Tag Archives: Exeunt magazine

On Every Writer’s Nightmare: Losing my “witty, feminist, alternative” final draft…

From richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III video montage by Paul Whittaker

The end is now in sight…. within a fortnight we will be premiering this new performance at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, on International Women’s Day, 8th March.

Yesterday morning I finished writing the final, deviously ingenious threading-it-all-together monologue – creating a fug of blue air from inventive Irish cursing when my laptop failed to save what I had just completed – and all was lost…

It’s every writer’s nightmare… We just manage to get, to our satisfaction, a version down – it makes dramaturgical sense, all journeys and through-lines seem complete, there is hopefully no clunky exposition, and the text remains in the idiosyncratic syntax of the character voice(s)… Satisfied, we press ‘save’, then ‘print’ – and the whole world goes blank and dark screened…. The ‘pooter has crashed – no, it seems to have had the equivalent of a cardiac arrest – and the work has not been saved….

Even as I ran around the house in my pyjamas, yelling guttural Anglo Saxon phrases and being politely ignored by the company, I knew that deviously ingenious monologue was gone forever… I tried to calm myself with stories of Chekov – or was it Ibsen? – destroying completed drafts of plays in order to slash and burn, then rewrite the stronger, better version…. and even though I managed to settle down enough to try and recreate what I had completed just moments before, I know some of that vital DNA is missing… It’ll work, but it hasn’t the ease and shine of the material lost.

Or so perhaps it will always seem when bereft – the unsaved monologue will always be ‘the one that got away’ – the perfectly polished, apparently effortless speech.

Sigh.

But we are done, we have a complete script, the wondrous Sara Beer is learning it and doing magical things with my words in the studio with director Phillip Zarrilli…. There will be time to buff and amend, tinker and improve before Sara sets out in front of an audience – and who knows, maybe by then the recreated speech will have the lustre and gleam of that perfect lost one….?

—-

We’ve had a lot of interest in the production, and we’ve been writing essays for various journals about our process.

Sara Beer’s  ‘In My Own Words: Playing Three Personas’ for Arts Scene in Wales can be accessed here

My article “for Exeunt magazine on cripping up, and how her new production offers a witty, feminist, alternative disability perspective on Shakespeare’s history play” can be read here.

Our tour dates are below….

TOUR DATES

Chapter Arts Centre,

Cardiff www.chapter.org

8, 9, 10, 16, 17 March: 8pm

17 March: 3pm.

Aberystwyth Art Centre Studio

14 & 15 March [SOLD OUT] 

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

http://www.theatrclwyd.com

19 & 20 March: 7.45pm

The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven

http://www.torchtheatre.co.uk

21 March: 7.30pm

Small World Theatre, Cardigan

http://www.smallworld.org.uk

23 March: 8pm

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

richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III

Exeunt magazine feature:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With thanks to Exeunt magazine.

The playwright is leaving the building…. embracing diversity and challenging normalcy

 

Sharon Morgan, Ruth Lloyd and Ri Richards in 'Cosy' rehearsals. Image: Farrows Creative

Sharon Morgan, Ruth Lloyd and Ri Richards in ‘Cosy’ rehearsals. Image: Farrows Creative

There reaches a point in every theatre production of a sole-authored script when the playwright needs to leave the room…. and now is my time to do just that….

New writing is exactly that – new – it is untried and brings with it all the excitement, risk and anticipation of doing something for the first time… I loved being in rehearsals full time for several weeks, trying out the script, making amendments, getting feedback from visiting playwrights and dramaturgs as well as the company… Now it is my turn to leave everything in the director’s capable hands and allow him and the company to make their final preparations…

We preview on Tuesday 8th March, International Women’s Day, which seems an appropriate day for a play all about women, of all ages, written by a woman playwright…. We’ve also been receiving some fantastic coverage in the press and media, which I reproduce below. Have a ‘Cosy’ read or a listen….

A podcast with Dylan Moore for the Institute of Welsh Affairs: http://www.clickonwales.org/2016/02/iwa-podcast-confronting-the-last-taboo-old-age-and-death-in-theatre/

Read about the most influential and powerful women in Welsh theatre here 

On normalcy and diversity – an interview in The Stage

Lyn Gardner’s Guardian preview of Cosy

Actor Sara Beer and me in conversation with Nicola Heywood Thomas on BBC Radio Wales Arts Show

Joe Turnbull’s interview with me on normalcy and coming from a family of rebels for Exeunt theatre magazine

A feature I wrote about writing for female protagonists for Art Scene In Wales

An interview with Welsh National Treasure Sara Beer for Western Mail and Wales Online

Richard Huw Morgan and Pitch – radio interview with Tom Wentworth, Ruth Lloyd, Llinos Daniel and me

25 exciting things to do in Wales during March WOW247

‘Kaite O’Reilly has always been a rule breaker.’ Exeunt magazine

What follows is an interview with Joe Turnbull for Exeunt magazine. You can read the original feature here

With thanks to Joe and Exeunt.

 

Kaite O’Reilly has always been a rule breaker. Her 2012 play, In Water I’m Weightless set a precedent by having an all Deaf and disabled cast. She’s pioneered creative access throughout her career, informed by her longstanding affinity with Deaf culture. Plays such as The 9 Fridas, subvert traditional theatrical form and aesthetic. And even when she deliberately sets out to make mainstream work she can’t reign in her recalcitrance. She describes the Almond and the Seahorse, her 2008 play which got a five-star review in the Guardian, as her ‘Trojan Horse’: “I created what seemed to be the most commercial theatre script I’d ever written. Only it’s got subversive politics in its belly.”

Her latest work Cosy, which is set to premiere at the Wales Millennium Centre on 8 March, very much falls into the latter category. It’s ostensibly a traditional family drama encompassing three generations of women, which tackles the thorny issue of end-of-life scenarios and ageing.

“I’m deliberately taking different perspectives of a family coming together. It’s familiar – the family all get together and all these discussions and events happen in the family home. But perhaps some of the content and arguments and perspectives being presented are not the ones we would usually hear”.

It turns out O’Reilly’s dissident sensibilities are in her blood. “My family were always rebels, they were always the dissenting voice that would shout up from the back”. As O’Reilly regales me with her backstory, I’m transported to the West Midlands in the 1970s.

O’Reilly’s father, an Irish migrant is holding court amidst a bustling farmer’s market. A proper working-class Irishman, his sales patter is a performance aimed at punters as he tries to flog his sheep. Back at the O’Reilly family home, get-togethers also provide a stage, and everyone is expected to deliver, whether it’s a poem, song or a story. This is the theatre of everyday life. It clearly had quite an impact on the young Kaite.

“The performative aspect that comes culturally from being working class Irish was huge. As I get older I understand how formative that was because it was always about entertaining, engaging, challenging, provoking.”

It isn’t something that they can teach at drama school, nor is it something you can read in a book. “I think that right from the get-go, if you’re going to be a playwright it’s got to be about the living words in the mouth. You know as soon as something sounds stagey. There’s something about engaging with language in the absolute moment that you have to be able to dazzle and create and engage with words.”

But her working-class Irish heritage isn’t the only aspect of her identity that has been seminal to O’Reilly’s work:

“Identifying politically and culturally as a disabled person was essential, because it changes you. It affects everything about how you perceive the world. I think that is huge as a playwright because we’re trying to – as that old hackneyed Shakespeare quote goes – ‘to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature’. Well if you are actually seeing nature and the notion of normalcy as being different from what the majority culture says, then there’s some really interesting things happening”.

O’Reilly doesn’t shirk from the label, she has always embraced it, even in her work, whether that’s using integrated casts, embedding creative access or by directly addressing disability themes. As is common for many successful disabled artists, O’Reilly finds herself at times awkwardly straddling the two worlds of mainstream and disability arts. Cosy is perhaps a sign of things to come for O’Reilly as something of a middle ground between the two. Although the play doesn’t address disability political issues directly, it was inspired by her thoughts around assisted dying which is a very important topic for the disability rights movement.

“I started to think about ageing, about end-of-life scenarios, our relationship to the medical profession and how industrialised care has become. What are the family dynamics in end-of-life scenarios? So basically, Cosy is quite a dark but sophisticated comedy looking at whether we truly own ourselves.”

O’Reilly is eager to acknowledge that her perception of language and working process as a theatre maker have been massively influenced by her work with Deaf collaborators, such as performer and director of visual language, Jean St Clair. “Seeing what language can be through the prism of Deaf culture and experience has been really important; the form, the means, the aesthetic and the possibilities were broadened as I began to learn sign language”.

“I’m notorious for my bad signing,” she tells me, wryly. “Jean teases me all the time about it. Whenever I threaten to go and learn BSL she says ‘no don’t because I actually like what you’re doing, because it makes me think differently’”.

Due to budgetary restrictions, not to mention the changes in Access to Work benefits, O’Reilly regrets that Cosy won’t be the “all-singing, all dancing, all-signing access-fest” as previous works such as In Water I’m Weightless. The play will be captioned, and they are also trialling an app which encompasses different languages and possibly audio description. In spite of the restraints and her past successes, O’Reilly is still not taking anything for granted, displaying the enthusiasm and passion of a young upstart. “Every day I wake up smiling and thankful that we’ve got this opportunity from Unlimited, it’s an incredible gift”.

Perhaps it’s fitting for these austere times that Cosy sees O’Reilly going back to basics in more ways than one. “Cosy isn’t breaking new ground in terms of form or aesthetic but I think it’s interesting that we have reached the point of maturity, where we can have a big growling play with these different perspectives all mashed up and arguing together.”

But it just wouldn’t be an O’Reilly play if it wasn’t pushing the boundaries in some way. Cosy has an integrated all-female cast of disabled and non-disabled actors with ages ranging from 16 to 76, “how gorgeous and delicious is that?” she enthuses. Even more significantly, the roles with the most power in Cosy are predominantly staffed by people who identify culturally and politically as disabled, including the director (Phillip Zarrilli) and assistant producer (Tom Wentworth) in addition to O’Reilly herself as the writer.

“I think it’s interesting that the powerbase is coming from a very open identification as disabled. Often they’re the ones who are non-disabled and the people that are being cast are disabled. I wonder if that’s a shift that has come from Unlimited and their legacy, that we’re now becoming more and more in the position of the powerbase.”

In concert with the launch of Cosy, O’Reilly also has a book entitled Atypical Plays for Atypical actors being published by Oberon Books. It will feature a selection of five plays and performance texts spanning nearly 15 years of work, each of which is informed by disability politics. Clearly, there’s no chance of this rebel being assimilated by her mainstream success.

And like all true revolutionaries, O’Reilly isn’t content being the sole dissenting voice in what can at times be a very homogenised profession. Instead she’s looking to use her profile as a vanguard for others. “There are things that I’m trying to do through my practice and engagement that I hope is going to help shift things and provide opportunities for other people as well. For me it’s very important that we have people in leadership and positions of power who are not only disabled and Deaf, but who identify culturally and politically as so.”

Cosy is on at Cardiff Millennium Centre from 8-12th March. Tickets and info here

 

Exeunt review: Silent Rain in the Neander Forest

Okamura Yojiro and Takuzo Kubikuri of Ami Theatre

Okamura Yojiro and Takuzo Kubikuri of Ami Theatre

Silent Rain in the Neander Forest

BY OKAMURA YOJIRO

PERFORMED BY AMI THEATRE.

Reviewed by Kaite O’Reilly for Exeunt Magazine of performances seen at Babylon Theatre Tokyo on November 2nd  and 3rd 2013.

http://exeuntmagazine.com/reviews/silent-rain-in-the-neander-forest/

The twin natural disasters of the earthquake and tsunami, known in Japan as 3/11, throw a long shadow across Ami Theatre’s latest production, ‘Silent Rain in the Neander Forest.’ This experience brought home to Japanese people the possibility of the end of the human race, playwright Okamura Yojiro claims.

 In the northern district of Tokyo, down narrow lanes past a Buddhist temple and several Shinto shrines is Theatre Babylon, a small black box studio and home to Ami theatre. The work artistic director, playwright and actor Okamura Yojiro creates is unusual, combining central principals of noh theatre, one of Japan’s traditional performance arts dating back to Zeami in the fourteenth century, with contemporary experimental work. The work does not attempt to modernise noh in the way dramatists like Colin Teevan in the UK has tried to in recent years. Rather, it finds an effective synthesis between striking linguistic imagery, slippage of time, and slowed down movement.

This is not a production with a chronological narrative, or what could be defined as ‘characters’. It is minimal and sparse, made predominantly of separate monologues by three speaking actors who appear on stage, and a fourth, Kazuko Shimazu, whose melodic voice in the shadows interweaves between, commenting and montaging.

The opening chilling monologue, performed by Yojiro, speaks of ‘a destroyed town spread before me like a flashback’ and a tram which will never come, for ‘I had seen it sucked into darkness. Where did the wind come from?’ In an astonishing and effecting dialogue with Yojiro, Rino Nakajima plays a ten year old schoolgirl meeting with her murderer in the forest of extinction. ‘I no longer feel pain,’ she says. In a third strand Yurika Sakaira recounts an unrequited relationship and unintended suicide, where figures meet ‘at the desperate border/Between life and death.’ ‘Having lost my body,’ Shimazu’s voice says from the darkness ‘…I want to share with you…. The fact that such nothingness is/The fundamental nothingness of living.’

Violence, both natural and man-made, permeates the script. The impact of World War Two, 3/11, individual acts of murder and terrorist activities of 1995 all haunt this intimate performance, as do the human figures reduced to shadows unable to fade away following the dropping of the bomb at Hiroshima. ‘They say it no longer has a human form,’ Yojiro says in the opening speech,  ‘it is a weakness more frightening than an act of murder.’

A fourth figure appears on stage, Takuzo Kubikuri, whose silent presence undulating between the separate sections acts as a dramaturgical thread, drawing all together. He sways, like the wind through corn, or a boatman crossing water, and as he weaves through space it becomes apparent he is Sanzu-no-kawa – the Buddhist equivalent of the boatman on the River Styx.

This is serious work, with serious intent, and in Mari Boyd’s fine translation, despite the heft of its subject matter it is not depressing, but offers the possibility of redemption.

The production is sumptuous in its starkness. The dramatic play between light and shadow create stunning visual images, almost mirages, as when Sakaira slowly tilts her head, and the contrast between brilliant light and deep shadow combined with diffused light spilling through the brim of her white hat raises the ghost of a mushroom cloud. Yojiro trained with renowned noh actor Hideo Kanze, and the physical discipline is reflected in the precision and delicacy with which his female actors move.

Like the work of the Japanese playwright Ota Shogo and Samuel Beckett’s late short plays, the work explores a form of Quietude – providing a rich sensorial experience for the audience. In scholar and translator Mari Boyd’s excellent book ‘The Aesthetics of Quietude’, she defines Quietude as passivity in art: By not forcing a meaning or narrative onto the audience, paradoxically the audience is more active imaginatively, invited to participate in the creation of meaning and pleasure.

Here, the slowed down movements of the actors, combined with the silence and stillness in performance opens up an imaginative space for the audience – it is meditative, demanding, and ultimately fulfilling. The atmosphere and focus can create an almost liminal state, where this audience member was balanced on the edge of dreaming.

Towards the end of this intense theatrical experience, Yojiro seeks to create a sense of time when there is no division or individuality – no me, you, I, he, they. In his final monologue, delivered in the audience, the barrier between spectacle and spectator blurs, He sits with us and we all look at the lit bare stage, which takes on more significance than Peter Brooke’s Empty Space. With the evasive imagery of mist, shadow and sand, it is as if we are all on a beach, collectively facing the incoming tide – whether that wave is deadly or benign we are united, witnessing, ready to deal with the future and what may come.

*

Kaite O’Reilly was in Tokyo with The Llanarth Group, on a cultural exchange with Ami Theatre exploring facets of Quietude, supported by Wales Arts International and the Daiwa Foundation.