Tag Archives: Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors

The Necessity of Diverse Voices in Theatre Regarding Disability and Difference: Howlround

The Necessity of Diverse Voices in Theatre Regarding Disability and Difference. Excerpt from an essay for Howlround:

Theatre could be defined as the study of what it is to be human. For millennia we have come to sit communally—a group of human beings watching another group of human beings pretending to be other human beings. We are endlessly fascinated with each other, yet a place purported to be about the range of human possibility has for too long been circumscribed and limited, especially towards almost a fifth of the population. Statistics vary, depending on definitions of “disability,” but the World Health Organization estimates 15 percent of the world population as being disabled, whilst a 2012 US Census Bureau estimate brought the figure in at just over 19 percent of the American population.

For thousands of years in the Western theatrical tradition, the atypical body has been used to scare, warn, explain, and explore human frailty, mortality, and the human condition. Disability has been a metaphor for the non-disabled to explore their fears and embedded societal values.

Since the Ancient Greeks disabled characters have appeared in plays, but seldom have the writers been disabled or written from that embodied or political perspective. The vast majority of disabled characters in the Western canon are tropes, and not only that, they reify notions of “normalcy” rather than broadening the lens and embracing all the possibilities of human variety. These misrepresentations are so prevalent in Western culture that negative representations of impairment and associations have become ingrained. Strange untruths have therefore been created and recycled in our dramas for stage and screen, and the rich, rewarding reality of disabled peoples’ lives has been replaced with problematic representations which work to keep us different, “special,” and apart. This “othering” of difference (which also includes sexual preference, cultural heritage, belief system, and so on) provides a “useful” slide rule against which notions of “being normal” and “fitting in” can be measured. These distorted ideas enshrined in our entertainment media legitimize the negative attitudes that can lead to discrimination and hate crime.

Richard Rieser in his teaching guide to disability and moving image media, published by Disability Equality in Education, gives an example of how the limited narratives and visual lexicon impacts on people’s consciousness and actions. He focuses on Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, noting how after its release in the UK the previously archaic term “hunchback” reentered common parlance as a derogatory term directed at disabled people. At the same time, The British Scoliosis Society complained to the then minister of Disabled People, Nicholas Scott, about a sudden increase in violent physical attacks against its members—over 100 attacks in the six months following the film’s release, when in the six months previous to this, there had been none.

Images and narratives in our entertainment media help form the mirror reflecting our society, through which, it could be argued, we gain a sense of community, morality, and self. Without a diversity of voices, perspectives, and experiences, prevailing negative attitudes and values remain entrenched and go unchallenged.

Thankfully change is coming, albeit slowly, with more disabled and d/Deaf artists coming to the fore across art forms. This is partly the fruit of the UK and US disability civil rights movements, out of which disability arts and culture grew, and the disability arts forums, organizations, and festivals that supported and still encourage this growth. In the UK it is also down to initiatives such as Unlimited, a funding strand keen to promote, commission, and implant the work of disabled and Deaf artists in the “mainstream” on a level never experienced before.

As a playwright and dramaturg who identifies as disabled, I have been working for several decades across and between so-called “mainstream” culture and what I coin “crip” culture, informed by the social model of disability. I consider disability a social construct—I am a woman with a sensory and physical impairment, but it is society’s attitudinal and physical barriers which is disabling, not the idiosyncrasies of my body.

In my work I am interested in creating new protagonists, with different narratives, and with different endings—and to challenge and expand the actual theatre languages at play in live performance through my engagement with the aesthetics of access. I believe reimagining disability opens up creative possibilities in aesthetics, form, and content—changing the stories we tell, how they are told, and the people who tell them.

To read the rest of the article, please go to Howlround

This essay first appeared on 2nd July 2017 at: http://howlround.com/the-necessity-of-diverse-voices-in-theatre-regarding-disability-and-difference

http://bit.ly/2sxogRc

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/

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

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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

The Verb: Friday 25th November 2016, 10pm, BBC Radio 3

bbc_radio_three

Ever aware of my backlog of blogs – the tour to Taipei and Hong Kong in particular – I ask forgiveness and avert your attention instead to an event I’m immensely excited about, next week:

I’m delighted I will be appearing on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb on Friday 25th November with C Duncan and Caoillin Hughes, aided and abetted by the wordsmith Ian McMillan. I’ll be speaking about my selected plays, Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, with the sublime Celyn Jones, a long-term collaborator, reading extracts from plays. Celyn and I last collaborated on the critically acclaimed The Almond and the Seahorse at Sherman Cymru in 2008, directed by Phillip Zarrilli. Celyn has since been remarkably busy and successful on the large screen (just a taster with Set Fire to the Stars), so it’s a great pleasure and a bit of a scoop to have him back performing live.

Further details of the programme follow – as will the blogs once I finally get home after so many weeks on the road.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0833yq1

Theatre as a study of what it is to be human

atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors

This September has been a remarkably rich and exciting month owing to the Unlimited Festivals at Southbank Centre in London and the current one at Tramway, Glasgow. Apart from immersing myself in the art exhibitions, performances, discussions and many events around disability culture and issues of diversity at these festivals, I’ve been ‘in conversation’ and launching my selected plays ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. On Saturday 24th September, 2-5pm I will be in conversation with Nicola McCartney and then leading a short workshop/talk ‘Atypical in Action’ at Tramway, 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow G41 2PE. 

What follows is a guest blog I wrote about the workshop and talk and my work, collaborators, and why accessible and culturally diverse work is so essential:

The Study of What it is to be Human…. 

Guest post for: http://www.kimaskswhat.online/2016/09/guest-post-by-kaite-oreilly-theatre-as.html?m=1

Theatre could be defined as the study of what it is to be human. For millennia we have come to sit communally – a group of human beings watching another group of human beings pretending to be other human beings. We are endlessly fascinated with each other, yet a place purported to be about the range of human possibility has for too long been circumscribed and limited, especially towards a quarter of the population.

As I have discussed at length elsewhere, for thousands of years in the Western theatrical canon, the atypical body has been used to scare, warn, explain and explore human frailty, mortality and the human condition. Disability has been a metaphor for the non-disabled to explore their fears and embedded societal values. Although disabled characters appear in thousands of plays, seldom has the playwright been disabled, or written from that embodied, political perspective. Some strange untruths have therefore been created and recycled in our dramas for stage and screen; the rich, rewarding reality of our lives replaced with problematic representations which work to keep ‘us’ different, ‘special’ and apart.

That, thankfully, is changing, with more disabled and Deaf artists coming to the fore across artforms. This is partly owing to the fruits of the UK and US disability civil rights movements, out of which disability arts and culture grew, and the disability arts forums, organisations, and festivals which supported and still encourage this growth. It is also down to initiatives such as Unlimited, keen to promote, commission, and embed the work of disabled and Deaf artists in the ‘mainstream’ on a level never experienced before.

As a multi award winning playwright and dramaturg who identifies as a disability artist, I have been exploring this territory, informed by the social model of disability, working across and between so-called ‘mainstream’ culture and what I coin ‘crip’ culture for several decades. I consider disability a social construct – I am a woman with a sensory and physical impairment, but it is society’s attitudinal and physical barriers which is disabling, not the idiosyncrasies of my body.

In my work I am interested in creating new protagonists, with different narratives, and with different endings – and to challenge and expand the actual theatre languages at play in live performance.

Paul Darke and other Disability performance scholars such as Carrie Sandahl have written about the limited plot lines for the disabled character. Often, as seen again recently with the film version of JoJo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ – it is emphatically ‘better dead than disabled.’ In films and plays stereotypes rule – the blind wise ‘seer’, the evil and twisted mastermind, the hero who overcomes her impairments to ‘pass’ as non-disabled. From Tiny Tim to Richard III to Oedipus, we have been the personification of uselessness, or evil incarnate. These stories and characters are so prevalent, Paul Darke claims the audience believes they understand and know disabled experience, even though it is through a filter that isolates, individualises, medicalises or finally normalises the character. What the audience is experiencing is not the ‘truths’ of our lives, but the long cultural and linguistic practice of ascribing meaning to the atypical body. We are metaphors – something my actor characters in ‘peeling’ are fed up with, and wish to rebel against.

So as a playwright, I try to present different protagonists and different stories – often challenging contemporary representations of disability. The survivors of TBI (traumatic brain injury) in my 2008 play ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ subvert notions of brain injury splashed across the media and questions who the real ‘victims’ are – if indeed there are any. Protagonists, their journeys and outcomes can be subverted and changed – offering more possibilities and rich, engrossing drama which avoids stereotypes.

I am also involved in ‘aesthetics of access’ – embedding audio description into the text of my script ‘peeling’ – working bilingually in visual and spoken/projected languages. As a hearing woman, I have been blessed with generous Deaf collaborators – Jenny Sealey, Ali Briggs, Denise Armstrong, Ruth Gould, Sophie Stone and especially BSL expert and visual language creative director Jean St Clair. Through our experimentation across spoken and visual languages, they have helped me develop into the playwright and dramaturg I am.

What these devices do, along with what I coined when AHRC creative fellow ‘Alternative Dramaturgies informed by a Deaf and disability perspective’, is make work more accessible, yes, but also challenge the ingrained assumptions and hierarchies in contemporary theatre and culture. When we change the bodies which perform, design, direct, create, and commission the work in our pleasure palaces, when we change the theatre languages used, the processes and practice are inherently changed, too. We can then truly be a place which celebrates all the possibilities of human variety, challenging notions of ‘difference’ and revoking the old stories and their predictable endings.

Kaite O’Reilly will be launching her book Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, followed by a workshop exploring the aesthetics of access used in her award-winning work, at Tramway on Saturday 24 September 2016, 2pm – 5pm

Book tickets here

More information here

“Disability culture brings extra richness.” An interview with the British Council

Earlier this month, as part of the Unlimited Festival at the Southbank Centre, I was interviewed for the British Council website. What follows is a video link and additional material, below.

 

http://bit.ly/2cqS87G

 

Can you tell us about your new book, Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors?

It’s a collection of five plays, from Peeling, which I did with Graeae Theatre Company in 2002, right the way through to Cosy, an Unlimited commission that happened earlier this year at Wales Millennium Centre.

Some of the plays in the collection are character-driven and quite realist, but others are post-dramatic and experimental. I’ve been using what I call ‘alternative dramaturgies’ formed by a Deaf and disability perspective.

The word ‘disabled’ can be really problematic. I didn’t want to use the word ‘disabled’ or ‘disability’, and I think ‘atypical’ is a far more interesting term. I decided to use this word because the collection contains plays, performance texts and post-dramatic texts – so they are not one particular thing, and it’s unusual to have a collection like that. Also, the plays are for actors who are not the usual representation of what an actor may be.

How did you come to be an artist? What was your path into the industry?

I started out as an actor working with Graeae Theatre Company in the late 1980s. I was very involved in the disability civil rights movement, campaigning for equal access to public buildings, education and opportunities. The people that I was meeting at that time who worked in disability and Deaf arts opened up all sorts of opportunities for me to be experimental, making work as a writer, dramaturge and maker rather than an actor. I also just fell in love with the use of sign language.

So I became more and more interested in writing and working dramaturgically – and sometimes as a director – working with visual language. Around the same time I was very fortunate to win a couple of major playwriting awards in the so-called mainstream. So I had these two tracks going along in parallel, and the irony was that people in either culture, whether it be the mainstream or disability culture, weren’t really aware of what I was doing in the other track. This is why in recent years I’ve been trying to bring those two together, and the book is partly a result of that.

How do you think the UK and the wider international creative industries are doing in terms of creating opportunities for disabled artists and disabled-led work?

I think there is a huge amount that needs to be done. I am incredibly disappointed at how little has changed. There are lots of organisations that are trying to bring more diversity as a whole, and there are lots of incredible initiatives, but it’s taking much longer than I’d ever hoped. In 1987, I was lying down in front of a bus on a demo, because we wanted just to be able to have accessible transport. That’s beginning to happen now. I feel that I still need to be lying down in the front of the doors of the theatres and buildings that, whilst well-meaning, are still not actually allowing the breadth and variety of artists to make work and be part of that culture.

There are special initiatives, but those special initiatives for disabled playwrights or disabled practitioners, so far in my experience, don’t really lead to what they should, which is proper jobs and proper commissions.

And yet, we are doing far better than so many other places in the world. So I may be complaining, but I’m also really grateful that we have examples and models that we can share with our collaborators internationally. I’m very excited by that, and that heartens me and encourages me. But I still think we really could do better, and how we will do better is by having more disabled and Deaf cultural leaders.

How do you think these opportunities could be made more available, to allow artistic leadership among disabled artists?

I think there’s a big issue here about whether we want to have diversity that is in actual physical bodies or whether we want diversity culturally. If you have a woman making work, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be feminist theatre that she’s making. Just because you have someone who might be disabled making work, it doesn’t mean it’s disability culture. Disability culture encourages us to question normalcy, to question the very narrow, confined representation we usually have of what it is to be human. That, for me, would be the real political shift.

What do disability arts festivals like Unlimited offer audiences and artists?

What would be fantastic is to make sure that we have some of the innovations and the aesthetics of access used widely in the so-called mainstream. I’ve been trying to bring the same kind of innovative work with the same kind of content that I would have been doing in disability arts and cultural context to a mainstream platform. Creatively, it’s incredibly exciting to have more diverse theatre languages in a piece of work. I want us to have more theatre languages, I want us to be more accessible. I don’t want it to be an add-on. I want the sign language, I want the audio description, I want the projections to be integrated and used creatively as something for the audience as a whole, regardless of impairment.

But I also want disability arts and cultural festivals in their own right to continue. They provide a place where people can cut their teeth and can be mentored and developed. Festivals like Unlimited enable us to take risks and to fail – and to succeed – and to take the successes on to reach a wider audience.

Having our disability festivals also just gives more diversity. I really like going to a very specific festival because it also allows those of us that have been doing that for 20 or 30 years to see what’s new, to catch up with the old comrades and colleagues, and also just to keep pushing, questioning, checking, “Are we still needed? Do we need to actually still be out there, demonstrating? Or are we now being completely included in the mainstream?” And I think, at the moment, we’re not being included in the mainstream.

What advice would you give to young and emerging disabled artists who are at the beginning of their careers?

I think the advice that I would give to emerging artists of whatever discipline – and whether they’re disabled or Deaf or hearing and non-disabled – is always the same. We need resilience. We have to take risks. There’s new blood coming through, and they need to shake things up a bit. They have to find their own way of doing things. Find the allies who are trying to bring about change. I would say please remain curious, please remain defiant and questioning and passionate, and enjoy it. It has to be enjoyable, because otherwise, why are we doing it? Know who your forbearers were, acknowledge your influences, but chop it up, break it up, smash it up, make it your own.

Kaite O’Reilly was speaking to Jane Fletcher, Arts Content Editor at the British Council

Unlimited Festivals – Southbank Centre and Tramway – September 2016

The Way You Look At Me Tonight, Claire Cunningham

The Way You Look At Me Tonight, Claire Cunningham

The Unlimited Commissions programme aims to embed work by disabled and Deaf artists within the cultural sector, reaching new audiences and shifting perceptions of disability. I’ve just had the confirmed details of the two Unlimited Festivals happening this Autumn in London and Glasgow, and am delighted to say I will be speaking at both.

The first is at Southbank Centre on 6th September , when I’ll be ‘in conversation’ and launching my selected plays Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors. Later in the month I’ll be at Tramway ‘in conversation’ and also leading a workshop/lecture demonstration on 24th September about the aesthetics of access in writing plays and performance texts.

What follows is information from  UNLIMITED:

Tickets are now available for both Southbank Centre and Tramway’s Unlimited Festivals, featuring many of the artists commissioned by Unlimited in 2015 and work we’ve supported through Unlimited Impact.

Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival, London
6-11 September 2016

Join Southbank Centre once again for a festival of theatre, dance, music, literature, comedy and visual arts that celebrates difference with a spirit of artistic adventure, honesty and humour. Read more here.

The festival features work from many of Unlimited’s commissioned artists, including: Nama Āto, Richard Butchins, Liz Carr, Claire Cunningham, Jack Dean, Sean Goldthorpe, Sheila Hill, Noëmi Lakmaier, Kaite O’Reilly, Cameron Morgan, Richard Newnham, Bekki Perriman, Nye Russell-Thompson, Ted Shiress, Craig Simpson, Jess Thom and Aaron Williamson.

Tuesday 6 September 2:00pm – 3:00pm  Kaite O’Reilly in conversation/book launch.

http://unlimited.southbankcentre.co.uk/events/book-launch-kaite-oreilly-in-conversation

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Tramway, Glasgow 15-25 September 2016

Tramway’s Unlimited Festival celebrates extraordinary work by disabled artists with an international programme of performance, visual art, discussions and more. Including new and acclaimed productions, exhibitions and participation opportunities, along with a variety of city centre installations, a family day and a two day symposium focusing on emerging artists. Information here.

Featuring the work from artists we’re working with, including: Nama Āto, Liz Carr, Claire Cunningham, Jack Dean, Sheila Hill, Cameron Morgan, Bekki Perriman, Aaron Williamson and Maki Yamazaki.

atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors

Saturday 24 September  2pm – 5pm

Kaite O’Reilly: Book Launch | Atypical in Action

Join multi award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly as she presents her latest work. Published by Oberon, Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors is the first of its kind. A collection of six dramas, it redefines notions of normality and expands the scope of what it means to be human, while exploring disability as a portal to new experience. Followed by Atypical in Action, a talk and workshop exploring some of the ‘aesthetics of access’ used in O’Reilly’s work.

Both events in London and Glasgow are free, but ticketed, so please book your place in advance.