Tag Archives: Disability Arts Online

In conversation with John E McGrath – disability and aesthetics – Disability Arts International

 

Delighted to be included in the British Council Disability Arts International newsletter, in association with Disability Arts Online. If you haven’t signed-up for the newsletter, I would recommend it. Apart from a conversation with John E McGrath of Manchester International Festival (featuring Claire Cunningham, Stopgap Dance Company, and my NTW production In Water I’m Weightless, which John directed), there’s an interview with Liz Carr, features on Graeae Theatre, Oska Bright, the aesthetics of access and more…. Information here.

 

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

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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

‘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

 

‘Cripping up’ continued – Rosaleen McDonagh’s ‘Mainstream’.

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Rosaleen McDonagh.

Continuing exploring the issues of ‘cripping up’, here’s a review of Rosaleen McDonagh’s ‘Mainstream’ by Colin Cameron for DAO, published last month. http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/?location_id=1936  I worked on the piece as dramaturg whilst Rosaleen was writing it last year. The script had  a reading by Fishamble Theatre last month.

Rosaleen McDonagh: Mainstream   

The Projects Arts Centre, Dublin. 13th October 2012

Colin Cameron

In Kaite O’Reilly’s DAO blog posted on the 14th March this year, reproduced from the Irish Theatre Magazine, https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/cripping-up-copping-on-rosaleen-mcdonagh-in-irish-theatre-magazine/  Rosaleen McDonagh discusses her concerns around issues of non-disabled actors ‘cripping up’. ‘People get so caught up in the physicality of our bodies. The emotional manipulation is what’s damaging… They can only do the outside but they can’t bring the emotional, historical resonance to a performance.’ Given the Irish context, in which trained disabled actors are few and far between, McDonagh wrestles with the dilemma a disabled playwright must face: hold back their work in the belief that there may be some emerging disabled performers who someday will bring their work to the stage, or to compromise and collude with ‘cripping up’ as a way of establishing their work.

As the event at The Projects Arts Centre, in front of a full theatre, took the form of a rehearsed reading rather than a performance, I think some of these issues may have been avoided. Three of the four readers from Fishamble Theatre Company and Arts and Disability Ireland – Debbie Crotty as Mary Anne Rooney, Don Wycherley as Jack and Liz Fitzgibbon as Eleanor – appeared to be non-disabled performers, while Donal Toolan, who read Eoin’s part, is a wheelchair-user.  What came across was the emotional, historical resonance McDonagh desired. I have seen performances at The Theatre Workshop in Edinburgh of plays written by non-disabled writers, about issues other than disability issues. It hasn’t been till about two-thirds of the way through these plays that I have noticed or remembered that I am watching disabled actors. This certainly hasn’t been anything about ‘in spite of impairment’, just that in being drawn into the play impairment hasn’t seemed important. Watching this reading in Dublin I found it easy to forget or to overlook the fact that these actors weren’t disabled. The lines they read were authentic.

In McDonagh’s words, the play ‘explores a love affair disintegrating while people are grappling with identity, age, sexuality, institutionalisation, fear’. Its structure involves Eleanor (Ellie), a young disabled researcher in her early twenties who has the same progressive impairment as Mary Anne but less advanced, looking to gather material for a half-hour television ‘lifestyle’ documentary, making contact with Eoin, Jack and Mary Anne to talk about their lives, their families, their jobs. Jack and Mary Anne are in their mid- to late thirties, Eoin is a few years younger. Mary Anne is a strong disabled woman, a woman of resilience and character. Jack is angry, a heavy drinker bent on his own destruction and the destruction of opportunities for closeness with other people. He was once a successful wheelchair basketball player, but that went wrong when he ‘signed a contract with Jack Daniel’. Eoin is a gay disabled man who had grown up being used for sex by the older guys in the institution and who had liked it and the privileges it bought. Eoin is the funny one. Mary Anne and Jack are trying a break from their relationship. Eoin is acting as a go-between. Ellie does not identify as disabled, she is mainstreamed. The others are wary about her motives, suspicious of intrusion and objectification, and worried about what might be revealed. As Eoin says:

You want people to talk about the past, you’ve no idea what they are going to come up with.

Their shared background, having grown up together shut away within the same institution, is the source of both their closeness and intense dependence on each other. Their shared knowledge is of the systemic cruelty and abuse experienced as normality within such institutions and of a dark secret that has involved them all. There is a strong sense, too, of shared guilt. For each other, now they are beyond the institution, they are family.

McDonagh draws on her own experience to entwine narratives which hold to the light not only the depths of hurt inflicted upon disabled people, but also the strength that disabled people gain from one another. At its heart, the play wrestles with a theme of identity central to the disabled people’s movement, both in Ireland and beyond. It is about the roots of the movement in disabled people’s oppression and about the future direction of the movement. Oppression breeds resistance and it is the shared experience of oppression which moved these characters, once they emerged from the institution, to struggle for social change. The younger Ellie can see no reason to want to be, nor any advantage in being, with other disabled people. She is too busy fitting in, in overcoming, in being what the mainstream expects and allows her to be. Mary Anne draws attention to the paradox that while her generation campaigned for an end to the segregation and exclusion of disabled people from the mainstream, ‘the mainstream thing hasn’t really worked’. It involves being mainstreamed on the terms of the non-disabled in a way which, to borrow a term from Rod Michalko, regards impairment as ‘useless difference’. There is a veneer of tolerance extended to disabled people, but this is conditional on the basis that they will do their best to cover up impairment. This is very different from the point of the struggle in which Mary Anne, Jack and Eoin were involved, which had been about embracing difference and making a claim for the right to be valued as equals on their own terms.

McDonagh interweaves her narratives to produce a play that is simultaneously challenging, distressing, intriguing and entertaining. At almost two hours without an interval it was a long play and yet, talking about it afterwards with other audience members, there was a consensus that we had all been shocked when it came to an end. No fidgeting or shifting our arses on the seats to get comfortable, this had been engrossing. ‘Mainstream’ concludes with the revelation and explanation of the dark secret.

In the preface to her story ‘A Dying Breed’ (posted on DAO) Ann Young has stated that:

When I was a child in the 60s and 70s it was common practice to send disabled children away to boarding schools to be ‘looked after’. Many children never went home again, going from one institution to another and some children died there. These are realities that we lived with throughout our childhood. However the most damaging aspect of these places was the bullying that went on at every level. These days we would call it abuse but back then we had no vocabulary to describe what went on and this made it easier to perpetuate.

In ‘Mainstream’, McDonagh has produced a work which gives an insight into the oppression experienced by many disabled children who experienced institutionalisation and the scars left on the souls of the adults they became. There is much that is disturbing here. Yet the play is not without ambiguity, for it affirms disabled identity and reminds us that there is a way of looking and being that is shared by disabled people which, for all their cleverness, the non-disabled will never begin to understand. It is not that we want to be like them, but that we want the right to be ourselves.

Someone, somewhere, some producer, some theatre group – preferably a theatre group of disabled people – needs to get in touch with Rosaleen McDonagh to get this play staged as a performance.

Directed by Jim Culleton                                                                                                                Produced by Marketa Dowling                                                                                                   Dramaturgy by Kaite O’Reilly                                                                                                          Stage Manager Kate Ferris                                                                                                              Captioner Ruth McCreery

The reading was both sign language interpreted and surtitled.

Neglected Voices: Published by Disability Arts Online


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Wendy Bryant

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This is the press release I received today about an unique and important project:

‘Neglected Voices’ published by Disability Arts Online

‘”Neglected Voices” is one of the best creative responses to our social exclusion I have seen for a long time.’

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton

Disability Arts Online has just published ‘Neglected Voices’, a set of four cycles of transcription poems about disabled people’s experience created by writer Allan Sutherland.

The project was produced during his one-year tenure as poet-in-residence at the Centre for Citizen Participation, Brunel University, West London.

Sutherland, an award-winning disabled writer, created ‘Neglected Voices’ by carrying out life history interviews with four disabled people, then editing and shaping them to create poems, using the skills he learned during his 15 years as a radio and television scriptwriter.

“These cycles of poems tell the life stories of four disabled people, drawn from the range of people involved in the Centre for Citizen Participation,” explains Allan.

“They have important and interesting stories to tell. But then, in my experience, so do all disabled people.”

“Neglected Voices” gives these four people the opportunity to tell their own stories.

“We get looked at a lot,” Allan says, “and talked about a great deal. We get poked and prodded and have crass jokes made about us, but we don’t get listened to very much.  This does not mean that we have nothing to say.”

‘Allan Sutherland’s residency as a disabled poet under the auspices of the Leverhulme Trust has given real power to our work’ says Peter Beresford, director of the Centre for Citizen Participation.  ‘It has highlighted the creative role that the Arts can play in a university context.  It has also generated a new inclusive art form.’

The work has evoked a strong response from disabled artists and activists. ‘“Neglected Voices” represents the lives of a small group of disabled people in a way that their voices, personalities and experiences ring from the page,’ says disabled film-maker Liz Crow.  ‘Sutherland is developing a very interesting new narrative approach.  This is an immensely valuable contribution to recording the lives of marginalised communities.’

“Neglected Voices” is published on Disability Arts Online

http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/Neglected-Voices

Notes

Allan Sutherland has for thirty years been exploring ways of making heard the voices of disabled people, including stand-up comedy, performance poetry, radio and television scriptwriting and journalism.  His book ‘Disabled We Stand’ (1981) helped many people to identify as disabled.  He has worked for The Guardian, Guardian Online, ‘EastEnders’, The Observer, Time Out, Sight and Sound, Disability Now, Disability Arts in London and Disability Arts Online.

His residency at the The Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University, West London was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

The Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University, West London, is a research centre which has a particular commitment to user-led research and to the involvement of service users and the subjects of social and public policy in research and policy development.