Tag Archives: Graeae theatre company

In conversation with John E McGrath – disability and aesthetics – Disability Arts International

 

Delighted to be included in the British Council Disability Arts International newsletter, in association with Disability Arts Online. If you haven’t signed-up for the newsletter, I would recommend it. Apart from a conversation with John E McGrath of Manchester International Festival (featuring Claire Cunningham, Stopgap Dance Company, and my NTW production In Water I’m Weightless, which John directed), there’s an interview with Liz Carr, features on Graeae Theatre, Oska Bright, the aesthetics of access and more…. Information 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

 

 

 

 

A director’s perspective on research and development: Phillip Zarrilli on ‘Cosy’

I’m often asked about the research and development process attached to any project – What goes on? What purpose does it serve? The answer differs from project to project, depending on where in the process the r&d may take place. Sometimes it is to scratch the surface and begin exploring possibilities around a concept, perhaps collaborating with a team of actors/devisers/co-creators. For my work in progress ‘Cosy’, an Unlimited commission, the polished first draft was already in existence, written between productions over the past few years. I wanted to ‘hear’ the text in the air and outside my head, to try out some new sections, put it before an invited audience to get feedback, and to then reflect on possible future revisions.

A director’s purpose and focus for research & development hadn’t really occurred to me before (oops!). In my experience as a playwright, my own needs have always been paramount, so I’m grateful that Phillip Zarrilli, director of ‘Cosy’ let me reproduce his report on our two days research & development last month here:

'Cosy' r&d. Photo: Mike Salmon

‘Cosy’ r&d

Just as the initial two days of research and development on ‘Cosy’ have been of great benefit to Kaite O’Reilly as the playwright, our process has been immensely beneficial to me as the director. Very early in our process (1-2 May 2015) we auditioned a wealth of disabled and non-disabled actresses. We then spent one and one-half days (June 17-18, 2015) working on the script in the rehearsal room in Cardiff, and had a reading of the script-in-hand for an invited audience at Graeae Theatre Company’s Studio in London.

My first task as director of ‘Cosy’ is to assist Kaite in developing the best script she can within the context of what appears to be a ‘family drama’. Throughout our process, including our two days of research and development, I have provided dramaturgical feedback to Kaite as she has been refining and further developing the nuances of the script for the reading.

My second task is to actualize as best I can the potential of Kaite’s script through my work as we select the best cast we can for the six wonderful roles Kaite has written, and to guide the actors’ as they work on the nuances and complexities of Kaite’s script. ‘Cosy’ has a cast of six women including Rose (76 year old matriarch of the family); her three daughters—Ed (56), Camille (early 50s), and Gloria (late 40s); her granddaughter (Camille’s daughter, Isabella, 16); and Rose’s ‘friend’—Maureen. For the two day R & D period, we cast the core ‘family’ with five Welsh actresses: Rose [Sharon Morgan], Ed [Ri Richards], Camille [Ruth Lloyd], Gloria [Llinos Daniel], Isabella [Bethan Rose-Young]) who created a wonderfully dynamic and complex family at the reading. Finally, we cast Welsh actress, Sara Beer, as the quirky ‘companion/friend-to-Rose/outsider-to-the-family’.

Our first day of R & D began with a simple reading of the script so that Kaite could hear and respond to her first draft. After this initial reading we had an extensive discussion of the script, allowing actors to raise questions about their roles, and discussing some of the unique demands the script has for actors—the juxtaposition of the comedic element arising from the family dynamics once the female clan has gathered at the family home with the existential impact of how an aging woman faced the ‘facts’ of her aging and the loss of agency that confronts women as they age.

Having directed the premiere productions of two of Kaite’s other plays, ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ (Sherman Cymru, 2008), and ‘the 9 Fridas’ (Taipei Arts Festival with Mobius Strip and Hong Kong Rep, 2014), I know how difficult a task it is to guide actors toward the kind of nuanced playing of the types of characters that Kaite and the complexities of the situations in which she places her characters.

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

Our remaining session on the first day of development, and final session in London prior to the reading of ‘Cosy’ were devoted to (1) trying out new text Kaite was writing in response to the initial reading and our work on the script; (2) having ‘working’ rehearsals on each of the five scenes in order to begin to explore the nuances of each scene; and (3) providing directorial feedback to each actor on the playing of specific/key moments in each scene.

From my directorial perspective, it was a ‘luxury’ to have these days to work with this potential cast of six. In our day and a half of development work with the cast collectively provided our audience with a highly credible initial reading of Kaite O’Reilly’s second draft.

These two days together have allowed me to get to know each of these actresses as individual professionals, as well as how they might work together on Kaite O’Reilly’s dynamic and highly complex script.

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

Playing the Euphonium for Little Miss Sociopath’s Pageant, or what Kaite did this week.

I have always secretly loved ‘catch-me-up’ round robins – those annual missives  that coyly condense achievements into two sides of A4, whilst desperately trying not to look smug. I’m afraid this post will resemble that kind of mix and match, for it’s been a remarkable and diverse week, but perhaps not quite in the league  of some of my stateside clan (‘Dorito bagged four hoops this season, whilst Haagen-Daz has embraced the Euphonium as her special skill for the upcoming Little Miss Sociopath Pageant’).

I’m delighted to be awarded a Literature Wales writing bursary, announced late this week. The grant will enable me to dedicate a sustained period to writing fiction. Although known as a dramatist, I’ve published short prose in the past, and am currently revising a first novel.  This award will give me guaranteed ‘fenced off’ time away from whatever it is I do to keep the wolf from the door, to experiment and explore the long prose form. The list of bursary recipients and information on how to apply for future bursaries can be found at: http://www.literaturewales.org/services-for-writers/i/124046/

I’m grateful to Literature Wales for this vote of confidence along with some financial support in these cash-strapped times. I’m used to reading about grants for the arts being slashed, which makes the announcement of twenty-two writers in Wales working through through the medium of English and Cymraeg sharing £81,000 in bursaries for 2014/15 even more cause for celebration. Hurrah. And thank you.

Further celebration this week involved the wonderful Disability Arts Cymru (DAC) and their skills week, where members of their Unusual Stage School have a series of masterclasses and workshops.

Augusto Boal's exercise: making a machine. Photo: Brian Tarr.

Augusto Boal’s exercise: making a machine. Photo: Brian Tarr.

This photo by Brian Tarr shows me apparently conducting the members of USS in one of Augusto Boal’s exercises from the Arsenal of the Theatre of the Oppressed: ‘Machine of Love/Hate’ (‘Games for Actors and Non-Actors’). I was fortunate to have trained with Augusto in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and have used his techniques in applied drama, devising processes, and for conflict resolution across Europe. For the past ten years I’ve been focusing on performance writing whenever I’ve led masterclasses, so it was wonderful to work physically and practically with these beautiful techniques again.

Disability Arts Cymru continue to provide outstanding support, guidance, and training opportunities for actors with physical, sensory, or intellectual impairments. As I said during a lecture at the end of the day, I felt like I had come home – back to Boal’s work, where I started my theatre practice, and to DAC and disability arts and culture.

I’m increasingly concerned about the dilution of expertise and knowledge into catch-all terms such as ‘diversity’. Of course I embrace diversity and promote it in my life and work, but there are particular challenges and prejudices people with impairments face – especially in these difficult days of cuts, the Bedroom Tax and its ilk, criticism of being ‘scroungers’, and the related rise in disability hate crime. An organisation like DAC, who are part of that community and have great understanding, experience, and specialism built up over decades should continue this expertise and not be asked to broaden the scope to a more general ‘diversity’ catchment. I know that this is the way policy is leading, directed from above by politicians, but it seriously worries me that specialist organisations will be weakened this way, and potentially at a time when their clientele will need them most.

The other event this week which I am proud of and certainly will be anything but coy about announcing is my delight and honour to be made DAC’s patron. It is my privilege to be a figurehead for this sterling organisation. I have been part of Disability Arts Cymru for twenty years, and my relationship with Maggie Hampton and Sara Beer goes back to 1986 when we all worked with Graeae Theatre Company, and were part of the Disability Civil Rights Movement. I hope I manage to serve them and the disabled and Deaf people in Wales and beyond, well.

Whilst we are on politics and the fight for civil rights, 陳佾均 Betty, the Taiwanese translator of my performance text ‘The 9 Fridas’ (whom I wrote about in my previous post) has been keeping me informed about the protests for democracy currently occurring in Taiwan. Our discussions began with reference to Frida Kahlo and her political commitment throughout her life – famously appearing in a wheelchair pushed by Diego Rivera, fist defiantly raised, placard in the other hand, less than a week before her death. We were discussing the necessity of finding parallels between the text and contemporary Taiwanese life, and so she broached the issue of the Sunflower Movement.

I was embarrassed and ashamed to tell her I had only the slightest knowledge of this massive civil rights campaign. There has been little coverage on UK radio and TV and after a cursory search I could only find one article in The Guardian online Comment is Free. Betty has sent me a few links, which I reproduce, below. Please look and read, and don’t be as uninformed as I was. Thank you

https://www.facebook.com/sunflowermovement

http://asiapacific.ifj.org/en/articles/journalists-obstructed-as-police-use-force-at-taiwan-student-demonstration

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/25/taiwans-protesters-democracy-china-taiwan-strait

20 Questions…. Rosaleen McDonagh

Continuing the series of questions offered to writers, sculptors, directors, choreographers, musicians, artists, poets and others involved in the creative process… I’m delighted my dear friend and fellow dramatist Rosaleen McDonagh has agreed to participate. We have known each other many years and I’ve been her mentor and dramaturg on several projects – Mainstream, and Protege. Her vital and unique perspective and theatrical ‘voice’ is a fascinating and important addition to contemporary European drama. It is with the greatest of pleasures I introduce her responses to 20 Questions…

 

Rosaleen_photoRosaleen McDonagh is a Traveller woman from Sligo.   She worked in Pavee Point Travellers’ Centre where she managed the Violence Against Women programme for 10 years. She is regarded as a leading feminist within the Traveller community.

McDonagh’s work includes The Baby Doll Project, Stuck, She’s Not Mine, and Rings.  McDonagh was shortlisted for the PJ O’ Connor radio play Awards 2010. Colum McCann, Booker Prize winner, gave her the rights to adapt his 2007 novel, Zoli, for stage. Commissioned for a feature article in the Irish Times in 2012 responding to Channel 4’s series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Irish Theatre Magazine also commissioned Cripping Up; Copping Out about Disability Arts in Ireland. Currently in development with RTE, Unsettled, a television drama. Rosaleen has a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies, an MPhil in Ethnic and Racial Studies and an MPhil in Creative Writing, all from Trinity College Dublin. She is about to embark on a phd in disability studies in Northumbria University on  “ Disabled Traveller Identity: The Affirmative Model” (working title).

What first drew you to your particular practice?

When I was in London during the nineties seeing a lot of Disability Arts the attraction with theatre started.  Back here in Dublin I began to question where were disabled people or disability culture? Simultaneously there had been a number of old Irish plays that had really negative off the wall representations of the Traveller aesthetic.  It was at this point that I started writing my own plays on the quiet. Having friends over for dinner, ploughing them with food and merriment in the hope that they would read my plays.  Fifteen years of writing on the quiet seemed like a cop out.

What was your big breakthrough?

 A reading of my piece John and Josey.  This was about a gay Traveller man and his sister Josey.  Both characters were attempting to push and stretch the cultural boundaries of Traveller identity. After this I had a production of my play “Stuck”. This piece looked at notions of masculinity in the frame of Traveller identity.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

Polemics.  As an activist checking and scolding myself for infusing my characters with too much political diatribe.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

Peeling” by Kaite O Reilly and the GRAEae theatre company. The play came to Dublin and I was invited to the opening night.  My stomach did a belly flop.   Tears ran down my cheeks and there was a lot of distress.  My own internalized shame and oppression as a disabled woman was suddenly exposed.  It really did have a profound and lasting effect on me. Also  novelist, poet, essayist and playwright James Baldwin is my source of inspiration.

What’s more important: form or content?

Content. When you have content the shape and making of a piece is easier to manage and imagine. 

How do you know when a project is finished?

You don’t.  As a writer you’re continuously in a state of manic editing.  The audience in a theatre finishes your work for you. How others interpret your work can often bring a writer to a very unexpected place.

Do you read your reviews?

Yes.  But invariably I forget about them.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

Forget your age.  Everybody’s moment comes.  Be ready for it, enjoy it but don’t rush it or long for it.  Keep writing.  Try different forms of writing from poetry to prose and essay writing.  Read widely. After you get a rejection letter from the Arts Council force yourself to write a note to thank them and then while you’re on the computer get back to work.

What work of art would you most like to own?

Some of Alice Munro’s original collections of short stories. One of Ian Dury’s shirts or guitar!

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

That writing is easy or glamorous. The writer may have these attributes but writing and the art of writing is rigid, messy and unforgiving.

What are you working on now?

Three pieces for theatre.  Protegee which is a piece inspired by Colum McCann’s novel “Zoli” about a female Roma poet, based on the real life poet Papusza in Poland during the 1940s.

Mainstream” an old fashioned love story.

Chapter 13” which documents institutional abuse towards disabled people here in Ireland.

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

Colum McCann’s novel “Zoli”.  Zadie Smith’s novel “ On Beauty” and one item of Vivienne Westwood’s haute couture collection.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

Representation. The burden of representation is ever present. The pressure internally to encapsulate elements of the Traveller aesthetic while honouring disability culture. The binary position.  If I write about Travellers or disabled people mainstream critics say I’m insular.  While my instinct to encompass characters with impairments is strong, I attempt badly to ignore this urge. Then audiences & critics from the disability community reprimand me.  Nobody told me that representation is such a critical part of theatre.

What’s your greatest ambition?

To continue to value my independence.  Cherish my own bodily integrity and to believe my mantra“ I’m  good enough, smart enough, strong enough”.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

Today brings with it it’s own joys and confusions. Do the work.  Trust the work. Insecurity and lack of confidence keeps the edge off your ego and hopefully helps bring a measure of humility.

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

The critic’s  opinion was Traveller culture and heritage in all it’s form,  oralism, telling stories and music has a linear position in mainstream Irish culture but maybe not on an Irish stage. The canon of Irish literature and theatre misappropriates Traveller culture as objects of settled writers and audiences curiosity. Everything Irish is rooted in Traveller culture but I would say that wouldn’t I?

And the best thing?

That I might have some potential.

If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

My baby needs time and attention.  Nourishment and space to grow or develop it’s own personality.  My plays, my characters are my babies.

What is your philosophy or life motto?

 Relax, relax.  Francis Bacon’s quote comes to mind:People say relax. What do they mean? I never understand this, where people relax their muscles and they relax everything – I don’t know how to do it. So it’s no use my talking about relaxation”.  Attempting to relax, I murmur this quote and vaguely imagine what it would be like to be fully at ease with my Cerebral Palsy.

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

How and when to be alone.

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

What’s it like being part of the first generation of Irish Travellers who has kicked back at cultural traditions and expectations of Traveller women?  Sometimes it’s a lonely place to be.  It can be frustrating and isolating.  But then there are magic moments of profound excitement and sheer boldness and I love breaking all the rules and stereotypes.

———–

Previous posts on the blog about or concerning Rosaleen:

https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/on-the-road-a-dramaturg-in-dublin/

https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/cripping-up-copping-on-rosaleen-mcdonagh-in-irish-theatre-magazine/

A review of Mainstream: http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/rosaleen-mcdonagh-mainstream


A documentary about community worker, political activist and playwright Rosaleen McDonagh during the build up to her play ‘Stuck’ in the Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQLUwJuo5o4