Category Archives: on writing

Singapore rehearsal diary for New Welsh Review….’And Suddenly I Disappear….’

What follows in an excerpt from my rehearsal diary, commissioned by New Welsh Review, documenting part of my process working in Singapore this Autumn on ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’, my international r&d commission from Unlimited. I am immensely grateful to New Welsh Review for providing this feature free – see more on the journal at https://www.newwelshreview.com and here

Stephanie Fam performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s international r&d Unlimited commission ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’ before a still image of Sophie Stone using visual language, Photograph: Kaite O’Reilly

 

 

18/9/17:

We arrive into Singapore at the end of the Month of the Hungry Ghosts. Flaming braziers sit on street corners and outside temples. Paper money from the Bank of Hell and small cardboard models of cars, smartphones, booze, cigarettes and all the trappings of the good life are set alight in the braziers as offerings to the dead ancestors. Zhong Yuan Jie is the period in the seventh month of the lunar calendar when the gates of the underworld are opened to allow the souls of the dead to roam the earth. Relatives burn offerings to appease their deceased family members, ensuring they don’t become ‘hungry ghosts’ up to mischief, jealous of the living and what they have.

Even in its Taoist and Buddhist rituals, Singapore is commercial, taking care of material needs into the afterlife.

We – performer Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli and I – are here for the r&d of  my collaboration between Wales and Singapore, ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’, an Unlimited International Commission and dialogue about disability, diversity and difference from opposite sides of the world.

Singapore is a young nation, a high-functioning capitalist culture valuing commerce and uniformity, where, my producer Grace Khoo tells me, she was raised ‘not to ask questions, to keep my chin down and not to stand out.’ It is recently embracing notions of diversity and inclusion, but its awareness of disability issues and culture are very much in its infancy. How challenging atypical embodiment, disability politics, the aesthetics of access and what I call ‘alternative dramaturges nformed by a d/Deaf and disability perspective’ may be here, I’m about to find out.

The UK has a long and proud history of disabled peoples’ activism, something Sara Beer and I have been engaged with for decades. Our background is punkish, proud and irreverent – ‘nothing about us without us’ is one of the Disabled Peoples Movement’s slogans – ‘Piss on Pity’ another, a badge I still wear. How this will fit with the ultra-conservative Singaporeans and a system that would not have tolerated our direct action of the 90s remains to be seen. A fascinating conversation is in the process of happening.

20/9/17:
We rehearse at Centre 42, a heritage house in downtown Singapore, greeted by my main collaborator, Peter Sau, and herbal teas from the local Chinese medical hall to help counter the excessive humidity. Peter is an award-winning actor and theatre maker, and a friend since my first visit to Singapore in 2004. He and producer Grace came to the UK in 2016 in order to explore disability arts and culture, with the aim to professionalise it in Singapore .

Some of the ‘And Suddenly I Disappear…’ team, including Sara Beer and Ramesh Meyyappan, Lee Lee Lim, Danial Bawthan and Shai outside Centre 42, Singapore.

Together we made an application to Unlimited, building on the model I developed from my 2008/09 Creative Wales award. Then, advised by Eve Ensler and Ping Chong, I explored the form of the monologue, interviewing d/Deaf and disabled people across the UK, using their perspectives, experiences, and opinions as inspiration to write fictional monologues. These were later produced as ‘In Water I’m Weightless’, the National Theatre Wales/Unlimited production, part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It’s important that I write the texts rather than ‘steal’ from the source material, for what are we but our stories? I prefer to invent. This also ensures that the material cannot be individualised, reduced down to one person’s unfortunate experience rather than a synthesis of the collective experience of prejudice we are all complicit in.

In Singapore, Peter and his dedicated team of researchers, transcribers, and translators are partway through intensive interviews with disabled and d/Deaf Singaporeans. These are stories that have gone unremarked and unreported. Despite the new focus on inclusivity and diversity, ingrained beliefs linger, and in many ways difference and disability is shameful in Singapore, so several of our interviewees, although eager to contribute, request anonymity.

The recordings and transcripts of the interviews are remarkable, Peter and his colleagues have eked out conversations of candour and passion. As I write the drafts I’m reminded of my own ‘coming out’ as a disabled person and personal revolution after meeting the social model of disability, which turned everything I previously knew upside down. I’d been reared on the Medical Model, where the body is at fault, requiring medicalisation and normalisation. The social model sees disability, like gender, as a social construct, and it is society and its physical and attitudinal barriers which are disabling, not the body itself. Value is given where previously there was none.

It is no surprise then that many of the conversations ongoing in Singapore prompt tears and extraordinary openness from people so often denied respect. How daunting and exhilarating then is my task – to write fictional work responding to this stimulus, and begin work on embodying these voices.

22/9/17:

Ideas from the interviews are reversed or reinvented, Peter, Grace and Lee Lee Lim advise me on the use of Mandarin, Hokkien and Singlish vocabulary, which help make the rhythms and cadences of the dialogue more Singaporean. The collaboration is shaping into a dialogue, resulting in a series of vibrant, multimedia monologues inspired by lived experience, layering theatrical languages and utilising captioning, integrated audio description and visual language in the aesthetics of access, a first for Singapore. We realise there are seven spoken and signed languages in use in the rehearsal room, reflecting the multicultural diversity and linguistic complexity of Singapore. I feel we’re exploring how stories change in different cultures, languages and contexts…. How do we ‘speak’ to each other?

25/9/17:

I write a choral monologue to be explored in spoken, projected and visual language.

Be like water. Be like a river. You dip a bowl into the river and the river fills it and becomes the bowl. Pour into a pot, it becomes the pot. Treat with fire and it becomes steam…. This is how you will be. Unstoppable. Fluid. Powerful.
.

The day I need to submit this diary, just one week after meeting and four days before our in progress sharing, the inclusive company has come together with a startling cohesion. Peter’s team is filled with committed individuals keen to bring about change. Monologues that seemed too edgy and politically challenging on first reading now rise off the page, owned. The sense of pride and celebration is tangible. Sara asks Danial Bawthan, one of our emerging disabled performers, how he is finding the process. ‘Priceless,’ he says. ‘I want to be that water, the water that goes into that bowl.’

And Suddenly I Disappear… cycles of inspiration

 

This is a story of collaboration and inspiration…. of how a project inspired a poem and the poem inspired a design and the design became a poster and therefore the image for the project…

There is a poetic symmetry to this cycle of inspiration which I find hugely satisfying.

I am in the midst of an international collaboration – And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. commissioned by Unlimited, which you can read about here, here, and here. My collaborator in Singapore, Peter Sau, had recently embarked on a massive research exercise, gathering the stories from d/Deaf and disabled Singaporeans to inspire The ‘d’ monologues I would write. One of Peter’s research volunteers, Shai (Nur Shafiza Shafie) became fascinated with the title…. what might the ‘d’ stand for? That tantalising enigmatic letter became a thought, became a response to the project and our ambitions – and became a poem:.

Invitation to D
 .
Dearest,
Disadvantaged, disempowered
Despised, deprived, downtrod
Deviant, daring and disturbed
Devoutly disillusioned with God
 .
Destroyed, damaged and dirty
Dishevelled and disheartened
Dismayed, depressed and dreary
Demonised yet defiant
 .
Determined, deserving, delicate
Different, distinct and diverse
Disabled, deaf and deliberate
Definers of your own dark universe.
 .
Do it. Defy the disbelievers.
 .
Disarm them. Deflect them.
Dance around their dreadful hum.
Devour them. Diminish them.
Drown their egos with your drum.
 .
Decry them. Deplore them.
Dilapidate your despair.
Disturb them. Distress them.
Devastate them if you dare.
 .
Debate them. Debunk them.
Dig down deeply for the fight.
‎Destroy them. Defeat them.
Drag them kicking to the light.
 .
(C) Copyright Shai (Nur Shafiza Shafie) 2017
 .
The project’s UK producer, Grace Khoo, shared Shai’s words with me and I was delighted that our project was inspiring such a creative response from our generous volunteer.
 .
Then Shai’s poem was seen by our publicity and marketing designer Ho Su Yuen, who swiftly responded with a striking block letter design, using the words from the poem. I, meanwhile, was developing the title of the project. A common theme seemed to be emerging from the video footage and transcripts from the interviews – that of d/Deaf and disabled people being made invisible. This sentiment offered the full title to me: And Suddenly I Disappear…. The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. The new title was passed on to Ho Su Yuen, who immediately responded with a new offering. 
 .
Various conversations followed and the design went back and forth as it evolved, Grace and Sara Beer (collaborator on the project and development officer for Disability Arts Cymru) advising on making the logo more accessible.
 .
And suddenly – there it was…. The beautiful bold image, above… the logo for our project, the poster image created from defiant poetry written in direct response to the interviewees who are inspiring the fictional monologues. This is such a wonderful example of how generosity feeds inspiration and creativity generates more creativity…
 .
With great thanks to Shai (Nur Shafiza Shafie) and Ho Su Yuen for your beautiful contributions.
 .
 .
Commissioned and supported by Unlimited, celebrating the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council of Wales and British Council.

20 Questions…. Paul Whittaker

Continuing my occasional series on probing process and creativity with a wide range of artists, I’m delighted to introduce Paul Whittaker’s 20 Questions

Paul Whittaker

Paul Whittaker is a Cardiff based Artist, Writer and Filmmaker. Having worked as a freelance Filmmaker for over a decade, Paul completed his Masters in Creative Writing at Swansea University achieving the grade of distinction. Since he was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Manic Depression whilst studying for his BA in Film Paul has spent his life exploring his own condition through the Arts and working with the Public Sector. Several of his projects made with Public Health Wales have received National and International recognition. Driven by a desire to continually expand his knowledge base Paul has exhibited as a digital artist, worked in theatre, television, dance as well as independent film. His numerous clients include – The Sherman Theatre, The Old Vic, Channel 4, Mind Cymru, The Kevin Spacey Foundation and Arts Council Wales. His play Gods and Kings opens at The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, 6-9 September 2017, details below.

What first drew you to writing/directing/acting?

Ever since I could remember writing has been a way for me to purge my mind of thoughts that if left unexplored would become rules that limit my existence.

What was your big breakthrough?

As an 18 year old I worked for my father’s architectural practice and people used to come into the office to do photocopying. One day I noticed a man copying a script. It turned out that his name was Glenn Chandler and he was the creator of Taggart. One night I got the courage to buy him a pint and told him that I wanted to be a writer. He accepted the drink and told me to give him a sample of my writing and if he thought I showed promise then he would sit down and talk to me. After reading my work I had three years of weekly writing sessions until I left the village.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

Due to my mental condition I have often written for the wrong reasons. I have written through negativity, arrogance, revenge, contempt, ignorance – my words weighted to make my case in the firmest way possible; but I have only ever experienced success when I write from a place of openness and honesty.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

 Throughout my childhood I constantly read books of fantasy and adventure and every few years I still re-read The Swiss Family Robinson but the writing that changed me was Billy Bob Thorton’s screenplay Slingblade. I saw it after I had been diagnosed and it was the first honest voice about living with a mental illness that I encountered.

What’s more important: form or content?

 For me content has to be first but choosing the correct form to write that content can make or break a project.

 How do you know when a project is finished?

 I don’t know when a project is finished. I have written to deadlines and had to accept that my time was up but, if I can, I like to let work sit and revisit it at a later date so I can read it with an emotional distance and a critical eye.

 Do you read your reviews?

Gods and Kings by Paul Whittaker. 6-9 Sept at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

 

 I am a man who does not do social media or google himself but reviews are different – but you have to know how to read them. The first play I wrote was in response to a lack of authentic characterizations of mental illness. Whilst the members of my audience with lived experience thanked me for my honesty, a reviewer, who generally liked the play, felt unconvinced by the portrayal of my condition thus proving my point.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

 This may seem against conventional wisdom but I believe you should read less and write more. Meaningful success only comes when you discover your voice and stop emulating the voices of your literary heroes. Writing is a craft and you must learn it through hard work, dedication and openness to criticism.

What work of art would you most like to own?

 Though technically not a work of art I would like to own the carved edifice of Hamelin Cathedral in Germany.

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

 I think the biggest myth is that people are out there looking to steal your ideas so you must hide them away under lock and key instead of talking them through with others.

What are you working on now?

 I have my first solo art exhibition coming up in 2018 and I am collaborating on a number of theater and dance productions. Just like every writer I am also always working on a novel that may or may not ever see the light of day.

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

 I think I would have liked to have created any of the works from the Old Masters simply because I cannot paint and I am in awe of their skill. I was so bad at drawing bowls of fruit at school my teacher let me sit in the corner and write to save us both the pain of my efforts.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

 I wish I had known I had some ability. I have countless anecdotes of professionals that I respect telling me that I can write but even as I type this I am still unsure.

What’s your greatest ambition?

I’m not going to lie and not say – be financially secure. It is what we need to follow our dreams. In lieu of that I would be happy just to help someone understand themselves or others better.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

 The only way I have found to counter insecurity is to surround myself by people I respect and listen to their voices over mine.

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

 It wasn’t honest.

 And the best thing?

 I still think about it.

 If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

 In my case if I don’t give my mind something to nourish itself on then it starts to consume itself.

What is your philosophy or life motto?

 Be a shepherd or a wolf but never a sheep.

 What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

 People care and are willing to give of themselves greatly to ensure that a project succeeds.

 What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

 Hannah Gordon.

Gods and Kings by Paul Whittaker

Paul’s production of God’s and Kings runs at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, 6-9 September. Challenging perceptions through powerful drama – further information and interviews here 

Booking details here

For further information about Paul Whittaker and his work, please visit www.hideproductions.co.uk

LIE WITH ME: 13-19 July 2017

Sarah Perahim and Arty Froushan in Kaite O’Reilly’s LIE WITH ME, directed by Kirstie Davis. Photograph by Ed Miles. © LAMDA 2017

It’s a great pleasure working with young actors, stage management and techies at the start of their professional careers. The skills are newly burnished, energy high and commitment strong.

Che Francis and Harrison Collett in LIE WITH ME by Kaite O’Reilly, directed by Kirstie Davis. Photograph by Ed Miles. (C) LAMDA 2017

There is also something both touching and inspiring about being involved in a launch production propelling fresh talent into the world. We know it’s a tough and precarious business, yet we still commit ourselves to the production of culture, the hopeful generator of discussion, thought and engagement in our audience about the world we inhabit today and into the future.

Molly Wheaton, LIE WITH ME by Kaite O’Reilly, directed by Kirstie Davis , Photograph by Ed Miles. © LAMDA 2017

My latest play, LIE WITH ME, was an exploration of the connections and degrees of separation between individuals in post-truth, contemporary urban life. Many who saw it commented on its topicality. Nathan Gearing, director of Rationale P and the Special Olympics commented: “There were times my heart strings were being pulled by certain characters, which was amazing, as each character only had 2 scenes….it felt like not a word was wasted and every word contributed to developing either an understanding of the character, society or the self.” 

Meg bennett and Joseph Aldous, LIE WITH ME by Kaite O’Reilly, directed by Kirstie Davis Photograph by Ed Miles. © LAMDA 2017

LIE WITH ME was a commission from LAMDA and presented by their FdA Professional Acting and FdA Stage Management and Technical Theatre Students, performed in the LAMDA Linbury Studio. It was a privilege to work with this tight ensemble and highly efficient technical crew – and I can’t wait to see what the individuals of this talented crew and cast do next.

Emma Rendell and Arty Froushan. LIE WITH ME by Kaite O’Reilly, directed by Kirstie Davis Photograph by Ed Miles. © LAMDA 2017

Cast: Molly Wheaton, Che Francis, Emma Rendell, Arty Frousham, Sarah Perahim, Joseph Aldous, Meg Bennett, Harrison Collett.

Director: Kirstie Davis

Set Designer: Alex Marker

Lighting Designer: Cameron Moore

Production manager: Verena Prandstaetter

Deputy Stage Manager: Abbey Bursack

Production Sound Engineer: Lizzie Alderson

 

All photos by Ed Miles. © LAMDA 2017

Remaking… inspiration from existing texts

Reigen, better known as La Ronde, was written by Arthur Schnitzler in 1897, and was published a few years later, solely for private circulation. The play reveals the sexual morals and mores of a society, across all echelons, revealing hypocrisy but also how sex, like death, is the great leveller, regardless of status. In a series of duologues, the audience follows the characters through various encounters – the whore and the soldier, the soldier and the maid, the maid and the young gentleman, the young gentleman and the politician’s wife, and so on, around and around, until we turn full circle with the last encounter, the count and the initial streetwalking whore.

There have been many adaptations of the script over the years, most famously with David Hare’s two-hander, The Blue Room (1994) and Joe DiPietro’s Fucking Men, an exploration of sex in New York’s early days of HIV/AIDS. Schnitzler’s script has been used as a warning against sexually transmitted diseases since its inception, revealing how STDs are not limited to the lower classes, but can run through every layer of polite and not so polite society.

When director Kirstie Davis was approached by LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) to partner up with a writer for their Long Project, she thought of me. We’d collaborated on several other projects – Woman of Flowers, her commission to me from Forest Forge Theatre, and her fabulous re-imagining of my script peeling, with Kiruna Stamell, Ali Briggs and Nicola Miles-Wildin. I love working with Kirstie. As a director she is imaginative, discerning, supportive and full of integrity. It’s always a joy to work with her – in so many ways she really is a playwright’s dream collaborator.

As the LAMDA commission would be for graduating actors going into the world, we wanted to make work which showcased each actor’s individual skills and so reveal their scope. I thought of the structure of La Ronde, with its interlocking ‘daisy chain’ dramaturgy, enabling actors to be in two different duologue-scenes, thereby enabling diversity in what each performer does, and creating parity in stage time. This is not a text with lead and minor parts – all parts are equal in length and importance, with a deliberate mixture of interactive dialogue and monologue for each character.

Lie With Me is not an adaptation of Schnitzler’s text, but is inspired by it. I have taken certain aspects of the original – the circular dramaturgy, the notion of characters from different strata in society engaging – but my piece focuses on a broader representation of encounters, not just sexual, as in the original. I wanted to explore identity culture and how a character may change according to the context they are in, and whom they are interacting with. I also wanted to respond to the times we live in – the contradictions, deceptions and interactions in a ‘post-truth’ contemporary urban setting. My title is carefully chosen, reflecting, I hope, both the original inspiration and the often deceptive lives we lead in a world of ‘fake news’ and an ambiguous moral compass.

Rehearsals start next week, after I complete my fellowship at International Research centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ attached to Freie Universitat in Berlin. I will be flying to London to start rehearsals. Watch this space.

 

 

 

Lie With Me

by Kaite O’Reilly

13  19 July

The LAMDA Linbury Studio, London.

A world première, inspired by La Ronde, an exploration of the connections and degrees of separation between individuals in post-truth, contemporary urban life. Information here

Why Diversity Matters: Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors

Feature for booksbywomen.org

“You have to see it, to be it.” This slogan seems to be cropping up everywhere in these diversity-conscious days, whether it’s about creating role models or better representation for girls, mature women, or what is increasingly known as BAME – individuals from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic origins. It is particularly important in the media, which supposedly mirrors our society and whose powerful imagery helps shape our values, morals, norms, and ambitions.

Moving image media, theatre, and novels help us understand the world, our feelings, relationships, and social responsibilities, playing a crucial role in communicating what is ‘appropriate’ for our age, gender and cultural heritage.

Female protagonists? No… For far too long women were harridans or eye candy, the supporting cast hanging onto the white male hero’s arm, or being dismissed as a nag and a hag. Black and Asian actor friends despaired at being cast, yet again, as the gangster/drug dealer, the ‘exotic’ princess, or victim daughter forced into an arranged marriage.

These limited and limiting stereotypes proliferate in books, on screen, and stage, and although the situation is slowly improving, these harmful ‘types’ and narratives still linger, constantly reflecting negative images of ‘difference’. Never is this more obvious, I would argue, than in the representation of impairment – part of the diversity argument we still hear little about. The desire to subvert or challenge harmful images of disability is what fired my writing Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, published by Oberon.

Tiny Tim. Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dam. Mrs Rochester, the mad woman in the attic. Captain Hook. Richard III….to name just a few. Since Oedipus, disability has been used in the western theatrical and literary traditions as a useful shortcut to signify evil, helplessness, instability, and a plethora of other negative human traits that inspire pity or fear. The images continue in films: the tormented genius, the evil Bond ‘baddie’, the blade-slashing psychopath, the victim who conveniently leaves the scene either by dying, being institutionalised, or ‘overcoming’ the condition and so ‘passing’ as non-disabled…

To read the rest of this feature, please click here

Feature originally published on http://booksbywomen.org/why-diversity-is-important-atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors-bu-kaite-o-reilly/

LIE WITH ME – London July 2017

‘What’s on’ LAMDA website

Last year my long-term collaborator, the brilliant director Kirstie Davis, and I had a fantastically creative time working with acting students at LAMDA – London Academy of Music and Drama. Part of the ‘Long Project’, we worked with a dozen talented young performers, whose energy and enthusiasm inspired me to go away and write LIE WITH ME.

Fast forward a year, and a different cast (but such is theatre) – and the Summer season has just been announced — tickets go on sale later this week. If you’re in the London area in July and fancy seeing a world premiere presented by the artists of the future – you know where to come…

‘Lie With Me’ LAMDA website

Lie with me

Written by Kaite O’Reilly
Directed by Kirstie Davis and performed at The LAMDA Linbury Studio

A world première, commissioned by LAMDA following a workshop development last year. Inspired by La Ronde, O’Reilly’s Lie With Me is an exploration of the connections and degrees of separation between individuals in post-truth, contemporary urban life.

Please note, this production contains adult themes and strong language.

Thursday 13 July: 7.30pm

Friday 14 July: 7.30pm

Saturday 15 July: 2.00pm & 7.30pm

Monday 17 July: 7.30pm

Tuesday 18 July: 2.00pm & 7.30pm

Wednesday 19 July: 7.30pm

Booking for this performance opens on Friday 12 May at noon.

– See more HERE