Category Archives: on process

peeling reviews and unpeeling process

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian and The Stage reviews follow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                          *

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

The Politicized Disabled Body – Performance Matters – Vol 4, No 3 (2018): Performance and Bodies-Politic

The Politicized Disabled Body

by Kaite O’Reilly

Abstract

This is a short excerpt from a public talk that the author gave as part of a residency at University College Cork in Ireland in the fall of 2018. It appears in Vol 4 no 3 of Performance Matters [editor Roisin O’Gormon], a peer-reviewed, open access on-line journal published bi-annually by Simon Fraser University that focuses on all aspects of performance: what it does, and why it is meaningful. Click here for our latest issue.

Minimum Monument, by Néle Azevedo, in Silkeborg-DK, August 2017. Image © Néle Azevedo. Used by permission

The Politicized Disabled Body

Kaite O’Reilly

Theatre could be defined as the study of what it is to be human. For millennia we have come to sit communally—a group of human beings watching another group of human beings pretending to be other human beings. We are endlessly fascinated with each other, yet a place purported to be about the range of human possibility has for too long been circumscribed and limited, especially towards a large proportion of the population.

As I have discussed at length elsewhere (O’Reilly 2017a, 2017b), for millennia in the Western theatrical canon, the atypical body has been used to scare, warn, explain and explore human frailty, mortality, and the human condition. Disability has been a metaphor for the non-disabled to explore their fears and embedded societal values. Although disabled characters appear in thousands of plays, seldom has the playwright been disabled, or written from that embodied, or political perspective. The vast majority of disabled characters in Western theatrical tradition are tropes, reifying the notions of “normalcy.” Some strange untruths have therefore been created and recycled in our dramas for stage and screen: the rich, rewarding reality of our lives replaced with problematic representations which work to keep us different, “special,” and apart. This “othering” of difference (which also includes gender, sexual preference, belief system, cultural heritage, and so on) provides a “useful” slide-rule against which notions of “being normal” and “fitting in” can be measured. These distorted ideas in our entertainment media legitimize the negative attitudes that can lead to discrimination and hate crime.

As a multi-award-winning playwright and dramaturg who identifies culturally and politically as disabled, I have been exploring this territory for several decades, informed by the Social model of disability, working across and between so-called “mainstream” culture and what I coin “crip” culture. I consider disability a social construct—I am a woman with a mild sensory and a degenerative physical impairment, but it is society’s attitudinal and physical barriers which are the disabling factors, not the idiosyncrasies of my body.

In my work I am interested in creating new protagonists, with different narratives, and with different endings, and in challenging and expanding the actual theatre languages at play in live performance through my engagement with the aesthetics of access. I believe re-imagining disability opens up possibilities in content, representation, aesthetics and form—changing the stories we tell, how they are told, and by whom.

Paul Darke (1997, 2003) and other disability performance scholars such as Carrie Sandahl (2005) have written at length about the limited plot lines for the disabled character. Often, as seen again with the 2016 film version of JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You, it is emphatically “better dead than disabled.” In films and plays stereotypes rule—the blind wise “seer,” the evil and twisted mastermind, the hero who overcomes her impairments to “pass” as non-disabled. From Tiny Tim to Richard III to Oedipus, we have been the personification of uselessness, or evil incarnate. These stories and characters are so prevalent, Paul Darke claims the audience believes they understand and know disabled experience, even though it is through a filter that isolates, individualizes, medicalizes or finally normalizes the character. What the audience is experiencing are not the “truths” of our lives, but the long cultural and linguistic practice of ascribing meaning to the atypical body. We are metaphors—something the disabled and Deaf actor-characters in my metatheatrical play peeling(2002) deconstruct, subvert, and ultimately rebel against.

As a playwright, I try to present different protagonists and different stories, often challenging contemporary representations of disability. The survivors of TBI (traumatic brain injury) in my 2008 play The Almond and the Seahorsesubvert notions of brain injury splashed across the media and question who the real “victims” are—if indeed there are any. Protagonists, their journeys and outcomes can be subverted and changed, offering more possibilities and rich, engrossing drama that avoids stereotypes.

This reconsideration of narrative and “protagonist” is just one element in what I coined “Alternative dramaturgies informed by a D/deaf and disability perspective” while Arts and Humanities Research Council Creative fellow at Exeter University’s drama department (2003–06), and latterly while affiliated with Freie Universität’s International Research Centre “Interweaving Performance Cultures” (2012–18). “Alternative” to what? To the mainstream, ableist, hearing perspective. By “alternative dramaturgies” I mean the content, processes, structures and forms that reinvent, subvert, or critique “traditional” or “conventional” representations and routes.

A further example would be the “aesthetics of access”: using access “tools” creatively, and from the start of the process rather than as an “add-on” for a particular stratum of the audience, identified through impairment (“audio description and touch tours provided for the visually impaired…”). I’m interested in a holistic experience, where the entire audience engages with the theatre languages at play through their individual modes of communication: embedded audio description; bilingual work in visual and spoken/projected languages; creative captioning integrated into the scenography design as a central element of the set.

These devices make the work more accessible, but most importantly they challenge the ingrained assumptions and hierarchies in contemporary theatre and culture. When we change the bodies who perform, design, direct, create, and commission the work in our pleasure palaces, when we change the theatre languages used, the processes and practice are inherently changed as well. We can then truly be a place that  celebrates all the possibilities of human variety, challenging notions of “difference” and revoking the old stories and their predictable endings.

Change is coming, with more disabled and Deaf artists coming to the fore across artforms. This is partly owing to the fruits of the UK and US disability civil rights movements, out of which disability arts and culture grew, and the disability arts forums, organizations, and festivals that supported and still encourage this growth. In the UK it is also down to initiatives such as Unlimited, keen to promote, commission, and embed the work of disabled and Deaf artists in the so-called “mainstream” cultural sector on a level never experienced before.

Inclusivity and diversity are currently buzz-words internationally, and although I applaud initiatives that aim to integrate more Deaf, disabled and neuro-diverse practitioners into theatre productions, I have a caveat: the atypical body is not neutral, and placing a disabled figure on stage is not necessarily a radical act in itself. Much relies on the framing, and the controlling artistic perspective, for the atypical body can be used dramaturgically by the director/choreographer to express content and meaning beyond the actuality of the body—and sometimes without the actor’s awareness or participation. My Unlimited/National Theatre Wales production, In Water I’m Weightless, part of the official Cultural Olympiad celebrating the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, is a case in point. Featuring six of the UK’s leading Deaf and disabled performers, and directed by John E. McGrath, the actors chose the content they performed from my authored collection of monologues and also controlled how they were placed and represented on stage. Several of them had had bad experiences of previously being used as a dramaturgical tool to express subtext or create additional material and meaning beyond the content of the performance text.

For me, this is central: having a politicized disability perspective informed by the Social model of disability brings a broadening in attitude, in values, and enables an avoidance of narrow definitions of “normality.” This perspective, when disability-led, encourages impairments not to be viewed as something to be cured or overcome, but rather as an incitement to embrace the diversity and modes of communication, and use these artistically.

Perhaps in the aesthetics of access we can begin changing the experience of theatre along with its languages, and start escaping the tyranny of normalcy.

Copyright (c) 2019 Kaite O’Reilly

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Notes

[1]Unlimited is an arts commissioning program that enables new work by disabled artists to reach UK and international audiences. See https://weareunlimited.org.uk.

Bibliography

https://howlround.com/necessity-diverse-voices-theatre-regarding-disability-and-difference

Darke, Paul. “Everywhere: Disability on Film.” In Framed: Interrogating Disability in the Media, edited by Ann Pointon and Chris Davies, 10–15. London: British Film Institute, 1997.

Sandahl, Carrie. “From the Streets to the Stage: Disability and the Performing Arts.” PMLA120, no. 2 (2005): 620–4.

Rieser, Richard. Disabling Imagery?: A Teaching Guide to Disability and Moving Image Media. London: British Film Institute/Disability Equality in Education, 2004.

O’Reilly, Kaite. peeling. London: Faber & Faber, 2002.

O’Reilly, Kaite. Henhouse.Oberon contempory plays 2004.

O’Reilly, Kaite. Woman of Flowers. Aurora Metro. 2014

O’Reilly, Kaite. Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors.  London: Oberon Contemporary Plays 2016.

O’Reilly, Kaite. The ‘d’ Monologues. London: Oberon Contemporary Plays 2018.

DaDaFest International 2018 and call for artistic uprisings

In celebration of international disability day on December 3rd 2018, I and various guests will be reading from my latest collection The d Monologues at DaDaFest International Festival. This is a particularly meaningful event for me. Apart from being one of the patrons of this brilliant organisation, I am thrilled to be having the English launch of the book on this auspicious day.

The monologues are fictional, but inspired by over one hundred interviews and conversations with disabled and D/deaf individuals across the world over the past decade. The publication includes the Singapore/UK dialogue of difference and diversity And Suddenly I Disappear, an Unlimited International Commission which premiered on both sides of the world earlier this year.

For years I’ve been inspired by Eve Ensler’s ‘V’ Day, where people around the world stage “an artistic uprising” – a global movement to end violence against women. With disability hate crime on the increase, and so many of the rights disabled people successfully fought and campaigned for now being eroded, I feel our visibility needs to increase, along with our ‘voices’.

Engaging so closely with disabled and D/deaf peoples’ lived experience when writing this collection has had a major impact on me. I have tried to reflect the rich, rewarding experience of disabled lives in the monologues, the immense joie de vivre, ingenuity and fuck-you attitude which for me characterises many of my friends and collaborators. I also have not pulled any punches regarding the discrimination and prejudice so many of us face – but all laced with a liberal dose of what I call Crip’ humour.

This December third myself and various leading figures from our culture and community will join me in presenting short monologues at Unity Theatre, in Liverpool. I am hoping that this might be the first in a series of readings, where simultaneously, wherever you may be, people join in celebrating all the possibilities of human variety.

As I write in the introduction:

I’ve always dreamed of an international event challenging negative representations of difference and showcasing the very real talent which exists within our often over-looked communities. The monologue form is portable, flexible, and affordable to stage, either alone or in groups, script-in-hand with little rehearsal, or fully produced in professional contexts. I imagined a chorus of individuals and groups in cities or rural outposts, in theatres or at the kitchen table, in pubs and clubs, hospitals and community centres, schools and colleges, live or live-streamed, coming together across the world in a simultaneous celebration of diversity and what it is to be human. We already have our International Day of the Disabled Person on December 3rd… Perhaps now, with the publication of these texts, we are taking the first actions towards our own ‘d’ day…?

This is a pipe-dream, perhaps – but it is a hope. If anyone reading this would like to stage their own contribution of a ‘d’ Monologue this December 3rd – at their kitchen table or somewhere more public – please let me know – for even if we can’t yet connect or livestream, I could announce the performances happening simultaneously at the event. I already have contributions from my collaborators in Singapore… If this idea appeals, please get in touch through a comment, below, or via the contact button on my website: http://www.kaiteoreilly.com

And if you are in the Liverpool area, come along – the event is free and information and tickets can be booked here. In addition to BSL interpretation, a lipspeaker will be available.

The ‘d’ Monologues launch: 8:00pm Monday 03 December 2018

Unity Theatre,  

1 Hope Place, Liverpool, L1 9BG  

Telephone: 0151 709 4988

https://www.dadafest.co.uk/event/kaite-o-reilly-s-the-d-monologues

A project supported by Unlimited with funding from Arts Council Wales.

How can we avoid stereotyping disabled artists?

Grace Khoo, Ramesh Meyyappan and Peter Sau in Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘And Suddenly I Disappear’. Wesley Loh Memphis West

As Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre appears on the horizon,  questions and debates about representation and work that is led by disabled and D/deaf artists also surface. I welcome these interventions, particularly when those interviewed are disabled and D/deaf artists themselves. I know this seems like an obvious requirement for discussion around diversity and representation, but this has not always been the case… (Cue the many articles and soundbites from self-selected ‘experts’ or spokespeople who weren’t the gender, faith, sexual persuasion or cultural heritage that they espouse about…)

Nina Mühlemann’s piece for the British Council is refreshing in its approach and includes interviews with many of the artists involved in the forthcoming Unlimited Festival, myself included. Her main question of how can we avoid stereotyping disabled artists? is very close to the task I have set myself in my work: How can I challenge, satirise or subvert the stereotypical disabled characters that haunt our stages and screens?

And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues sets out to explore, excavate and expose what have often been hidden stories about difference. Inspired by interviews with D/deaf and disabled people my Singapore collaborator Peter Sau and his team led, plus the conversations I have held for over a decade in the UK,  the fictional monologues smash the cliches and problematic representations usually manacled to characters who happen to be disabled. Here are figures who are funny, sexy, troubled, ambitious, foolish, in love, manipulative, learned, tenacious…. human. Gone are the tragic but brave tropes, the tortured villains, inspiring over-comers, or helpless figures of pity.

Gone, too, is the inaccessible staging. Rather, in Phillip Zarrilli’s production, we embrace complex, multi-lingual storytelling, using live action as well as film. The show isn’t about access, it’s about the innovative use of theatre languages – mixing visual and spoken storytelling in dynamic form, interweaving English with some Mandarin, Cantonese, Welsh and British Sign language sequences. There’s no static sign language interpreter in the corner of the stage, but live and pre-recorded sequences that tell little-known stories physically and visually, with creative captioning throughout.

The company is a combination of Singapore and UK-based performers – and our Singapore team arrive tomorrow! We have a few days rehearsal to revise and incorporate two new company members into the production: Garry Robson and Macsen McKay (who writes on his debut here). I’ve also written new monologues for these guest actors, reflecting the joys and tribulations of lived experience in the UK.

We open Unlimited Festival at Southbank, then go on a short tour, dates below. We hope very much you will come and share some time and a space with us, as we celebrate all the possibilities of being human.

 And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues Trailer: https://vimeo.com/272958421
2018 TOUR DATES:
Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room (London)
5 – 6 September 7.45pm [Unlimited Festival performances]
The Old Fire Station  (Oxford)
8 September  7.30pm
Attenborough Arts Centre (Leicester)
9 September  7pm
Chapter arts centre (Cardiff)
11 – 12 September  8pm.
The ‘d’ Monologues Publication – a collection of Kaite O’Reilly’s solo plays for atypical actors will be published by Oberon to coincide with the UK premiere.
Other links:
Kaite O’Reilly in conversation with British Council Singapore: https://vimeo.com/242969844
The Stage: Writer Kaite O’Reilly on The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues: ‘It’s like the Vagina Monologues for the deaf and disabled’ https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/2017/writer-kaite-oreilly-on-singapore-d-monologues/
 
 
Commissioned and supported by Unlimited, with funding from Arts Council of Wales and British Council.
 
 

Diversity, d/Deaf, difference, disability…. Have the ‘d’ words become dirty with overuse?

Daniel Bawthan performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘And Suddenly I Disappear’. Photo by William AS Tan

‘Diversity’s just lip-service. A meaningless phrase flung around everywhere, without meaning anything.’ Or so I was told yesterday, in a discussion with a disgruntled friend, disillusioned about what’s being done to the ‘d’ word. ‘It’s become trendy, and a way to attract funding,’ he gloomily concluded. ‘I’m tired of all these people who never had any interest in the Deaf or disabled communities before, or people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual or gender identities, now jumping on the bandwagon just because it’s fashionable and there’s potential funding.’

It was a serious conversation, and at times tough, but unlike my friend (a seasoned theatre maker who, like me, has a long history in disability arts), I’m not as disheartened, owing to my recent experiences. I’ve been fortunate to have been party to some excellent work, full of integrity and engagement around this particular consonant. Earlier this year I was working in both Singapore and Hong Kong with organisations and individuals who really want to challenge the lack of diversity in organisations, cultures, and positions of leadership. For me the latter is essential – the work really needs to be led by those under-represented individuals, and the power structure needs to change, as otherwise the same-old, same-old endures. This I think is what troubles my friend – work coined ‘diverse’ which may cast A.N.Other, but in reality is shallow or tokenistic, with no alternative perspectives or content.

The ‘d’ word has been central to my work these past years, and especially most recently with ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’, touring the UK this September after its premiere in Singapore last May. This is work that is Deaf and disabled led, celebrating all the ‘d’s of diversity and difference.

I began working on the project which has become The ‘d’ Monologues back in 2009, with a Creative Wales Award from Arts Council Wales. I wanted to explore the form of the monologue as a means of creating work for a more diverse cast. Tired of non-disabled actors ‘cripping up’,  I set out to write solos and multiple character texts specifically for d/Deaf and disabled performers – what I later went on to call ‘atypical actors’ in my first collection with Oberon.

And Suddenly I Disappear by Kaite O’Reilly. Ramesh Meyyappan, Peter Sau, Lee Lee Lim, Grace Khoo, Sara Beer. Photo William AS Tan.

These were monologues informed and inspired by lived experience, telling stories that perhaps were not so familiar, from a d/Deaf and disability perspective – the original ‘d’ of the monologues – but as time passed and this body of work grew, so too has what the ‘d’ may stand for…. diversity and difference, yes, but how also about defiance, desirable, distracting and delectable? As I wrote for Singaporean rapper/beat-boxer Danial Bawthan in And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues:

“This body…. This body is dangerous. It desires, it delights, it delivers, it dances..”

Exploring other ways of considering our bodies and what it is to be human has been at the heart of my writing for this almost decade-long project. Imagination has played a large part, but so too has anonymous questionnaires and interviews I’ve led since 2009 across the UK with disabled and d/Deaf people and recently in Singapore led by my collaborators Peter Sau and Lee Lee Lim, amongst others.  These conversations about difference have inspired and provoked the fictional monologues I’ve written – I’ve never used anyone’s story or actual words, for that seems to me like theft – but I’ve been directed by and provoked by the many perspectives and multi-voicing it has been my great privilege to be privy to.
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We premiered the fruits of this dialogue between Wales/UK and Singapore at the Gallery Theatre, National Museums Singapore in May 2018, and will bring a revised version, with largely the same DNA, but with some new monologues (and performers) to the UK in September. Singaporean collaborators Grace Khoo, Peter Sau and Natalie Lim will travel to the Unlimited Festival at London’s Southbank Centre in early September, reuniting with Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli, and myself. We will then join with Macs Mackay and Garry Robson, bringing new monologues and energy into the ensemble.
 And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues were always imagined to be a moveable feast – a series of contrasting monologues which could adapt and change according to the venue size, cast and situation. It’s with a heavy heart we leave some of our amazing Singapore-based collaborators behind, but they will have mediatised presences, alongside UK-based performer extraordinaire Sophie Stone.

Tickets are now available for the UK tour:

5-6 September Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, London tickets
8 September Old Fire Station, Oxford, tickets
9 September Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, website
11-12 September Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, tickets
And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues

Video-trailer

I’m delighted that the collected ‘d’ Monologues will be published by Oberon in time for the tour. I’ll give further information about this, including various launches, readings and events, as it becomes available, but it is so exciting to think these texts will be widely available for others to use… to montage the monologues to make a full evening’s performance, to do script-in-hand readings, to use them as audition pieces, or my ideal: a sharing of monologues across the globe on the International day of the disabled person (also, please watch this space….).
‘The ‘d’ Monologues’ will also include the text to the solo performance richard iii redux, co-written with Phillip Zarrilli, originally for that diversity diva Sara Beer (pictured below in one of her personas from the show). The text deconstructs Shakespeare’s villain and challenges the cultural link since Shakespeare’s time between atypical bodies/disability and evil. We also ask wider questions about the nature of performance, representation of difference and the rewriting of history by the Bard – with lots of subversive fun along the way, exploring how Richard has been ‘cripped’ in the past.

Sara Beer in ‘richard iii redux’ Panopticphorography

You can access the fantastic reviews here and potentially catch the show if you are in Mainz, Germany, in September.  We’re delighted that richard III redux heads to Mainz for a performance on 20 September, 2018 as part of this year’s Grenzenloskoultur Theater Festival (‘Theater without Boundaries’), Mainz Kleines Stadt Theater, Germany.
We hope to have the production back on the road in 2019, but until then, here’s the delight of Sara Beer in the richard III redux TRAILER.
As to the issues of ‘diversity’ and whether the ideal is being tarnished from casual over-use…. As a playwright all I can do is keep on exploring what it is to be human, and to question our hierarchies, our power dynamics, and the (mis)representations that can become common currency. Artists and theatre makers identifying as Deaf and/or disabled are presenting work on an unforeseen scale (thanks also to initiatives like Unlimited and DaDaFest) and I can only applaud and encourage this, chivvying on the so-called ‘under-represented’ to be the makers and the directors and the leaders of the future. Whether the word becomes undervalued or not, true diversity will arrive with an expansion in the identities, experiences, politics, ethnicities and bodies of those holding the reins – and perhaps the work of those currently in control is to move aside a little, or learn to power-share.

 

Women writers and creatives! Stop being so hard on yourselves! (Oh, and men too, of course….)

Writers are hard on themselves. Female writers in particular seem hard on themselves. This isn’t a new topic, nor is it a fresh revelation, yet I’m constantly surprised when in the presence of women writers (of whatever genre) beating themselves up seems to be the done thing… Of course not all women act like grim, spanking, confidence-crumbling harridans to themselves, just as all men are not supremely confident and self-loving – but it’s time to be gentle with our creativity, to end imposter syndrome and send the crucifying inner critic away.

Easier said than done, of course. I was phenomenally fortunate to work with Augusto Boal for many years, and his notion of ‘the cop in the head’ – that criticising, sabotaging, cruel and snide voice(s) that chunters away, undermining our confidence – instantly changed my world view. It was genuinely a personal revolution, and one that was immensely liberating, to be able to locate and identify these individual ‘voices’ that hissed or bellowed negative things –  Who do you think you are? Don’t get too big for your boots. What makes you think you have anything to say of any interest to anyone? – and, in Boal’s parlance, send them back to their barracks. We don’t need thought police, or censors, Boal argued, as we’re constantly policing, censoring, criticising, picking-on and beating ourselves up – limiting how we engage, think, and behave.

This subject came up earlier this week when I was in London leading a workshop for a group of phenomenally talented female dramatists, all with incredible ideas and stories to tell, all moving into that shaky period of completing first drafts… It was a pleasure and real privilege to spend an afternoon with them, primarily talking about structure and dynamic, but also the negative phrases that slip into the language women often use about their work and their ambitions, whether realised or not. I heard myself chirping away like an over-earnest Pollyanna about how we need to embrace positivity, give ourselves time to explore and the necessity of being able to fail (without then torturing ourselves for doing something that can often be the turning point on the road to ‘getting it right’). 

So what? We haven’t fulfilled our ambitions or managed to find the allies or outlet for our creative work yet – but that doesn’t mean we won’t. It doesn’t mean we’ve failed forever… We know that the creative industries are shaped by many external forces, that chance, luck and timing are almost equal components to the ‘success’ of a project as the talent and skill displayed…. Maybe it’s not the right time for that experimental creative non-fiction memoir; maybe the market’s saturated with books displaying ‘Girl’ in the title; maybe the socio-political and cultural focus of the day is away from a particular obsession and it’s proving impossible to find a market for it now… But. Who knows what may be possible or attractive in the future? I have a novelist friend who put her book under the bed for several years, who then took it out and threw it into the submission ring again – and found an enthusiastic publisher. She hadn’t reworked the manuscript extensively, but neither had she submitted an overly flawed or still-in-progress ms – she simply gave space and time to a well-developed story and was rewarded in finding a home for what might have previously been considered a ‘failed’ product.

It makes me think about  Shakespeare and ‘ripeness is all.’ Perhaps the time isn’t ripe for the work. Perhaps the work needs to mature and ripen through revisions, or perhaps it needs to be rested, left alone, then reassessed, with a fresh eye?

I’m not trying to be ‘magical’ here (another Boal term). I’m not expecting us all to close our eyes and ram our fingers in our ears and la la la about how we’re actually unrecognised geniuses and a prophet is never recognised in her own land, etc etc. I’m not advocating arrogance, self-deceit, or female impersonations of Tony Hancock’s Artist, waxing and waning about how posterity will judge… I simply think writing (or creating, making, insert your own phrase here) is hard – life can be tough – there will always be more than enough people willing and able to criticise and undermine us, without us doing their work for them…

So I’m now on a positive drive. I’m calling for savage inner critics to be subdued, for negative phrases to be returned unused to the dictionary, for self-flagellation to be given a holiday, for us to be understanding and kind to ourselves when in the process of writing or creating or making or thinking or researching or devising or (insert your own phrase here).

JOY I heard myself saying in the workshop. ‘If we’re going to be miserable, or make ourselves miserable, why do this?’ The process is difficult enough as it is, so let’s find and celebrate the pleasure in what we do. We’re hugely fortunate to have this creative life – I’m aware that my working life is something my parents and grandparents could only have dreamt of…. so let’s try and bring more positivity into the process. I’m not suggesting we become lackadaisical in our approach (though that can have its moment), nor that we waft around like immortals, thinking we have forever to make the work. We don’t. Our time is finite, but that doesn’t mean our working lives have to be miserable or gone at furiously and out of focus, like a bull at a gate….

Or so I’ve been musing to myself these past days…

I’ve been reflecting a lot the past two weeks. It’s been a phenomenal time, with a world premiere in Singapore, a national award, news of a September production at Southbank’s Unlimited Festival followed by a UK tour, and auditions for a 2019 production of my play peeling. All these I will expand on in later blogs, but this sudden and unexpected affirmation of my work has of course added to my current state of mind and coloured my response to my fellow female dramatists in that workshop earlier this week….

We need to be disciplined, focused, and willing to dare. We need to have longevity and commitment to projects, but also to understand we won’t get it right the first time (immense congratulations if you do, and savour it, as it’s unlikely to happen again). We need to understand PROCESS – that, in the immortal words of Hemingway, “all first drafts are shit”, but, as Lear said to Cordelia ‘Nothing comes of nothing” – so don’t censor or worry or be too critical, just get something down – words on the page, clay on the potter’s wheel, fingers on keys, insert your own phrase here – as then you’ll have something to work from. And tell that guard at the gates of the mind that Seneca recognised to feck off – it’s not the time to be on duty. Finally, let us try and stop seeing our as yet unrealised projects as failures – redefine what you mean by success. And whatever else happens, be glad to be alive, to be creative. Let’s try and enjoy.


End note

I’m teaching an intensive workshop in writing for performance at Ty Newydd Writers’ Centre. We have places for just eight writers, so please click below for description, and contact Ty Newydd for further details.

Kaite O’Reilly at Ty Newydd Creative Writing Centre, Wales.

Writing for Performance Masterclass 8-12 October 2018.

 

Returning

So I return back to Wales after six weeks in Hong Kong and Singapore, and find myself startled by the vibrant green of grass and the watercolour splashes of pink and blue in the hedgerow as we drive down the narrow lanes. It all feels so very gentle and quaint after the futuristic architecture of Singapore’s waterfront, or the technicolor fantasy that is the newly renovated Sri Krishnan temple on Waterloo Street.

Renovation of the temple on Waterloo Street, Singapore. Photo: Sara Beer

We were fortunate to be staying centrally, in an apartment close to Waterloo Street, and would pass by the temples most days when walking to rehearsals. The Gallery Theatre, where we premiered And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues, is in the impressive National Museums Singapore, built in 1849 and originally called Raffles Library and Museum.

National Museums Singapore

We had a great welcome at NMS, and soon I was acquainted with most of the front of house staff – the curators, security guards, volunteers, and ushers – after giving a series of Disability Awareness Training workshop/talks. There was a palpable interest in making the museum as accessible and welcoming as possible, and it was a real privilege to premiere the production there.

Volunteers setting out the accessible signage

And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues is an international dialogue between Singapore and the UK about difference, diversity, and what it is to be human. Inspired by interviews my colleague Peter Sau and his team held in Singapore, and my own conversations over many years with Deaf and disabled individuals in the UK, the fictional monologues were commissioned by Unlimited, with support from Arts Council Wales and the British Council.

Warming up: And Suddenly I Disappear cast, Gallery Theatre, National Museums Singapore

The production previewed last week, with an audience of students from a series of schools and colleges, who astonished and delighted us with their focus and engagement. We couldn’t have asked for a better first audience – so enthusiastic and curious about the work we presented. I’ve also never been in a situation before, where I had a selfie with a large proportion of the audience.

Part of the preview schools audience for ‘And Suddenly Disappear…’

A real opportunity for discussion and change feels possible at present in Singapore. Diversity and inclusivity are vogue terms here, just as they seem to be everywhere at present, but I’ve experienced less lip service and more action here than in Europe. I am encouraged – there does seem to be a palpable desire for change, and so in interviews, public talks and workshops, I’ve been banging on about the necessity of diversity in our cultural leadership. My concern is that whilst embracing notions of inclusivity and diversity, the same-old, same-old hierarchies will endure, and so a remarkable opportunity to re-examine and reinvent societal structures will be lost.

Our brilliant associate producer Natalie Lim with signage for the production

There is also a misunderstanding about the difference between arts and disability – where the non-disabled provide arts provision for ‘the disabled’ as part of their socialisation or therapy – and disability arts, where disabled artists lead, direct, create and control the product. Disability arts and culture sometimes – but not always – reflects lived experience, and can be a manifestation of identity politics informed by the social model of disability – which sees it is society and its attitudinal or physical barriers which is disabling, not the idiosyncracies of our bodies.

Company members Peter, Steph, Shirley, Ramesh and Grace backstage

My fictional monologues seek to reflect a wide spectrum of experiences, embracing all the possibilities of human variety and challenging notions of normalcy. Love, relationships, extortion, and ‘cures’ are explored amongst other themes. Although many expect me to write ‘disabled themes’ (whatever the hell they would be…), it’s the same material as usual – whatever captures my imagination and makes me want to explore dynamics and situations theatrically – what’s different is the world view and the theatrical languages at play.

I’m wary of ‘telling true stories’, as it is often phrased, when people assume that the story  belongs to the actor performing it, or it is the true experience of one individual. As a playwright, I’m interested in finding the narratives and form that makes the story larger than itself – speaking for a community of people, perhaps, rather than one (perhaps unfortunate) individual.

Interview in Singapore Straits Times

The work has now been realised and shared with the Singaporean audiences, premiering last weekend, 25th May. I will share responses and reactions as they emerge in a future blog, and also cover the live-streamed performance, another innovation in the presentation and touring of the work. At present I am dealing with jet lag and adjusting to the Welsh pastoral outside my window, and preparing the publicity alongside new monologues for the next stage of this project: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues, premiering at Southbank Centre 5-6 September, as part of Unlimited Festival.

Meanwhile – here’s the Singapore poster by our designer Ho Su Yuen….. unusually featuring the director and writer, alongside the cast.

Singapore poster

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And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues by Kaite O’Reilly, directed by Phillip Zarrilli and produced in Singapore by Access Path Productions, is an Unlimited International Commission, supported by Arts Council Wales and British Council. The performances in Singapore were possible thanks also to Singapore International Foundation, Singapore Press Holdings Foundation Arts Fund, NSM, and Kuo Pao Kun Foundation.