Tag Archives: disability arts and culture

Exeunt Magazine: On the poster boy of embodied difference, Richard III

richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III

Exeunt magazine feature:

Kaite O’Reilly writes on creating a witty, feminist, alternative disability perspective on “that veritable poster-boy of embodied difference, Shakespeare’s Richard III.” Original article here.

A female Richard III…. There’s nothing unusual about that in these days of cross-gender casting, and the success of Glenda Jackson’s King Lear at the Old Vic, Maxine Peake’s Hamlet at The Royal Exchange, or Phyllida Lloyd’s trilogy of Shakespeare plays set in a fictional women’s prison. Cross-gender casting has all but gone mainstream, a positive part of the on-going discussion about parity, diversity, and representation on our screens, theatres and opera stages. In film, we’re going through a welcome phase of older women leads and central mother/daughter relationships (Lady Bird; I, Tonya, et al) There is also heartening change in the representation of people of colour, with the release of films including Moonlight and The Black Panther. Yet in the midst of all this welcome change, there is still one aspect largely overlooked, especially in our theatres: the representation of physical difference and the actors who portray characters with disabilities.

There are many parallels between race and disability in both historical portrayal and popular culture representation. People of colour on stage and in film have been limited until quite recently to negative and supporting roles, while the disabled character is largely either the victim or the villain… But at least black and minority actors got to play these roles, however problematic – very few disabled performers have had the opportunity to play any part, however stereotypical, whilst leading disabled character roles are largely the preserve of celebrity actors. It seems that physical or neuro-diverse transformation is still perceived as the pinnacle of actorly challenge and skill, an opinion reflected in the industry, which is why playing a crip’ as a non-disabled thesp’ is invariably an award-winning role.

As a dramaturg and playwright who works in disability arts and culture, as well as the so-called ‘mainstream’, I’ve spent much of my career trying to follow Gandhi’s maxim of being the change I want to see in the world. This has largely entailed writing parts specifically for Deaf and disabled performers that lie outside the usual narrow confines of victim, psychopath, or as inspirational porn. I’ve tried to write complex, sexy, funny, dangerous, lovable, cheating, loyal, sensitive characters who are as fucked-up or sorted as their hearing, non-disabled counterparts. I’ve tried to find narratives that are more than medical dramas linked solely to a diagnosis, or the character’s relationship to herself as outsider.

Since the Ancient Greeks disability has been used as a dramaturgical tool to scare, warn, explain, or remind us of our mortality, and the inevitable, inescapable cycle of life. Fearful and negative human traits have been personified by disabled characters for so long, these harmful fictions have become ingrained and considered ‘truth’, disability studies academics maintain. One of my passions and great joys as a theatre maker has been to try and ‘answer back’ to these negative or reductive portrayals of difference, and to redress or subvert some of these fictions.

Which brings me to my current project, and that veritable poster-boy of embodied difference, Shakespeare’s Richard III, the personification of evil.

This surely is the non-disabled actor’s Everest, the part to relish deforming and making as monstrous as possible. And in richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III we have deconstructed them all, from Olivier’s nasal psychopath to Spacey’s leg-braced Gadaffi, McKellen’s black shirted fascist to Sher’s double-crutched “bottled spider”, Cumberbatch’s life-like prosthetic to Eidinger’s cushion-hump in Ostemier’s post-dramatic production…

I have known performer/collaborator Sara Beer since the 1980’s when we were both involved in the Disabled People’s Movement and the emerging disability arts and culture scene. Sara was the obvious choice for this project when I first conceived the idea of a one woman show about Richard, from a disability perspective, performed by someone with the same physicality as the historical Richard. It wouldn’t be the first time a disabled actor has played the part. Mat Fraser played Richard III in Northern Broadside’s 2017 production, but given how monstrous Shakespeare’s Richard is, and how far he deviates from historical accounts, I started questioning whether having a disabled actor play a distorted disabled part would be ‘enough’? Would it create diversity and balance, or simply reinforce notions of ‘normalcy’ and negative representations of difference? Out of these questionings with co-creator and director Phillip Zarrilli, the project was born – this would not be a production of Shakespeare – rather, a response to Richard’s portrayal both in Shakespeare’s text and through the actors who have embodied him, viewed through a lens which is female, disabled, and predominantly Welsh.

Phillip is a renowned scholar, director, and actor-trainer, and so has brought a wealth of knowledge about acting to the production. We’ve been joyously irreverent, deconstructing the process of acting itself, as well as the process of creating a character. This expertise has enabled Sara to play various personas, many of them comedic, but ultimately serious, taking the audience on three simultaneous journeys in response to Shakespeare’s Richard III:

– a child’s self-awakening as she unexpectedly finds ‘herself’ IN Shakespeare,
– a professional performer’s journey toward playing Richard, and
– a personal journey through Wales in search of the historical ‘richard’ on the route to Bosworth Battlefield.

It was only after Phillip shared his historical research on the ‘real’ Richard III that I realised just how revised Shakespeare’s hatchet job is. Here is another parallel with the experience of people of colour: just as black figures have been white-washed or erased from history, disabled figures have been either normalised or transformed into the hideous, fearful Other – and in Richard, we have character-assassination of the highest order. It’s a double-whammy. Not only did Shakespeare exaggerate Richard’s atypical embodiment and contort it to represent evil, he also re-wrote history, transforming a reforming, popular King, who led thousands into battle despite his scoliosis, into an evil, murdering coward, ready to give up his kingdom for a horse (contemporary sources state he was offered a horse to flee the battlefield, but he responded his fate would be decided there – either to die at Bosworth, or live as King). It comes perhaps as no surprise that many consider Richard III as a piece of Tudor propaganda, written to please powerful patrons and reiterate their (tenuous) claim to the throne.

But what I’ve outlined here isn’t about saying Richard III should never be performed by someone who isn’t disabled – I’m not censoring or bowdlerizing the Bard, and I have great fondness for old “crook-back” Richard. What we seek to do with richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III is to provide an alternative disability perspective in response to Shakespeare’s construction of evil on the disabled body, which is historically inaccurate. And having a bit of fun as we do it.

Richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III tours Wales in March, playing Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, Aberystwyth Art Centre Studio [SOLD OUT}  Theatr Clwyd, Mold, The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven and Small World Theatre, Cardigan

With thanks to Exeunt magazine.

And Suddenly I Disappear….Singapore ‘d’ Monologues…..

Some of the ‘And Suddenly I Disappear…’ team, including Sara Beer and Ramesh Meyyappan outside Centre 42, Singapore.

Jet lagged but satisfied after a fabulous but frantic fortnight of research and development in Singapore with my r&d international commission from Unlimited. Time to catch my breath and start reflecting on a fascinating learning experience. Meanwhile, here’s a few images and a blog collaborator Peter Sau and I wrote for Unlimited Impact earlier in the month… On Witnessing….

Sound designer mentor Bani Baykal with emerging artist Danial Bawthan

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’

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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

Disability Arts Cymru Poetry Competition 2016

Image from Disability Art Cymru. Image by Michele Brenton

Image from Disability Art Cymru. Image by Michele Brenton

As patron of the excellent Disability Arts Cymru, I’m delighted to publicise their call for submissions for the forthcoming Poetry Competition. What follows is from DAC. Please contact them, at the information below, with any queries and submissions:

Poetry Competition  Disability Arts Cymru – closing date July 31st 2016

       Prize money & Digital publication

  We invite you to submit work that is in response to the theme of Austerity and/or Extravagance
Two Prizes of £50 with digital & online publication
Closing date July 31st

We look forward to receiving your submissions of poetry, spread the word and share this with your friends and colleagues.

Theme of Austerity/Extravagance: In the light of recent governmental decisions, which affect many people throughout Wales, we want to reflect the feelings about this through our poetry by DAC members, many of whom have been affected by austerity measures. Contrary to this we are also asking for work in response to the theme of ‘Extravagance’.
Judges are Dominic Williams and Sian Northey

for the entry criterea you can CLICK HERE

or for more info call: 02920 551 040
or email: kate@dacymru.com

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‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ review – Disability Arts Online

atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors

Reviews are gold dust. They are even more rare when the publication under the critical lens is a collection of plays. Plays get reviewed in production; they seldom make it into print, never mind being reviewed in print. So owing to this, I am hugely appreciative of the publications who have shown interest and support of my ‘atypical’ and crip’ work by providing critical engagement for my selected plays.

First up is the ever provocative and excellent Disability Arts Online, with a review by  Sonali Shah. I reproduce much of the review here, but you can read the  full text on the website, where DAO readers can find a 30% discount voucher for the collection.

Disability Arts Online: Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors Review July 4 2016 by Sonali Shah.

‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ is a collection of five unique, but equally powerful, poetic and political pieces of drama composed by the award winning playwright, Kaite O’Reilly. Review by Dr Sonali Shah (University of Glasgow)

O’Reilly’s policy and practice as a writer is to ‘put crips in our scripts’.[…] So with this motto in mind, O’Reilly’s ‘Atypical Plays’ present opportunities for disabled artists to occupy the stage and challenge audiences’ assumptions about disability and difference. The writer works together with her actors in a non-hierarchical and innovative way, continuously and purposefully adapting to each unique movement, to create the five theatrical pieces in this collection: Peeling, The Almond and the Seahorse, In Water I’m Weightless, the 9 Fridas and Cosy.

Written in the 21st Century and from an insider lens, these five plays subvert traditional notions of normalcy and encourage the possibilities of human difference to explore the whirlwind of relationships, emotions, choices and identities that, both construct us and are constructed by us, as we all move through life and try to work out what it is to be human.

These texts portray disabled characters as sexy, active and wilful beings in empowering and provocative stories, cutting against the grain of the trope for most blockbusters of stage and screen, which revolve around medicalisation and normalisation using disabled characters as a metaphor for tragedy, loss or horror.

The first play, peeling, described by the Scotsman as ‘a feminist masterpiece’, is a fine example of meta-theatre that explores themes of war, eugenics, and fertility. Written specifically for a Deaf woman and two disabled women (each strong, witty actors and feisty activists), peeling is a postmodern take on the epic Trojan Women.

Although the three characters – Alfa, Beaty and Coral – are consigned to the chorus, O’Reilly makes them central to this play, revealing their real personalities and hidden truths through vocal cat-fights and heckling matches (interpreted via BSL and audio description) while they wait to play the two minute part they have been awarded in the name of ‘inclusion’.

The Almond and the Seahorse is the second script, and the most structured of them all. Written for a cast of five, it examines the impact of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) for the individual and their slowly fading loved ones. Focusing on two couples (where one partner in each has a diminishing memory) it demonstrates the slow debilitating power of memory loss on present relationships and dreams for the future.

Reading this script evokes a sense of how critical and delicate the human memory is. This is reflected in the words of Dr Falmer (the ambitious neuropsychologist character whose beloved father had TBI) – ‘we should not invest so in such perishable goods’ (p.127). The vibrant clarity of monologue, dialogue and stage directions on the page makes it easy to visualise this play on the stage. Highly affecting, the performed text will undoubtedly give much food for thought for the audiences.

The third play in this collection In Water I am Weightless – is an apt title for exploring the heavy burden disability seems to provoke in society as in water it remains hidden. Written for a cast of six Deaf and disabled actors, and entrenched in crip humour and energy of the Disability Movement, the performance script adopts a monologue and dialogue style to create a mosaic of stories of the realities of living in a disabling society and being seen as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘in need’ by the non-disabled.[…] Performed at Unlimited in London 2012, and inspired by a range of informal conversations with disabled and Deaf citizens, this work is really does put “us” in the slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us”.

The 9 Fridas use the artwork of the disabled Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, as a lens to deconstruct her biography including her changing social positioning in terms of her disabled and feminist identities. The last play, Cosy, is a dark comedy exploring inevitable ageing and death.

Together the five plays make essential reading, both for educational purposes and pleasure. Informed by the Social Model of Disability, they have the potential to enact a kind of activism and a change in public perceptions towards disabled people, previously shaped by negative representations in popular culture. Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors offers an entertaining and poetical insight into what is means to be human.

 

With thanks to Disability Arts Online. Please check out this essential website – http://disabilityarts.online – an important hub for discussion, reflection and engagement with disability arts and culture.

Atypical Plays Discount code from Oberon books available to DAO readers here

Why we need disabled and Deaf playwrights and theatre makers

In reaction to the cuts in Access to Work and the Independent Living Fund, and inspired by Jenny Sealey’s Guardian article We Will Not Let Government Cuts Make Us Invisible,  I wrote an article for Exeunt magazine: Embracing all the possibilities of human variety – why we need disabled and Deaf playwrights and theatre makers. You can read the article here