Category Archives: on process

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. 

 

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.

 

Cosy – dialects and tempo-rhythm

And so the posters and flyers arrive… so this really is happening, then!

It’s the start of the final week of rehearsals and Gaitkrash’s production of ‘Cosy’ for The Cork Midsummer Festival 2019 is shaping up…

We’ve been finalising the script, making sure that the vocabulary, references and syntax are Cork-specific and sit comfortably in the actors’ mouths. I might be unusual in this respect, but as the playwright working on a new production, I’m happy to change dialogue that trips the actor or goes against the dialect. I remember from years ago when I was still performing, I could get a mental ‘block’ about a certain word or particular phrase in a speech. I would become self-conscious, knowing that word was coming up and with the loss of focus would invariably come a ‘trip’ of the tongue. One of the pleasures of being the writer in rehearsals is problem-solving, and having the power to amend text, if appropriate. By this I don’t mean changing the actual content, meaning or politics of a line – it’s the actors’ job to ‘get’ that, however difficult to grasp – I mean the ‘musicality’ of the text, the tempo-rhythm and construction of a line.

Quite a few times this just involves moving a word around in a sentence – where ‘well’, or ‘just’ appears. It might be changing ‘Mam’ with ‘Mum’, or vice versa. ‘It’s more ‘Cork’ to change the order of this sentence around,’ I’ve been told several times today, and this is a detail I embrace. It’s essential. We want the drama to revolve around three generations of women in a Cork family (plus a strange ‘sidekick’ from West Wales – Sara Beer – bringing her own vocal musicality), so as my mother used to say ‘God – and the devil – is in the detail’. I’m enjoying this lesson in dialect.

As a playwright, the sound and rhythms of each beat within a scene is important. I’ve often described my way of working as ‘composing’ rather than writing, as so much depends on the sound and flow of the words and the dynamic. I will read aloud a sentence or exchange between characters several times, ensuring it has the pace and movement I want. With that tempo-rhythm comes the tension or ‘atmosphere’ in the moment.

I want the words to dance off the actor’s tongue – and there is always more than one ‘dance’ going on – I want variety in pace and tone and musicality. Thankfully, when working with such a talented cast, there is skill and variety a-plenty.

A playwright’s work: Meaty parts for female actors of all ages. In rehearsals for “cosy’

Mairin Prendergast and Pauline O’Driscoll playing Mother and daughter in Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘Cosy’ rehearsals. Gaitkrash for Cork Midsummer Festival. Firkin Crane 18-22. June 2019. Photo: Sara Beer

I describe my work as a playwright as creating dynamic. I’m fascinated with complex relationships, flawed but engaging characters representing different perspectives.  Writing ‘Cosy’, a play with three generations of women in one family, was an immense pleasure, although, like any writing, it had its challenges… However, one aspect that was not difficult was writing meaty parts for female performers of all ages. 

‘Cosy’ has a cast of six, with playing ages from 16 to 76 years. I think this is essential – and, at risk of sounding a little worthy, part of my duty as a dramatist – to represent women of all ages.

There was a time when female characters became somewhat invisible at a certain age… A well known Classical actress once mapped out the trajectory of a woman’s acting career to me: You start as the ingenue, then get stuck as a housewife/mother cooking in the background, and if you’re very lucky you get to be Lady M in the Scottish play. Then you hang around being the wallpaper while the male actors have all the action and lines until you’re old enough to play Lady Bracknell…and….well….that’s it…

But happily no longer. Those days are increasingly in the past, and I’m delighted to be part of the new wave creating roles across the range of ages for the massive amount of female talent out there.

One of my joys as a writer when working on a first draft is setting off intelligent, gobby, fascinating and diverse female characters in dialogue with one another, cutting them loose in my imagination and just following their impulses, often not knowing where we might end up. The skill when revising the script is keeping all the plates spinning, the voices separate and distinct, the individual perspectives clear and not blurring into one another. When I teach writing for performance, I always remind writers to be aware of each characters’ world view; it’s very easy when juggling multiple characters for their vocabulary, speech pattern and syntax to bleed into one another, so they all end up sounding the same. Ensuring  each character’s point of view  keeps the dialogue distinct and the dynamic thrumming, whether through harmony or counter-point.

Theatre enables us to explore issues from every conceivable angle. I don’t want the characters I write to just echo my perspective – I relish exploring different points of view, even politics or beliefs distant from my own. ‘Cosy’ tackles some of the last great taboos – ageing, illness and end of life scenarios. The experiences and perspectives of my six female characters, ranging in age across five decades, provides immensely rich and diverse material.

8.00pm

Firkin Crane, Cork

Book here

Supported by an Arts Council Project Award., CIT Arts Office, UCC Department of Theatre, CIT Cork School of Music, Civic Trust House, Suisha Inclusive Arts, and The Guesthouse. 

 

 

 

Getting Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival 2019

“It’s like I’ve disappeared. I walk down the road and throw no shadow.”

“That’s what getting older does for you.”

Ageing is a lesson in humility – a time of reckoning. Rose wants an exit plan that is bold and invigorating, but her three warring daughters have other ideas. We all have to die, but what makes a good death? Everyone seems to have an opinion, even Rose’s precocious granddaughter and the strange Welsh woman taking refuge in the garden.

Cosy is a darkly comedic look at the joys and humiliations of getting older and how we shuffle off this mortal coil. It tackles head-on our obsession with eternal youth, and asks whose life (or death) is it, anyway?

Humour is a great panacea, allowing us to consider serious subjects with resonance for our times. I believe it is laughter which allows us to dare and shine a light into those darker corners of human existence which we might otherwise wish to avoid…

Ageing, mortality, and its impact on that original cast – the family – has long been of fascination to me. We all become children when we go home. When a family gathers across generations, siblings degenerate into nursery rivalries, retaining all the same childhood hierarchies, antipathies and alliances of the past. When this coincides with the serious issue of the fragility and uncertainties of ageing, and an apparent lack of agency and control about the future, what happens? Do those fragile fissures crack?

With a population top heavy with baby boomers, the next generation hungry for their inheritance, a care crisis and recent parliamentary debates around the ‘right to die’, Cosy is a play with immediate relevance today.

I’m immensely excited to be writing this first blog post about the forthcoming Irish premiere of the play, produced by Cork-based long term collaborators Gaitkrash. We co-created playing The Maids, previewing as work in progress in the 2014 Cork Midsummer Festival, so it is with a certain relish director Phillip Zarrilli and I return to the city and this lovely festival.

We started rehearsals this week, and I’ll be documenting that creative process in future blogs, reflecting on the challenges and changes of second productions, the impact of changing country and nationality, what is discovered and made new – and other topics as they arise. Meanwhile, here’s a little information about this specific production:

Cosy is an inclusive production for a mainstream audience, exploring universal ethical issues of life, death, and our relationship to the medical profession, powered by a disability perspective.

8.00pm

Firkin Crane, Cork

Book here

Supported by an Arts Council Project Award., CIT Arts Office, UCC Department of Theatre, CIT Cork School of Music, Civic Trust House, Suisha Inclusive Arts, and The Guesthouse. 

 

KAITE O’REILLY AND PHILLIP ZARRILLI, IN CONVERSATION WITH SEAMUS O’MAHONY
Crawford Art Gallery (lecture theatre)
20 June | 5.30pm
Join playwright Kaite O’Reilly and director Phillip Zarrilli of Gaitkrash Theatre’s Cosy, receiving its Irish premiere as part of Cork Midsummer Festival 2019, as they discuss our attitudes to end-of-life scenarios with Seamus O’Mahony, writer of the award-winning book The Way We Die Now. Has our society lost the ability to deal with death? Join the conversation as the three guests reflect on their work and the last great taboo: dying.
Tickets and how to book on the festival website.

Some thoughts on the short story…..

I have an addiction which I have already owned up to in public: I’m addicted to quotations, to the bon mot. I love reading what others have written/said about form, style, narrative, content… I collect ‘sayings’, advice to writers, and reflections on a form. Although I’m primarily a playwright, I also write in different forms and for different media (radio drama, film) and when working in a particular genre, I avoid reading for pleasure in that style. There’s always a fear that unconsciously I’ll absorb or be influenced by what I’m reading, so I mix it up – read creative non-fiction when writing plays, short stories when screenwriting, poetry when digging deep into prose. Influence and inspiration may of course follow, but at least if I’m trying to write short stories, I’m not going to come out sounding like Raymond Carver.

When I’m really flat-out and focused on completing a project, I by-pass it all and read about reading and writing. So in celebration of this literary nerdiness, here are some quotations from Lorrie Moore to William Faulkner about that robust but most delicate of form, the short story:

“Find the key emotion; this may be all you need know to find your short story.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

“One has to imagine, one has to create (exaggerate, lie, fabricate from whole cloth and patch together from remnants), or the thing will not come alive as art… A story is a kind of biopsy of human life. A story is both local, specific, small, and deep, in a kind of penetrating, layered, and revealing way.” Lorrie Moore

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” Edgar Allan Poe.

“The novel…creates a bemusing effect. The short story, on the other hand wakes the reader up. Not only that, it answers the primitive craving for art, the wit, paradox and beauty of shape, the longing to see a dramatic pattern and significance in our experience.”  V.S.Pritchett

“A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.” David Sedaris

“Short stories do not say this happened and this happened and this happened. They are a microcosm and a magnification rather than a linear progression.” Isobelle Carmody

“A short story is the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry… A novel actually requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has.”
William Faulkner

“A short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.” Lorrie Moore

 

Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival June 2019

Finally delighted to reveal…..

‘Cosy’ at Cork Midsummer Festival 2019.

The cast of ‘Cosy’. Cork Midsummer Festival 2019

Kaite O’Reilly’s darkly comic play combines an unflinching examination of our attitudes to youth, ageing, and death in an often hilarious and moving encounter between three generations of women.

“It’s like I’ve disappeared. I walk down the road and throw no shadow.”

“That’s what getting older does for you.”

Rose wants an exit plan that is bold and invigorating, but her three warring daughters have other ideas. We all have to die, but what makes a good death? Everyone seems to have an opinion: Rose’s daughters, her precocious granddaughter and even the strange Welsh woman taking refuge in the garden.

8.00pm

Firkin Crane, Cork

Book here

Supported by an Arts Council Project Award., CIT Arts Office, UCC Department of Theatre, CIT Cork School of Music, Civic Trust House, Suisha Inclusive Arts, and The Guesthouse. 

KAITE O’REILLY AND PHILLIP ZARRILLI, IN CONVERSATION WITH SEAMUS O’MAHONY
Crawford Art Gallery (lecture theatre)
21 June | 5.30pm

Join playwright Kaite O’Reilly and director Phillip Zarrilli of Gaitkrash Theatre’s Cosy, receiving its Irish premiere as
part of Cork Midsummer Festival 2019, as they discuss our attitudes to end-of-life scenarios with Seamus O’Mahony,
writer of the award-winning book The Way We Die Now. Has our society lost the ability to deal with death? Join the
conversation as the three guests reflect on their work and the last great taboo: dying.

Book here