Tag Archives: Frida Kahlo

On translation, lyricism, and alligator meat

I’m juggling projects and tasks at present – and unexpectedly, I’m liking the jambalaya effect (minus the alligator meat). Often I need to focus on one project at a time – it takes an age to get ‘inside’ a project’s DNA, and once there I like to stay until exhaustion demands I step away from the laptop. (Exhaustion? Not necessarily of me personally, but of the thread I’m pursuing. Like a seam of silver running through the earth, it can suddenly stop, or become so buried I know I have to come back to unearth more treasure another time…)

Quite a bit of the work at present is making the most of technology and the miracle that is Skype. For some years, since my work has been produced outside the UK, I’ve been using Skype to sit in on rehearsals remotely – and director Phillip Zarrilli and I are back to that this week, skypeing with Mobius Strip Theatre in Taipei. In 2014 Phillip directed the premiere of my performance text the 9 Fridas about Frida Kahlo for Taipei International Arts Festival; that production will be remounted this autumn and transfer to Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. We will go to Taipei for the final re-rehearsals before flying to HK in October, but meanwhile Skype enables us to revisit the work with the actors in advance, extending our condensed re-rehearsal period.

the 9 Fridas. Mobius Strip (Tawain) in association with Hong Kong repertory Theatre

the 9 Fridas. Mobius Strip (Taiwan) in association with Hong Kong repertory Theatre. October 2016.

The Taiwanese production of the 9 Fridas is in Mandarin, and many have asked me how it is possible to work in a different language. Neither Phillip nor I know Mandarin, but we know the script extremely well, and after a short while communication and comprehension becomes fluid, and it is surprising how proficient we can become at knowing exactly where we are in the script and what the performer is saying at any time.

There is a particular musicality to the dialogue I write – the punctuation, rhythm, pauses, and pace are almost as important to me as what is being said. I think I compose dialogue, needing to ‘hear’ its flow and musicality, its change in texture and syntax as well as content. This has become a focal point in another on-going translation project with theatre maker Martin Carnevali. Some years ago Martin was part of a workshop exploration of the 9 Fridas, and he forged a strong connection to the text and its aesthetic, as well as to me as a creative collaborator. To my great delight, he is now translating it into German for my Berlin agent.

Martin Carnevali

Martin Carnevali working on the German translation of the 9 Fridas. T’yn-y-Parc Studio, Wales, Summer 2016.

Martin fully understands the importance of the ‘sound’ of the words in the mouth, and during the Summer Intensive in West Wales, we took some time together in the T’yn-y-Parc studio for him to read aloud the work he has done. It was remarkable how his choices in German paralleled the rhythm of the spoken English, which was his intention. He would read sections aloud to me, testing it for flow, lyricism, and variety, amending the text as he went along for sound as well as meaning. Occasionally he would read the same section several times, and we would discuss whether there was a syllable too many or too few – whether the text moved in a rhythm appropriate for the content. It was a remarkably visceral  experience, and one I enjoyed immensely.

Martin Carnevali at work translating the 9 Fridas into German

Martin Carnevali at work translating the 9 Fridas into German

This process is still on-going, and we will continue our sharing of text between languages on Skype, although nothing will beat hearing the words within the stone walls of the old Welsh milking parlour, now studio. Nothing, except a German language production, of course.

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

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Reviews are gold dust. They are even more rare when the publication under the critical lens is a collection of plays. Plays get reviewed in production; they seldom make it into print, never mind being reviewed in print. So owing to this, I am hugely appreciative of the publications who have shown interest and support of my ‘atypical’ and crip’ work by providing critical engagement for my selected plays.

First up is the ever provocative and excellent Disability Arts Online, with a review by  Sonali Shah. I reproduce much of the review here, but you can read the  full text on the website, where DAO readers can find a 30% discount voucher for the collection.

Disability Arts Online: Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors Review July 4 2016 by Sonali Shah.

‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ is a collection of five unique, but equally powerful, poetic and political pieces of drama composed by the award winning playwright, Kaite O’Reilly. Review by Dr Sonali Shah (University of Glasgow)

O’Reilly’s policy and practice as a writer is to ‘put crips in our scripts’.[…] So with this motto in mind, O’Reilly’s ‘Atypical Plays’ present opportunities for disabled artists to occupy the stage and challenge audiences’ assumptions about disability and difference. The writer works together with her actors in a non-hierarchical and innovative way, continuously and purposefully adapting to each unique movement, to create the five theatrical pieces in this collection: Peeling, The Almond and the Seahorse, In Water I’m Weightless, the 9 Fridas and Cosy.

Written in the 21st Century and from an insider lens, these five plays subvert traditional notions of normalcy and encourage the possibilities of human difference to explore the whirlwind of relationships, emotions, choices and identities that, both construct us and are constructed by us, as we all move through life and try to work out what it is to be human.

These texts portray disabled characters as sexy, active and wilful beings in empowering and provocative stories, cutting against the grain of the trope for most blockbusters of stage and screen, which revolve around medicalisation and normalisation using disabled characters as a metaphor for tragedy, loss or horror.

The first play, peeling, described by the Scotsman as ‘a feminist masterpiece’, is a fine example of meta-theatre that explores themes of war, eugenics, and fertility. Written specifically for a Deaf woman and two disabled women (each strong, witty actors and feisty activists), peeling is a postmodern take on the epic Trojan Women.

Although the three characters – Alfa, Beaty and Coral – are consigned to the chorus, O’Reilly makes them central to this play, revealing their real personalities and hidden truths through vocal cat-fights and heckling matches (interpreted via BSL and audio description) while they wait to play the two minute part they have been awarded in the name of ‘inclusion’.

The Almond and the Seahorse is the second script, and the most structured of them all. Written for a cast of five, it examines the impact of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) for the individual and their slowly fading loved ones. Focusing on two couples (where one partner in each has a diminishing memory) it demonstrates the slow debilitating power of memory loss on present relationships and dreams for the future.

Reading this script evokes a sense of how critical and delicate the human memory is. This is reflected in the words of Dr Falmer (the ambitious neuropsychologist character whose beloved father had TBI) – ‘we should not invest so in such perishable goods’ (p.127). The vibrant clarity of monologue, dialogue and stage directions on the page makes it easy to visualise this play on the stage. Highly affecting, the performed text will undoubtedly give much food for thought for the audiences.

The third play in this collection In Water I am Weightless – is an apt title for exploring the heavy burden disability seems to provoke in society as in water it remains hidden. Written for a cast of six Deaf and disabled actors, and entrenched in crip humour and energy of the Disability Movement, the performance script adopts a monologue and dialogue style to create a mosaic of stories of the realities of living in a disabling society and being seen as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘in need’ by the non-disabled.[…] Performed at Unlimited in London 2012, and inspired by a range of informal conversations with disabled and Deaf citizens, this work is really does put “us” in the slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us”.

The 9 Fridas use the artwork of the disabled Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, as a lens to deconstruct her biography including her changing social positioning in terms of her disabled and feminist identities. The last play, Cosy, is a dark comedy exploring inevitable ageing and death.

Together the five plays make essential reading, both for educational purposes and pleasure. Informed by the Social Model of Disability, they have the potential to enact a kind of activism and a change in public perceptions towards disabled people, previously shaped by negative representations in popular culture. Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors offers an entertaining and poetical insight into what is means to be human.

 

With thanks to Disability Arts Online. Please check out this essential website – http://disabilityarts.online – an important hub for discussion, reflection and engagement with disability arts and culture.

Atypical Plays Discount code from Oberon books available to DAO readers here

Being Atypical at London’s Southbank Centre, 6th September 2016

 

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I love a good chat, so am delighted to confirm I’ll be in conversation on 6th September at Southbank Centre, with the London launch of my selected plays Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors. 

The event is part of  the Unlimited Festival 6-11 September 2016: “a festival of theatre, dance, music, literature, comedy and visual arts that celebrates difference with a spirit of artistic adventure, honesty and humour.”

The selected plays, published by Oberon books, gather together many of my performance texts around difference and disability, and have been getting some lovely responses:

‘An invaluable and long over-due collection of untold stories that deserve to take centre stage.’  Lyn Gardner, Guardian

‘Kaite O’Reilly is a poet of the human condition, a singer of temporal lapses, gaps, translations, missed connections and joyful vibrancy. The performance texts collected here show depth, pain and pleasure. They squeeze the reader, asking her to feel a human touch on her own skin, in her flesh, in the nervous system: this is work that reaches out, and demands that we feel sensations in response. You will be moved.’                                           Petra Kuppers. Professor, University of Michigan, and artistic director of The Olympias

The collection includes two Unlimited Commissions: the 2012 In Water I’m Weightless, produced by National Theatre Wales and directed by John E McGrath (who also writes the foreword), and Cosy, which premiered earlier this year, directed by Phillip Zarrilli for The Llanarth Group/Wales Millennium Centre, supported by Unlimited. I’ve included some of my earlier texts, including peeling (originally produced by Graeae Theatre Company 2002/03), The Almond and the Seahorse (2008), and the 9 Fridas, after Frida Kahlo. The latter has yet to be produced in English, but I’ll be heading to Taipei and Hong Kong this autumn, when the Mandarin production for the 2014 Taipei Arts Festival is remounted for the Black Box Festival at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre.

I feel immensely lucky that I have these Autumn platforms to talk about diversity and difference. As the late, much missed Jo Cox stated in her parliamentary maiden speech thirteen months ago, we have more in common than that which divides us.

Links and further information:

http://oberonbooks.com/atypical-plays

http://unlimited.southbankcentre.co.uk/events/book-launch-kaite-oreilly-in-conversation

 

 

 

 

the 9 Fridas in Hong Kong

 

1617_台北莫比斯圓環創作公社《九面芙烈達》The-9-Fridas_325-370

Frida Kahlo goes to Hong Kong!

Delighted that my performance text about Frida Kahlo – the 9 Fridas – originally produced for Taipei Arts Festival in 2014 by Mobius Strip Theatre Company, in association with Hong Kong Repertory Company, will transfer to Hong Kong later this autumn. The production features an integrated cast of male and female, disabled and non-disabled performers from Taipei and Hong Kong, all representing aspects of the great disabled Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. Directed by my long term collaborator, Phillip Zarrilli, the production is in Mandarin, with some Cantonese and Spanish. I will be travelling to Taipei to re-rehearse the production with Phillip, and then to Hong Kong, where the production will be part of the International Black Box Festival at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre 27-30 October: http://www.hkrep.com/en/events/16-bb4/

1617_台北莫比斯圓環創作公社《九面芙烈達》The-9-Fridas_325-370-3

When there, I will be giving some talks on disability arts and culture, and leading writing workshops.

I’m immensely excited about this, and so looking forward to being back in Taiwan with the wonderfully talented actors and designers of Mobius Strip – the production is visually stunning. It will be interesting to revisit the production and see its transformation into a black box studio.

 

 

Western Mail interview: Taking a Welsh stage drama about a Mexican artist to Taiwan

Karen Price of The Western Mail interviewed me on the cusp of ‘The 9 Fridas’ opening in Taipei.

Original interview can be read at http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/taking-welsh-stage-drama-mexican-7679916

 

Faye Leong in Mobius Strip offices, The 9 Fridas, Taipei

Faye Leong in Mobius Strip offices, The 9 Fridas, Taipei

Q: How did the Taiwan project come about?

A: The Taipei Arts Festival has been trying to get director Phillip Zarrilli over from Wales to Taiwan to train and direct a production with a Taiwanese company for some years. He put forward my performance text, The 9 Fridas.

The theme for the festival this year is ‘ways of looking’ and my text invites us to perceive this famous artist in a different way from the usual representations of her.

Q: What is ‘The 9 Fridas’ about?

A: It is a collage of impressions and stories reflecting the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and the fictional journey of ‘F’ through the nine hells of the Mayan Underworld.

‘F’ is accompanied by a chorus of figures who, like her, are and are not Frida Kahlo, but whose stories echo actual events from Kahlo’s life – the betrayed wife, the political activist, the disabled radical, the fashion icon, the struggling artist and so on.

Q: Where did you get the idea from?

A: I’ve been obsessed with Frida Kahlo since I was a teenager, and this will be my third project in 20 years about her.

I love the fact she’s a disability icon (I identify as a disabled person), and didn’t let the perceived limitations of her gender or impairments impact on her creativity, political activism, or emotional life.
Q: The Sherman Cymru/Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru production Llwyth was previously staged at the festival. What does it mean to have productions with Welsh connections shown in other countries?

A: This text for ‘The 9 Fridas’ originated in Wales but it isn’t a Welsh performance per se – it’s about a German-Mexican artist written by an Irish playwright living in Wales, directed in Mandarin by an immigrant Wales-based director, acted by performers from Taiwan and Hong Kong!

I’m grateful for the interest in my work across the world. This September I will have three productions on simultaneously (in Taiwan, Estonia and England). I can but hope it will be seen one day in Wales. Most of my work is currently produced outside Wales.

Q: What has been the reaction from people there ahead of the premiere?

A: We sold out all performances several weeks ago and don’t open for another fortnight, so there’s been a buzz.

We’ve had a lot of TV and media coverage and three cultural commentators/critics attending rehearsals and writing various long articles about the production as a focus for the unique actor-training approach developed by Phillip Zarrilli, using Asian martial arts.

There’s a lot of excitement around the production largely owing to Phillip finally being here.

Q: Personally, what do you think you’ve gained most from this project?

A: It’s been wonderful working across cultures, with so many collaborators working from rich traditions.

I’ve particularly enjoyed observing, during the past six weeks, the training process Phillip has led the actors on – a psychophysical approach does not work from psychology, and it’s been fascinating watching the actors learn and adapt performance techniques to suit this non-naturalistic play text.

I’m always so excited and grateful to be welcomed into a different country or culture and learn how to communicate and collaborate in new ways.

Q: Any plans to stage it in Wales?

A: I can but hope…

Q: What other projects do you have in the pipeline?

A: My new play, ‘Woman of Flowers’, a reworking of the Bloudewydd myth from the Mabinogion, tours nationally with Forest Forge Theatre from September and there will be just one date in Wales – Aberystwyth Arts Centre on October 29.

In the longer term, I’m working on a new Arts Council of Wales-funded production of ‘Playing The Maids’. It’s a collaboration with Gaitkrash from Ireland, Jing Hong Okorn from Singapore and Theatre P’Yut from South Korea. It will premiere at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff in February 2015.

9 Fridas is being staged at the Taipei Arts Festival from September 5 to 7. For further details about Kaite O’Reilly’s work, visit http://www.kaiteoreilly.com

Why I think Frida Kahlo is a disability icon: Frida Kahlo on pain and tragedy

From pinterest

From pinterest

“Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing.” 

Frida Kahlo journals

We are working on my performance text ‘The 9 fridas’ and dealing constantly with Frida Kahlo’s defiance in the face of pain and adversity. One reason why I chose to make this text was a desire to reclaim Kahlo as a disability icon and inspiration, rather than the ‘tragic but brave’ mainstream representations of her in more recent years. Before we coined ‘crip culture’ she was living it… I adore her for her refusal to be constrained by what could be viewed at the time as the limitations of her gender and impairment – for the fact she created extraordinary art the likes of which had not been seen before – for her laughter, her anger, her attitude in her paintings – what Andre Breton called ‘the pretty ribbon tied around the bomb.’

“My painting carries with it the message of pain.”
Frida Kahlo journals.

As someone who also experiences chronic pain, I am drawn to her paintings and the depictions of pain. Sometimes her work dwells, perhaps even relishes, her experience of pain – her face on a wounded deer, the tears and hammered-in nails of The Broken Column, both echoing the martyrdom of St Sebastian. It is something I have addressed in the production of ‘The  Fridas’ – this paradox between her laughing at tragedy (as Kahlo acknowledges in the top quotation),  and presenting her broken body as tragic.

YY's version of Frida's Day of the dead sugar skull. The 9 Fridas, Taipei.

YY’s version of Frida’s Day of the dead sugar skull. The 9 Fridas, Taipei.

As a Mexican, death would have been a constant companion and not taboo, nor as feared as it is in so many other cultures. In the script I use references to the ancient Mayan belief system which Kahlo quoted in diaries and letters: the sense all has spirit – even the rocks and cacti and hummingbirds – and that death is a natural state we return to after living. As someone who escaped death many times in her life through accident and disease, and who survived an excessive amount of serious operations, ‘le pelona’ – the bald one/Death – ‘dances around my bed at night.’ This is another aspect which I feel has much resonance for disabled people – the body interfered with, the reality of our corporeal state, the closeness of mortality and the joie de vivre that can arise from this awareness.

Our designer Yy Lim and costume designer YS Lee are having the time of their lives working on this Mobius Strip production for the Taipei art festival. In my previous post I reproduced some of the looks YS has created for our figures who are and are not Kahlo, and props appear daily in the rehearsal room, creating delight or pathos.

This extraordinary corset created by YS, exactly reproducing one of Kahlo’s plaster corsets silenced us this week.

Designer YS Lee's reproduction of Frida Kahlo's corset for 'The 9 Fridas'

Designer YS Lee’s reproduction of Frida Kahlo’s corset for ‘The 9 Fridas’

To love so fully, to create such masterly art work despite constant pain and managing her impairments, and to truly live until the moment she died… that’s why I call Frida Kahlo a disability icon.

A multitude of Frida Kahlos…. writing across mediums

 

Ying-Hsuan Hsieh at The 9 Fridas photoshoot. Mobius Strip, Taipei.

Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, photo shoot for Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘The 9 Fridas’ Mobius Strip Theatre, Taipei.

‘The 9 Fridas’ is a mosaic, a collage of impressions and stories reflecting the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) and the fictional journey of ‘F’ through the 9 Hells of the Mayan Underworld. ‘F’ is accompanied by a chorus of figures who, like her, are and are not Frida Kahlo, but whose stories echo actual events from Kahlo’s life: The betrayed wife, the political activist, the teenager severely disabled in a road accident, the fashion icon, the struggling artist…

Or so my notes in the programme will read when we open in several weeks at the Taipei Arts Festival.

Costume designer YS Lee with Faye Leung and Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, The 9 Fridas

Costume designer YS Lee with Faye Leong and Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, The 9 Fridas

Our rehearsal process continues apace, with a day of shooting the mediatised sections of the production. This gives us a chance to see the aesthetic created by our fabulous costume designer YS Lee, and appreciate the skill of his make-up and hair artists.

This performance script has allowed my imagination full-reign, writing for several mediums. The pre-set is a recorded radio script which will play in the foyer and auditorium before the performance starts. Several sections are filmed, including manipulated Frida puppet dolls, which I watched YS customise, embroidering a monobrow and making Tehuna regional Mexican dress the night before the shoot.

Frida dolls customised by YS Lee, The 9 Fridas

Frida dolls customised by YS Lee, The 9 Fridas

We are beginning to run the full script (or ‘stagger’ as some wag put it last week) , the actors grasping the movement of their journey through the piece. I’m making final edits and our translator, Betty Chen, is making last adjustments to the Mandarin text, which we hope will be published in 2015.

Director Phillip Zarrilli runs an open door policy in rehearsals and there has been a river of academics, actor-trainers, cultural commentators, emerging and established practitioners flowing through the studio. The company and our rehearsal visitors have all said what a gift and luxury it is to have the playwright in the room. Apart from revising the script, I am on call to clarify, to explain and to offer research material – whether anecdote, images, or biographical details. I have been obsessed with Frida Kahlo most of my life – The 9 Fridas is my second project engaging with her work and art – and I have a third on the horizon.

 

Faye Leung in Mobius Strip offices, The 9 Fridas, Taipei

Faye Leong in Mobius Strip offices, The 9 Fridas, Taipei

But for the present my focus and energies stay with this production with Mobius Strip Theatre Company, which opens 5th September, and is already sold out.