Tag Archives: graeae

peeling reviews and unpeeling process

Taking Flight production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera

It’s been a week of peeling and unpeeling…. My play peeling headed off on tour in Taking Flight Theatre Company’s commended production, while performer and maker Gemma Prangle and I started unpeeling the creative process as part of her professional development from Arts Council England.

It was a few days of experiment for Gemma as I set her various writing tasks, working across a wide spectrum of styles including stimulating text to generate movement and physical scores. Phillip Zarrilli gave some vocal exercises and directorial advice as we workshopped Gemma’s starting points. I love this kind of work, where I’m part-dramaturg, part-tutor and part-mentor, and especially when, as in this case, the fruits of the explorations are exciting and filled with promise. I sent Gemma off with a series of further exercises to continue developing her considerable writing skills. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to create next.

During the excitement of exploration in the studio this week, there was also the excited gratification of positive critical responses to Elise Davison’s new production of peeling.

One of the greatest pleasures of being a playwright is the privilege of seeing other imaginations at work on your creative impulses. For Taking Flight’s new manifestation, I updated my script, not the first time I have revised the text. The play was originally written in 2002 for Jenny Sealey and Graeae, remounted in 2003 for Edinburgh and a European tour. I adapted it for BBC Radio 3 in the same year, co-directed by David Hunter and Jenny Sealey. A further production (Kirstie Davis for Forest Forge Theatre company) toured nationally in 2011, and there has been countless rehearsed readings in the US. Although I feel immensely privileged in having such a positive response to what in effect is an old play, I am also saddened that the issues of conflict, women’s autonomy over their own bodies and the problematic representation of difference in our theatres are as relevant as ever. When I set out on writing this play at the start of the new century and millennium, I never thought it would take so long for equality and diversity to reach our stages, if not our societies. The continued and increased interest in this play, particularly for its use of creative access, and the way I embedded audio description and sections of bilingualism (spoken/visual/projected language) into the fabric of the script, is therefore bitter-sweet. However, I congratulate Elise Davison and Beth House of Taking Flight and all the brilliant women whose talent, imagination and determination have brought this “fierce and funny” production to new audiences now.

The Guardian and The Stage reviews follow:

Ruth Curtis in Taking Flight’s production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo: Janire Najera

Fierce and funny trio storm the stage in vulva gowns – 4 stars. The Guardian review.

Alfa, Beaty and Coral are three deaf and disabled performers taking part in the chorus of a grandly titled four-hour postmodern epic, The Trojan Women: Then and Now. We watch while they sit and wait for their cues, talking, gossiping and exchanging confidences. Paused in the shadows while the “real actors continue with the real play”, they are defined and limited by the actions and designs of men, who are always offstage, elsewhere.

Elise Davison’s revival of Kaite O’Reilly’s play, originally staged in 2002, is fiercely clever and uncompromising. It packs in far more rhetorical audacity, theatrical richness and complexity of ideas than its 90-minute length would suggest. Often scathingly funny, Peeling is an accessible production that provocatively questions what is being made accessible, for whom and how. Who benefits from including a deaf and disabled ensemble, if the dressing rooms are inaccessible?

Initially appearing in vulva-embroidered ball gowns, designed by Becky Davies and made by Angharad Gamble, the actors Bea Webster, Ruth Curtis and Steph Lacey remain onstage throughout. They are shadowed by Erin Hutching as the stage manager who translates the trio’s spoken dialogue into British Sign Language. The dresses in turn are removed, but the peeling of the title also alludes to other forms of disrobing: of character, theatrical conventions, of the personal and societal expectations of disabled women. Towards its conclusion, one senses that history itself is also unravelling. We are brought to our current historical moment, laden with horrors. The grandiose “then and now” appears to be depressingly apt.

Produced by Taking Flight Theatre, who have been staging accessible productions in Wales for 10 years, Peeling is a show that insists it be viewed on its own terms. The peeling is not for your titillation. It sticks a middle finger up at paternalistic and woolly tick-box exercises in representation and inclusivity. Accessible theatre? Do it properly, it demands. Do it like this.

Bea Webster, Erin Hutching and Stephie Lacey in Taking Flight’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera

‘Thought provoking and entertaining’ – 4 stars. The stage review

After 10 years of creating outdoor plays involving D/deaf and physically disabled actors (performing in spaces as unlikely as woodland and castles), Taking Flight Theatre finally goes indoors with this new version of Kaite O’Reilly’s Peeling, embarking on a national theatre tour.

First performed in 2002 by Graeae, it’s a play within a play. Alfa (Bea Webster), Beaty (Ruth Curtis) and Coral (Steph Lacey) are three actors hovering backstage during a postmodern version of The Trojan Women: Then and Now. Cajoled by an irritable stage manager (Erin Hutching, also BSL-signing), the world-weary trio is convinced they’ve only been employed to tick the ‘disability box’ and to add weight to the equal opportunities monitoring form. They yearn to be an Andromache or Hecuba, each able to recite those character’s soliloquies – all while waiting to deliver their own minimal lines.

O’Reilly is an extraordinarily poetic playwright who specialises in contemporising Greek theatre, so the Trojan Women backdrop here allows her to explore epic themes of war from a feminist standpoint. Yet it’s her more earthy, acerbic wit that hits the notes best in Elise Davison’s confident production. Subjects as trivial as celebrity gossip vie with deeply poignant questions about choice for disabled women, around their own bodies and children.

It’s challenging, but also entertaining. The action is BSL-signed and audio-described throughout, all as a natural part of the onstage action, and there’s plenty of opportunity for the strong cast to send up theatre’s right-on but sometimes cursory attitude towards D/deaf and disabled talent.

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I’m going on tour with the company on two dates this month, with a post-show discussion at Theatr Clwyd on 19th March and Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 26th March, where I believe David Rabey will be chairing the Q&A. The production will continue to tour Wales, Manchester and Oxford this Spring, with a tour of England planned for the autumn. Further details from Taking Flight.

Lisa Hammond’s open letter to writers: ‘Put Crips in your Scripts.’

I was delighted to read Lisa Hammond’s open letter to writers as part of this year’s TV Drama Writers’ Festival – ‘Put Crips in your Scripts’. I’m a fan – Lisa appeared in the original production of my play ‘peeling’,  directed by Jenny Sealey for Graeae Theatre Company in 2002/3. Even then, Lisa had strong opinions about disabled performers’ careers and choices – she is always forthright and wryly intelligent.

The following is reproduced from the BBC writersroom website:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/writersroom/posts/An-open-letter-to-writers-Put-Crips-in-your-scripts

An open letter to writers – Put “Crips” in your scripts by Lisa Hammond.

Monday 6 August 2012,

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Lisa Hammond. Photo: Disbility Now.

The issue of why disability is so invisible in writing… I feel it is an incredibly complex issue and an overwhelmingly simple one to fix!

Here’s the simple way to fix it! – Write characters that are foremost human (as you normally would) with all their beautiful neurosis and cast a good actor who happens to have a disability in a percentage of those roles…simple.  You will get a realistic portrayal because first and foremost disabled people are human and experience as wider range of dramas as anyone else would…… I truly believe if this happened it would change the world!

This currently doesn’t happen…

In my own experience/opinion this is why it doesn’t happen:

Fear

Fear of writers feeling they might get it “wrong” or that they have to be some sort of expert, or that the story would have to be centred around the impairment of the character and worries about if the script would go down well with the executives/producers.

A suggestion to move away from that fear: 
The best representation – the most groundbreaking – is a hands off one – the character with the disability does not have to have a story written around that disability… they or others they talk to in the story do not have to discuss why they are the way they are.. Or why they are bitter because of the way they are…Or why they are an inspiration because they are the way they are….I know loads of disabled people and believe me their impairment is usually the least of their worries!  It’s their human stories/problems that are the juicy and dramatic parts of their lives!!

And if you DO want the characters impairment to be the focus, think about why?

And if you are still convinced, just try to avoid massive clichés most of which are covered online when you type in “disability representation in the media” and do a bit of research on the clichés.  Or I would urge you to watch a short film called “Code of the Freaks” which is about representation of disabled characters in Hollywood, which you can get online. It’s an eye opener! 
How do you ensure your writing includes people of different ethnicities? Think about doing a similar thing for disabilities?

The Fear from executives/producers, I think they are afraid of how “their audiences” might react, what “statement it would be making” about the drama/programme, the costs and access requirements of employing disabled actors…

Suggestion – well in this risk averse age it’s difficult to take punt but have trust, that your audience WILL accept it, play to that audience’s intelligence rather than their ignorance.  Yes I’m not stupid or deluded – there might be a moment where someone sitting watching telly might think ohh she looks weird or – ohhh he’s got a funny leg/eye/face whatever… but if the story is good and the acting is good they will accept it and even forget it.  And that’s the same thing when dealing with “What statement is it making” if we cast a disabled actor in that role without mentioning their condition.  The only statement you will be making is that people with disabilities have normal, sometimes wild, sometimes dull, sometimes insignificant, sometimes painful lives just like anyone else…

Fear from casting directors that they do not know where to get good disabled actors from, that the pool of people is small and limited, fear that it wouldn’t sit well with executives/producers and the access implications /costs of running a disability aware audition process…

Suggestions:  There ARE talented actors and actresses out there… If casting directors were to adopt “impairment blind casting” much as people do with “colour blind casting” then believe me you would see them come out of the woodwork!  Often when a call goes out for a disabled actor – the casting is so very limited – because the part has been written specifically about that impairment – it’s heavily marked that the story revolves around it – so the pool is massively reduced as to what choice you have with the actors you can audition… I’ve often gone up for “wheelchair user” roles and haven’t got the job because they’ve said I’m also small so they think that doesn’t seem “authentic”, or indeed been up for roles where they casting someone with short stature and because I use a wheelchair I’m too disabled not small – I once got called “too tall to be small” in an audition!  Try to be more open around this!  If it was a character that has a disability but it wasn’t a pivotal plot point – what does it matter what impairment they have?

Fear from directors feeling like they wouldn’t know how to direct a disabled actor and or having a set that is geared up to a person with a disability…

Suggestion – get over it!  The actor is a professional.

Fear from agents who represent the actors with disabilities about pushing their clients to be seen for “normal roles” within their casting brackets or requesting that their client needs access to a building or audition process – they get put off – they don’t want to “rock the boat” in their relationship with the casting director’s…

Suggestion: Also get over it!  Rock the boat! Mix it up and explain to the casting departments that your client would be great for the job and needs to be given the chance to audition.  Just to put that into perspective disabled actors get around 2 auditions a year for TV compared to their peers (with a similar CV but no disability) around 20 auditions…

And one that is close to my heart – 
Fear from disabled actors – that they do not want to mention that the script/language/plot/character is clichéd because it’s so rare  to get an opportunity  to audition they don’t want to come across as difficult or political –they want to work!

Suggestion: If we all took our part in the fight to change in our various roles within our industry – it wouldn’t be so frustrating and tiring for the actor to produce the answers always, or feeling like they are gaining a bit of a “reputation”.   It is important for actors to tread the line carefully between being an actor and an activist!  Be light about it – but DO mention the issue’s – how will anyone know if you don’t open up the conversation?  How will it change?

This brings us to cost/access worries – remember that the actor you will either be auditioning and or working with will have loads of experience with their specific impairment – simply ask them!   It is THEIR responsibility to tell you what they need and to take care of the specifics of their needs – it’s not for you to be guessing or worrying about!

They’re usually incredibly resourceful as we live in a world that is not accessible – so we deal with it all the time!  For example I’ve worked in theatres that have been wheelchair accessible front of house but not backstage – we get round it.   I’ve had to do auditions in cafés, my mate had to do an audition on the corner of Oxford St!  When I have auditions at Spotlight casting – I can’t reach the lift buttons so I have fashioned a retractable stick, which is now “my spotlight stick”… Some disabled actors when they are on set have to have a trailer that’s accessible – they don’t really exist – so my friend had a horsebox as a trailer?! Hahah!  We have a sense of humour and realize things aren’t perfect…

Just please don’t let fear of all those unknowns put you into a place where you step away and decide it’s too much of a headache, the media is so powerful, we desperately need things to change – and EVERY single one of you can do something practical to help that happen.

Open letter by Lisa Hammond, reproduced from BBC Writersroom.

Lisa Hammond’s acting credits include Everytime You Look at Me, One Night, Psychoville, Bleak House, Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere.  Lisa formed part of the panel at this year’s TV Drama Writers’ Festival for the Key Note Disability Debate: Changing the Face of Drama.