Tag Archives: disability experience

Unity Festival – In Conversation: In Water I’m Weightless. 26 June 2012.

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  In conversation. National Theatre Wales. In Water I’m Weightless

Unity Festival –  Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.

June 26. 6pm. Japan Room.

Join John McGrath, Kaite O’Reilly and cast members in conversation on In Water I’m Weightless, a radical, athletic production performed by a cast of Deaf and disabled performers.

Ymunwch â John McGrath, Kaite O’Reilly ac aelodau’r cast mewn sgwrs am In Water I’m Weightless, cynhyrchiad radical, athletaidd wedi ei berfformio gan gast o berfformwyr Byddar ac anabl. Does dim angen archeu.

Unity festival brings together the best in inclusive arts, learning disability arts and disability arts both nationally and internationally to present their work in a mainstream venue to the wider public.

Celebrating the best of inclusive theatre, Unity presents a packed programme of performances, workshops, talks and events in and around Wales Millennium Centre by artists from Wales, England, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, France and Germany.

Wales Millennium Centre
Bute Place
Cardiff
CF10 5AL

New Welsh Review 96: Kaite O’Reilly on the Cultural Olympiad.


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Cover of New Welsh Review: NWR issue 96

Kaite O’Reilly on the Cultural Olympiad. An extract from ‘Rich Text’ NWR 96:

It’s 1995 and I’m lying in front of the wheels of a bus in Wood Street, Cardiff. The bus is ticking over, the driver occasionally revving the engine to try and scare me and so dislodge my body from beneath his bumper. As he does so, a thrilling reverberation is sent through the fat rubber of the wheel and into my waist. I am exhilarated and equally terrified. I haven’t been in an accident; I’m participating in a demonstration by the disability rights movement’s Direct Action Network, insisting ‘public transport’ is indeed public and accessible to all. DAN have brought the centre of Cardiff to a standstill, and other disabled activists have halted the trains at Cardiff Central. My contribution to the protest is over swiftly. Within seconds I’m yanked out by my feet.

I’ve always liked my politics with adrenaline.

I’ve always liked my writing infused with politics – but delicately so.    

My involvement with the disability civil rights movement and culture has impacted on the content, form, and aesthetic of my creative work; it has helped shape me into the writer I am.

Want to read the full article? Go to: http://www.newwelshreview.com/shop.php

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When NWR editor Gwen Davies asked me to write an article for the Summer issue of the journal, reflecting on the Cultural Olympiad and my Unlimited commission In Water I’m Weightless, I was happy to oblige. The Unlimited commissions have allowed me to develop a complex piece of work over a considerable period of time, and will culminate in a performance by Deaf and disabled actors, on a national platform, creating a significant political and cultural precedent. John McGrath of National Theatre Wales will direct the montage of my text, Nigel Charnock’s movement/choreography, and media artist Paul Clay’s video/design.

The article appears in the section ‘Rich Text’, which focuses on process and the technical aspects of writing. It was great to be able to reflect on the relationship  between my political life and how those beliefs and actions may impact on cultural expression – how  lying down in front of a bus seventeen years ago may have influenced not just the content and form of what I write, but how I perceive myself as a writer at work in the world.

Unfortunately I can’t reproduce more than the excerpt, above, and in a bid to give support and solidarity to what is increasingly an endangered species – the literary magazine – I’d like to give a brief overview of what I feel is a diverse and thought-provoking edition of New Welsh Review:

The opening line of John Harrison’s article on St Kilda grabbed me and plunged me in: ‘ I forget about the face of the young woman in the photo as the massive bird attacks my face’ he begins – and I couldn’t stop reading until his final punctuation mark. The first of a series on ‘Islands on the Edge’, it is evocative, immersive writing.

From out-lying islands to the US, Egypt, and Argentina, there is an international flavour to the issue, with an article by Matthew David Scott on Occupy USA, Grahame Davies’s imaginary visit to Cairo’s St David’s Building, a former department store run by the Davies Bryan family, decorated with Iolo Morganwg’s druidic ‘secret sign’, whilst Sarah Howe explores the work of American poets Elyse Fenton, Dora Malech, and Darcie Dennigan.  Richard Gwyn reviews Traveller of the Century, an epic novel by Argentine Andrés Neuman, one of the Bogotá39 list of promising young Latin American writers. Some of TS Eliot prizewinner Philip Gross’s poetry is reproduced, alongside the essential review section.

Translations include a Chinese poem by Xiao Kaiyu, adapted by Pascale Petit, and Tony Bianchi’s story, Eric ’n’ Ernie, translated from the original Welsh by the author. Further information on the edition, plus the new look blog can be found at: www.newwelshreview.com

Literary journals and reviews are important to our cultural landscape. They are often our champions as well as our critics, providing a platform for the emerging, and established writer. I always think they are worth supporting – we need to be the readers as well as the writers.

For information on In Water I’m Weightless, please go to: http://nationaltheatrewales.org/whatson/performance/ntw20

  

Ouch! podcast: Is a disabled cyborg the future of elite sport?

LeanerFasterStronger: is a disabled cyborg the future of elite sport?

From  http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ouch/2012/05/leanerfasterstronger

Disabled playwright and author Kaite O’Reilly, who is one of the guests on the next edition of Ouch!’s disability talk show (due online towards the end of May), was approached by Chol Theatre to write a play about sport and the human experience as part of imove, Yorkshire’s cultural programme for the London 2012 Olympics. The resulting play, LeanerFasterStronger, opens at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio theatre today, Wednesday 23 May, and runs through to Saturday 2 June.

For background research, Kaite carried out detailed interviews with scientists and elite sportspeople, and also experimented in motion capture labs – where disabled and non-disabled performers saw their bodies moving as a sequence of animated dots which she says were “freed from the preconceptions that go along with viewing the same body moving in the real world”.

She became very interested in genetic and bio-engineering of humans as a species – even the idea of a ‘cyborg’.

In this guest post for Ouch!, Kaite O’Reilly looks at how this emerging science could influence the possible future of both disabled and non-disabled elite sport – which is also the focus for her play, LeanerFasterStronger.

Will we ever reach the point where impairments are ‘cured’, or ‘fixed’ in vitro? People have asked me about my stance on these developments and, as someone who culturally identifies as a disabled person and a disability artist, I know well how complex and emotive the subject can be. Yet in the context of elite sport – and the fictional world of the play I have written – other avenues open up.

As the strapline for the show goes: How far would you go to be the best? Cheat? Dope? Enhance yourself biologically to be LeanerFasterStronger than your competitors? The reality is that we may fast be approaching a glass ceiling about what humans can ‘naturally’ achieve. Elite sport is big business, and the play asks whether we can expect to continue breaking records and ‘improving’ every year without a little ‘help’?

In the 1980s, women’s athletics went through a golden period when phenomenal records were set. Decades on, those records have not been matched or beaten. The turnaround came with the introduction of dope testing. Since those (cheating?) halcyon days, women’s athletics have apparently slipped down the scale in popularity. In athletics, it seems that spectators want a spectacle, to be inspired and excited. Watching people fail to come anywhere near a world record set thirty years ago just doesn’t cut it.

There is an argument that sport tests what is possible for humans to do – it favours the ‘Übermensch’ – the idealised, ‘perfect’ human being. The commercial side of sport is reliant on new records being broken, showing more thrills and spectacle, to keep the fans involved. Various sports journalists I spoke with while researching the play said that the real excitement and focus in 2012 will be on the Paralympics. Coverage of Oscar Pistorius and his carbon ‘blades’ fills many column inches, and he has become a poster-boy for the future – the next exciting development in sport.

This then offered a perspective to me: what if, in the future, the ‘ideal’ athlete is one who has impairments and who can benefit from the speed of Pistorius, ‘the fastest man in the world on no legs’ as the New York Times described him? Developments in wheelchair racing and cycling have the bone inserting directly into the frame – ‘bone melding with steel’. LeanerFasterStronger asks whether, for a spectacle-seeking audience, the future ultimate sportsperson may in fact be a disabled one.

LeanerFasterStronger: A week of Olympians and Paralympians

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Kaite O’Reilly with Paralympian hopefuls Steve Judge and  Suzannah Rockett-Coughlan at Sheffield Hallam University.

I started this blog last year as I wanted to write about the varied processes I might experience as a writer/dramaturg/co-creator working on three vastly differing productions over 2012. It was my plan to reflect on my experiences in ‘real time’ in research, rewrites, and in rehearsals, as the work grew and developed.

Part of this project was in response to the questions I’m often been asked by those I teach and mentor about the process of ‘being a playwright’.  My answer has always been ‘it depends’ – for I believe there is no one process, and my hope with writing the blog is to reveal some of the many processes writers and makers of live performance may encounter.

I’m currently at the end of the second week of rehearsals with Chol/Sheffield Theatres co-production of LeanerFasterStronger, a Cultural Olympiad project, reflecting on elite sport and the ethics and issues around human enhancement and sports science. It has been a research-heavy project, reading books and academic essays, being in residence at Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Sports Engineering Research, and interviewing former athletes who have competed at international level.

I’ve often wondered when the research will stop, for the issues are so current, especially with the Olympics and Paralympics fast approaching. Almost every day in rehearsals one of the company will pull out a story relevant to the play that was in that morning’s newspaper, or reported on television:  Themes of corruption, of sacrifice, of cheating or playing fair; advances in technology and bio-engineering; sportspeople breaking records, or collapsing and dying owing to the extreme rigour and demands of the sport.

Never before have I been involved in a project which is so current and ‘now’, which brings with it a responsibility. Although what we are embarking on is fictional and looking to the future, posing the central question of ‘How far would you go to be the best?’, the work needs to be credible, rooted in ‘truth’. Several events this past week have enabled me to check out my ideas with athletes competing at the highest level, and these conversations have impacted on the final revisions of the script. I feel astonishingly fortunate that these opportunities have come to me, and especially so mid-rehearsal. I never expected part of my job as a playwright would involve spending time with Paralympians and Olympians – nor that the final changes to a script would occur so close to production.

After a Paralympics panel event organised by Sheffield Hallam University and Radio Sheffield, I spoke at length with fencers Suzanna Rockett-Coughlan and Craig McCann, who were nervously waiting to discover whether they had been selected for 2012; and  2016  Paratriathlete hopeful Steve Judge. All talked about the necessity – and challenges – of keeping a good family/training balance, and the pleasures and trevails of competing at such a level.

Finding the human aspect, the emotional drama at the heart of sport has been central to my writing of the script. So much coverage of elite athletes focus on their super-ability and dedication; even the panel event that evening, introduced by the Chair of the British Paralympics Association, Tim Reddish, focused on the Paralympians as being inspirational, over-coming so many obstacles. That may be so and, sincerely, more power to them, but as a disabled woman I’m tired of the usual representations of people with impairments as either inspirational ‘heroes’, or the tragic but brave. To cut through this and connect, person to person, and share ideas and anecdotes, to talk about life and passion and winning or losing was phenomenal, and I am so grateful to the athletes for the insight they gave me into the beating human heart behind the high-pressured business of sport.

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Cutting Edge 2012: Behind Athletics, the English Institute of Sport.

Later that week, it was the turn of Olympian Roger Black, top sports scientist Professor Steve Haake,  Professor Chris Cooper, an expert in the physiology of top athletes, and Dr Rob Harle, a lead researcher in the development of innovative video and body sensor technologies to aid the training of both novice and elite athletes.

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Steve Haake, volunteer athlete, and Roger Black

Cutting Edge 2012, at the English Institute of Sport, featured live athletics demonstrations and my own advisor, Dr David James, leading an interactive  survey on how far research and new technologies should be used in the quest to win gold. Given the subject of my play – How far would you go to be the best? – it felt as though the event was especially organised for me and the whole LFS company who attended.

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Olympic Silver medalist Roger Black answering LFS actor Morven Macbeth’s research question. The English Institute of Sport.

One of the actors, Morven Macbeth, asked a question pertinent to our research and garnered a great response from Roger Black:

“Sport is definitely an industry, there’s no doubt about that, and the Olympics is a massive business, we know that, but for the athlete – you’re still the young kid who had the dream; you’re still one of the lucky ones who happened to have a gift for sport… I may be naive, but I still believe, when I watch the Olympics, the vast majority of the athletes we’re watching are clean, and are doing it for the right reasons, pushing themselves, having a dream, and trying to fill that potential. I can say that, because I did it….But there are many people who absolutely believe you can’t win a medal without taking drugs. And I know that’s not true.”

Further responses touched on the notion of ‘the spirit’ and ‘the virtue’ of sport – and how one of the ‘rules’ of sport is to ‘uphold the spirit of sport’ – a circular argument – and these rules or tasks we set ourselves are often arbitrary.

Given that one of the themes of the script has been ‘Sport tests the limits of what humans can do’, this comment, combined with the developments in bio and genetic engineering, gave me much food for thought. Fuelled by these interventions and provocations during the week, I locked myself into my hotel room over the weekend and finished the script.

 

Hang-ups! Aerial and Disability

Here’s a link to a fascinating short film by aerialist and academic Tina Carter, film maker Anton French, and writer/performer Sophie Partridge.

I worked with Sophie back in 2002 on the original stage and radio productions of my play, peeling with Graeae Theatre Company, and some years later as dramaturg on one of her early forays into playwriting.  Sophie is always interesting and well worth a look.

Please go to:

http://curiousfilms.co.uk/hangups.html

Cripping up – Copping on. Rosaleen McDonagh in Irish Theatre Magazine

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Rosaleen McDonagh
I was honoured to be included in the following article from Irish Theatre Magazine by the phenomenal playwright Rosaleen McDonagh. This is reproduced from the on-line version of the magazine and is available at: http://www.irishtheatremagazine.ie/Features/Current/Cripping-Up—Copping-on.aspx
IRISH THEATRE MAGAZINE
Cripping up – Copping on.
by Rosaleen McDonagh 10 March 2012

Rosaleen McDonagh discusses her new play Mainstream and the challenges of casting and performance: Should a disabled writer hold their work back in the belief that there may be some emerging disabled performers who someday will bring their work to the stage?

‘In Peeling I wanted to create women who were witty, sexy, complex human beings who made difficult decisions about their fertility and potential offspring; women whose lives didn’t necessarily differ so much from non-disabled, hearing women’s lives.’  Kaite O’Reilly, playwright.

Peeling was written by a woman who identifies as disabled. Directed by Jenny Sealey, a deaf woman, and performed by three female actors, two disabled and one deaf. Being exposed to Kaite’s work, the politics of identity and representation became much more vivid and important. Such exposure brings with it an emotional resonance that says this is theatre at its best. Not just for someone like me who can identify with all the parts of the three actors but, as O’Reilly says, it was the universality of the women’s lives that made it work. When using ‘cripping up’, it’s part of a cultural and political mode of language that encompasses self determination. Again O’Reilly said, ‘Cripping up is the twenty first century’s way of blacking up’.

The term ‘cripping up’ in Ireland is not used because it’s understood as being insulting to ‘trained’ actors. The way in which white men once painted themselves black to get a gig is now understood as being racist, exploitative, voyeuristic and dangerous. For me ‘cripping up’ carries similar dangers. In the disability artistic community, the joke says, if an able-bodied actor wants an award and a director wants lots of accolades, be it in theatre or film, cripping up is the easiest, most unethical way of doing it. Others say ethics in any art form blocks creativity. Either way, whether it’s local, national or indeed even international, the infrastructure for artists with disabilities in any discipline is always an afterthought, an appendix, sometimes we’re told appendix take up too much time and room—they’re not needed. The explanation of the plot is evident in the performance regardless of who or what body that performance comes from, they tell us.

Mainstream, my new piece explores a love affair disintegrating while people are grappling with identity, age, sexuality, institutionalisation memory, friendship and fear.  All the characters from Mainstream have significant impairments. Their impairments are part of how the piece is presented. Their journey as characters is very much tied up with their disability identity. When writing the play Mainstream, my politics were compromised due to the standard theatre praxis here in Ireland. What’s ideal is unfortunately limited by what’s possible at the present moment.

Opportunities for training and development in theatre for disabled performers and actors are not de rigueur.  This creates a difficulty in getting disabled Irish actors that can play these parts. More affirmative action policies please. The Arts Council and the Arts Disability Forum do have a specific bursary for disabled artists which is €5,000. Arts & Disability Ireland do provide supports to organisations to make their venue and services more accessible to people with disabilities. Access in the form of audio description and touch is also part of ADI’s remit. There are venues, such as the Project Arts Centre who deliver and provide good practice at all levels of their organisation. The Dublin Theatre Festival 2011, when supporting site-specific work, ensured that access to most of the venues was possible, in particular Mark O’Halloran’s Trade in a Dublin bedsit. The Festival ensured that this work was open to all audiences regardless of the venue type. For me, the ultimate sanction and marker of good access would be that companies are not funded by the Arts Council if their work is not accessible to all the public. That public includes people with disabilities. We’re an audience too.

An example of a positive affirmative action was Turning Point in 2010, an opportunity for artists with disabilities to develop a short play. This project, which was supported by ADI and VSA, meant that I and the three other writers travelled to Washington with Fishamble. Our work was performed in a rehearsed reading. At the reading of my play Rings the sign interpreter for the main actor didn’t turn up.  Vulnerability, fear and embarrassment were shared by me and the actor.  Jim Culleton, director of Fishamble Theatre Company, managed the situation in an empowering and professional manner. Our work as disabled artists is underrepresented and therefore affirmative action initiatives should have a two-pronged approach. This approach would be a specific targeted approach for disabled artists by way of funding and other resources. While at the same time, mainstream theatre, whether it be companies or venues, need to be resourced and supported to be inclusive of disabled artists, practitioners and disabled audiences. This work can’t be done if theatre companies and venues aren’t supported and resourced to do this.

For me the question of cripping up is an exercise purely for the non-disabled ego: the illusion that you can control, modify and contain, if not your own body, then somebody else’s. The dilemma is: what do you do in a country that prides itself on a legacy of being part of the universal canon of theatre but pays no real dividends to disabled artists or performers? ‘Dividends’ in this context is used as a metaphor for cultural inclusion. In short, the authentic disabled aesthetic is erased out of Irish theatre and performances. Brian Friel’s plays Molly Sweeney and Translations were both restaged in Dublin in 2011. The character of Molly Sweeney and Sarah, the non-verbal woman in Translations, had potential to be innovative performances;  instead they objectify and infantilise our bodies, to be received by an unquestioning audience.

They say an actor should be able to perform any part, borrow an aesthetic. There are some parts that actors can’t play. Characters are built, shaped, pulled and stretched to envelop an outside reality and bring it inside themselves. Yet, Irish theatre audiences, or at least the majority of them, seem to enjoy the cosiness of knowing these are not real people—they’re acting out. How we know and where we think people with disabilities belong in our society. Our narrative as disabled people must be funnelled through a non-disabled form. From the director to the actor and then it’s bounced back to the audience, people get so caught up in the physicality of our bodies. The emotive manipulation is what’s damaging. That’s the bit that hurts. They can only do the outside but they can’t bring the emotional, historical resonance to a performance.

These representations are reductive and damaging. Another example of this type of false representation is that of Carmel Winters’ B for Baby. There’s been much chatter about breaking the ‘taboo’ because this piece attempts to explore sexuality in the context of people with learning or intellectual disability. For me, this piece had nothing new to offer other than the usual stereotypes. The most disappointing element of the piece was whatever groundbreaking crescendo that we were all hoping to reach, the end of the piece reverted and resisted going to the edge where the premise of the play was attempting to go by not allowing the two characters to kiss. They share a bag of sweets instead of a kiss. If that’s not infantalisation, well then what is? However, I bought a ticket which means I colluded with something that I’d hoped would be radical; instead, it was pretty mundane. Although these pieces were written by a non-disabled man and woman the very fact that they create disabled characters could be a really positive opportunity to reinvigorate the disabled aesthetic in Irish theatre. The reinvigoration would only come with the call for actors who are disabled for these particular parts. The presumption that non-disabled actors can play our parts so much better is outdated.  We Irish can be very unsophisticated and not confident when it comes to taking risks in theatre making. The politics of representation is often outweighed by the so called importance of the narrative – but the narrative comes from a place of representation even if it is almost invisible.

Should a disabled writer hold their work back in the belief that there may be some emerging disabled performers who someday will bring their work to the stage? Or has a writer to compromise and collude with ‘cripping up’ as a way of establishing their work? My Traveller ethnicity, like my disability, cerebral palsy, is an integral part of who I am. It’s how I understand my place in the world. My history, it means I have a shared knowledge and experience with other Travellers and disabled people. This said, the Traveller community or the disability community, are not a homogenous group. We share a common narrative but at the same time, our individual experiences lend themselves to diverse views on art and other matters. ‘Cripping up’, for some disabled people, is fine. For others, like me, ‘cripping up’ or ‘putting it on’ for Travellers, there’s an innate sour taste of a collective, pejorative projection that is not a representation of who and what we are. As a writer, I can illustrate shame but I refuse to carry it, regardless of how and where it’s projected onto me.

Having been exposed to disability arts in the context of mainstream theatre, the spark was lit. Kaite O’Reilly has been a role model and a mentor in many ways for me. I deliberately use the capital D when describing myself as a Disabled artist. This cultural phenomenon gives me reference points to work from, rules, not just for writing but rules for life. Our lives, our experiences and the veins of knowledge that we have as performers, writers and visual artists, need to be nurtured. My ambition for my work goes beyond any special category. While my work is grounded in a particular experience, the writing carries with it a calling for other disabled writers and performers to be part of the Irish theatre community. Being known as the only crip in the community is isolating. This also means often my voice isn’t loud enough to keep making demands on all areas of access for other disabled artists.

Rosaleen McDonagh is a Traveller woman with a significant disability, a playwright and human rights activist. Her short play Beat Him Like a Badger is part of Fishamble’s Tiny Plays for Ireland at Project Arts Centre 15th-21st March, 2012.

In the republic of poetry (6): 100 Houses by Colin Hambrook

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Cover of 100 Houses, written and illustrated by Colin Hambrook.

I’m deep in rehearsals with The Llanarth Group on The Echo Chamber, still writing and sorting the dramaturgy, so have little time to write – but I wanted to share an email exchange I had with Colin Hambrook, writer and illustrator of 100 Houses:

Colin Hambrook’s 100 Houses is an illustrated collection of visual poetry and an exhibition of ink drawings exploring mental health and the impact of the mental health system on the lives of those who become immersed in it.

He explores identity through the crystalline lens of psychosis. The concept of ‘home’ is a central theme – as a metaphor for a sense of belonging and a connection between mind and body.

KOR: Can you tell me a little about your your poetry – when you started, what the the poetry means for you, what your  intentions may be, and so on….

CH: Writing poetry in one form or another is something I’ve always done. Originally my preoccupation was with songwriting and letter writing – playing with words as a form of expression. I grew up during the late seventies and was smitten by the intelligence of much of the lyric-writing by punk artists like Poly Styrene, TV Smith and Siouxsie Sioux to name a few. In amongst the intensity and rawness of the sound, they wrote about alienation and otherness with a wit and an insight that was life-saving. I knew a lot of the songs by heart and singing (as well as writing and drawing) has always been an important diversion during times of psychosis when I can’t trust what is going on in my head. Not that I believe in the creativity/ madness correlation by any stretch. The writing that happens during episodes of psychosis is largely rubbish, although there are sometimes kernels of rich imagery that can be drawn upon as a basis for something else.

Since schooldays I have always had periods of absorbing ‘serious’ poetry, as well as music, but the words have to connect at an emotional level; there has to be something that strikes as truth, for it to mean anything. In the way that I write, as in much of my drawing, I have often had a tendency towards being too ‘flowery’; albeit with a gothic sensibility. In the drawing I like to create images that change and shift according to the mood of the viewer and their physical distance from the artwork. It took me a long time to realise that the same approach doesn’t work with poetry.

I like words; the way they sound in your head and roll off your tongue. I love the way that words can often imitate how actions and things ‘feel’. But it was the decision to learn to write in a way that communicated beyond myself that was the spur for going beyond the defensiveness that it is so easy to fall into as a poet. When people – in general – think of learning to paint they turn to watercolour. Similarly when they think of learning to write they turn to poetry. Both carry with them the peculiar misunderstanding that, respectively, they are the easiest forms of expression, when in fact they are both the most demanding.

It took me a long time to realise that I had to learn to keep the imagery in service to reality. At the same time I began to see the significance in showing rather than telling. I think it was a workshop with Pascale Petit when I first came across the notion of “learning to kill your darlings” ie deleting imagery and metaphor when it serves no real purpose other than to “sound good.” I still write as a way of explaining myself to myself, but I have to experience a certain intake of breathe or sense of satisfaction, before I can think of a poem as achieving anything approaching an intention.

I was fortunate to get a place at Dartington College of Arts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They had an approach to teaching fine art that focussed on the wider social context of the artwork; its imagery and its purpose. The usual art historical approach taught in art schools concentrates on the idea of the artist and their hierarchical position within a narrow definition of what constitutes ‘art’, rather than creativity as a raw and essential ingredient of life.

What about the relationship between words and image?

CH: There is something about the combination of image and text that is indelibly imprinted on my imagination. I have a strong capacity for thinking in images. But the stories behind the pictures have to be expressed in words if they are to make any sense. At college I began a series of paintings and writing that were made in response to each other. I kept dream diaries which I story-boarded and pared down to specific images, which were then turned into paintings and prints. I produced an exhibition called ‘Dreams of the Absurd’ which was shown as a whole and in part at a dozen or more art galleries during the 1990s. During the same period I was very involved with Survivors’ Poetry. Being co-editor of their second anthology ‘Under the Asylum Tree’, was a brilliant experience. I learnt a lot about giving a sense of order to a collection and planning book production.

I went on to become more fully absorbed in editing at the same time as I became immersed in the disability arts movement. I had that sense of finding the community that I’d been looking for a long time and became inspired and passionate about disability art because it is about tangible experience, and substance rather than form for the sake of itself.

Can you contextualise how this project came about?

CH: My poetry got largely left behind until I applied for an opportunity that came up as a Dada-South commission – as part of Accentuate. Titled Up-Stream, they were looking for creatives who were going to be able to use the opportunity as a stepping stone towards upping their game as a professional practitioner. It has been the spur to get me back into my stride as a poet. 100 Houses came out of a desire to learn to etch and craft previous material. In the last six months the writing has got stronger and I’ve developed more confidence in putting the work in a public arena.

What advice would you give to other writers/artists/creatives?


CH: I think the most important thing in learning to write is finding people you can trust to give you a balanced critique of the merits and demerits of your work. It’s a bit of a knife edge, when you are putting your soul on display. If you are not naturally thick-skinned and have a tendency to take things personally, it can take an enormous leap to learn to differentiate between good and bad judgement. But you can only learn and develop your craft as a writer, by making mistakes. So finding someone skilled enough to tell you why they think something could be better is extremely important. You then have to weigh up whether their reasons match your intention. Even if they they have misunderstood or are on a different wavelength, but can clearly describe why they don’t like a thing in a way you can appreciate, then it is important to realise that as an act of generosity.

Further information on 100 Houses can be found at:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/100-Houses-Colin-Hambrook/dp/0956891500

http://100houses.co.uk/poem-02.htm

listen to mp3 of ON HEALING:

http://100houses.co.uk/sound/on-healing-poem.mp3


That was the year that was (continued). Has anything changed?

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Cast of IN WATER I’M WEIGHTLESS: David Toole, Sophie Stone, Karina Jones, Mandy Colleran, Mat Fraser, Nick Philips. National Theatre Wales development week, November 2011.

Cardiff, November 2011: I’m in a studio with a group of outstanding performers, some internationally renowned, others forging reputations as ‘people to watch’. Also present is John McGrath, artistic director of National Theatre Wales, choreographer/movement director Nigel Charnock, designer Paul Clay, and emerging director Sara Beer. We’re here to develop In Water I’m Weightless and I can’t quite believe it’s happening.

The project is a long time coming and is only possible because of my Unlimited Commissions from the Cultural Olympiad, funded by the National Lottery through the Olympic Lottery Distributor, delivered in partnership between London 2012, Arts Council England, the Scottish Arts Council, Arts Council of Wales, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the British Council.
 These awards enabled me to launch The ‘d’ Monologues, scripts written specifically for Deaf and disabled actors, informed and inspired by interviews and interactions with people from all over the UK.

I’ve talked to disabled and Deaf friends, strangers, and colleagues about sex and complex interpersonal relationships, childhood ambitions and adult careers, divorce and promiscuity, favourite recipes and aphrodisiacs, societal labels and self-identification. We’ve spoken about sub- or counter-cultures and the mainstream, prejudices and preconceptions, theatres where performance happen and theatres where surgery is performed. We’ve talked of discrimination, both positive and negative, of love and loathing, fertility and being sterile, of what it is to be human and how to be truly alive. And this stimuli has prompted several projects and attracted National Theatre Wales’s creativity and openness to engage.

In Water I’m Weightless will be NTW’s twentieth production, produced at the Wales Millennium Centre in July 2012, setting an important precedent about which practitioners and what content are produced on a national platform. It’s rare for the material which makes up In Water I’m Weightless to reach the ‘mainstream’ – and it is even more rare for such a high profile transcultural experiment to happen.

I write this with confidence as I’m a fellow of an International Research Centre connected to the Freie Universität Berlin’s Theatre Department, which investigates the interweaving of performance cultures and of cultures in performance in the broadest sense. My research through practice focuses on what I call ‘Alternative Dramaturgies Informed by a Deaf and disability Perspective’, with particular reference to disability arts and culture and its relationship(s) to dominant, or mainstream culture(s).

As a practitioner, I have one foot in the ‘mainstream’ and one in disability arts – and previously it was a case of never the two shall meet… It has taken several decades to reach this position where I can openly fold disability content into a ‘mainstream’ project without having to find clever ways of hiding it and my intentions, or endlessly having to justify this way of being, or why I might want to write about human difference whilst challenging established parameters of ‘normality’.

There’s often an assumption that this kind of work has no place in the ‘mainstream’ – or it will be hectoring, or politically correct. Personally, I’m far more interested in the provocatively politically incorrect – and am sure that the combination of NTW’s creative team and the witty, subversive performers will ensure In Water… is anything but ‘worthy’.

The first part of this post began reviewing the year and questioning whether anything has changed in the relationship between disability arts and culture and majority culture. Given my forthcoming production with NTW, and  other developments in 2011 in Scotland, I’m encouraged and given hope for the future.

Both Robert Softley and Claire Cunningham have been developing projects in 2011 with National Theatre Scotland.

Robert’s Girl X was an exploration of ethical issues surrounding the rights of an eleven year girl with cerebral palsy, who had the mental age of a five month old infant. Her mother sought a hysterectomy for Girl X, believing the onset of puberty would only bring additional, and unnecessary distress to her. The doctors also felt such controversial surgery might improve her quality of life. The play, produced in Spring of 2011 and written by Robert Softley and Bart Capelle, asked questions such as:  ‘When do private matters become public concern? Is the majority always right? Do wheelchair users know better? Where will it all end?

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In contrast Claire Cunningham’s recent dance theatre work explored her twenty year relationship with her crutches – and the (im)possibility of creating her ideal man from these objects, – what she knows best. Ménage à Trois  was ‘a hauntingly beautiful study of love, obsession, loneliness and manipulation’ and, like In Water I’m Weightless, emerged from an Unlimited Commission.

I’m a big fan of both Claire and Robbie’s work, so am delighted at this development. It’s incredibly heartening that the National Theatres of Wales and Scotland are making unprecedented approaches towards disability artists and content in their commissioning and programming. But it’s also clear how central Unlimited and the Cultural Olympiad have been in helping make these changes happen.

Unlimited describes itself as ‘a project celebrating disability, arts, culture and sport on an unprecedented scale as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.’

I am writing on January 1st 2012. It will be fascinating to see on January 1st 2013 quite how successful that influence will have been – how far and deep its touch…. For the moment, I am hopeful.

Happy 2012, all. Hope it is creative and provocative and stimulating and joyful.

x

For an interview between Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of National Theatre Scotland, and Robert Softley on Girl X, go to:

http://www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/content/default.asp?page=s717

For further details on my research project with International Research Centre Interweaving Performance Cultures in Berlin, go to:

http://www.geisteswissenschaften.fu-berlin.de/v/verflechtungen/People/Fellows/Fellows_2010_2011/Kaite_O_Reilly/index.html

Copyright Kaite O’Reilly 1/1/12.

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’.

In Water I’m Weightless: Preview programme for London 2012 Festival

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Delighted to see In Water I’m Weightless, my Unlimited Commission to be produced by National Theatre Wales in 2012, was included in the preview guide to London 2012. ‘Britain’s biggest ever cultural festival’ over the weekend.

I quote from the festival supplement, written by a journalist:

Stories that Come to Life

A character hears sound for the first time, while the audience reads sign language in back-projected subtitles in a powerful experimental work that treats disability as entirely normal, exploring the endless possibilities created by “human difference.” Writer Kaite O’Reilly, herself visually disabled, spent three years talking to deaf and disabled people, creating a collage of fictional monologues that is poetic, moving, challenging and often very funny. Six of Britain’s leading disabled actors, often performing outside their own disabilities, take part in a dynamic, expressonistic staging that contrasts the warmth and intimacy of stories told direct to the audience with dance and live projections.

In Water I’m Weightless Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, July 26-August 4 2012.