Tag Archives: disability arts

Singapore rehearsal diary for New Welsh Review….’And Suddenly I Disappear….’

What follows in an excerpt from my rehearsal diary, commissioned by New Welsh Review, documenting part of my process working in Singapore this Autumn on ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’, my international r&d commission from Unlimited. I am immensely grateful to New Welsh Review for providing this feature free – see more on the journal at https://www.newwelshreview.com and here

Stephanie Fam performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s international r&d Unlimited commission ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’ before a still image of Sophie Stone using visual language, Photograph: Kaite O’Reilly

 

 

18/9/17:

We arrive into Singapore at the end of the Month of the Hungry Ghosts. Flaming braziers sit on street corners and outside temples. Paper money from the Bank of Hell and small cardboard models of cars, smartphones, booze, cigarettes and all the trappings of the good life are set alight in the braziers as offerings to the dead ancestors. Zhong Yuan Jie is the period in the seventh month of the lunar calendar when the gates of the underworld are opened to allow the souls of the dead to roam the earth. Relatives burn offerings to appease their deceased family members, ensuring they don’t become ‘hungry ghosts’ up to mischief, jealous of the living and what they have.

Even in its Taoist and Buddhist rituals, Singapore is commercial, taking care of material needs into the afterlife.

We – performer Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli and I – are here for the r&d of  my collaboration between Wales and Singapore, ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’, an Unlimited International Commission and dialogue about disability, diversity and difference from opposite sides of the world.

Singapore is a young nation, a high-functioning capitalist culture valuing commerce and uniformity, where, my producer Grace Khoo tells me, she was raised ‘not to ask questions, to keep my chin down and not to stand out.’ It is recently embracing notions of diversity and inclusion, but its awareness of disability issues and culture are very much in its infancy. How challenging atypical embodiment, disability politics, the aesthetics of access and what I call ‘alternative dramaturges nformed by a d/Deaf and disability perspective’ may be here, I’m about to find out.

The UK has a long and proud history of disabled peoples’ activism, something Sara Beer and I have been engaged with for decades. Our background is punkish, proud and irreverent – ‘nothing about us without us’ is one of the Disabled Peoples Movement’s slogans – ‘Piss on Pity’ another, a badge I still wear. How this will fit with the ultra-conservative Singaporeans and a system that would not have tolerated our direct action of the 90s remains to be seen. A fascinating conversation is in the process of happening.

20/9/17:
We rehearse at Centre 42, a heritage house in downtown Singapore, greeted by my main collaborator, Peter Sau, and herbal teas from the local Chinese medical hall to help counter the excessive humidity. Peter is an award-winning actor and theatre maker, and a friend since my first visit to Singapore in 2004. He and producer Grace came to the UK in 2016 in order to explore disability arts and culture, with the aim to professionalise it in Singapore .

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

Together we made an application to Unlimited, building on the model I developed from my 2008/09 Creative Wales award. Then, advised by Eve Ensler and Ping Chong, I explored the form of the monologue, interviewing d/Deaf and disabled people across the UK, using their perspectives, experiences, and opinions as inspiration to write fictional monologues. These were later produced as ‘In Water I’m Weightless’, the National Theatre Wales/Unlimited production, part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It’s important that I write the texts rather than ‘steal’ from the source material, for what are we but our stories? I prefer to invent. This also ensures that the material cannot be individualised, reduced down to one person’s unfortunate experience rather than a synthesis of the collective experience of prejudice we are all complicit in.

In Singapore, Peter and his dedicated team of researchers, transcribers, and translators are partway through intensive interviews with disabled and d/Deaf Singaporeans. These are stories that have gone unremarked and unreported. Despite the new focus on inclusivity and diversity, ingrained beliefs linger, and in many ways difference and disability is shameful in Singapore, so several of our interviewees, although eager to contribute, request anonymity.

The recordings and transcripts of the interviews are remarkable, Peter and his colleagues have eked out conversations of candour and passion. As I write the drafts I’m reminded of my own ‘coming out’ as a disabled person and personal revolution after meeting the social model of disability, which turned everything I previously knew upside down. I’d been reared on the Medical Model, where the body is at fault, requiring medicalisation and normalisation. The social model sees disability, like gender, as a social construct, and it is society and its physical and attitudinal barriers which are disabling, not the body itself. Value is given where previously there was none.

It is no surprise then that many of the conversations ongoing in Singapore prompt tears and extraordinary openness from people so often denied respect. How daunting and exhilarating then is my task – to write fictional work responding to this stimulus, and begin work on embodying these voices.

22/9/17:

Ideas from the interviews are reversed or reinvented, Peter, Grace and Lee Lee Lim advise me on the use of Mandarin, Hokkien and Singlish vocabulary, which help make the rhythms and cadences of the dialogue more Singaporean. The collaboration is shaping into a dialogue, resulting in a series of vibrant, multimedia monologues inspired by lived experience, layering theatrical languages and utilising captioning, integrated audio description and visual language in the aesthetics of access, a first for Singapore. We realise there are seven spoken and signed languages in use in the rehearsal room, reflecting the multicultural diversity and linguistic complexity of Singapore. I feel we’re exploring how stories change in different cultures, languages and contexts…. How do we ‘speak’ to each other?

25/9/17:

I write a choral monologue to be explored in spoken, projected and visual language.

Be like water. Be like a river. You dip a bowl into the river and the river fills it and becomes the bowl. Pour into a pot, it becomes the pot. Treat with fire and it becomes steam…. This is how you will be. Unstoppable. Fluid. Powerful.
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The day I need to submit this diary, just one week after meeting and four days before our in progress sharing, the inclusive company has come together with a startling cohesion. Peter’s team is filled with committed individuals keen to bring about change. Monologues that seemed too edgy and politically challenging on first reading now rise off the page, owned. The sense of pride and celebration is tangible. Sara asks Danial Bawthan, one of our emerging disabled performers, how he is finding the process. ‘Priceless,’ he says. ‘I want to be that water, the water that goes into that bowl.’

On the road… A dramaturg in Dublin

O'Reilly's feet on the brass plaque from James Joyce's 'Ulysses', O'Connell bridge, Dublin.

O’Reilly’s feet on the brass plaque from James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, O’Connell bridge, Dublin.

Writing can be a lonely business. One of the joys of my work is when I dramaturg another playwright’s script, or mentor them through a particular project or phase of development in their career.

For many months I have been working with Rosaleen McDonagh as she writes ‘Protégé’. It’s been a fascinating process working closely on a complex script, interweaving Traveller aesthetics with disability culture. During the past two days it has been my great pleasure to be in Dublin working with Rosaleen and Fishamable Theatre Company on what I feel could be an important play.

I’ve worked with Rosaleen before, as dramaturg on her forthcoming play ‘Mainstream’ and I included an extract from her play ‘Baby Doll’ in ‘Face On: Disability Arts In Ireland and Beyond’ which I edited for ADI/Create. Rosaleen is a force to be reckoned with in a city and country that has very little disability arts and culture – that is, work led and made by disabled artists which is invariably, but not exclusively, political, reflecting the experience of living in a disabling world. Ireland followed a different model to the civil rights movement that the UK and American disability cultures grew out of.  It is owing to Rosaleen’s engagement with disability culture and her knowledge of Traveller culture that makes her work so fascinating and unique.

Working alongside Jim Culleton, the artistic director of Fishamble Theatre Company, we have been communicating and giving feedback via email – a skill in itself owing to the difficulties of interpreting ‘tone’ and discussing minutiae online. How refreshing, then, to finally gather in one place and explore the words on the page in ‘meat space’ rather than cyber.

Jim and Rosaleen, Fishamble Theatre Company, Dublin

Jim and Rosaleen, Fishamble Theatre Company, Dublin

Jim gathered a terrific group of actors to work on the script – Mary Murray, Don Whycherly, John Connors and Cathy Belton – and joined by Fishamble’s producer  Marketa Dowling and literary officer, Gavin Kostick, we began reading the script. Hearing a script read aloud is aways an astonishing moment for a playwright, regardless of experience. It can be emotionally overwhelming, alienating, and surprising. The actors created an immediate and powerful dynamic, shifting effortlessly between roles, presentation modes, theatrical conventions and styles. An intense and lively discussion followed, where the gathered company explored with Rosaleen the many options open to her in revision.

Rosaleen and Fergus presenting their work

Rosaleen and Fergus presenting their work

Apart from working on the script, Rosaleen has been experimenting with form and developing her dance skills, creating a movement piece with Fergus Byrne.

The dance piece explores the more challenging and often disturbing relationship between the medical profession and the atypical body, and the power relationships and abuse which can arise within institutionalisation. This shares themes in ‘Protege’ but both Jim and I felt that, further developed, it could be a stand alone piece in its own right.

Rosaleen and Fergus receiving feedback

Rosaleen and Fergus receiving feedback

Working with Rosaleen, Jim, Fergus and Fishamble, I’m reminded again of the exceptional dynamic of generosity, trust and respect which is required to make this kind of developmental work. The material is unfinished, in progress, and not yet robust, so if not handled carefully, there could be casualties. After a brilliant, engaged, enthralling two days we parted with kisses and laughter, our heads in a spin from the breadth of the material explored. It was not just Rosaleen with much to think about.

The bazaar of the blind….

I was recently shown this video by the film maker, academic and poet Proshot Kalami, to my great pleasure. We were in discussion about disability arts and culture and the various stances around dis/ability at Freie Universitat’s International research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’. Proshot sent me this link to her film as she felt I (and I hope you) would enjoy the vivacity and joie de vivre of the performance. She says:

‘The boy’s name is Jibon. He sings about the bazaar of the blind…The clip is one long shot without any editing. His performance was such that did not need any work!’

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This video recording was made in August 2008 in Jhaudia, a small village near Kushtia, Bangladesh. Jiban Biswas, a child with multiple disabilities, sings two songs by Lalon Phokir. The video was shot by Proshot Kalami. Jiban is accompanied on the ‘Bangla dhol’ by Madan Kumar Das.

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

Press night, workshops, debate.

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KOR outside The Crucible Theatre on LeanerFasterStronger press night.

Press nights are a particularly theatrical tradition. It’s when the production officially opens, the critics come, and the company parties like there’s no performance tomorrow, invariably ending up dancing in cages in dodgy nightclubs as the dawn threatens to rise.

I think the party element was originally introduced as a distraction, a way of filling the hours before the early newspapers hit the stands and the company breakfasted with the reviews. Those days have long gone and we have to be more patient. We still await the newspaper reviews and so far I have only seen a favourable critique by Jo Verrent for Disability Arts Online:

” The performances were great and the level of ideas presented was complex and fascinating… Kaite’s work is always rich in language, tone and concept…LeanerFasterStronger presents a fascinating glimpse into a brave new world. It certainly provides plenty of food for thought. So go and get your mind enhanced!”

For the full review go to: http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/?location_id=1748

I was unable to join in the 4am ironic cage dancing in Sheffield’s finest dodgy clubs, as I was teaching a workshop at Sheffield Theatres the next morning. As part of being one of the writers at Sheffield theatres this season, I’m facilitating various events – a play reading later today of an earlier play of mine, Belonging – and a workshop at the Lyceum Theatre tomorrow:

Taking the Dramatic temperature of your Script. Tuesday 29 May 2012. 6-9pm.

A practical checklist for effective and dynamic drama: tension, pace, plot, and emotional engagement. Led by multiple award-winning writer of this season’s LeanerFasterStronger, Kaite O’Reilly.

http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/taking-the-dramatic-temperature-of-your-script/

I’m also part of a debate on new writing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on Wednesday 30th May: Is it time to get rid of new writing?

http://www.wyp.org.uk/what%27s-on/2012/is-it-time-to-get-rid-of-new-writing/

I think it’s fantastic when one of the season’s produced playwrights is also involved in the educational outreach work of a theatre. My Saturday workshop included teachers, students, a young in career playwright, and professional director and performers. It was wonderful to be working together in the rehearsal room of the Crucible, allowing a true meeting of audience and writer, current theatre practitioner and the future generation… It’ something I love doing and feel that theatres don’t do enough. When we parted at the end of the workshop, several of the participants went off to buy their tickets to see the production, later. How often do you have the opportunity to be taught by the playwright whose work you’re seeing that evening? It’s a great initiative, and very typical of Creative Producer Andrew Loretto’s ethos – to open the doors of theatres and allow more access.

LeanerFasterStronger runs at the Crucible studio until the end of this week, with a matinee on Thursday 31st and Saturday 2nd June at 2.15pm and the evening performances at 7.45pm.

http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/leanerfasterstronger-12/

That was the year that was. But has anything actually changed?

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The sublime Mandy Colleran in rehearsals of In Water I’m Weightless, National Theatre Wales, November 2011. All Photos: KO’R.

I began this blog back in August 2011 after I realised that 2012 would bring an embarrassment of riches production-wise. As the forthcoming work is diverse in aesthetic, process and content, I felt much might be learnt, and writing a blog might help externalise my learning, publicise the work and document the process(es).

For they are process(es)… Devising, playwriting, co-creating, collaborative montaging… I’m excited by what 2012 will bring, and the diversity both of the work and the creative approaches I’ll be involved with. It challenges that stereotype of the solo dramatist writing away, misunderstood and alone, in her garret – and the notion that there is only one way of writing plays/drama/performance work (delete as applicable).

But before moving forwards into 2012, and The Echo Chamber, the first project (which begins full rehearsals on December 28th 2011 and will be written about, here), I think it expedient to look back over the year at some of the projects I’ve made and the people I have collaborated with, particularly within disability arts and culture, and ask have we moved on? Has anything actually changed?

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Ali Briggs, in rehearsals of Forest Forge’s production of ‘peeling’, directed by Kirstie Davies, March 2011.

peeling’, first produced by Graeae Theatre Company and designed and directed by Jenny Sealey in 2002, had a revival in Forest Forge’s production, touring rurally. The director, Kirstie Davies, had been keen to find an opportunity to produce the script for some time and it was fascinating to return to an old script and see what had stood the test of time, what required updating, what was no longer relevant…

Perhaps it’s a sign of how far we still have to go in perceiving disabled and Deaf people as equal citizens and not ‘other’, but we discovered the cultural and socio-political aspects parodied or challenged in the play were still as relevant in 2011 as 2002. The only changes to the script I made were updating celebrity names. The stories in the play of being patronised, feared, or discriminated against still held – and the off-duty conversations we had in the green room about the challenges disabled and Deaf women face when working in the creative industries were as familiar and tiresome as they had been first time round, at the beginning of this Millennium.

Photocall: ‘peeling’ with Kiruna Stamell, Nicola Miles-Wildin and Ali Briggs.

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As I wrote during rehearsals in February 2011:

Ali, Nickie, and Kiruna are powerful, comical, and poignant… I am congratulating Kirstie Davis, artistic director of Forest Forge, on her superb casting and her liberating, inclusive attitude – for it is still extremely rare. Sadly, in my twenty plus years of professional experience in theatre, I have largely found a reluctance for companies to cast disabled and Deaf actors, even in parts written specifically for them. Perhaps this is based on fear, or ignorance, or uninformed preconceptions – things are certainly changing and improving – but we certainly need more like Kirstie in the industry.

I am also extremely excited by ‘peeling’s rural tour – bringing this work and this company to village halls and community centres. The fact large famous London theatres are still casting hearing, non-signing actors in Deaf, signing parts only highlights how quietly radical Forest Forge’s work is….   http://www.forestforge.co.uk/posts/45

This radical aspect to Kirstie’s programming was also appreciated by Mark Courtice writing about the production in April 2011 in reviewsgate:

Forest Forge, in taking [peeling] to the arts centres and village halls of Hampshire and Wiltshire,  demonstrate the sort of courage and enterprise that make the recent Arts Council decision to cut their grant seem more than usually incomprehensible. 

http://www.reviewsgate.com/index.phpname=News&file=article&sid=5563

Here is one area where I feel there has been a change: the 2011 reviews of ‘peeling’ were not as toe-curlingly insensitive or offensive as some had been, the first time round. Perhaps the influence of the Medical Model has begun to wane, but here were no lingering descriptions of the performers’ bodies or impairments, nor morbid fascination with physical difference. Thankfully, there was no polarity between ‘handicaps’ and ‘real people’ as there had been in The independent in 2002.

http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/31697/peeling

http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/leisure/entertainments/8946314.Sensitively_appealing/

And so from a remounting of old workmade new, to a new piece so new it has not had a production yet:

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Christopher Fitzsimmonds, Kiruna Stamell and Peader Kirk in workshop, ‘Your Tongue; My Lips’ , June 2011. 

‘Your Tongue, My Lips’ is work in progress exploring disability and sexuality, and part of my Unlimited Commission from LOCOG and the Cultural Olympiad, to develop new work inspired by disability experience. In June 2011 I had a residency at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, working with director Peader Kirk and performers Mat Fraser, Kiruna Stamell, Christopher Fitzsimmonds, Sara Beer, Tom Wentworth, Ben Owen Jones and Carri Munn.

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Mat Fraser

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I feel there has been a shift in many ways towards some of the work coming out of disability arts and culture – but it isn’t necessarily from the mainstream, but from what used to be snootily or suspiciously called ‘the avant-garde’.  In many contexts disability arts and culture has been viewed as either therapy or amateur expression – I have been wrestling with this for more years than I care to count. It comes then as no real surprise that many of the allies to my crip culture work have been artists working experimentally themselves, or gate-keepers to institutions or venues which value experimentation. Such was my experience when working with Peader and the actors at Chapter, and my interactions with James Tyson, former programmer of the venue, and Richard Huw Morgan of Good Cop Bad Cop, and Pitch, Radio Cardiff,  98.7FM.  

For a lengthy interview with the performers and me about this work, please follow the link below to Pitch,  ‘a cool arts magazine, but on-air’ (The Guardian’).

http://www.culturecolony.com/videos?id=6464

It is an archive recording of programme 6 and the interview between Richard and I starts 31.58 minutes in.

In the second part of this blog, I will write about my work in the latter part of this year, working more in the ‘mainstream’.