Daniel Bawthan performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘And Suddenly I Disappear’. Photo by William AS Tan
‘Diversity’s just lip-service. A meaningless phrase flung around everywhere, without meaning anything.’ Or so I was told yesterday, in a discussion with a disgruntled friend, disillusioned about what’s being done to the ‘d’ word. ‘It’s become trendy, and a way to attract funding,’ he gloomily concluded. ‘I’m tired of all these people who never had any interest in the Deaf or disabled communities before, or people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual or gender identities, now jumping on the bandwagon just because it’s fashionable and there’s potential funding.’
It was a serious conversation, and at times tough, but unlike my friend (a seasoned theatre maker who, like me, has a long history in disability arts), I’m not as disheartened, owing to my recent experiences. I’ve been fortunate to have been party to some excellent work, full of integrity and engagement around this particular consonant. Earlier this year I was working in both Singapore and Hong Kong with organisations and individuals who really want to challenge the lack of diversity in organisations, cultures, and positions of leadership. For me the latter is essential – the work really needs to be led by those under-represented individuals, and the power structure needs to change, as otherwise the same-old, same-old endures. This I think is what troubles my friend – work coined ‘diverse’ which may cast A.N.Other, but in reality is shallow or tokenistic, with no alternative perspectives or content.
The ‘d’ word has been central to my work these past years, and especially most recently with ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’, touring the UK this September after its premiere in Singapore last May. This is work that is Deaf and disabled led, celebrating all the ‘d’s of diversity and difference.
I began working on the project which has become The ‘d’ Monologues back in 2009, with a Creative Wales Award from Arts Council Wales. I wanted to explore the form of the monologue as a means of creating work for a more diverse cast. Tired of non-disabled actors ‘cripping up’, I set out to write solos and multiple character texts specifically for d/Deaf and disabled performers – what I later went on to call ‘atypical actors’ in my first collection with Oberon.
And Suddenly I Disappear by Kaite O’Reilly. Ramesh Meyyappan, Peter Sau, Lee Lee Lim, Grace Khoo, Sara Beer. Photo William AS Tan.
These were monologues informed and inspired by lived experience, telling stories that perhaps were not so familiar, from a d/Deaf and disability perspective – the original ‘d’ of the monologues – but as time passed and this body of work grew, so too has what the ‘d’ may stand for…. diversity and difference, yes, but how also about defiance, desirable, distracting and delectable? As I wrote for Singaporean rapper/beat-boxer Danial Bawthan in And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues:
“This body…. This body is dangerous. It desires, it delights, it delivers, it dances..”
Exploring other ways of considering our bodies and what it is to be human has been at the heart of my writing for this almost decade-long project. Imagination has played a large part, but so too has anonymous questionnaires and interviews I’ve led since 2009 across the UK with disabled and d/Deaf people and recently in Singapore led by my collaborators Peter Sau and Lee Lee Lim, amongst others. These conversations about difference have inspired and provoked the fictional monologues I’ve written – I’ve never used anyone’s story or actual words, for that seems to me like theft – but I’ve been directed by and provoked by the many perspectives and multi-voicing it has been my great privilege to be privy to.
We premiered the fruits of this dialogue between Wales/UK and Singapore at the Gallery Theatre, National Museums Singapore in May 2018, and will bring a revised version, with largely the same DNA, but with some new monologues (and performers) to the UK in September. Singaporean collaborators Grace Khoo, Peter Sau and Natalie Lim will travel to the Unlimited Festival at London’s Southbank Centre in early September, reuniting with Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli, and myself. We will then join with Macs Mackay and Garry Robson, bringing new monologues and energy into the ensemble.
And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues were always imagined to be a moveable feast – a series of contrasting monologues which could adapt and change according to the venue size, cast and situation. It’s with a heavy heart we leave some of our amazing Singapore-based collaborators behind, but they will have mediatised presences, alongside UK-based performer extraordinaire Sophie Stone.
Tickets are now available for the UK tour:
Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, London tickets
Old Fire Station, Oxford, tickets
Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, website
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, tickets
And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues
I’m delighted that the collected ‘d’ Monologues will be published by Oberon in time for the tour. I’ll give further information about this, including various launches, readings and events, as it becomes available, but it is so exciting to think these texts will be widely available for others to use… to montage the monologues to make a full evening’s performance, to do script-in-hand readings, to use them as audition pieces, or my ideal: a sharing of monologues across the globe on the International day of the disabled person (also, please watch this space….).
‘The ‘d’ Monologues’ will also include the text to the solo performance richard iii redux, co-written with Phillip Zarrilli, originally for that diversity diva Sara Beer (pictured below in one of her personas from the show). The text deconstructs Shakespeare’s villain and challenges the cultural link since Shakespeare’s time between atypical bodies/disability and evil. We also ask wider questions about the nature of performance, representation of difference and the rewriting of history by the Bard – with lots of subversive fun along the way, exploring how Richard has been ‘cripped’ in the past.
Sara Beer in ‘richard iii redux’ Panopticphorography
You can access the fantastic reviews here
and potentially catch the show if you are in Mainz, Germany, in September. We’re delighted that richard III redux
heads to Mainz for a performance on 20 September, 2018
as part of this year’s Grenzenloskoultur Theater Festival (‘Theater without Boundaries’), Mainz Kleines Stadt Theater, Germany.
We hope to have the production back on the road in 2019, but until then, here’s the delight of Sara Beer in the richard III redux TRAILER.
As to the issues of ‘diversity’ and whether the ideal is being tarnished from casual over-use…. As a playwright all I can do is keep on exploring what it is to be human, and to question our hierarchies, our power dynamics, and the (mis)representations that can become common currency. Artists and theatre makers identifying as Deaf and/or disabled are presenting work on an unforeseen scale (thanks also to initiatives like Unlimited and DaDaFest) and I can only applaud and encourage this, chivvying on the so-called ‘under-represented’ to be the makers and the directors and the leaders of the future. Whether the word becomes undervalued or not, true diversity will arrive with an expansion in the identities, experiences, politics, ethnicities and bodies of those holding the reins – and perhaps the work of those currently in control is to move aside a little, or learn to power-share.