Category Archives: on process

Talking with poets

Penglais woods, above Aberystwyth. Walking the bluebell trail with Chris Kinsey, April 2017. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

For the past few years I have been undergoing a slow transformation, partly documented in this blog. It has been sedate but determined, rather like the growth of lichen on a tree,  so perhaps a better term might be evolution…

For years my performance texts and plays have been described by reviewers as ‘poetic’ and my writing as having a ‘lyrical’ quality. When I won the Ted Hughes Award for my version of Aeschylus’s Persians in 2011 I almost argued with the judges, asking how could I win such a prestigious award when I was a dramatist, not a poet? (Thankfully the judges were sage enough to ignore my protestations, insisting in their wisdom I was indeed a dramatist and a poet, despite my cries ‘But I don’t write poetry!’)

Many conversations on this subject have followed over the years, some referenced in this blog. I often wondered if my resistance was not towards poetry  per se – I have too many learnt by heart to be considered a poetry denier – but to the idea of me trying to write it. I also suffered from a rather limited definition of what poetry might be.

As my resistance (fear, perhaps?) weathered away, I became aware of how many of my new but close friends were practising poets. When I became seriously ill in 2015, I found what I wanted to read was, of course, poetry, perhaps because, as Robert Frost put it: ‘Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

My friend and poetry-whisperer Chris Kinsey has accompanied me along this journey, generously sharing reading platforms (at Oriel Davies where she was poet in residence) as well as work in progress. Interesting articles on form are sent my way, along with illuminating quotations on writing alongside her extraordinary engagement with the natural world in language. It was a masterclass in itself and a great privilege to witness the creation of her latest pamphlet, Muddy Foxpublished by Rack Press. We ruminate on process, often – to my huge pleasure – when walking along hidden tracks in different parts of Wales. As a former winner of the BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year, she is  attuned both to the natural world and ways to express it. We exchange work and encourage each other in our writing, but never once has she suggested I try writing poetry, not even covertly… (I am confident in asserting this, for as a playwright, I am skilled in detecting subtext and ‘what lies beneath’).

Aberystwyth from above the town. Walking the gorse trail with Chris Kinsey April 2017.

So it is she, alongside Samantha Wynne Rhydderch and Gillian Clarke who have and continue to patiently incubate my on-going evolution as someone who now experiments with poetic form. I have wonderfully stimulating lunches with Sam overlooking Cardigan Bay in a cafe which was previously the post office where Dylan Thomas sent his manuscripts to London – a detail we both find entertaining. The hours disappear in our varied and diverse conversations on live performance, poetry, writing, the voice. Gillian has recently become a more formal encourager, meeting me for ‘masterclass encounters’ as we coin them, part of my Creative Wales Award, granted by the far-sighted Arts Council of Wales (read about this incredible initiative here).

It is only now I am beginning to fully understand the power and influence of talking with poets. These conversations guide, stimulate, provoke, engage, and encourage growth and change. Talking to poets (particularly along the by-ways of our beautiful Ceredigion) should be available on the NHS.

 

The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

 

Ramesh Meyyappan from his website http://www.rameshmeyyappan.com

As announced at the No Boundaries Conference yesterday by Jo Verrent and Tony Heaton, I have been fortunate to be selected as one of the artists for the Unlimited International Commissions for 2017/18. Full details of all of the commissions can be read here.

It feels even more of a privilege than usual to be supported by funders – and not only that, but to make an international collaboration. The award of this commission is bitter-sweet, especially on this day, Wednesday 29th March 2017, when Teresa May triggers Article 50 and turns her back on European unity. If ever there was a time for coming together and connecting across distance and perceived difference, it is now – and I am grateful to Unlimited and all the funders, allies, and supporters for recognising the value of collaboration and international dialogue, and enabling such things to happen.

The blurb:

KAITE O’REILLY – THE SINGAPORE ‘D’ MONOLOGUES

Lead artist / Playwright: Kaite O’Reilly

Director: Phillip Zarrilli

Associate Director, Researcher and Performer: Peter Sau

Producer and Researcher: Grace Khoo

Visual Director and Performer: Ramesh Meyyappan

Disability Advisor and Performer: Sarah Beer

Researcher and Performer: Lim Lee Lee

The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues 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 disabled experience, fictionalised monologues will be precedented across multiple languages (spoken/projected/visual), incorporating aesthetics of access. This performance will set an important precedent: the first multilingual, intercultural, disability-led theatre project created between the UK and Singapore.

Award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly, and internationally respected director/actor-trainer Phillip Zarrilli will lead the team, joined by veteran disability arts practitioner Sara Beer and Deaf UK-based Singapore-born Ramesh Meyyappan with his innovative visual performance skills. Together with Singaporeans Lee-Lee Lim, Grace Khoo and principle collaborator, Peter Sau, the performance will open up a much-needed discourse of disability in quality, accessible disability-led work, never experienced before in a home-grown Singaporean project.
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The background:
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I first met Ramesh Meyyappan and Peter Sau in Singapore in the same year, 2004, but in different productions. Peter was performing in a production directed by Phillip Zarrilli at The Esplanade, the graduating production for ITI (Intercultural Theatre Institute, formerly TTRP). There, Peter had the extraordinary privilege to be tutored by T. Sasitharan and the father of Singapore theatre, the visionary Kuo Pao Kun.
Ramesh was presenting his visual theatre adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Tell Tale Heart.’  Contact was firmly established with both independent artists, based on my conviction I would collaborate with them at some time in the future.
Following Ramesh’s work and occasionally participating in his workshops became easy when he relocated to Scotland, where he has been a leading light in physical/visual theatre.  Teaching Dramaturgy at the Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore has enabled me to keep in touch with Peter over the years, and he came to train with Phillip Zarrilli and I at the 2015 Summer Intensive in Wales, where the seed which became The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues was planted.
Peter is passionate about ‘theatre with a conscience’ and with his collaborators producer Grace Khoo, and mentee/performer Lee Lee Lim, they are determined to professionalise disability arts in Singapore and open up a much-needed discourse on diversity, disability and difference.
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The ‘d’ monologues:

My notion of a portable, flexible, diverse body of work informed by a Deaf and disability perspective and the Social model was initiated in 2008, when Arts Council Wales granted me a Creative Wales to explore the form of the monologue. I am not a fan of verbatim, so had many conversations with disabled and Deaf individuals all over the UK to try and get a sense of lived experience in a disabling world, the political and the personal, spiced by what I call crip’ humour. These encounters inspired a series of monologues I wrote in a variety of styles. These solo texts became the basis of an Unlimited commission, culminating in the 2012 Cultural Olympiad ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ with National Theatre Wales, Wales Millennium Centre and the Southbank Centre.

Cast of ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ by O’Reilly, National Theatre Wales/Southbank Centre 2012, part of the Cultural Olympiad. Cover image of ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. Photo: Farrows/Creative

The creative process, directed by John E McGrath with assistant director Sara Beer, choreographed by the late great Nigel Charnock, designed by Paul Clay and featuring six of the leading Deaf and disabled performers in the UK, is fully documented elsewhere on this blog (search In Water I’m Weightless, 2012). The montaged texts from this collaboration are published in my collected ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’, published by Oberon last year.

This model seemed perfect for a collaboration with Peter and colleagues in Singapore. He, Grace, and Lee Lee would initiate a series of interviews with disabled Singaporeans – lived experience never before documented or shared – and these would create the inspiration for fictional monologues I would write, and the basis of an oral archive. Peter would begin a series of skills-based workshops in Singapore with emerging Deaf and disabled performers, and Ramesh would develop visual theatre sequences.  Phillip Zarrilli would direct emerging work, joined by performer Sara Beer from the UK, with Lee Lee, Peter and Ramesh also performing. It is this r&d stage Unlimited have funded, with the ambition of a full production in Singapore and the UK in 2018.

Style and content of the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues:

We don’t yet know what form and shape this project will take – what tone, what content, what aesthetic – this will all be determined by the next six months and our collaborators. What we do know is the aesthetics of access will be a consideration throughout – and we will have a challenge with translation and captioning in quad-lingual Singapore. We hope our interviewees will have a sense of ownership, and the work will inspire and confound expectation, and the process will be one of symbiosis. I know there will be so much to learn from our Singapore collaborators, and a wealth of riches to be celebrated in this multicultural, intercultural theatre project of communication and dialogue.

UK Collaborators:

Director Phillip Zarrilli and performer Sara Beer are both long-term collaborators. I first worked with Sara with Graeae Theatre in 1987, when, as graduates, we both got our first jobs with this inspiring company. We have worked together consistently ever since, often with Disability Arts Cymru, a great organisation I am proud to be patron of.

Phillip and I have worked internationally as co-creators and collaborators for fifteen years, and has directed many of my plays, recently another Unlimited Commission, ‘Cosy’, which opened at Wales Millennium Centre in March 2016, and featured Sara as the enigmatic Maureen.

Sara Beer as Maureen in ‘Cosy’. Photo: Farrows Creative

What has come clear to me in the writing of this extended blog is the importance of Unlimited in supporting, nurturing and promoting work – in enabling creativity to flourish and artistic careers to thrive. It is such a remarkable hydra organisation with many heads and needs to be congratulated, I feel, for its ground-breaking work and determination to bring about change, its considered efforts for a more equal, and culturally diverse society.

Unlimited is an arts commissioning programme that aims to embed work by disabled artists within the UK and international cultural sectors, reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people. Unlimited has been delivered by the disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts and arts-producing organisation Artsadmin since 2013, and is funded from 2016-20 by Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, British Council and Spirit of 2012.

Unlimited and all the funders: thank you.

#UnlimitedCommissions

http://petersau.com

http://www.rameshmeyyappan.com

http://weareunlimited.org.uk/about-unlimited/

The Year of Writing Peripatetically… Does place impact on writing?

Does where we write colour what we write? Do our surroundings impact on our work without us truly realising? And how about the weather – or the quality and intensity of sunlight? These are the questions I was asking myself on my morning walk today, beside the River Glomma, in Norway. One month ago I was working in Costa Rica, basking in tropical temperatures and extraordinary dramatic sunsets.

Costa Rican sunset January 2017. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

In San Jose I started a project exploring poetry and found a vibrancy and detail in my writing which was unusual – I’m primarily a dramatist with a focus on the human… When writing for theatre, I’m not interested in descriptions, but relationships, atmosphere, pace and dynamic. It may be of course this new aspect has arrived because I am exploring new form, new process and with different stimuli… But the writing I have been making this past week in Norway has been somewhat stark compared to the rough notes I made on the Pacific coast.

The view from my Norwegian window. March 2017.

When I arrived in Norway it was snowing, and everything was in monochrome (interestingly, when initially writing this sentence, I made a typo and wrote everything was in monotone. I’m a playwright, it’s about tone and pitch and rhythm – so this error, I think, was revealing….)

This morning the sun came out in a gloriously blue sky, the snow has largely melted and I became aware again of a shift in my brain and wonder if this will manifest as a change in the texture and quality of my writing…

River Glomma March 10 2017

Does sunlight and environment effect mood, observation and state of mind? I’m used to writing on the hoof, not requiring one place to settle in in order to meet my deadlines – but I also know this is a skill it has taken many years to master, learnt the hard way, on the road.

2017 will be another year of writing peripatetically, and I’m going to be interested in what emerges both in my writing for performance and the experimentation I’m currently engaged with. I’m going to try and reflect on process, location, and outcome, and see how much my writing changes depending on place or medium.

Does where you write effect your work?

#yearofwritingperipatetically

Creative Wales Awards 2017

I’m delighted to announce I am one of the artists from Wales fortunate to be granted a Creative Wales Award.

The awards, presented at an event held at Cardiff’s contemporary art gallery G39 on Thursday 12 January, “recognise the very best talent and potential of individual Welsh artists applying for this development opportunity.

The annual Creative Wales Awards offer up to £25,000 to enable artists to take time to experiment, innovate, and take forward their work. The aim is to develop excellence by offering a period of research and development to some of Wales’s most interesting artists.”
Phil George, Chair of the Arts Council of Wales said:

“The Creative Wales Awards is the Arts Council of Wales’s opportunity to recognise some our country’s remarkable talents. They are awarded to the artists at significant stages in their careers and as they take the brave decision to explore new ways of developing and making their art. We look forward to seeing how these awards will impact on their work and to how their creativity flourishes in the future.”

I am immensely excited about this award, but also phenomenally grateful to be living in a country which recognises life-long learning and development in an artist. For me, just writing the application for the award was stimulating and useful – it encouraged me to perceive where I ‘am’ in my career, and possible new ways forward.

My Creative Wales is based on my love of words and the incredible joy I experienced when writing my new version of Aeschylus’s ‘Persians’, directed by Mike Pearson site-specifically on MOD land for National Theatre Wales in 2010. You can see a promotional video of the project here.

Apart from starting a love affair with the remarkable poet-playwright-soldier Aeschylus, it introduced me to composer John Hardy, long-term collaborator of Pearson and the brilliant Brith Gof. I knew John’s work intimately, but hadn’t had the opportunity to work with him, before. At the read-through of the first draft, he said to me: “Do you write for opera?” and I answered in the negative. “Well, perhaps you should think about doing so,” he replied – words that remained scorched into my mind for six years – until I started thinking about a Creative Wales Award. I am happy to say John Hardy was immensely generous in our conversations about form and process, dialogue which helped me shape a programme of learning when drafting my application. He, alongside David Pountney of Welsh National Opera, and Michael McCarthy of Music Theatre Wales, were incredibly encouraging as I stumbled in my ignorance through possible approaches. I hope dearly to have the opportunity of observing process with WNO and MTW, and developing material alongside John Hardy during my experimentation.

But my award is not solely about writing libretti. It is about exploring the performative power of language with music. The gift of a Creative Wales Award is remarkable – it is not product-based, but about process, learning, experimentation, creative exploration. I will spend months exploring different form and approaches – from underscored performance poetry and verse drama through to exploring contemporary libretti.

Perhaps this exploration was inevitable. I won the Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for the text of ‘Persians’. This extraordinary honour both humbled and bewildered me (“but I’m a playwright, not a poet!!”) and started me off questioning what the relationship might be between the poetic and the dramatic. It is perhaps no accident that new friends and collaborators are themselves accomplished poets – Samantha Wynne Rhydderch, Gillian Clarke, Sophie McKeand and especially Chris Kinsey, who has consistently nurtured my interest in poetry, and encouraged my own practice through inviting me to read alongside her at public performances. I’m excited about where my journeying into the poetic may take me, and I’m thrilled that Owen Sheers and Gillian Clarke will give me some masterclasses in poetry and verse drama in the first stage of my Creative Wales.

All I need now is to get through the next four months before my exploration commences. I’m trying to curate an experience which will stretch and challenge me, forcing me to grow as an artist perhaps into unexpected places. I am so grateful to all who assisted me in the application, and those who wrote supportive letters. My greatest thanks, of course, goes to the officers of the Arts Council of Wales and that sterling institution which has such vision and understanding about how to grow mature artists within Wales. I know my colleagues outside Wales are envious we have such opportunity – and it is one we must cherish and jealously protect in uncertain times in the future.

 

 

2017 residential masterclass with Kaite O’Reilly 19-23 June 2017

Ty Newydd

Ty Newydd

I know I’m biased, but nothing beats the wild Welsh landscape on a mellow Summer’s day…. The view from the library at Ty Newydd is spectacular – over the fields and down to the coast: a view always tempered for me by the knowledge this was once Lloyd George’s bedroom and this was the view he looked at during his last days…

It’s been my great pleasure and privilege to lead an annual residential course at Ty Newydd for more years than I care to admit to. Each year I create new content and writing exercises, as I find the process symbiotic. I relish trying out new approaches and stimuli as I engage with the participants in particularly beautiful surroundings…… not that participants get to see much of them, as I’m notorious for working everyone very hard (but we have also been known to dance on the lawn under the full moon after midnight – but I’m telling tales, now….).

tynewydd_back

So it is with the greatest of pleasure I announce the course for next year… I’ve been fortunate in being able to negotiate what I feel are the ideal conditions for an intensive retreat – a hand-picked group of only eight writers will join me for five days in June. Please read below for details, or check here and contact Ty Newydd to reserve a place.

What follows is from the Ty Newydd website:

PLAYWRITING AND PERFORMANCE MAKING

Mon 19 Jun – Fri 23 Jun 2017
Tutor / Kaite O’Reilly
Course Fee / From £395 – £495 per person
Genres / Drama Performance Scripting
Language / English
This course is a creative exploration of the mechanics of writing for performance. This enjoyable, packed week will challenge and stretch your creative muscles with specially formulated exercises to work both your imagination and understanding of craft. Expect workshops on dramatic structure, effective dialogue, character, and creating the world of the play or text. One-to-one tutorials will give you the opportunity to address your concerns or further develop your work in progress. This course’s group size will be smaller than usual to create an intimate, supportive community of playwrights, poets, and performance-writers working intensely but effectively to bring participants to the next level.

Tutor

Kaite O’Reilly

Kaite O’Reilly works internationally as a playwright, dramaturg and tutor. She won The Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for her dramatic retelling of ‘Persians’, produced by National Theatre Wales in their inaugural year. Other prizes include The Peggy Ramsay Award, M.E.N. best play and she was a finalist in the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for women playwrights and James Tait Black Award for Drama. Her work has been produced in eleven countries worldwide, most recently her play The 9 Fridas was performed in Taipei and Hong Kong. Her work is published by Faber, and her critically acclaimed selected plays, Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, was published by Oberon in 2016.

http://www.kaiteoreilly.com

The Verb: Friday 25th November 2016, 10pm, BBC Radio 3

bbc_radio_three

Ever aware of my backlog of blogs – the tour to Taipei and Hong Kong in particular – I ask forgiveness and avert your attention instead to an event I’m immensely excited about, next week:

I’m delighted I will be appearing on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb on Friday 25th November with C Duncan and Caoillin Hughes, aided and abetted by the wordsmith Ian McMillan. I’ll be speaking about my selected plays, Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, with the sublime Celyn Jones, a long-term collaborator, reading extracts from plays. Celyn and I last collaborated on the critically acclaimed The Almond and the Seahorse at Sherman Cymru in 2008, directed by Phillip Zarrilli. Celyn has since been remarkably busy and successful on the large screen (just a taster with Set Fire to the Stars), so it’s a great pleasure and a bit of a scoop to have him back performing live.

Further details of the programme follow – as will the blogs once I finally get home after so many weeks on the road.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0833yq1

Staging Mortality: Kaite O’Reilly and Adrian Curtin in Conversation November 18 2016

university-of-exeter-staging-mortality-provocation-conversation1.jpg

university-of-exeter-staging-mortality-provocation-conversation1.jpg

What can we learn about mortality from contemporary theatre? How can dramatists and theatre-makers help us to understand this quintessential aspect of our humanity? Theatre has an ephemeral quality. It also has the potential to make us uniquely aware of our finite existence. Adrian Curtin, from the University of Exeter, will discuss this topic and enter into conversation with award-winning dramatist Kaite O’Reilly, whose recent play Cosy offers a darkly comic take on ‘making an exit’.

DATE AND TIME
Fri 18 November 2016
18:30 – 20:00 GMT

LOCATION
Clifford Room, Barnfield Theatre
Clifford Road
Exeter
EX1 1SN

This free event is part of the 2016 Being Human festival.