Category Archives: on writing

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

*

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.

 

 

 

Hong Kong, Singapore, Womenspire 2018!

Mid April already, richard iii redux completed for the time being after a terrific Wales-wide tour – and now far-flung travel beckons. I leave next week for Hong Kong, where I will be leading a six day workshop on inclusivity and forms of storytelling for ADAHK

I was last in Hong Kong in 2016 with my performance text about Frida Kahlo, the 9 fridas, directed by Phillip Zarrilli and produced for the Black Box International Festival at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, in association with Mobius Strip, from Taiwan.  It will be fascinating to spend more time in Hong Kong working with local theatre practitioners, learning about their approaches to inclusive practice. I’m hoping to have an opportunity to see new work as well as explore the art centres and galleries of Kowloon, where I will be based.

From Hong Kong I will fly directly to Singapore, to begin rehearsals on my Unlimited International Commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. We have just released tickets for the World premiere of this dialogue about difference, disability and diversity from opposite sides of the world, premiering on 25 May 2018 at National Museum of Singapore Bit.ly/and suddenlyidisappear

The production will tour to the UK in September, and I will give further details of the venues in England and Wales, plus special guests, closer to the time. My thanks, as ever, goes to our funders and supporters: Unlimited, Arts Council Wales, and the British Council, who alongside Singapore International Foundation and Centre 42 will make this innovative intercultural project possible. Meanwhile, here’s the glorious video featuring Sophie Stone, Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, Peter Sau, Grace Khoo and Lee Lee Lim, made by James Khoo with director Phillip Zarrilli:

.

I was wonderfully surprised earlier this week to get an email from Chwarae Teg, informing me I had been shortlisted for their Womenspire 2018 Awards. Chwarae Teg is a charity working to redress the gender balance in the workplace in Wales, with a vision to create: “A Wales where women achieve and prosper.” I didn’t know I had been nominated for the Culture award, so to discover I’ve made the shortlist of four has been an incredible pleasure and privilege, making this quite a week. I’ll be celebrating the talent, passion, and vivacity of women in Wales at Womenspire 2018 at the Wales Millennium Centre on 5th June.

 

 

Fifty Playwrights on their Craft… and a masterclass at Ty Newydd

It’s a real privilege and pleasure to be one of the playwrights included in this recent anthology from Bloomsbury, Fifty Playwrights on their Craft. I was one of the twenty-five UK-based writers interviewed by Caroline Jester last year, whilst Caridad Svich interviewed a further twenty-five across the pond in the US.

I’ve only recently received my copy, and as I’m on tour with richard iii redux OR Sara Beer [is/not] Richard III, (first five star review here), I have yet to take the required time to settle down, dip and savour. There’s a terrific breadth of voices and experiences included here, and much to learn from the vast array of contributors.

Bloomsbury describes the book as follows:

In a series of interviews with fifty playwrights from the US and UK, this book offers a fascinating study of the voices, thoughts, and opinions of today’s most important dramatists.

Filled with probing questions, Fifty Playwrights on their Craft explores ideas such as how does playwriting help a global dialogue; where do dramatists find the ideas that become the stories and narratives within their plays; how can the stage inform the writer’s creative process; how does crossing boundaries between art forms push the living art form of theatre-making forward; and will there be playwrights in another 50 years? Through these interrogating interviews we come to understand how and why playwrights write what they do and gain insight into their processes and motivations. Together, the interviews provide an inter-generational dialogue between dramatists whose work spans over six decades.

Featuring interviews with playwrights such as Edward Bond, Katori Hall, Chris Goode, David Greig, Willy Russell, David Henry Hwang, Alecky Blythe, Anne Washburn and Simon Stephens, Jester and Svich offer an unprecedented view into the multiple perspectives and approaches of key playwrights on both sides of the Atlantic.

Table of contents

Introduction
Chapter One: Writing that spans nations
Chapter Two: Stories and Narratives
Chapter Three: Structure and Stages
Chapter Four: Writing Across Artforms
Chapter Five: Role and Responsibility

Further information about the book can be found here.

I find the process of making, and the process of teaching, discussing, and sharing endlessly fascinating.I am without doubt a dramaturg geek, and I’m sure this book will provide many happy hours comparing and contrasting perspectives, opinions, and practice.

Ty Newydd

 

I’m looking forward to my annual masterclass intensive at Ty Newydd writers centre, in the beautiful surroundings of Lloyd George’s old home,overlooking the sea in north Wales. Masterclass in Writing for Live Performance, 11 -16 June 2018. It’s a very special time, when eight writers and I make a small creative community, starting new work or developing work-in-progress, with dramaturgical support from me in class and one-to-one tutorials, and practical workshops to stimulate new writing, teach and clarify technique, and basically move along the scripts – whether emerging or being polished – to the next level. It’s a time for writers to develop the idea niggling at the back of their brain, or to try out early drafts, or be supported in completing and polishing a piece of performance writing. There’s skills-based exercises, timed writing exercises to create and develop new material, practical script-workshopping, discussion, laughter, beautiful walks, views, and amazing food from Tony… (Imagine completing a really satisfying three hour session to the growing aroma of cakes baking in the oven, to be gobbled down when still warm with a well-deserved cup of tea on the break… Yes, this actually happens…. no wonder I love going to this remarkable place so much… and Tony also shares his recipes – including a vegan banana cake! – here )

I love doing this work, and the participants seem to enjoy it, too, as we get many returning for guidance and support on their latest work – whether that’s a script, monologue, performance poetry, or something in-betwwen. We still have places for this Summer, so if anyone is interested, please contact Ty Newydd and see further information here

Meanwhile…. it’s back to the theatre and the third night of  richard iii redux OR Sara Beer [is/not] Richard III. We’re on tour until March 23rd, tour dates and venues, below.

TOUR DATES

Chapter Arts Centre,

Cardiff www.chapter.org

8, 9, 10, 16, 17 March: 8pm

17 March: 3pm.

Aberystwyth Art Centre Studio

14 & 15 March [SOLD OUT] 

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

http://www.theatrclwyd.com

19 & 20 March: 7.45pm

The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven

http://www.torchtheatre.co.uk

21 March: 7.30pm

Small World Theatre, Cardigan

http://www.smallworld.org.uk

23 March: 8pm

 

 

Opening night! richard iii redux on International Women’s Day…..

Sara Beer in ‘richard iii redux’. Photo by Paddy Faulkner panopticphotography

And so it comes around… and appropriately, on International Women’s Day – the world premiere of richard iii redux OR Sara Beer [is/not] Richard III… Delighted to discover we’re sold out tonight at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff – it seems such a terrific way to celebrate today – a one woman show, taking on an iconic male role, subverting it, commenting on it, remixing it and making it her own….. And a disabled woman performer in a powerful role, commanding centre-stage…. I am so proud of the work Sara is doing, and so grateful to the talented and committed artists, designers, and crew working with The Llanarth Group.

The past few days have been tech and dress rehearsals, where Paddy Faulkner of panopticphotography took these images. Our final dress this afternoon was crowned with an interview with @MadeInCardiff TV – Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli and I all talking about our particular processes and perspectives on the project, which should be going out over the next three nights.

We also spoke with Nicola Heywood Thomas on BBC Radio Wales Arts Show, which you can listen again to, or download as a podcast here

@Buzz_Magazine also previewed the show in their March 2018 edition, on page 28, here

Sara Beerin richard iii redux. Photo by Paddy Faulkner panopticphotography

We are determined to make the show as accessible as possible, and so I am touring with the production as live captioner. I think this is a first. I’ve never heard of the playwright/dramaturg taking a place in the on-stage tech corner – responsible for projecting her text onto the screens, matching the performer’s spoken words. This is a production where there are no smoke and mirrors – everything is transparent and in view, which matches the metatheatrical nature of the performance. So many productions make a song and dance about captioning one show in a whole run – and that’s great, but not enough… we will caption every single performance, from Cardiff, Aberystwyth, to Theatre Clwyd in Mold, from The Torch at Milford Haven, to Small World Theatre in Cardigan. Captioning makes a production more accessible for all sorts of audience members, and creates an additional interesting aesthetic, as can be seen by Paddy’s photograph, above.

We are so excited to be finally bringing this production before an audience tonight – Sara is ready for her public! – and celebrating international women’s day, putting women usually left off-stage or in the shadows in full light, centre-stage.

Howl Round: Cripping the crip. Is it time to reclaim Richard III?

This essay originally featured in Howlround

From richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III video montage by Paul Whittaker

Discussions of representation on our screens, theatres, and opera stages have taken center stage recently, particularly in arguments about lack of diversity in casting regarding cultural heritage, race, and gender identification. In the UK cross-gender casting has become mainstream with Phyllida Lloyd’s celebrated trilogy of Shakespeare plays set in a women’s prison, Maxine Peake’s 2015 Hamlet at the Manchester Royal Exchange,and Glenda Jackson winning Best Actress in last year’s Evening Standard Theatre Awards for her “magnificent” King Lear at London’s Old Vic. So far so good. Yet in the midst of all this welcome talk about diversity and parity, there is an area still overlooked: neuro-diversity and atypical embodiment—and the actors who portray characters with disabilities.

In 2002, Graeae Theatre Company commissioned me to write peeling, a metatheatrical satire on our industry’s relationship to disability, for one Deaf and two disabled female actors. At a point in the play when discussing the Academy Awards, one of the characters rolls her eyes at nondisabled actors being wreathed in awards for impersonating someone like her, a woman with atypical embodiment, and says, “Cripping-up is the twenty-first century’s answer to blacking up.” The added sting is that she and her two companions are professional actors, but are never invited to audition like “real actors, for real plays.” Instead, they are part of the chorus, the “right-on ticks on an equal opportunities monitoring form,” left to languish in the shadows, stuck at the back of the stage behind the scenery when they are “off,” since the backstage dressing rooms are inaccessible.

Sixteen years since peeling premiered, little seems to have changed.

Or has it?

The political and cultural strengths of casting disabled performers and utilizing the aesthetics of access have finally started to infiltrate the UK’s theatre scene, with initiatives like Ramps on the Moon, a collaborative network of six National Portfolio Organisations theatres embedding accessibility and inclusivity in the heart of their process and productions.

Further good news came in 2017 when Northern Broadside cast disabled icon Mat Fraser in their production of Richard III. This delighted me, not simply for the important decision to cast an actor with atypical embodiment in a leading role that is usually “cripped up,” but because as someone who has worked with Mat on various projects, I know that his talents have been mournfully underused. Here, finally, was an opportunity for him to reveal his considerable performance skills and take his place amongst the pantheon of celebrated (nondisabled) actors who have played Richard in the past. As Fraser’s performance was met with critical acclaim, I returned to the original text. The more I reflected on Shakespeare’s play and “his” Richard, the more I was struck by questions about physical difference and representation—questions which would not go away.

In “The Necessity of Diverse Voices in Theatre Regarding Disability and Difference,” I wrote about the necessity for diverse “voices” and bodies on our stages, and how, for millennia, disability has been used in the Western theatrical canon as a metaphor for the human condition. All too often physical difference represents considerably more than the sum of body parts, and never has it been more evident than with the epitome of evil—wickedness personified in the character of Richard III.

As Shakespeare’s villain schemes and murders his way to power, he represents perhaps the original “evil genius.” In act 1, scene 1 Shakespeare lays out clearly the cause and logic of Richard’s sociopathic behavior:

I that am rudely stamped…
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them…

He is “not shaped for sportive tricks/ Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass…” and so is deprived of “love’s majesty.”

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover…
I am determined to prove a villain…

In contemporary drama, this thwarted, bitter, “twisted body, twisted mind” trope serves as a shortcut to character and narrative. According to theatre practitioner and disability performance scholar Victoria Anne Lewis in her essay The Dramaturgy of Disability, the stereotype of physical difference denoting evil is now so ingrained in the public imagination, that screenwriting manuals suggest rookie writers give their villains a limp or amputated limb as a way to instantly signify their dangerousness. Shakespeare’s efforts, of course, cannot and should not be aligned with such “hack” approaches, but nevertheless his “hideous… deformed, hobbling, hunchbacked cripple” (description from Thomas Ostermier’s production of Richard III) is murderous and depraved as a direct consequence of his physical impairment.

In 2016, speaking with The Guardian newspaperabout his interpretation in the Schaubuhne/Barbican production, director Thomas Ostemier stressed the necessity of nondisabled actor Lars Eidinger amplifying Richard’s physical difference with a visibly fake hump, neck and teeth braces, a pronounced limp and an oversized shoe: “For Richard, his disability is part of his suffering, his destiny…” Cassidy Dawn Graves in HowlRound recently addressed Thomas Ostermeier’s production of Richard III and questioned this portrayal.

A similar tack was taken by Anthony Sher in his book The Year of the King, which documents his process of creating and performing Richard III for the RSC at Stratford in 1984. Conferring with his personal psychologist, Sher concluded Richard’s “wickedness” was an act of revenge directly linked to the lack of his mother’s love and the pain, self-loathing, and lack of a “sense of self” such withholding of affection creates.

This notion of disability or physical difference being embroiled in suffering is ubiquitous in our theatrical canon, and points, to a major misunderstanding. Although it occurs in a huge number of plays, seldom have the writers been disabled themselves, or written from that perspective, which might explain why theatrical depictions of disability differs so significantly from lived experience. Of course, there may be those who do feel they “suffer from” a particular condition, but the majority of people who identify culturally or politically as disabled don’t necessarily perceive themselves as “suffering” or being the victim of some kind of tragic misfortune. However, this equation of “suffering equals revenge” ignites dramatic deadwood, and has been widely used as a kind of psychological “truth.”

Which brings me back to the tragedy of Richard III and my concerns.

Mat Fraser’s casting as Richard III last year was a significant milestone in the struggle for parity and representation in our UK theatres. Yet, given how monstrous Shakespeare’s Richard is, and how far he deviates from historical accounts of the real monarch—is having a disabled actor play a distorted disabled part “enough”? It may create more diversity on stage, but what has been termed “authentic casting” does not challenge problematic underlying assumptions and negative associations of difference in the script.

It is of course absurd to expect Shakespeare to have a twenty-first century sensibility, and I am wary of political correctness, but engaging with Richard III has raised an important challenge for me: Given how I would never wish to bowdlerize classic texts, nor criticize them for failing to have current cultural and political perspectives, how might I as a theatremaker dialogue with these issues and Shakespeare’s magnificently malignant Richard III?

Is it time to reclaim Richard—and to recrip the crip?

richard iii redux OR Sara Beer is/not Richard III is a collaboration with disabled actor and activist Sara Beer and Phillip Zarrilli, director of The Llanarth Group. Our co-created performance is based on the following premise:

Richard III: Bogeyman. Villain. Evil incarnate. Or is he? What if he is she? What if the “bottled spider” is portrayed by someone funny, female, feminist, and with the same form of scoliosis? How might the story change, the body change, the acting change, and the character change when explored by a disabled actress with deadly comic timing? And how would previous nondisabled Richards measure up?

Director and co-creator Phillip Zarrilli explains:

Richard III redux is not a performance of Shakespeare’s play. Rather, it is a roughing up, remixing, and revisitation of the problematic set of assumptions and premises on which Shakespeare (falsely) (mis)shaped his Richard as a “poisonous bunch-back’ed toad,” “deform’d, unfinish’d…villain.”

Our approach has involved historical research into the “real” Richard III, discovering a popular, reforming monarch, who was ferocious in battle, who led thousands of willing soldiers into conflict during the long War(s) of the Roses. Following the discovery of his skeleton in a car park in Leicester in 2013, we know he was indeed disabled, with a form of scoliosis, but he did not have the withered arm, limp, club foot and other physical deformities which have been layered onto his fictive body since the Elizabethan era.

History, we are told, is written by the victors—and it seems like the record of Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets, was besmirched by the commentators and documenters of the new Tudor royal house once Henry VII claimed the throne after the battle of Bosworth, where Richard was killed. Intriguingly, there is compelling evidence that Shakespeare’s creation of the monstrous Richard can be viewed as character assassination and Tudor propaganda, to please powerful patrons.

This demonizing fiction has been further magnified in contemporary “star vehicle” turns in which actors like Kevin Spacey, Anthony Sher, Al Pacino, and Lars Eidinger have distorted Richard’s body to make him even more repugnant. Their interpretations of the role, plus their colorful and often ingenious use of prosthetics have also come under the lens as we deconstruct this “othering.”

The performance is a one-woman show, a mosaic with several alternative lenses, voices, and roles through which Sara Beer’s richard iii is remixed. As a company all identifying as disabled, we are working from a disability perspective, but true to crip culture, the tone is joyously irreverent as we interweave stories about acting, difference, and a maligned historical figure through an unreliable narrator.

As Phillip Zarrilli’s opening text goes:

I… one of those from the margins,
the shadows,
come here now to stand before you
and reclaim what is mine-own:
this crooked shape,
this self-same body
that has been taken
from me and mine.

It is a reclaiming. There is also something immensely powerful about a small woman, gilded in chainmail, standing proud and crooked, saying these lines.

This essay originally appeared in Howlround, with thanks.

On Every Writer’s Nightmare: Losing my “witty, feminist, alternative” final draft…

From richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III video montage by Paul Whittaker

The end is now in sight…. within a fortnight we will be premiering this new performance at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, on International Women’s Day, 8th March.

Yesterday morning I finished writing the final, deviously ingenious threading-it-all-together monologue – creating a fug of blue air from inventive Irish cursing when my laptop failed to save what I had just completed – and all was lost…

It’s every writer’s nightmare… We just manage to get, to our satisfaction, a version down – it makes dramaturgical sense, all journeys and through-lines seem complete, there is hopefully no clunky exposition, and the text remains in the idiosyncratic syntax of the character voice(s)… Satisfied, we press ‘save’, then ‘print’ – and the whole world goes blank and dark screened…. The ‘pooter has crashed – no, it seems to have had the equivalent of a cardiac arrest – and the work has not been saved….

Even as I ran around the house in my pyjamas, yelling guttural Anglo Saxon phrases and being politely ignored by the company, I knew that deviously ingenious monologue was gone forever… I tried to calm myself with stories of Chekov – or was it Ibsen? – destroying completed drafts of plays in order to slash and burn, then rewrite the stronger, better version…. and even though I managed to settle down enough to try and recreate what I had completed just moments before, I know some of that vital DNA is missing… It’ll work, but it hasn’t the ease and shine of the material lost.

Or so perhaps it will always seem when bereft – the unsaved monologue will always be ‘the one that got away’ – the perfectly polished, apparently effortless speech.

Sigh.

But we are done, we have a complete script, the wondrous Sara Beer is learning it and doing magical things with my words in the studio with director Phillip Zarrilli…. There will be time to buff and amend, tinker and improve before Sara sets out in front of an audience – and who knows, maybe by then the recreated speech will have the lustre and gleam of that perfect lost one….?

—-

We’ve had a lot of interest in the production, and we’ve been writing essays for various journals about our process.

Sara Beer’s  ‘In My Own Words: Playing Three Personas’ for Arts Scene in Wales can be accessed here

My article “for Exeunt magazine on cripping up, and how her new production offers a witty, feminist, alternative disability perspective on Shakespeare’s history play” can be read here.

Our tour dates are below….

TOUR DATES

Chapter Arts Centre,

Cardiff www.chapter.org

8, 9, 10, 16, 17 March: 8pm

17 March: 3pm.

Aberystwyth Art Centre Studio

14 & 15 March [SOLD OUT] 

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

http://www.theatrclwyd.com

19 & 20 March: 7.45pm

The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven

http://www.torchtheatre.co.uk

21 March: 7.30pm

Small World Theatre, Cardigan

http://www.smallworld.org.uk

23 March: 8pm