture-performance at Singapore Writers Festival on 2nd November, and a workshop on 3rd November, challenging ableist language and the representation of difference in fiction, poetry and plays.

I’m delighted to be reunited with some of my collaborators from And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues for a lecture-performance, followed by the Asian launch of The ‘d’ Monologues (published by Oberon). It was fantastic to pick up the scripts again with Wheelsmith Danial Bawtham and Grace Lee-Khoo. I’m looking forward hugely to the event and it will be a privilege to share this with some of the brilliant Deaf and disabled Singaporean individuals who supported, engaged with and inspired the fictional monologues.

 

A Language of Our Own: Singapore Writer’s Festival 2019

For many years when teaching Intercultural Dramaturgy in Singapore at ITI (Intercultural Theatre Institute), I’ve been delighted to coincide with the November Singapore Writers’ Festival. Over several festivals, I’ve participated in workshops by luminaries such as Paul Muldoon and Karen Joy Fowler and attended book launches and readings by some of the leading lights in Singapore literature, and beyond. I’ve always hugely enjoyed the festival for its mix of ‘local’ and international writers and this year I feel privileged to be amongst those presenting, as well as attending as an audience member.

The festival’s theme this year is ‘A Language Of Our Own:’

This year we invite you to join us in considering all the ways in which the verbal, physical and visual languages we use every day affect how we see the world. Language heals and language hurts. Language can tie down and language can transform. In a world that is so simultaneously connected and fractured, who has language left behind? What has language taught us about the past and how must language evolve to accommodate a changing humanity

This seemed an ideal context for the Asian launch of The ‘d’ Monologues – my collection of solos written for Deaf and disabled performers, informed by interviews and conversations with people about the lived experience of disability. It comes a year after the production of ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues with Access Path Productions at Gallery Theatre, National Museums Singapore, last May (previous blog posts about this International Unlimited Commission are available here and here). I’m thrilled to have the opportunity of sharing some fictional monologues inspired by an in-depth research project led by Peter Sau with Lee Lee Lim, and colleagues with and about disabled and Deaf people in Singapore. I’m also leading a workshop reconsidering ableist language and challenging the stereotypical ways difference has been presented in our media and literature for generations.
Details of both events are below.

You Say ‘Inclusive’, I Say ‘Subversive’

3 Nov, Sun 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM

National Gallery Singapore, Rooftop Studio 3
View on map

Join a practical writing workshop led by award winning writer and disability activist Kaite O’Reilly. Participants will be invited to consider how to be more inclusive and representative in the creation of characters, perspectives, narratives, and fictional worlds. The workshop will include examples of poetry, fiction, and plays written by disabled and D/deaf writers working from a politicised and cultural perspective, who have created a language of their own, refuting mainstream ableism and reclaiming previously negative words and terminology. Participants will be encouraged to consider new narratives, with new protagonists, new endings, and a refreshed language.

FEATURING

Kaite O’Reilly

UK

Playwright and poet Kaite O’Reilly has won many awards, including the Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for Persians. Widely published and produced, she works internationally. A veteran of the UK’s Disabled People’s Movement, her 2018 International Unlimited Commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues was a dialogue about difference and diversity, premiering in Singapore and transferring to London’s Southbank. It is published by Oberon. http://www.kaiteoreilly.com

The ‘d’ Monologues: A Lecture-Performance by Kaite O’Reilly

2 Nov, Sat 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM

The Arts House, Play Den
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DESCRIPTION

This lecture-performance scripted by award-winning writer and disability activist Kaite O’ Reilly celebrates difference and challenges preconceptions of disability. 15 years in the making and inspired by interviews with disabled people across the world, ‘d’ Monologues’ launch at the Festival puts an emphasis on the lived experience of disability in Singapore. Come experience performers subverting the language of ableism and celebrate all the possibilities of human variety.

Produced by Access Path Productions

Access Path Productions, the creative education wing of EnCre8, believes the public should have access to a quality cultural life and artistic community. We ethically and respectively present theatrical projects and human experiences centered on the narratives and talents of the marginalized and invisible.

Our coordination and facilitation of community- based care and support via the arts strives to break down social barriers, challenge processes of art making for and with local audiences.

www.accesspathproductions.com

FEATURING

Danial Bawthan (Wheelsmith)

Danial Bawthan, or Wheelsmith, is an award-winning music producer, rapper, and wheelchair rugby player for Team Singapore. He performed with Singaporean celebrities for the President’s Star Charity 2016 and made his debut as a sound engineer, composing soundscapes for the theatre production And Suddenly I Disappear, the Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues. He also performed at the National Day Parade 2019.

Grace Lee-Khoo

Grace Lee Khoo is the Founder and Creative Development Director of Access Path Productions. A director, performer, educator, producer, and researcher who works internationally, she completed her MA in applied theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (2016), her BA from the National University of Singapore’s Theatre Studies Program (2009), and PGDE from the National Institute of Education (2010). In 2017, Grace was an international artist-in-residence at Graeae Theatre Company (London).

 

 

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.