Category Archives: on writing

Talking with poets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The view from my Norwegian window. March 2017.

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

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

River Glomma March 10 2017

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

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

Does where you write effect your work?

#yearofwritingperipatetically

17% review of ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’

logowordpress

I’ve been a follower and reader of 17% for some time, and so I was delighted when I received a request for a review copy of my collected ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. I’m proud to be included on the bookshelf! What follows is the review at: http://wp.me/pzWTb-BJ

kaiteorcover

Kaite O’Reilly has won various awards for her work, including the Peggy Ramsay Award for YARD (Bush Theatre, London), Manchester Evening News Best Play of 2004 for Perfect (Contact Theatre) and was one of the winners of the 2009 International Susan Smith Blackburn Award for The Almond and the Seahorse (Sherman Cymru). Her new version of Aeschylus’s Persians was directed in August 2010 by Mike Pearson site-specifically on Ministry Of Defence land in Wales, part of the inaugural year of National Theatre Wales, and won the 2011 Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry. She works extensively within disability arts and culture, and wrote the ground breaking peeling for Graeae Theatre in 2002.

O’Reilly’s ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ (Oberon Books, 2016) is the first collection of plays which places disabled and deaf actors and characters centre stage, and are written by a writer who is at the forefront of disability arts culture.

It is also a collection of plays which will make you reconsider the common language of plays. It will make you think about the usual form of a play which actually excludes any actor who might not fit the norms of ability. It might even make you question whether your own writing needs to change in order to embrace every aspect of the human condition.

There are plays featuring a range of disabilities which broaden the range of characters we usually see on stage.

peeling takes a meta-theatrical format as the three chorus members discuss the play they are and their lives using sign supported English, BSL and audio description. Reading this play was a particularly eye opening experience as the extra forms of communication add multiple layers.

The Almond and the Seahorse deals with traumatic brain injury, and Cosy is about eugenics and assisted suicide, issues which are at the forefront of disability politics. These two plays are more traditional in format, though none-the-less offer surprises.

The monologues In water I’m weightless were developed through extensive conversations with disabled and deaf people about every aspect of their lives. O’Reilly wanted to capture ‘the spiked angry early energy of the disability rights movement as I watched from 2010 onwards David Cameron’s Conservative government dismantle may of the equal rights and benefits we had won…’ This play feels particularly relevant now, as more and more rights are dismantled for disabled and able-bodied alike, and, as with the rest of the plays reproduced in this collection, the texts only serve to underline that despite our differences we are also the same in many ways.

In The 9 Fridas, Frida Kahlo is reclaimed as a disability icon in a mosaic of a play where Frida Kahlo is played by multiple actors.

The form and content of the plays tests not only what a play is, but also who we tell stories about. The play texts are open to being expanded by the actors and the production design. This is very much recommended reading.

Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors
Kaite O’Reilly
Oberon Books, £16.99

Wales Arts Review Pick of 2016

Theatre Curtain, courtesy Wales Arts Review

Theatre Curtain, courtesy Wales Arts Review

Well, it’s not quite lunar new year, so perhaps I’m not SO late in coming to Wales Arts Review’s Pick of 2016…

Delighted to see my Unlimited commission, ‘Cosy’, produced by The Llanarth Group in association with Wales Millennium Centre and directed by Phillip Zarrilli with a cast of sterling Welsh female performers has made the ‘pick of the year’ in three categories:

Best of Welsh theatre 2016:

http://www.walesartsreview.org/welsh-theatre-the-best-of-2016/

Best articles of 2016 with my authored feature COSY: the Genesis of a play:

http://www.walesartsreview.org/cosy-the-genesis-of-a-play/

Thirdly, best reviews, with Gary Raymond’s insightful analysis:

http://www.walesartsreview.org/24446/

All the selections are well worth reading. This retrospective overview of cultural activity in Wales in 2016 reveals how rich, how innovative, how exciting and how vibrant the work, across all art forms and media, is. I’m proud to be amongst the number.

Thanks to Wales Arts Review.

The Aging Body In Dance: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

Kazuo Ohno's hand by Takayuki Nakatake

Kazuo Ohno’s hand by Takayuki Nakatake

Some years ago I was selected to give a paper at a conference in Berlin, organised by Nanako Nakajima and Gabriele Brandstetter on ‘The Aging Body in Dance’. This emerged from my research as a Fellow of the International Research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’, at Freie University, Berlin.

My paper discussed the aging, changing body, and how acquired sensory impairments can bring more to our creativity and practice than they take away. I wrote primarily about Silent Rhythm, a Liverpool International Live Art Festival commission at Bluecoats I received with my collaborators dancer/choreographer Denise Armstrong and visual artist Alison Jones. The description of the project is as follows:

15-19 November 2004. Liverpool Biennial Live Art Festival at the Bluecoats Art Centre
Brief description of  ‘SILENT RHYTHM’.

This ‘work in progress’ is a fusion of live art and experimental performance practice from a Deaf and Disability perspective. ‘Silent Rhythm’ is a multi-sensory exploration of space, smell, text, and choreography. This collaboration between writer Kaite O’Reilly, dancer Denise Armstrong, and Visual artist Alison Jones is informed by their sensory impairments, using them as a source of inspiration for creativity. Utilizing written and spatial languages- ‘what words look like in the air’- combined with Deaf choreography, harnessing the ‘inner tempo; the silent rhythm’ within an installation. The live art performance transforms, and possibly erases, aspects of the original installation.

The essay also touches on the work of visually-impaired poet Alex Lemon and dramatist Alex Bulmer.

The collection of essays is edited by Nanako Nakajima and Professor Gabriele Brandstetter, and will be published by Routledge on January 26th 2017.  Details follow:

What does it mean to be able to move?

The Aging Body in Dance brings together leading scholars and artists from a range of backgrounds to investigate cultural ideas of movement and beauty, expressiveness and agility.

Contributors focus on Euro-American and Japanese attitudes towards aging and performance, including studies of choreographers, dancers and directors from Yvonne Rainer, Martha Graham, Anna Halprin and Roemeo Castellucci to Kazuo Ohno and Kikuo Tomoeda. They draw a fascinating comparison between youth-oriented Western cultures and dance cultures like Japan’s, where aging performers are celebrated as part of the country’s living heritage.

The first cross-cultural study of its kind, The Aging Body in Dance offers a vital resource for scholars and practitioners interested in global dance cultures and their differing responses to the world’s aging population.

Table of Contents

Introduction, Gabriele Brandstetter and Nanako Nakajima

Overview of the Aging Body in Dance, Nanako Nakajima

Section I: The Aging Body in the late 20th century: American Postmodern Dance, German Dance, and Japanese Dance

Yvonne Rainer, The Aching Body in Dance

Ramsay Burt, Yvonne Rainer’s Convalescent Dance: On valuing ordinary, everyday, and unidealised bodily states in the context of the aging body in dance

Johannes Odenthal, Der Tanz ist eine Metapher des Lebens (Dance is a Metaphor of Life)

Tamotsu Watanabe, Flowers Blooming in the Time of Aging

Section II: Alternative Dancability: Dis/Ability and Euro-American Performance

Ann Cooper Albright, The Perverse Satisfaction of Gravity

Jess Curtis, Dancing the Non/Fictional Body

Kaite O’Reilly, SILENT RHYTHM: A Reflection on the aging, changing body, and sensory impairment as a source of creativity and inspiration

Susanne Foellmer, Bodies’ Borderlands: Right in the Middle. Dis/Abilities on Stage

Section III: Aging and Body Politics in Contemporary Dance

Petra Kuppers, Somatic Politics: Community Dance and Aging Dance

Kikuko Toyama, Old, weak, and invalid: dance in inaction

Janice Ross, Dance and Aging: Anna Halprin Dancing Eros at the End of Life

Section IV: Perspectives of Interweaving

Mark Franko, Why are Hands the Last Resort of the Aging Body in Dance? Notes on the Modernist Gesture and the Sublime

Nanako Nakajima, Yoshito Ohno’s Figures of Life

 

Congratulations to all contributors and to the editors. It is a privilege to be amongst such company.

Creative Wales Awards 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Ty Newydd

Ty Newydd

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

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

tynewydd_back

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

What follows is from the Ty Newydd website:

PLAYWRITING AND PERFORMANCE MAKING

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

Tutor

Kaite O’Reilly

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

http://www.kaiteoreilly.com