Tag Archives: David Toole

In Conversation with John McGrath – Disability Arts International

Manchester International Festival’s Artistic Director, John McGrath has been a long-term collaborator with disabled artists and disability-led companies. John shares his thoughts on the artists who have most influenced both his own way of working and the wider arts ecology. These include Kaite O’Reilly, Claire Cunningham and David Toole.

An audio description of the interview is available here

Guest blog: Unlimited Impressions

Kaite asked me to write a guest blog about my experiences at the Unlimited Festival in London and I’m delighted to do so. I was overwhelmed by the vibrant and cheerful atmosphere at the festival – people discussing in speech and sign, moving around between workshops, panel discussions, performances, outdoor events, cafés and screenings of the Paralympic games. I came home to Berlin with so many new impressions and thoughts that I really struggle to arrange them in any systematic order. As a PhD student in theatre and peformance studies, I’m doing research about performances directed to Deaf and hearing audiences – which was my main reason for travelling to London. But as I have for once the opportunity not, or at least not only to write about my research topic, I prefer writing down some random impressions I got from the festival. As I don’t have much experience in disability arts, it was especially this part of the festival which delighted, surprised and challenged me the most. And now for my private Unlimited brainstorming.

David Toole

David Toole – this is my first association when I think of Unlimited. He really was a revelation to me – as a dancer, actor and performer. I didn’ know him before and saw him for the first time in „In Water I’m Weightless“, Kaite’s Unlimited concession. Watching him performing opened for me a completely new notion what human body movement can be. Due to his individual movement pattern – he walks on his hands – he is capable of moving in a way which I haven’t seen before. Walking, dancing, climbing and jumping on his hands, he sometimes seemed unaffected by gravity. I have never seen before someone switching so quickly between elegance, ferocity, vulnerability and buoyancy in his movements. I’m sorry, I’m incapable of describing it any better – even in German I couldn’t. If you don’t know him (and even if you do know him), I advise you to do the same what I did when I came home: go on Youtube and watch David Toole dance videos.

Vision

Karina Jones, actress in „In Water I’m Weightless“, performed a monologue [written by Kaite] about visual impairment. From all the beautiful text passages I heard, read and saw that evening, it was this one which opened me a completely new perspective on vision and impairment. In her speech she denies her vision to be passive and fragmented. On the contrary, with her sight she restructures the world around her. By one glance she is able to flatten buildings to surfaces – mere colours and lines. „My sight isn’t broken, rather it breaks the world!“ Of course I know that the so called reality is formed by our perception of it – but it never came to my mind that perception alone can be seen as an active shaping of our surroundings and that a visual impairment just is another mode of this creative process. By her tragicomic reference to the danger of uncovered manholes, Jones makes sure that this monologue is to be understood as an expression of confidence, not of denial.

Sign Language

In the panel discussion „Making creative performance for Deaf and hearing audiences“, Ramesh Meyyappan, Kaite O’Reilly, Jenny Sealey and Sophie Woolley agreed that captioning and sign language interpretation of performances shouldn’t be an afterthought but rather a part of the creative process of writing and staging a play. Especially in National Theatre Wales’ production of Kaite’s play, the interpreter was extremely present on stage. Jo Ross did a great job in performing not a mere interpretation, but a completely new expression of the same concept that the speaking actors performed.

Acrobatics

Two productions which were directed to a Deaf and hearing audience made use of aerial acrobarics. Graeae’s „Garden“ created beautiful poetic images by letting some actors climb and swing on huge flexible poles, looking like flowers in the wind. While this seemed to me rather like an illustration of a kind of fairy world, Ramesh Meyyappan’s use of ropes in „Skewered Snails“ was a proper narrative technique. It was astonishing how the use of space by climbing and swinging on ropes could be used to depict the characters and their relations to each other. In my opinion, Ramesh’s aerial acrobatics not only gave the audience a reason to watch in wonderment, but was – just as his gesture, mimics and choreography – an elaborate method to tell a plot without words. I can’t wait to see which performance techniques Ramesh will explore next.

Communication

Wherever Deaf and hearing people meet, communication is definitely an issue. In the meantime I’m quite used to communicate in international contexts. By combining German Sign Language, some BSL and international signs I’ve learned, fingerspelling (not in Britain, though, as Britain and Germany use different finger alphabets), mouthing, pantomime and especcially a lot of patience and goodwill on both sides, I had a lot of nice after show talks with Deaf and hearing artists, performers and spectators from all over the world. It feels always like a huge success to me and shows me that communication may not be easy, but is always possible.

Certainly the Southbank Centre in London is a good place for casual after show encounters. It may look like a parking deck from the outside, and the actual performance spaces seemed rather like a congress venue to me than a theatre space, but the wonderful terraces and sunlit halls encouraged meeting, talking in speech and sign.

Germany

During my stay in London, I wondered how the situation in Germany was like. As I said, I am not and expert in disability issues, but I have the impression that Britain has already achieved a lot which in Germany is still in its beginnings. Not only the overall accessibility of buildings, sights and public transport seemed to me better in London, but also in the sector of arts I think that Germany can get a lot of inspiration from Britain. Of course there exist some wonderful groups and artists in the sector of Deaf and disability theatre – but I doubt if it was possible to organize a festival on the same artistic level like Unlimited with German artists only.

But something is happening – first steps have been made. There are some groups which explore the possibilites of „aestetic access“ (a new term I learned in London, apparently mainly in use in Australia) and there exist projects in which Deaf, disabled and/or hearing and able-bodied artists cooperate and create new theatre and dance aesthetics. There is a slowly growing academic research interest in Deaf and disability arts and I’m proud to be part of it. I hope there is still more to come.

I still could write so much more, about the strange notion of „inspiring“ paralympic „superhumans“ and signing Drag Queen Bees, unreliable audio despcriptors and confusion about people’s hearing status, but I guess these few outlines should be enough to give an idea of my wonderful and inspiring experiences at Unlimited festival.

Rafael Ugarte Chacón is doctoral student at the Institute for Theatre Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. He is writing his thesis about aesthetic means in artistic performances for Deaf and hearing audiences.

A rallying cry almost worthy of Shakespeare. In Water I’m Weightless review

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FOLLOWING OUR PRESS NIGHT LAST NIGHT, THE FIRST REVIEW OF IN WATER I’M WEIGHTLESS IS OUT:

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http://www.theartsdesk.com/theatre/water-im-weightless-national-theatre-wales

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In Water I’m Weightless, National Theatre Wales

Five disabled actors give an impressionistic glimpse of themselves

by Tuesday, 31 July 201

Adrian Burley MP would probably call In Water I’m Weightless “leftie multicultural crap”. I’d like to bestow similar praise. In common with Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony, director John McGrath’s exploration of issues facing disabled people is a bit of a mess, a bit of a tick-box exercise and thoroughly enjoyable.

The play is a rallying cry for the civil rights of the disabled, and wears its politics somewhat heavily. But despite some meanderings in the middle, by the time we reach writer Kaite O’Reilly’s epic final monologue, a paean to the “gen of the genome”, “the glorious freak[s] of nature” who “broaden the scope of homosapien possibilities”, worthy almost of Shakespeare in its rhythm and intensity, and wonderfully delivered by David Toole (pictured below), there is a feeling that we have been confronted.

But with what? For the most part, the play is a loosely connected series of impressions: sign language, fragments of text, anecdotes, powerful music in a bewildering array of styles. There is little to connect these disparate elements but the fact that all of the five members of the cast have a disability. They are partially-sighted, deaf and dumb, paralysed or somehow physically deformed. Not too long ago, the only type of theatre open to these performers would have been in a freak show. In Water I’m Weightless is not without humour, and there is a moment of comedy when two of the actors discuss their recent roles: “always the monster”, “misunderstood evil genius” or, “worst of all, plot device”.

There is no such danger here, as the five actors are offered a rare opportunity to give us a glimpse of themselves, or at least a version thereof. Against Paul Clay’s simple but effective backdrop of projection screen and giant globules, which act variously as thought bubbles, water droplets and bodily cells, the cast each give a fantastic account of themselves. “Don’t patronise me,” says Karina Jones’ character at one point, and among all the familiar and less familiar things we hear that disabled people have to put up with on a daily basis – there is also a section titled “Things I Have Lipread” – this would seem to be one which grates the most.

Jones (pictured left)also has the pleasure of delivering some of O’Reilly’s best passages, a layered metaphor about “your very being a warzone carried out at molecular level” culminating in the horrific image of “that fleshy Dresden”, which nevertheless the character has learnt to love. Ultimately, In Water I’m Weightless is a celebration of disabled human beings – their bodies, their minds and their souls. And although it oscillates rather wildly between wigging out to the Sex Pistols and Shirley Bassey and reflections on perceiving other human beings in terms boiling down to use of taxpayers’ money like the theatrical equivalent of a loud/quiet/loud Nirvana song, it succeeds far more often than it fails.

David Toole’s stunt dives – In Water I’m Weightless

Today rehearsals are unnusual, in that we have a slow motion film shoot for the production In Water I’m Weightless. Designer and artist Paul Clay has transformed the dance studio in Wales Millennium Centre where we are rehearsing into a film set.

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David Toole on the film set In Water I’m Weightless.

The performers all choose short movement sequences to film in slow motion, but the day begins with Paul capturing the cast weightless, in mid-air.

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Dave preparing for his stunt dive.

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The title of the production comes from one of my monologues and was chosen not just for its lyricism but sense of liberation – being free of constraints, liberated from the weight of prejudice and preconceptions associated with the disabled body.

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The session was exhilarating, especially the verve and power in David Toole’s stunt dives, hurling himself from his wheelchair, flying momentarily through the air.

photos by Kaite O’Reilly

‘In Water I’m Weightless’ – background and day one of rehearsals.

Nick Phillips dressing up, first day of rehearsals In Water I’m Weightless. All photos Kaite O’Reilly.

The first day of rehearsals for In Water I’m Weightless, with National Theatre Wales….

Performers Mat Fraser, David Toole, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Mandy Colleran and Sophie Stone are encouraged by director John McGrath and designer Paul Clay to play dress up….


David Toole.

In Water I’m Weightless is collaged from a large body of work I’ve been developing over several years – The ‘d’ Monologues (‘d’ denoting Deaf and disabled) – initially from a Creative Wales Major Award from Arts Council Wales, and then further developed with the Unlimited Commissions I have been awarded as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

Designer Paul Clay makes some adjustments to one of Sophie Stone’s rehearsal costumes.

In Water I’m Weightless came about from my ambition to put Deaf and disabled experience, what I call crip culture, and disability cool centre-stage on a national platform, performed by some of the best Deaf and disabled performers in the UK. I’m immensely fortunate that long-term collaborator John McGrath, the artistic director of National Theatre Wales, understood what I sought to achieve with this project, and was excited about it, deciding to bring it to fruition.

Warm-up, first day of rehearsals

Today was the first time the company came together since our r&d week in November 2011. It was an opportunity for us to begin recapping and revisiting earlier work, and for designer Paul Clay to explore some basic costume ideas.

I will be documenting the process over the next four weeks on this blog, and writing about a different process in collaborating and making performance than my two previous productions this year.

Hope you want to follow the journey…