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‘Kaite O’Reilly has always been a rule breaker.’ Exeunt magazine

What follows is an interview with Joe Turnbull for Exeunt magazine. You can read the original feature here

With thanks to Joe and Exeunt.

 

Kaite O’Reilly has always been a rule breaker. Her 2012 play, In Water I’m Weightless set a precedent by having an all Deaf and disabled cast. She’s pioneered creative access throughout her career, informed by her longstanding affinity with Deaf culture. Plays such as The 9 Fridas, subvert traditional theatrical form and aesthetic. And even when she deliberately sets out to make mainstream work she can’t reign in her recalcitrance. She describes the Almond and the Seahorse, her 2008 play which got a five-star review in the Guardian, as her ‘Trojan Horse’: “I created what seemed to be the most commercial theatre script I’d ever written. Only it’s got subversive politics in its belly.”

Her latest work Cosy, which is set to premiere at the Wales Millennium Centre on 8 March, very much falls into the latter category. It’s ostensibly a traditional family drama encompassing three generations of women, which tackles the thorny issue of end-of-life scenarios and ageing.

“I’m deliberately taking different perspectives of a family coming together. It’s familiar – the family all get together and all these discussions and events happen in the family home. But perhaps some of the content and arguments and perspectives being presented are not the ones we would usually hear”.

It turns out O’Reilly’s dissident sensibilities are in her blood. “My family were always rebels, they were always the dissenting voice that would shout up from the back”. As O’Reilly regales me with her backstory, I’m transported to the West Midlands in the 1970s.

O’Reilly’s father, an Irish migrant is holding court amidst a bustling farmer’s market. A proper working-class Irishman, his sales patter is a performance aimed at punters as he tries to flog his sheep. Back at the O’Reilly family home, get-togethers also provide a stage, and everyone is expected to deliver, whether it’s a poem, song or a story. This is the theatre of everyday life. It clearly had quite an impact on the young Kaite.

“The performative aspect that comes culturally from being working class Irish was huge. As I get older I understand how formative that was because it was always about entertaining, engaging, challenging, provoking.”

It isn’t something that they can teach at drama school, nor is it something you can read in a book. “I think that right from the get-go, if you’re going to be a playwright it’s got to be about the living words in the mouth. You know as soon as something sounds stagey. There’s something about engaging with language in the absolute moment that you have to be able to dazzle and create and engage with words.”

But her working-class Irish heritage isn’t the only aspect of her identity that has been seminal to O’Reilly’s work:

“Identifying politically and culturally as a disabled person was essential, because it changes you. It affects everything about how you perceive the world. I think that is huge as a playwright because we’re trying to – as that old hackneyed Shakespeare quote goes – ‘to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature’. Well if you are actually seeing nature and the notion of normalcy as being different from what the majority culture says, then there’s some really interesting things happening”.

O’Reilly doesn’t shirk from the label, she has always embraced it, even in her work, whether that’s using integrated casts, embedding creative access or by directly addressing disability themes. As is common for many successful disabled artists, O’Reilly finds herself at times awkwardly straddling the two worlds of mainstream and disability arts. Cosy is perhaps a sign of things to come for O’Reilly as something of a middle ground between the two. Although the play doesn’t address disability political issues directly, it was inspired by her thoughts around assisted dying which is a very important topic for the disability rights movement.

“I started to think about ageing, about end-of-life scenarios, our relationship to the medical profession and how industrialised care has become. What are the family dynamics in end-of-life scenarios? So basically, Cosy is quite a dark but sophisticated comedy looking at whether we truly own ourselves.”

O’Reilly is eager to acknowledge that her perception of language and working process as a theatre maker have been massively influenced by her work with Deaf collaborators, such as performer and director of visual language, Jean St Clair. “Seeing what language can be through the prism of Deaf culture and experience has been really important; the form, the means, the aesthetic and the possibilities were broadened as I began to learn sign language”.

“I’m notorious for my bad signing,” she tells me, wryly. “Jean teases me all the time about it. Whenever I threaten to go and learn BSL she says ‘no don’t because I actually like what you’re doing, because it makes me think differently’”.

Due to budgetary restrictions, not to mention the changes in Access to Work benefits, O’Reilly regrets that Cosy won’t be the “all-singing, all dancing, all-signing access-fest” as previous works such as In Water I’m Weightless. The play will be captioned, and they are also trialling an app which encompasses different languages and possibly audio description. In spite of the restraints and her past successes, O’Reilly is still not taking anything for granted, displaying the enthusiasm and passion of a young upstart. “Every day I wake up smiling and thankful that we’ve got this opportunity from Unlimited, it’s an incredible gift”.

Perhaps it’s fitting for these austere times that Cosy sees O’Reilly going back to basics in more ways than one. “Cosy isn’t breaking new ground in terms of form or aesthetic but I think it’s interesting that we have reached the point of maturity, where we can have a big growling play with these different perspectives all mashed up and arguing together.”

But it just wouldn’t be an O’Reilly play if it wasn’t pushing the boundaries in some way. Cosy has an integrated all-female cast of disabled and non-disabled actors with ages ranging from 16 to 76, “how gorgeous and delicious is that?” she enthuses. Even more significantly, the roles with the most power in Cosy are predominantly staffed by people who identify culturally and politically as disabled, including the director (Phillip Zarrilli) and assistant producer (Tom Wentworth) in addition to O’Reilly herself as the writer.

“I think it’s interesting that the powerbase is coming from a very open identification as disabled. Often they’re the ones who are non-disabled and the people that are being cast are disabled. I wonder if that’s a shift that has come from Unlimited and their legacy, that we’re now becoming more and more in the position of the powerbase.”

In concert with the launch of Cosy, O’Reilly also has a book entitled Atypical Plays for Atypical actors being published by Oberon Books. It will feature a selection of five plays and performance texts spanning nearly 15 years of work, each of which is informed by disability politics. Clearly, there’s no chance of this rebel being assimilated by her mainstream success.

And like all true revolutionaries, O’Reilly isn’t content being the sole dissenting voice in what can at times be a very homogenised profession. Instead she’s looking to use her profile as a vanguard for others. “There are things that I’m trying to do through my practice and engagement that I hope is going to help shift things and provide opportunities for other people as well. For me it’s very important that we have people in leadership and positions of power who are not only disabled and Deaf, but who identify culturally and politically as so.”

Cosy is on at Cardiff Millennium Centre from 8-12th March. Tickets and info here

 

Welcome to AtDAC, our new blog

AtDAC

Des Tree

Hello!
It is my great pleasure as Patron of DAC to initiate this new feature on the weekly newsletter – a short personal note from a member of the team, giving you an insight into our weekly activities. Apart from introducing you to the staff, we want to feature some of the talented artists and writers involved in our many creative projects, now and in the past. DAC have advised, supported, trained, and showcased the work of hundreds of disabled and Deaf artists, dancers, writers, musicians, composers and performers over the years and we’re keen to share your stories. If you would like to be featured, please get in touch at post@dacymru.com
As usual, DAC’s office is like a hive, buzzing with preparations for forthcoming projects. As a writer and playwright, I’m particularly excited by their inaugural poetry competition – a response in words to DAC’s current visual art exhibition…

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Vital Disabled Student Support to be Cut. Save DSA!

Please support this campaign against these cuts and read the post reblogged here.

The Hardest Hit

Cross-posted from Sarah Campbell, Rolling with the Punches
Spread the word. Tell your MP. Write blogs. Let people know what is happening. We must try to stop this.

You can write to your MP online here.
Please also sign the e-petition here.
Share and Retweet this #ProtectDSA.

After becoming disabled as a teenager, I went to university, obtained a first class degree, then completed a PhD.  While I worked extremely hard, none of this would have been possible without the support of Disabled Student Allowance (DSA), which covers the extra costs for equipment and assistance disabled students may require in order to study at university.

This is why I was aghast to learn that the government has just announced plans to cut DSA.
Couched under the language of “modernisation”, “targeting funds at those who need it most”, “fairness”, is hidden the reality of an estimated 60 to 70% cut in…

View original post 830 more words

Grace, fluency, and facility… Poet Chris Kinsey on writing and re-writing.

Writers are notoriously curious about how everybody else does it. Apart from the endless fascination with other peoples’ process, we also know there are wonderful lessons to be learned, tips to gather, knowledge to be shared. A few weeks ago the poet Chris Kinsey shared a document with me which she had written for her students about writing and re-writing. I’m delighted she gave me permission to reproduce that here.

 

Chris Kinsey: A personal view of writing and re-writing.

 

I write mainly out of excitement with experiences and from a desire to re-enact and re-live them.

I want to record the physicality and sensations of certain experiences. (Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Gerard Manley Hopkins were the first to make me want to pay attention and write.)

I write in order to find out what it is I want to write. Many writers prefer to have a plan but I’ve never liked to fit into the Procrustian bed of a plan. I need to make discoveries to maintain my motivation. Good ideas mostly fail because they’re good and there’s nothing to work out. It can feel like drudgery to record them.

First drafts are like finding a load of fireworks – full of excitement at experimenting with voices and viewpoints and coining words and images with the most exact visual or aural effects. This stage can be intoxicating. I chase a stream of consciousness, memory and sensation as fast as I can and as close as I can to any event which excites me to write.

Re-writing is best done a day or two after the ‘first thoughts, best thoughts’ rush.

Sometimes it’s as painful and humiliating as a hangover – everything grates or clunks or seems hackneyed, clichéd, laborious, repetitive, monotonous, vague, waffling, tongue-twisterly, O.T.T……. Sometimes it only feels this way. Our feelings are not always the best guide to the quality of our work; especially if they’ve just been hurt by discovering that a first draft doesn’t represent total satisfaction or perfection. Usually there are plenty of nuggets to harvest and frequently this leads to the true or vivid aspects of the subject declaring themselves and a theme or shape emerges. Voice or tone stabilises and distillation begins.

Crop peripheral ideas and images, focus the main ones.

Strive for the most exact, apt images and nouns. Tone up verbs. Tweak and play with word orders (save every change – you may want to revert to an earlier form). Try your piece out on the ear. Cut clichés, repetitions, catch phrases, etc. Etc. Rest. Let it lie.

Return later  – this is the hard part – make sure you haven’t cut some crucial part. And this is the really hard part – make sure you haven’t stifled the life of your piece by over determining it.

Hope for grace, fluency, and facility. Try your work out on someone whose feedback you trust and respect. Someone who will tell you where the work made them stumble is valuable.

Good, spontaneous-sounding, ‘natural’, pleasure-to-read work, often takes between 15 and 30 drafts.

 

*

With thanks to Chris.

Copyright of the above remains with Chris Kinsey 16/2/14.

 

Gender and Playwriting Survey – invitation to participate

Tonic Theatre are currently working with eleven other companies across the UK, inviting playwrights to participate in a survey so they may find more about the connections between gender and playwriting.

Information gathered will contribute to research conducted as part of Advance, a programme exploring how the theatre industry can work more successfully with female artists.

I hope we are all aware of the inequality existing within the industry – a stubborn 2:1 male to female ratio. For a quick fix on stats and data gleaned  from research by The Guardian and Elizabeth Freestone, have a look at: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/dec/10/women-in-theatre-research-full-results

Tonic are encouraging playwrights of any age, gender, or location in the UK to participate in the anonymous survey. It will take 10 minutes upwards to complete, depending on the level of your participation. “We know that it’s not often that playwrights are given the chance to comment on how the industry does or doesn’t work for them, and your response will be vital to the success of Advance and broadening our understanding more generally of the playwright’s experience.”

The Advance programme is exploring how the theatre industry can work more successfully with female artists. Tonic Theatre “..supports the theatre industry to achieve greater gender equality in its workforces and repertoires….Tonic’s approach involves getting to grips with the principles that lie beneath how our industry functions – our working methods, decision-making processes, and organisational structures – and identifying how, in their current form, these can create barriers. Once we have done that, we devise practical yet imaginative alternative approaches and work with our partners to trial and deliver them. Essentially, our goal is to equip our colleagues in UK theatre with the tools they need to ensure a greater level of female talent is able to rise to the top.’

A project worth participating in – and you can until Monday 24 March.

 

You can participate in the survey here:  http://fluidsurveys.com/s/AdvancePlaywrightSurvey/

Further information about Tonic, their projects and their work can be found at: http://www.tonictheatre.co.uk/

 

Uncovering New Writing – Poetry, Prose and Plays – Bare Fiction Magazine – Guest Blog by Robert Harper.

Bare fiction magazine

Bare fiction magazine

When Kaite O’Reilly asks you to write a guest article for her blog about your own project, you get that little warming feeling that the road you’re embarking upon might just be the right one. So I was delighted when she suggested I write about a new literary periodical I’m publishing called Bare Fiction magazine.

I’ve long been interested in the process of creating words on a page. How did our great 20th century dramatists, poets and novelists manage to compel us to follow their every literary whim and where do our contemporary writers find the new bones of these fantastic bodies of work that the theatrical and publishing world has helped make flesh on which we joyfully feast.

Now for some peculiar reason, though I’ve happily spent the majority of the last 20 years as a performer, I have always had a deep desire to produce a literary magazine. Perhaps it was initially fueled by long nights in my early twenties spent drinking bourbon with my dearest friend, imagining we were beat poets. Perhaps it stems from performing in some fantastic plays and feeling sadness that the words we shared may never find another’s ear or leapfrog off the page and be made whole by someone else’s brain.

Like so many creative artists, I found myself wondering how my endeavour was going to be different. What could I possibly do to make another literary title stand out from the many others on offer? Then I realised something that up to that moment hadn’t been apparent to me. Nobody else was including playwrights within their magazines. And by that I mean that I could find no evidence that dramatic texts were being discussed on their literary merit or published in part or in their entirety within another literary title. This should have been my eureka moment, but this was always my intention. It was so obvious to me that play texts and playwrights would be a part of my magazine alongside poets and poetry, authors and short fiction, that it never occurred to me that someone else wasn’t doing it already.

But why me? Why did I think I was the one to do it? As I said, I’ve been fascinated by the written word for decades and so it seemed like the natural time to do a little bit more study to back up my editorial journey by enrolling for an MA in Creative Writing. This fuelled the fires and I began to see that, like anything, you simply need the passion to succeed and with the kindness and support of a few friends, you can make it happen.

Except of course in these difficult economic times with grants for the arts and council subsidies being cut in every corner of the country where would we find the money to produce the print copies of the magazine. My fellow editors (Lisa Parry, Branwen Davies, Emma Andrew, Tom Wentworth and Amelia Forsbrook) and contributors were all adamant that they wanted to help the magazine get off the ground by offering their time for nothing, but we would of course need to fund the printing costs.

During the last few months visitors to the website have kindly been pre-ordering our launch issue which features some amazingly talented writers across all fields. We’ve work from acclaimed playwright, Forward Prize and Aldeburgh shortlisted poet Dan O’Brien with whom I’m also writing an article for the magazine. We also have the full text of Neil Bebber’s superb short play Breathe which was part of Dirty Protest’s Plays in a Bag season at the Almeida this summer. Amongst our poets we have Fred D’Aguiar, Boyd Clack, Adam Horovitz, Roger Garfitt, Dylan Thomas Prize shortlisted Jemma L. King, plus BBC Writer’s Prize winner Sarah Hehir. Short fiction includes work from Jane Slavin, Elvis Avdibegovic Bego, and Katie Bickell. The list goes on and you can of course see full details on the website.

I want to continue this journey of exploration of the uncovering of new work by writers at all stages of their career. To discover work of exciting promise and exceptional skill that wakes you up the second you read the first lines. But we need a little help along the way. We’ll be printing three issues a year from next March, but we’re kicking off with a bumper launch issue this December.

With that in mind we’ve created a kickstarter campaign to help fund the costs of the initial print run, distribution and promotion of 500 copies of the magazine and we need just £1600 to do that. As I write this our  campaign has been live for just shy of 48 hours and I’m thrilled by the support so far. But we still have 85% of our target left to achieve.

Please take a quick look at our promotional video (below) and visit our campaign page to pledge support in return for a digital or printed copy of the magazine. We’ve lots of reward options for you to choose from. Thank you and I hope you enjoying reading all the great new writing that we’re going to bring you.

Robert Harper

Editor

Bare Fiction Magazine

The launch issue of Bare Fiction Magazine is available to pre-order via the website or by pledging on the kickstarter campaign page and will be on sale from December 2013 through independent bookshops. Advertisers can also pledge via the campaign to secure advertisement space or visit the website for more details.

Links:

Magazine: http://www.barefictionmagazine.co.uk/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BareFiction

Twitter: http://twitter.com/BareFiction

Kickstarter: http://kck.st/15LHPlm

Video embed code:

Kickstarter widget code (for keeping up to date with a funding goal):

kickstarter url:  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/743626153/bare-fiction-magazine-launch-issue-poetry-fiction width=480]

Kickstarter widget code (for keeping up to date with a funding goal): kickstarter url=http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/743626153/bare-fiction-magazine-launch-issue-poetry-fiction width=220

More in praise of Alice Munro and the short story

After the popularity of Saturday’s blog on the short story, I wanted to add a few more links. The always excellent brainpickings has Alice Munro on the secret of a great short story: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/11/alice-munro-on-stories/

Earlier this Autumn, Literature Wales, Swansea University and the Rhys Davies Trust held a conference on the short story, with everyone from Edna O’Brien, Tessa Hadley, to Will Self in attendance. I was unable to attend, but am grateful for the coverage from the excellent Wales Arts Review, Volume 2, issue 23, which I highly recommend: http://www.walesartsreview.org/wales-arts-review-volume-2-issue-23/

This edition includes interviews with Rachel Trezise and Will Self; Patricia Duncker, Stevie Davies, Alison Moore and others on their favourite short stories;  a revisit of classics such as two of my personal favourites, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and William Trevor’s wonderful The Ballroom of Romance. The recent announcement that William Trevor has been awarded The Charleston Trust/ University of Chichester inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in Short Story Writing seems to affirm this sometimes overlooked form is having its time in the limelight. Let us enjoy…