My mother always said that life offered a feast or a famine and never a steady balanced three meals a day which might keep our blood sugar and nerves steady. No, it was a juddering, shuddering rollercoaster ride, swinging from gluttony to a wafer and water diet, and I should always be ready for either.
This year so far has certainly been of a generous rather than miserly disposition. I’ve been immensely fortunate with productions and commissions in 2019/20 and pause now, just post-midsummer, with my head spinning and my belly fit to burst. This, I promise you, is not gloating – the famine months will be upon me again soon enough, and I know from past experience what bolsters me through those lean times is the memory of small celebrations when things were bowling along famously, thank you very much. Success and steady employment is scarce enough in this business, so should be celebrated when it dallies in the neighbourhood. But as my friend Chris reminds me, it isn’t entirely luck when things go well, but a reaping of the benefits of work we seeded long ago. And so like the cricket in the fable, I am singing in the sunshine, but also trying to be the ant and prepare for the future.
Aesop’s Fables, Unicorn theatre.
Fables have been very much a companion the past few months as my first small commission for Unicorn Theatre goes into production. “Working in theatre with young audiences is a total privilege and helps make you a better artist” Aesop’s Fables directors Justin Audibert and Rachel Bagshaw said in a recent interview and I totally agree.
My writing commissions when I was starting out were for young audiences, and the first thing I think about when approaching a new script is considering who will be experiencing the event I hope to create. It directs the story, tone, aesthetic and theatre style. After huge state of the nation plays about death, difference, diversity and disability, it was hugely enjoyable to return to thinking about a young audience, and how to select and make current one of Aesop’s Fables for The Unicorn Theatre’s summer production.
Jessica Hayles and Guy Rhys in ‘Dog and Wolf’ by Kaite O’Reilly, Unicorn Theatre. Photo: Craig Sugden
I chose ‘Dog and Wolf’, a little known fable from Aesop’s trove, as I needed to find something that could have resonance for contemporary times and one that could be political (as in the personal is political) rather than archaic or moralistic. Aesop is often associated with ‘the moral of the story is…’ but there’s no moral here, it’s a teaching, which is just as well, as I abhor moralising. I think it’s better to engage through raising curiosity or empathy rather than through the flawed binary of right or wrong. This pithy fable explores quite complex relationships and issues – of ‘ownership’, hierarchy, freedom, and work/life ethics and fitted my politics of preferring to be hungry and free than well fed but not owning yourself.
I hasten to say, my looping, punning, tongue-twistery treatment of the fable may indeed verge on the post-dramatic, but it’s not as worthy as my hand-wringing description, above, suggests. Co-directed by both Justin and Rachel, it appears in the repertoire for both age groups, 4-8 year old and 8-11 years, and runs until August.
I’ve been thinking a lot about perseverance and longevity in career of late. It’s largely due to mentoring two brilliant but vastly different creatives, Gemma Prangle and Lisette Auton. The conversations we’ve had are as instructive for me as them. We’ve been thinking about trying new processes and form, discovering voice and tone while trying to beat that old bug bear, imposter syndrome. Both women are phenomenally talented and forging ahead with new practice and projects. It’s an immense privilege to be going part of the journey with them, reminding them that no, there is no one way to do anything, and part of their task is finding what works for them, and to hell with all the advice and theories about how to… I’m sure I’m not the only one who wasted an inordinately long time worrying that my process wasn’t like what the manuals or the best-selling authors or the Oscar winning screenwriters said was needed to succeed and get ahead.
‘Just do it’, I said during an impromptu lecture with members from Youth Theatres of Ireland who attended a performance of my play Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival. It’s not the first time I’ve been photographed outside a theatre with a large percentage of the audience, nor will it be the last time I’m suddenly press-ganged into an impromptu Q&A. I love it. It’s refreshing and invigorating to speak with our emerging practitioners and the future generation of theatre makers. These young creatives were spectacular, full of insight and curiosity, with a strong social and political conscience. Irish theatre is going to be just fine if these are the makers of the future.
Members from the Youth Theatres of Ireland with me outside the Firkin Crane, Cork, prior to a performance of ‘Cosy’ by Gaitkrash.
Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival was delicious, a wonderful experience of working with six female performers, playing age 16 to 76, at the top of their game. The following short video interviews can give a taste of the company, Gaitkrash, and the lively dynamic whilst dealing with the subject of death from performers Regina Crowley, Mairin Prendergast and Pauline O’Driscoll https://vimeo.com/341828036
The director, Phillip Zarrilli, has his own playful riposte on the subject. https://vimeo.com/345047366
July continues being female-collaborator led, with research and development on a new commission from Wales Millennium Centre, building on my 2017/18 Major Creative Wales Award from Arts Council Wales which had me exploring ‘The Performative Power of Words with Music.’
Sophie Stone and Rebecca Applin in rehearsal in Wales Millennium Centre
Working with long term collaborators composer Rebecca Applin and performer Sophie Stone is an absolute dream, and I will be opening up more about this innovative project later in the Summer.
Meanwhile also in July is the book release of ‘Persians’, winner of theTed Hughes Award for new works in poetry, published by Fair Acre Press.
We will be having a Poetry Party on 1st September at Mid Wales Arts Centre – celebrating ‘Persians’ and the publication of brilliant poet Chris Kinsey’s ‘From Rowan Ridge’, also published by Fair Acre Press. The event is free, and will feature readings from our new books, plus a host of invited poets from across Wales.
Persians’ will be published by Fair Acre Press on 29th July 2019, but advance copies can be ordered from the publisher here. It will also be available via Amazon, online, and all good bookshops from the publication date.
I also have other launch events and workshops happening in early September, with a few places left on my masterclass in adaptations at Small World Theatre, details here.
Launch and workshop:
I will be launching Persians in Cardigan at Small World Theatre on 7th September, following a workshop on adapting ancient texts:
Singing the old bones – new stories from ancient texts.
Revisiting older stories can be a masterclass in narrative. Myths, fairystories, epics from Ancient Greek drama and the oral tradition survive as they seem to speak to each age anew. These archetypal characters and narratives inspire and invite constant reinvention, yet the old bones remain true. In this practical workshop we will retell, remake and renew, participants exploring individual perspectives on timeless themes, reshaping ancient tales to illuminate something contemporary. The tutor, Kaite, is a repeat re-teller, creating to date three very different performances on the story of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion, and a new version of Aeschylus’s Persians,the oldest verse drama in the Western tradition, which won The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.
We ask participants to come with a myth, fable, ancient drama or story, which we will use to explore the fundamentals of story making: theme, structure, setting, dialogue and character. Through examples of Kaite’s diverse approaches to reinventing existing texts, we will make our own, sparking a new cycle of telling and retellings, seeding work which could be developed further beyond the masterclass.
Workshop 2-5pm on 7th September 2019, £25.
Small World Theatre | Theatr Byd Bychan
Cardigan | Aberteifi, SA43 IJY
Numbers are limited and already almost sold out, but plans are afoot for a further workshop/event in November 2019 at the same venue.
After the workshop:
Launch of ‘Persians’ Kaite O’Reilly’s new version of Aeschylus’s classic verse drama. 6pm. Free entry.
Kaite will read from the verse drama and speak about the historical and contemporary contexts of this extraordinary text. There will be a book signing after the reading and launch.