Tag Archives: drama

Why we need disabled and Deaf playwrights and theatre makers

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

Name a thing and it is. Titles and character names…

I recently befuddled a friend with the title I’ve given my next play, ‘Cosy’. ‘But it’s about growing up, and ageing, and rubbish families and death!’ she exclaimed, ‘That’s hardly cosy material!’   ‘Exactly,’ I said.

This conversation made me reflect on the names we give things and the relationship we may have with titles. With plays, I either struggle and need suggestions and prompting, or I know straight away. I like titles of plays that hint at what I might experience if I attended a production – what’s been called ‘the promise’ is often there in the name. I like contradictions, or irony, or something that makes me pause and wonder about the content in an almost metaphysical sense. Beckett’s ‘All That Fall’ or ‘Rockaby’ lingered long after experiencing the text and production.

This then brought me back to a post I’d written about naming characters in our fiction or plays, and why they are important:

Shakespeare may have claimed a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but think of the added information that seeps through from knowing the character is called StJohn or Jerzey; Jonah or Jezebel; Shiraz or Shona, Sankaran or Steve. A sense of cultural heritage, class, social aspiration and period can be assumed through personal monikers.

Names are signifiers and they carry significance; more often than not they are a tip to the audience. It is not by chance that Ben Johnson’s protagonist in his Jacobean satire of lust and greed is called Volpone – Italian for ‘sly fox’.

Names can allude to character and disposition in an efficient, almost effortless way. Traditionally protagonists or heroes have big, heroic-sounding names – Lysander and Titania, Hermione and Ulysses. There is an underlying assumption of what a tragic or inspirational protagonist should be called – an assumption subverted to comedy effect by Monty Python in The Life of Brian.

Giving a character a name can be a significant moment for the writer in the process of making. It is perhaps when the fragmented flitting thoughts start finding shape in human form. When I’ve worked with writers on emerging scripts, some arrive with a name of a character as a starting point, and work outwards from there, guided by a sense of the individual’s personal traits, politics, guiding principles, almost as if they exist in reality and the writer personally knows them. Others, like me, may not have a name until well into the process. I sometimes have letters or numbers – 1, 2, 3, 4 – chosen simply by the order in which these emerging figures arrived on the page. When I find these numeric names limiting and annoying, snagging on my eye each time I read over the page, I know I have moved onto the next phase of development.

Naming characters always come swiftly. If I stumble between options, or dither, going eeny-meeny-miney-mo, I realise I don’t know enough yet about the character, or s/he is not yet sufficiently drawn to merit a title.

I can truthfully say I have never regretted a name I’ve given to a character, but that act of choosing has a galvanising effect on the way I engage with the character on the page, impacting on the words I put in her mouth, or the actions I give him.

I’m not sentimental about my work, so I never see them as my creatures or (god forbid) some kind of golem offspring – they are vehicles for my thoughts, or ideas I want to explore – but calling something brings it forth into being.

Name it, and it is.

Answering back and returning the gaze: Alternative Dramaturgies

Cover of Horizons/ Theatre no.4. Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux

Cover of Horizons/ Theatre no.4. Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux

Delighted to receive a copy of Horizons/Theatre numero 5 from the University of Bordeaux Press today, which includes an essay I delivered at a conference in Tangiers last year on ‘Alternative Dramaturgies.’ The work builds on my 2003/06 AHRC Creative Fellowship ‘Alternative Dramaturgies Informed by a d/Deaf and disability Perspective’ and my on-going Fellowship at the International Research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ at Freie Universitat, Berlin, since 2011. The essay is in English, and the abstract follows:

Answering Back and Returning the Gaze: Two examples of ‘alternative dramaturgies informed by a Deaf and disability perspective.’

Kaite O’Reilly

Abstract:   How do we ‘write’ disability? Is it in the aesthetic, the narratives, the content, the form, or the bodies of the performers? This paper seeks to introduce ‘alternative dramaturgies, informed by a Deaf and disability perspective’, exploring some of the dramaturgical developments I have initiated as a playwright working within disability arts and Deaf culture since 1987. Alternative? To the mainstream, hearing, non-disabled perspective, and by ‘alternative dramaturgies’ I mean the processes, structures, content and form which reinvent, subvert or critique ‘traditional’ or ’conventional’ representations, narratives, and dramatic structures in performance.

Much of my work as a playwright and theatre maker explores issues of how distinctive Deaf and disability cultures operate with, against, and/or in opposition to ‘mainstream’ or ‘dominant’ cultural paradigms. The paper will raise questions on the dynamic between majority and disability culture, and signed and spoken languages, looking at the interface and relationship between hearing majority culture and Deaf culture, and experiments in bilingualism between spoken/projected English and theatricalised BSL (British Sign Language).

This paper aims to reflect on my work exploring alternative dramaturgies regarding the aesthetic, content, form, processes, and narratives in a series of my past works, including peeling (Graeae Theatre 2002) and In Praise of Fallen Women (The Fingersmiths Ltd, 2006).

 

Copies can be obtained through the director, Omar Fertat, Horizons/Theatre omar.fertat@u-bordeaux-montaigne.fr

Words emerging from a living mouth: read your work aloud

writing

Some years ago I was asked what I, as a writer, actually did all day. I was in the process of revising a script, so I answered truthfully: I spent the whole day talking to my imaginary friends.

Writing can be noisy work. Performance writers are creating dynamic, pace, tension and flow. All that, plus characters, plot, aesthetic, and the world of the play is created through dialogue. Owing to this, I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing how your words move when spoken aloud – how they feel and emerge from a living mouth – what your work sounds like when uttered in a room.

It is often only in a read-through of a script we become aware of any tongue-twisters or difficult sentences we may have inadvertently created; it is there we note if a line sounds stilted, histrionic, or chimes false. Sudden unexpected little rhyming couplets emerge and accidental puns or double entendres. It is alarming how often what we thought we knew so well can surprise us – even ambush us. Reading the dialogue aloud when you write it is one way of avoiding this.

I find I can identify sections that are ‘flabby’ or need attention simply by half-murmuring the lines when I read the play. I can also find the sentences that jar because there are too many syllables in them, or not enough – and all this impacts on the greater whole.

Plays are written to be spoken. It makes sense that we should check the rhythm and flow by saying those words aloud. It helps us to check whether the dynamic between characters moves in the speed and pace we want at that moment. I often compare writing to composing music – it’s good to check each section follows the patterns and has the energy appropriate to the atmosphere we are trying to create at any point.

I’ve worked with writers who are bewildered as to why a scene which they know should work doesn’t. They’ve honed it, included all the necessary components of plot, rising tension, good characterisation – and yet it still doesn’t have the desired impact or emotional effect. We have then edited a few lines – perhaps changed the length or rhythm of several – and suddenly, to their astonishment, the moment works.

A speedy staccato back-and-forth may undermine and destroy a tender moment, or one with tension and gravitas – but that dynamic leading up to a slower, more evenly spaced section can help heighten the moment by contrast.

Movement of text has an impact on the audience and how it receives the information. Try and ensure you use the appropriate dynamic, flow, vocabulary and interaction. Reading the text aloud will help this.

 

What is a dramaturg?

In preparation for my work teaching dramaturgy in Singapore at the Intercultural Theatre Institute next month, I’ve been collecting definitions of what is often, in the UK at least, a slippery customer….

My seminars will be part of four perspectives – the playwright’s, the director’s, the actor’s and designer/scenographer’s. I’m excited, as part of the time I will be co-teaching with collaborators from actual productions of my plays, or performances we have co-created. We will be deconstructing the text, roles, and decision-making process, as well as sharing play texts and video/documentation of those specific performances with the students. I hope this will demystify what can be a perplexing and opaque process, and is the most holistic and revealing approach I have yet to come across.

The role of the dramaturg and the definition of dramaturgy can vary hugely. The understanding of the role in the German state theatre context is immensely different from many examples in the US repertory theatre system – and different again in the UK. To kick us off on what I hope will be a regular feature on this blog is a definition culled from the RSC’s ‘Radical Mischief’, Issue 02 from May 2014, and the associate dramaturg for the RSC’s Midsummer Mischief Festival, Sarah Dickenson:

‘The term “dramaturgy” refers to the art or technique of dramatic composition and theatrical representation: the means by which a story can be shaped into a performable form. All performance works have a dramaturgy, mostly sharing a set of base principles but diversifying widely within that. This dramaturgy is first created by the playwright/ makers when they construct a story for the stage, is developed in rehearsal by the director, designers and actors and then comes to full fruition in the interaction the performance has with its audience. This process varies, particularly if the piece is devised or physical, but the key points remain.

A dramaturg is concerned with supporting this process at some or all of these stages. In practice, that job might involve many different tasks, from the identification of performable work, to working with a playwright through several drafts, to hands on support in the rehearsal room. Sometimes it’s as simple as having a cup of tea with a theatremaker as they wrangle with a particularly tricky aspect of their piece. However, always at the heart of the dramaturg’s role is the ability to constructively, clearly and sensitively question a piece of work towards making it the best it can be, without confusing, overwhelming or blocking those making it.”

Sarah Dickenson in RSC’s Radical Mischief. Issue 02. May 2014.   @sedickenson

I will be sharing further perspectives and experiences later on this blog.

 

Reinventing old stories, making the ancient contemporary

Sophie Stone in 'Woman of Flowers' by Kaite O'Reilly

Sophie Stone in ‘Woman of Flowers’ by Kaite O’Reilly

How do we take old stories and make them new, and relevant to our time?

We know (or we should know) there is no such thing as ‘original’ – the same plots have been going around for millennia (there’s only seven plots, apparently). I’m pretty sure the average soap opera concerns the same things ancient Greeks sat down to watch thousands of years ago – and I would like to include Chinese historical soaps in this, for they also cover warring dynasties and great battles.

Human beings are endlessly fascinated with other human beings. We gain great pleasure from watching ordinary people deal with extraordinary situations and grow, change, learn new skills, succeed, fail… We root for the underdog, we fair-minded gentle folk secretly love the dastardly ‘baddie’ – we project ourselves onto the protagonist, identifying with her, breathing with her. We have such an appetite for narrative it is extraordinary we never use all the possibilities up… Which brings me to reinvention, and finding perspectives pertinent for our times.

We know that Shakespeare used many received stories, and that the ancient Greek playwrights consistently revisited the same store of deities, symbolic figures, and conflicts. Today, adaptations of existing work are immensely popular. A glance at the mainstream London theatre scene for this week alone throws up reinventions of The 39 StepsThe Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare in Love and Ostermier’s participatory An Enemy of the People. I saw this update of Ibsen at the Schaubühne in Berlin two years ago, filled with cover versions of Bowie’s ‘Ch-ch-ch-changes’ done with acoustic guitar, live on stage. I don’t feel Ostermier succeeded fully in making the piece contemporary, but it was a bold move, and one that’s proved popular.

So how do we make the old new, with resonance for the times we inhabit? I ask this question often in my work. Over the past few years I’ve been involved in exactly this – reinventing existing texts and stories. My version of Aeschylus’s Persians for Mike Pearson’s 2010 site-specific production on MOD land for National Theatre Wales won the Ted Hughes Award for new works in poetry, and my latest play, currently touring, is a reworking of the the myth of Blodeuwedd from the fourth branch of the Mabinogion.

For me, the first stage is obsession. It’s all very well deciding to update an existing work, but if something about that story doesn’t grab you by the ears and pull you face-first into the narrative, don’t even consider starting.

I’ve been obsessed with Blodeuwedd for years, ever since I first moved to Wales and discovered the ancient text. It is fascinating and compelling: the woman of flowers made to be wife to a man cursed by his mother; the woman made to serve, who discovers desire and plots to have her way; the unnatural creature reared in nature red in tooth and claw, transformed into an owl as punishment for her transgressions… I could write many other versions of the story from different perspectives, which is what makes ancient texts so rewarding to work with. In my reworking of this myth in a commission from Kirstie Davis from Forest Forge, I had to settle on one approach, and one which I felt would have resonance to the times we inhabit.

The second stage is to find the angle that reverberates with current events. Without giving the game away too much, for me approaching Woman of Flowers, this involves the rise of all kinds of fundamentalism, and the corresponding belief systems, creation stories and values made through rhetoric and words. In the original, Blodeuwedd is made by Gwydion, the greatest living storyteller, from the flowers of the forest. I wanted to explore the power of language in this retelling, especially as we use visual language (theatricalised sign) as well and spoken and captioned English in the production.

I have also been very concerned with the rise of modern slavery – disturbing stories in the media of intolerable working conditions (the recent SOS written on clothes labels for Primark), and people kept against their will and treated as slave labour (a case most recently on a farm in Wales).

A further stage when remaking is to respect the original, but not to be strait-jacketed by it. As writers, we need to be free to work with the material as we see fit, but not to be directed into a dead-end by details, nor be imaginatively contained. I’ve had to shake off many ‘I really should…’ compulsions, ‘but the original…’ doubts. The aim is to have integrity in the handling of the material and its original elements, and to respect it, but not be dominated by it. We sometimes have to work against the authority of the text in order to find new ways of saying old things.

woman_of_flowers-96x148-1The text Woman of Flowers has been published by Aurora Metro and available at performances as well as here

The Forest Forge Theatre Company production opened in September and continues to tour nationally until November 1st 2014. Full tour details with links here and below.

Woman of Flowers tour

October 2014

Tue 14 19.30 Quay Arts, Isle of Wight, PO30 5BW 01983 822490

Wed 15 20.00 Brixham Theatre, Devon, TQ5 8TA 01803 882717

Sat 18 19.30 West Stafford Village Hall, Dorset, DT2 8AG 01305 261984

Tue 21 19.30 Ibsley Village Hall, Hampshire, BH24 3NL 01425 473065

Thu 23 20:00 Lighthouse Poole’s Centre for the Arts, Poole, BH15 1UG             O844 406 8666 BSL interpreted show

Fri 24 19:30 Bridport Arts Centre, Dorset, DT6 3NR 01308 424204

Sat 25 20:00 Dorchester Arts Centre,Dorset, DT1 1XR 01305 266926

Tue 28 19:30 Mere Lecture Hall,Wiltshire, BA12 6HA O1747 860163

Wed 29 19:30 Aberystwyth Arts Centre,Wales, SY23 3DE 01970 62 32 32

Thu 30 19:30 The Spring, Havant, PO9 1BS 023 9247 2700

November 2014

Sat 1 November 19.30 Greyfriars Community Centre, Ringwood, BH24 1DW 01425 472613

 

Writing for Performance Masterclass. Ty Newydd. 9-14 Feb 2015.

Lloyd George's former home: Ty Newydd - writers' centre of Wales

Lloyd George’s former home: Ty Newydd – writers’ centre of Wales

I’m delighted to give exclusive advance notice for a residential course I will be teaching in February 2015 at Tŷ Newydd, Lloyd George’s former home, now the national writers’ centre of Wales on the beautiful Llŷn Peninsula.

This new course, the first of a series of three masterclasses, is for a small select group of writers committed to writing for performance. Course details are not yet available on the Tŷ Newydd website, and places will be offered on a first come first served basis. All enquiries should be directed to Tŷ Newydd at the contact details, below.

Writing for theatre and performance – a strong, arresting voice.

 9 – 14 February 2015.

From solo shows to dramatic speeches in multi-character plays, from Shakespeare’s rules of rhetoric to Mamet’s ‘beware the puppy dog speech’ – this course will take an in-depth study of the skills, approaches, aesthetics and practices that create dynamic, effective and effecting dialogue in performance writing.

The course will be highly intensive and for committed playwrights, offering a mix of theory and practice, practical workshops, sharing of work with mutual and critical support, and reading assignments set in advance.

We will consider:

  •  the different ways a story is told through dialogue – from contemporary solo performance pieces to reinventing ancient texts.
  •  point of view, back story, and how to create the world of the play through language.
  •  how to write credible, lively, engaging dialogue and reveal character and action through speech.
  •  how to manipulate pace and tempo-rhythm, create tension and sustain interest.

The skills and techniques explored will benefit all writers for performance, not just those engaged in solo shows, and ideally for those already with some experience in writing for theatre.

Those interested in this course, please contact Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre at the address below.

Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre,
Llanystumdwy,
Cricieth,
Gwynedd,
LL52 0LW.

tynewydd@literaturewales.org

http://www.literaturewales.org/course-bookings/

http://www.literaturewales.org/ty-newydd/   ;

http://www.llenyddiaethcymru.org/canolfan-ysgrifennu-ty-newydd/

 

BIOG:

Kaite O’Reilly won The Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for her dramatic retelling of ‘Persians’, the oldest extant play in the Western theatrical canon, and produced by National Theatre Wales in their inaugural year. Other prizes include The Peggy Ramsay Award, M.E.N. best play and a finalist in the International Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Awarded three Cultural Olympiad commissions in 2012, her montaged monologues ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ was produced by National Theatre Wales as part of the official festival celebrating the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics at South Bank Centre. ‘The 9 Fridas’ premiered at the Taipei Festival in 2014, and will transfer to Hong Kong in 2015. A Fellow at the international research centre ‘Interweaving performance cultures’ in Berlin, her work has been produced in eleven countries worldwide. www.kaiteoreilly.com