Tag Archives: Jenny Sealey

US premiere of ‘peeling’ opens in Seattle

I’m delighted that the US premiere of ‘peeling’ has opened with Sound Theatre in Seattle. ‘peeling’ is a play in its seventeenth year (originally commissioned, directed and designed by Jenny Sealey for Graeae Theatre Company in 2002). Suddenly it is finding more productions and viewers than ever before. Earlier this year Taking Flight Theatre Company toured the play around Wales, and it will be remounted for an Autumn tour (details here). This is of course hugely gratifying, but given its themes of war, eugenics, representation and women’s autonomy over their bodies, its relevance in 2019 is regrettable. As one of the Chorus in this meta-theatrical performance laments “Haven’t we been here, before?”

In ‘peeling’ I’ve played with the device of the Chorus in a fictionalised production of ‘The Trojan Women: Then and Now’, which carries on around – and often in spite of – the Deaf and disabled female choral performers. They suspect they’ve been cast just to be ‘the ticked box on an equal opportunities monitoring form’ and long for a time when they will be centre-stage, in an accessible environment giving them the opportunity to perform ‘properly’ – with ‘an all-signing Chorus’, perhaps. Given the descriptions of many of the inclusive productions currently rocking Edinburgh and beyond, this play was (and perhaps remains?) ahead of its time….

Sound Theatre production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo: Ken Holmes

In an interview with Broadway World, Teresa Thuman, Director of Sound Theatre said:

“Seattle has never seen a play like this before. The very nature of theatre is to expose and make public all that is human — in every form, every ability. For those who live on the margins, theatre is a way to bring them to the center as fully human beings.”

The full interview can be read here. What follows are images and text from the production, which runs until the end of August:

peeling weaves audio description, sign language, and theatrical spectacle into a no-holds-barred play about representation, women, reproduction, war, and eugenics.  

Sound Theatre production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo: Ken Holmes

With brisk wit and domestic backstage comedy, O’ Reilly’s storytelling style has earned comparisons to Beckett and Caryl Churchill. In anoverproduced, postmodern production of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Alfa, Coral, and Beatty have been cast in bit parts to fulfill a playhouse’s misplaced diversity program; but as tokens, the trio never experiences true inclusion. Sound Theatre centers disability justice by assembling a production team and cast that brings authentic lived experiences to this groundbreaking production.

Information about the theatre company and the production can be found here

Sound Theatre production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo: Ken Holmes


Teresa Thuman – Director 

Monique Holt – Assistant Director and Director of Artistic Sign Language

Andrea Kovich – Dramaturg

Parmida Ziaei – Scenic Designer

Taya Pyne – Costume Designer

Adrian Kljucec– Sound Designer

Jared Norman – Projection Designer

Richard Schaefer – Lightning Designer/Technical Director

Robin MaCartney – Props Designer

Zoé Tziotis Shields – Wardrobe Crew, Sound Board Operator

Roland Carette-Meyers – Accessibility Coordinator

Francesca Betancourt – Movement Director

Is disability culture going mainstream? ‘richard iii redux’ shortlisted for 2019 James Tait Black Award

I know the answer even as I wrote the title for this blog… No. And define ‘mainstream’ while you’re about it, O’Reilly. And ‘disability culture’… and no, I am not going to turn this blog into one of my academic essays about Crip’ culture and interweaving performance cultures (though I can refer you to where they’re published, if you want to drop me a line, below).

I started wondering about the place of disabled-led work after noticing it seems to be getting a higher profile these days, whether at Edinburgh Fringe or Lee Ridley (aka ‘No Voice Guy’) winning Britain’s Got Talent and heading off on a National tour. The RSC, National Theatre (London) and The Globe are all presenting more diverse casting regarding Deaf and disabled performers in recent and upcoming productions, whilst Ramps on the Moon and Agents for Change beaver away on inclusivity and creatively accessible theatre productions with their regional theatre allies.

This is all brilliant. I’m ecstatic when longterm collaborator Sophie Stone moves from spoken to visual language on a Westend stage in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s ‘Emilia’ and can’t wait for her embodiment of a Deaf Jacques in ‘As You Like It’ at the Globe later this year. And as for seminal moments… Francesca Martinez’s calling out of the Government’s austerity policy (“blood on their hands”) on BBC’s Question Time remains my political highlight of the year (see @chessmartinez pic.twitter.com/3zQUDVLvOa )

The visibility and presence of disabled and Deaf individuals on our screens and stages is finally increasing, which feels like a triumph. I’ve written previously about the importance of representation (in 2012 for The Guardian here Howlround here ). All my professional career I have tried to write and make work that is inclusive and from a politicised disability perspective, challenging notions of normalcy and embracing all the possibilities of human variety. To witness so much talent and intelligence finally taking a rightful place on national platforms is extraordinary and deeply gratifying.

Many years ago I realised that one way I could help bring about change was to use the only power I have as a playwright – to write inclusive plays but also specific parts solely for Deaf and disabled performers. peeling (commissioned by Jenny Sealey for Graeae Theatre Company, first produced in 2002) was the first script where I insisted that the rights were only available to companies casting Deaf and disabled performers in the role. Since then I’ve turned down eleven requests for production from all over the world, when the directors have said “there’s no disabled or Deaf actors in our town/country/planet, and so we’ll cast hearing and non-disabled actresses who will, well, ACT…” Given that peeling is a meta-theatrical play, with performer/actress characters stating: “Cripping up: it’s the Twenty First century answer to blacking-up” I have often wondered how closely the actual script had been read by proposed producers.

Thankfully now, seventeen years on from its first production, there are companies producing the play with sterling Deaf and disabled casts. Taking Flight Theatre Company produced peeling earlier this year in a Wales-wide tour, garnering a 4 star review from The Guardian. They will be re-mounting the production for a tour of England this September – tour dates and information here.

Seattle-based Sound Theatre will present the American premiere of peeling this August. Helmed by director Teresa Thuman, peeling offers “a fresh, if not jolting, perspective.”

Sound Theatre production of ‘peeling’. Caroline Agee. Photo by Kellie Martin.

“Seattle has never seen a play like this before,” director Teresa Thuman states in the press release (reproduced at the end of the post). “The very nature of theatre is to expose and make public all that is human – in every form, every ability. For those who live on the margins, theatre is a way to bring them to the center as fully human beings.”

This notion of putting disabled and Deaf figures centre-stage was at the heart of my co-written text, ‘richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III’. Taking Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’,  the veritable poster-boy of disability-as-the-emodiment-of-evil as inspiration, co-writer and director Phillip Zarrilli and I set out to reclaim historical Richard and ‘re-crip the crip’, as I put it in an essay for Howlround (‘Cripping the Crip’).
Written for long-term collaborator performer and disability activist Sara Beer, we wanted to put her centre-stage in a complex multi-layered solo, where she plays multiple fictional personas alongside an investigation into the historical Richard and Shakespeare’s ‘monstering’ of him.
We’re delighted to be able to reveal this week that ‘richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III’ has been shortlisted for the 2019 James Tait Black Award for Drama.


“The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Drama celebrates innovative drama produced worldwide. The prize is presented annually for the best original play written in English, Scots or Gaelic and first performed by a professional company in the previous year. The £10,000 prize is open to any new work by playwrights in any country, and at any stage of their career. The accolade was launched in 2012, when Britain’s longest-running literary awards—the James Tait Black Prizes—were extended to include a category for drama.

The play is a riotous one-woman piece promoting inclusivity in the arts and written from a radical disability perspective.  It challenges Shakespeare’s representation of the disabled monarch and the creation of ‘the twisted body/twisted mind’ trope, satirising the non-disabled actors who have ‘cripped up’ to play the part in the past.

The panel includes students and academics from the University of Edinburgh, representatives from the Traverse Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Schaubuhne Theatre, Berlin, and freelance theatre director Pooja Ghai.

‘This year’s shortlisted plays deal with some of the most pressing issues facing the world today. The innovation demonstrated by each playwright is truly astounding and I would like to congratulate each of them for being nominated for this esteemed international prize.’         Chair of the judging panel Greg Walker Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University

 The Award Ceremony will take place at the Traverse Theatre on Monday, 19 August, 2019 from 16:00-17:30. The other two finalists this year include two US plays: Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris and Dance Nation by Clare Barron.The ceremony will include readings of excerpts from each of the three finalist plays, interviews with the authors, and announcement of the winning play.  Further details here.

This accolade in being shortlisted for this prestigious prize was what prompted my opening question and the title of this blog post – Has disability arts gone mainstream? I am encouraged that a piece of Crip’ culture has been shortlisted for such a ‘mainstream’ award, never mind it being a critical irreverent poke at The Bard and his damaging presentation of physical difference equaling evil, written from a radical disability perspective, with a tone defiantly feminist and Welsh. It is a credit to the unique judging panel of the award that work like ours is valued and promoted. Phillip, Sara and I are hugely excited and thankful about this nomination… but rather as one swallow doesn’t make one summer, one nomination, or one casting, or one appearance on Question Time doesn’t make us ‘mainstream’, or with fair and equal worth and opportunity. But we are trying, and kicking down those doors, and raising our hands and our voices to speak and sign and make ourselves, our stories, our talents, experiences and lives visible.
PRESS RELEASE: Sound Theatre Company produces ‘peeling’, the U.S. premiere of landmark play about disability.

SEATTLE, WA—In the U.S. premiere of playwright Kaite O’ Reilly’s internationally renowned play peeling, Sound Theatre Company continues staging authentic narratives and breaking new theatrical ground. peeling weaves audio description, sign language, and theatrical spectacle into a no-holds-barred play about representation, women, reproduction, war, and eugenics. With brisk wit and domestic backstage comedy, O’ Reilly’s storytelling style has earned comparisons to Beckett and Caryl Churchill. In an overproduced, postmodern production of Euripides’ The Trojan WomenAlfa, Coral, and Beatty have been cast in bit parts to fulfill a playhouse’s misplaced diversity program; but as tokens, the trio never experiences true inclusion. Sound Theatre centers disability justice by assembling a production team and cast that brings authentic lived experiences to this groundbreaking production.

Following Sound Theatre Company’s 2018 season of Radical Inclusion,
this season explores themes of erasure. To wit, peeling probes at buzzwords like “inclusion,” “diversity,” “authenticity,” and “equal
opportunities” as an extension of Sound Theatre’s ongoing effort to spotlight talented theatermakers with disabilities.

WHAT: peeling, by Kaite O’ Reilly

WHEN: Previews August 8, 9 at 8PM Opening August 10, 8PM Continues through Saturday August 24, 2018

WHERE: Center Theatre at the Seattle Center Armory https://www.artful.ly/store/events/14170


Carolyn Agee – Coral                                                                                                     Michelle Mary Schaefer – Alfa                                                                                       Sydney Maltese – Beaty


Teresa Thuman – Director
Monique Holt – Assistant Director and Director of Artistic Sign Language Andrea Kovich – Dramaturg
Parmida Ziaei – Scenic Designer
Taya Pyne – Costume Designer
Adrian Kljucec- Sound Designer
Jared Norman – Projection Designer
Richard Schaefer – Lightning Designer/Technical Director
Robin MaCartney – Props Designer
Zoé Tziotis Shields – Wardrobe Crew, Sound Board Operator
Roland Carette-Meyers – Accessibility Coordinator
Francesca Betancourt – Movement Director

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.


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.

peeling opens International Women’s Day 2019 – first reviews and photos

The cast of Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera/Raquel Garcia

It’s always an incredible privilege and buzz to open a production on 8th March, International Women’s Day. This has now become something of a tradition for me, with ‘richard iii redux’ opening IWD2018 and ‘Cosy’ on IWD2016… I am therefore delighted to make this a hat-trick with Elise Davison’s new production of  my play ‘peeling’ for Taking Flight Theatre Company, which opened at Riverfront in Newport as the culmination of a day of events and celebrations. The extraordinary cupcakes for opening night gives a flavour of what a delicious day it was…

Such naughtiness aside, it’s gratifying to see such fantastic initial critical responses to the production just as the company are setting off to tour Wales, Oxford and Manchester in the coming months (there will also be a tour of England in the autumn).

When I wrote the play originally to a commission from Jenny Sealey of Graeae Theatre Company, I sought to embed audio description into the actual fabric of the text. This is something that we hadn’t seen done before  2002 (when the first production premiered), and has only been done minimally since by playwrights such as the brilliant Mike Kenny. The full text was projected onto the back wall as part of Sealey’s design, and this notion of creative captioning has continued since.

The cast of Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera/Raquel Garcia

I’ve loved that the notion of creative access is at the heart of Taking Flight Theatre’s process and that director Elise Davison and designer Becky Davies (with their many collaborators) have been so imaginatively engaged with the aesthetics of access. I shan’t reveal too much for those who hopefully will catch the production on its Welsh/Oxford/Manchester tour this Spring, and wider English tour in the autumn, but I will say Becky’s access table – initially for visually impaired audience members to get a sensorial taste of the set and costume – is terrific and well worth experiencing…

I’ll be joining the company on tour for a Q&A after the performance on 19th March at Theatr Clwyd and 26th March at Aberystwyth Arts Centre for a post-show chat chaired by David Rabey. Further dates of the tour are available on Taking Flight’s website. I was asked on opening night if the script was available to read – you can get it alongside further texts about difference and disability in my collected Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, published by Oberon.

Meanwhile, here are the first reviews of Elise’s production. I hope you can catch the show when it tours throughout the year – I think it is well worth an outing!

Initial Reviews:

“Taking Flight with Kaite O’Reilly… The show was hailed as a game-changer in feminist and accessible theatre when it was first performed… A strikingly brilliant cast of D/deaf and disabled women are unapologetic in their views and provocations… peeling will challenge audiences to experience theatre afresh..” Full review from Theatre-Wales here.

“…fiery performances… an epic feel magically presented…Heart-warming, funny, emotional and educational, peeling is a beautiful and timely production…A perfect presentation for an imperfect world, peeling deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible as it takes flight…”  Full review from South Wales Entertainment here.

O’Reilly’s text is dense and richly allusive…. There is plentiful bawdy humour alongside the anger in what remains a powerful play… …the most powerful sequence is Alfa’s lengthy, signed poetic monologue, initially untranslated, which is positively balletic in its depiction of past trauma…a lively, witty production..” Full review from The British Theatre Guide here.

Theatre as a study of what it is to be human


This September has been a remarkably rich and exciting month owing to the Unlimited Festivals at Southbank Centre in London and the current one at Tramway, Glasgow. Apart from immersing myself in the art exhibitions, performances, discussions and many events around disability culture and issues of diversity at these festivals, I’ve been ‘in conversation’ and launching my selected plays ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. On Saturday 24th September, 2-5pm I will be in conversation with Nicola McCartney and then leading a short workshop/talk ‘Atypical in Action’ at Tramway, 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow G41 2PE. 

What follows is a guest blog I wrote about the workshop and talk and my work, collaborators, and why accessible and culturally diverse work is so essential:

The Study of What it is to be Human…. 

Guest post for: http://www.kimaskswhat.online/2016/09/guest-post-by-kaite-oreilly-theatre-as.html?m=1

Theatre could be defined as the study of what it is to be human. For millennia we have come to sit communally – a group of human beings watching another group of human beings pretending to be other human beings. We are endlessly fascinated with each other, yet a place purported to be about the range of human possibility has for too long been circumscribed and limited, especially towards a quarter of the population.

As I have discussed at length elsewhere, for thousands of years in the Western theatrical canon, the atypical body has been used to scare, warn, explain and explore human frailty, mortality and the human condition. Disability has been a metaphor for the non-disabled to explore their fears and embedded societal values. Although disabled characters appear in thousands of plays, seldom has the playwright been disabled, or written from that embodied, political perspective. Some strange untruths have therefore been created and recycled in our dramas for stage and screen; the rich, rewarding reality of our lives replaced with problematic representations which work to keep ‘us’ different, ‘special’ and apart.

That, thankfully, is changing, with more disabled and Deaf artists coming to the fore across artforms. This is partly owing to the fruits of the UK and US disability civil rights movements, out of which disability arts and culture grew, and the disability arts forums, organisations, and festivals which supported and still encourage this growth. It is also down to initiatives such as Unlimited, keen to promote, commission, and embed the work of disabled and Deaf artists in the ‘mainstream’ on a level never experienced before.

As a multi award winning playwright and dramaturg who identifies as a disability artist, I have been exploring this territory, informed by the social model of disability, working across and between so-called ‘mainstream’ culture and what I coin ‘crip’ culture for several decades. I consider disability a social construct – I am a woman with a sensory and physical impairment, but it is society’s attitudinal and physical barriers which is disabling, not the idiosyncrasies of my body.

In my work I am interested in creating new protagonists, with different narratives, and with different endings – and to challenge and expand the actual theatre languages at play in live performance.

Paul Darke and other Disability performance scholars such as Carrie Sandahl have written about the limited plot lines for the disabled character. Often, as seen again recently with the film version of JoJo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ – it is emphatically ‘better dead than disabled.’ In films and plays stereotypes rule – the blind wise ‘seer’, the evil and twisted mastermind, the hero who overcomes her impairments to ‘pass’ as non-disabled. From Tiny Tim to Richard III to Oedipus, we have been the personification of uselessness, or evil incarnate. These stories and characters are so prevalent, Paul Darke claims the audience believes they understand and know disabled experience, even though it is through a filter that isolates, individualises, medicalises or finally normalises the character. What the audience is experiencing is not the ‘truths’ of our lives, but the long cultural and linguistic practice of ascribing meaning to the atypical body. We are metaphors – something my actor characters in ‘peeling’ are fed up with, and wish to rebel against.

So as a playwright, I try to present different protagonists and different stories – often challenging contemporary representations of disability. The survivors of TBI (traumatic brain injury) in my 2008 play ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ subvert notions of brain injury splashed across the media and questions who the real ‘victims’ are – if indeed there are any. Protagonists, their journeys and outcomes can be subverted and changed – offering more possibilities and rich, engrossing drama which avoids stereotypes.

I am also involved in ‘aesthetics of access’ – embedding audio description into the text of my script ‘peeling’ – working bilingually in visual and spoken/projected languages. As a hearing woman, I have been blessed with generous Deaf collaborators – Jenny Sealey, Ali Briggs, Denise Armstrong, Ruth Gould, Sophie Stone and especially BSL expert and visual language creative director Jean St Clair. Through our experimentation across spoken and visual languages, they have helped me develop into the playwright and dramaturg I am.

What these devices do, along with what I coined when AHRC creative fellow ‘Alternative Dramaturgies informed by a Deaf and disability perspective’, is make work more accessible, yes, but also challenge the ingrained assumptions and hierarchies in contemporary theatre and culture. When we change the bodies which perform, design, direct, create, and commission the work in our pleasure palaces, when we change the theatre languages used, the processes and practice are inherently changed, too. We can then truly be a place which celebrates all the possibilities of human variety, challenging notions of ‘difference’ and revoking the old stories and their predictable endings.

Kaite O’Reilly will be launching her book Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, followed by a workshop exploring the aesthetics of access used in her award-winning work, at Tramway on Saturday 24 September 2016, 2pm – 5pm

Book tickets here

More information here

Why we need disabled and Deaf playwrights and theatre makers

In reaction to the cuts in Access to Work and the Independent Living Fund, and inspired by Jenny Sealey’s Guardian article We Will Not Let Government Cuts Make Us Invisible,  I wrote an article for Exeunt magazine: Embracing all the possibilities of human variety – why we need disabled and Deaf playwrights and theatre makers. You can read the article here

Cripping up (again)….

Those who know my work will be aware of my antipathy towards non-disabled actors ‘cripping up’ to play disabled characters. As I put it in my 2002 play ‘peeling’: ‘Cripping-up is the twenty-first century’s answer to blacking up.’

It’s a theme continued in my response to Lisa Hammond’s fantastic open letter to writers about putting crips in scripts for The Guardian last year http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/30/theatre-disability-crips-in-scripts  and a long lament from many of us, recently so eloquently by Rosaleen McDonagh, and through her decades-long dedication and innovative practice by Jenny Sealey.

So hurrah hurrah, someone outside disability arts and culture has taken up the cause. This week the wonderful Lyn Gardner questions the casting of Martin McDonagh’s ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ in her blog:

‘We no longer accept white actors blacking up – yet the able-bodied Daniel Radcliffe is playing a physically disabled character in the West End. How come?’

It’s been a long time coming, but perhaps at last this issue will be placed firmly on the commercial theatre agenda. It’s frustrating that someone from the ‘mainstream’ needs to take it up for the question to be validated, but I’m grateful for allies with such public visibility. Hopefully together we can challenge this practice.

You can read Lyn’s post here:


Guest blog: Unlimited Impressions

Kaite asked me to write a guest blog about my experiences at the Unlimited Festival in London and I’m delighted to do so. I was overwhelmed by the vibrant and cheerful atmosphere at the festival – people discussing in speech and sign, moving around between workshops, panel discussions, performances, outdoor events, cafés and screenings of the Paralympic games. I came home to Berlin with so many new impressions and thoughts that I really struggle to arrange them in any systematic order. As a PhD student in theatre and peformance studies, I’m doing research about performances directed to Deaf and hearing audiences – which was my main reason for travelling to London. But as I have for once the opportunity not, or at least not only to write about my research topic, I prefer writing down some random impressions I got from the festival. As I don’t have much experience in disability arts, it was especially this part of the festival which delighted, surprised and challenged me the most. And now for my private Unlimited brainstorming.

David Toole

David Toole – this is my first association when I think of Unlimited. He really was a revelation to me – as a dancer, actor and performer. I didn’ know him before and saw him for the first time in „In Water I’m Weightless“, Kaite’s Unlimited concession. Watching him performing opened for me a completely new notion what human body movement can be. Due to his individual movement pattern – he walks on his hands – he is capable of moving in a way which I haven’t seen before. Walking, dancing, climbing and jumping on his hands, he sometimes seemed unaffected by gravity. I have never seen before someone switching so quickly between elegance, ferocity, vulnerability and buoyancy in his movements. I’m sorry, I’m incapable of describing it any better – even in German I couldn’t. If you don’t know him (and even if you do know him), I advise you to do the same what I did when I came home: go on Youtube and watch David Toole dance videos.


Karina Jones, actress in „In Water I’m Weightless“, performed a monologue [written by Kaite] about visual impairment. From all the beautiful text passages I heard, read and saw that evening, it was this one which opened me a completely new perspective on vision and impairment. In her speech she denies her vision to be passive and fragmented. On the contrary, with her sight she restructures the world around her. By one glance she is able to flatten buildings to surfaces – mere colours and lines. „My sight isn’t broken, rather it breaks the world!“ Of course I know that the so called reality is formed by our perception of it – but it never came to my mind that perception alone can be seen as an active shaping of our surroundings and that a visual impairment just is another mode of this creative process. By her tragicomic reference to the danger of uncovered manholes, Jones makes sure that this monologue is to be understood as an expression of confidence, not of denial.

Sign Language

In the panel discussion „Making creative performance for Deaf and hearing audiences“, Ramesh Meyyappan, Kaite O’Reilly, Jenny Sealey and Sophie Woolley agreed that captioning and sign language interpretation of performances shouldn’t be an afterthought but rather a part of the creative process of writing and staging a play. Especially in National Theatre Wales’ production of Kaite’s play, the interpreter was extremely present on stage. Jo Ross did a great job in performing not a mere interpretation, but a completely new expression of the same concept that the speaking actors performed.


Two productions which were directed to a Deaf and hearing audience made use of aerial acrobarics. Graeae’s „Garden“ created beautiful poetic images by letting some actors climb and swing on huge flexible poles, looking like flowers in the wind. While this seemed to me rather like an illustration of a kind of fairy world, Ramesh Meyyappan’s use of ropes in „Skewered Snails“ was a proper narrative technique. It was astonishing how the use of space by climbing and swinging on ropes could be used to depict the characters and their relations to each other. In my opinion, Ramesh’s aerial acrobatics not only gave the audience a reason to watch in wonderment, but was – just as his gesture, mimics and choreography – an elaborate method to tell a plot without words. I can’t wait to see which performance techniques Ramesh will explore next.


Wherever Deaf and hearing people meet, communication is definitely an issue. In the meantime I’m quite used to communicate in international contexts. By combining German Sign Language, some BSL and international signs I’ve learned, fingerspelling (not in Britain, though, as Britain and Germany use different finger alphabets), mouthing, pantomime and especcially a lot of patience and goodwill on both sides, I had a lot of nice after show talks with Deaf and hearing artists, performers and spectators from all over the world. It feels always like a huge success to me and shows me that communication may not be easy, but is always possible.

Certainly the Southbank Centre in London is a good place for casual after show encounters. It may look like a parking deck from the outside, and the actual performance spaces seemed rather like a congress venue to me than a theatre space, but the wonderful terraces and sunlit halls encouraged meeting, talking in speech and sign.


During my stay in London, I wondered how the situation in Germany was like. As I said, I am not and expert in disability issues, but I have the impression that Britain has already achieved a lot which in Germany is still in its beginnings. Not only the overall accessibility of buildings, sights and public transport seemed to me better in London, but also in the sector of arts I think that Germany can get a lot of inspiration from Britain. Of course there exist some wonderful groups and artists in the sector of Deaf and disability theatre – but I doubt if it was possible to organize a festival on the same artistic level like Unlimited with German artists only.

But something is happening – first steps have been made. There are some groups which explore the possibilites of „aestetic access“ (a new term I learned in London, apparently mainly in use in Australia) and there exist projects in which Deaf, disabled and/or hearing and able-bodied artists cooperate and create new theatre and dance aesthetics. There is a slowly growing academic research interest in Deaf and disability arts and I’m proud to be part of it. I hope there is still more to come.

I still could write so much more, about the strange notion of „inspiring“ paralympic „superhumans“ and signing Drag Queen Bees, unreliable audio despcriptors and confusion about people’s hearing status, but I guess these few outlines should be enough to give an idea of my wonderful and inspiring experiences at Unlimited festival.

Rafael Ugarte Chacón is doctoral student at the Institute for Theatre Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. He is writing his thesis about aesthetic means in artistic performances for Deaf and hearing audiences.

Kaite O’Reilly workshop and panel discussion at Southbank Centre 30th August 2012.


Thursday 30 August 2012. 3.30pm. Southbank Centre, London.

An introduction to making performance work which, in both content and form, reflects a world that is more inclusive, challenges hackneyed representations of disability, and creates new narratives, protagonists and dynamic form.

The creative and theatrical possibilities of access devices or tools – sign language interpretation, audio description, projected text or subtitles, for example – are still not being widely explored. This workshop begins to consider these as the potential means to artistic innovation and exploration, rather than an ‘add on’, illustrated by examples from Kaite’s texts and productions within the ‘mainstream’ and disability arts and culture.

Please note – this free event requires a ticket. You can reserve your ticket online (£1.75 transaction fee) or by phone on 0844 847 9910 (£2.75 transaction fee). Transaction fees apply per transaction, not per ticket. You can also reserve your seat without a transaction fee by visiting one of our Southbank Centre Ticket Offices in person.

Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ with National Theatre Wales appears at Southbank Centre as part of Unlimited. She won the 2010/11 Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for her new version of Aeschulus’s ‘Persians’, for National Theatre Wales.

30 August 2012, 3:30pm

Sunley Pavillion

Southbank Centre




Thursday 30 August 2012


Southbank Centre, London

A dynamic panel discussion exploring the creative use of voice and sign language within live performance.

The speakers include artists Kaite O’Reilly, Jenny Sealey, Ramesh Meyyappan and Sophie Woolley.


Unlimited at Southbank Centre: 30 August – 9 September, 2012

‘Unlimited celebrates disability, arts, culture and sport on an unprecedented scale and encourages disabled and deaf artists to push beyond their personal best alongside Paralympic athletes, by creating work which opens doors, changes minds, and inspires new collaborations.’ Arts Council England

Southbank Centre will present the Unlimited commissions across the site in a high profile festival to coincide with the 2012 Paralympics. The Unlimited commissions invited artists to think big and develop dream projects that they would not otherwise have had the resources to create. The programme is about artists pushing themselves to reach previously unattained goals.

The 29 Unlimited commissions range widely in artform including dance, live arts, visual arts, music and theatre. The Unlimited programme will put the spotlight on the artistic vision and originality of deaf and disabled artists, giving them space to present their work and share their practice more widely.

Unlimited is a London 2012 Cultural Olympiad project. The project is principally funded by the National Lottery through the Olympic Lottery Distributor, and is delivered in partnership between London 2012, Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, Arts Council of Wales, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the British Council.

Cripping up – Copping on. Rosaleen McDonagh in Irish Theatre Magazine

Rosaleen McDonagh
I was honoured to be included in the following article from Irish Theatre Magazine by the phenomenal playwright Rosaleen McDonagh. This is reproduced from the on-line version of the magazine and is available at: http://www.irishtheatremagazine.ie/Features/Current/Cripping-Up—Copping-on.aspx
Cripping up – Copping on.
by Rosaleen McDonagh 10 March 2012

Rosaleen McDonagh discusses her new play Mainstream and the challenges of casting and performance: Should a disabled writer hold their work back in the belief that there may be some emerging disabled performers who someday will bring their work to the stage?

‘In Peeling I wanted to create women who were witty, sexy, complex human beings who made difficult decisions about their fertility and potential offspring; women whose lives didn’t necessarily differ so much from non-disabled, hearing women’s lives.’  Kaite O’Reilly, playwright.

Peeling was written by a woman who identifies as disabled. Directed by Jenny Sealey, a deaf woman, and performed by three female actors, two disabled and one deaf. Being exposed to Kaite’s work, the politics of identity and representation became much more vivid and important. Such exposure brings with it an emotional resonance that says this is theatre at its best. Not just for someone like me who can identify with all the parts of the three actors but, as O’Reilly says, it was the universality of the women’s lives that made it work. When using ‘cripping up’, it’s part of a cultural and political mode of language that encompasses self determination. Again O’Reilly said, ‘Cripping up is the twenty first century’s way of blacking up’.

The term ‘cripping up’ in Ireland is not used because it’s understood as being insulting to ‘trained’ actors. The way in which white men once painted themselves black to get a gig is now understood as being racist, exploitative, voyeuristic and dangerous. For me ‘cripping up’ carries similar dangers. In the disability artistic community, the joke says, if an able-bodied actor wants an award and a director wants lots of accolades, be it in theatre or film, cripping up is the easiest, most unethical way of doing it. Others say ethics in any art form blocks creativity. Either way, whether it’s local, national or indeed even international, the infrastructure for artists with disabilities in any discipline is always an afterthought, an appendix, sometimes we’re told appendix take up too much time and room—they’re not needed. The explanation of the plot is evident in the performance regardless of who or what body that performance comes from, they tell us.

Mainstream, my new piece explores a love affair disintegrating while people are grappling with identity, age, sexuality, institutionalisation memory, friendship and fear.  All the characters from Mainstream have significant impairments. Their impairments are part of how the piece is presented. Their journey as characters is very much tied up with their disability identity. When writing the play Mainstream, my politics were compromised due to the standard theatre praxis here in Ireland. What’s ideal is unfortunately limited by what’s possible at the present moment.

Opportunities for training and development in theatre for disabled performers and actors are not de rigueur.  This creates a difficulty in getting disabled Irish actors that can play these parts. More affirmative action policies please. The Arts Council and the Arts Disability Forum do have a specific bursary for disabled artists which is €5,000. Arts & Disability Ireland do provide supports to organisations to make their venue and services more accessible to people with disabilities. Access in the form of audio description and touch is also part of ADI’s remit. There are venues, such as the Project Arts Centre who deliver and provide good practice at all levels of their organisation. The Dublin Theatre Festival 2011, when supporting site-specific work, ensured that access to most of the venues was possible, in particular Mark O’Halloran’s Trade in a Dublin bedsit. The Festival ensured that this work was open to all audiences regardless of the venue type. For me, the ultimate sanction and marker of good access would be that companies are not funded by the Arts Council if their work is not accessible to all the public. That public includes people with disabilities. We’re an audience too.

An example of a positive affirmative action was Turning Point in 2010, an opportunity for artists with disabilities to develop a short play. This project, which was supported by ADI and VSA, meant that I and the three other writers travelled to Washington with Fishamble. Our work was performed in a rehearsed reading. At the reading of my play Rings the sign interpreter for the main actor didn’t turn up.  Vulnerability, fear and embarrassment were shared by me and the actor.  Jim Culleton, director of Fishamble Theatre Company, managed the situation in an empowering and professional manner. Our work as disabled artists is underrepresented and therefore affirmative action initiatives should have a two-pronged approach. This approach would be a specific targeted approach for disabled artists by way of funding and other resources. While at the same time, mainstream theatre, whether it be companies or venues, need to be resourced and supported to be inclusive of disabled artists, practitioners and disabled audiences. This work can’t be done if theatre companies and venues aren’t supported and resourced to do this.

For me the question of cripping up is an exercise purely for the non-disabled ego: the illusion that you can control, modify and contain, if not your own body, then somebody else’s. The dilemma is: what do you do in a country that prides itself on a legacy of being part of the universal canon of theatre but pays no real dividends to disabled artists or performers? ‘Dividends’ in this context is used as a metaphor for cultural inclusion. In short, the authentic disabled aesthetic is erased out of Irish theatre and performances. Brian Friel’s plays Molly Sweeney and Translations were both restaged in Dublin in 2011. The character of Molly Sweeney and Sarah, the non-verbal woman in Translations, had potential to be innovative performances;  instead they objectify and infantilise our bodies, to be received by an unquestioning audience.

They say an actor should be able to perform any part, borrow an aesthetic. There are some parts that actors can’t play. Characters are built, shaped, pulled and stretched to envelop an outside reality and bring it inside themselves. Yet, Irish theatre audiences, or at least the majority of them, seem to enjoy the cosiness of knowing these are not real people—they’re acting out. How we know and where we think people with disabilities belong in our society. Our narrative as disabled people must be funnelled through a non-disabled form. From the director to the actor and then it’s bounced back to the audience, people get so caught up in the physicality of our bodies. The emotive manipulation is what’s damaging. That’s the bit that hurts. They can only do the outside but they can’t bring the emotional, historical resonance to a performance.

These representations are reductive and damaging. Another example of this type of false representation is that of Carmel Winters’ B for Baby. There’s been much chatter about breaking the ‘taboo’ because this piece attempts to explore sexuality in the context of people with learning or intellectual disability. For me, this piece had nothing new to offer other than the usual stereotypes. The most disappointing element of the piece was whatever groundbreaking crescendo that we were all hoping to reach, the end of the piece reverted and resisted going to the edge where the premise of the play was attempting to go by not allowing the two characters to kiss. They share a bag of sweets instead of a kiss. If that’s not infantalisation, well then what is? However, I bought a ticket which means I colluded with something that I’d hoped would be radical; instead, it was pretty mundane. Although these pieces were written by a non-disabled man and woman the very fact that they create disabled characters could be a really positive opportunity to reinvigorate the disabled aesthetic in Irish theatre. The reinvigoration would only come with the call for actors who are disabled for these particular parts. The presumption that non-disabled actors can play our parts so much better is outdated.  We Irish can be very unsophisticated and not confident when it comes to taking risks in theatre making. The politics of representation is often outweighed by the so called importance of the narrative – but the narrative comes from a place of representation even if it is almost invisible.

Should a disabled writer hold their work back in the belief that there may be some emerging disabled performers who someday will bring their work to the stage? Or has a writer to compromise and collude with ‘cripping up’ as a way of establishing their work? My Traveller ethnicity, like my disability, cerebral palsy, is an integral part of who I am. It’s how I understand my place in the world. My history, it means I have a shared knowledge and experience with other Travellers and disabled people. This said, the Traveller community or the disability community, are not a homogenous group. We share a common narrative but at the same time, our individual experiences lend themselves to diverse views on art and other matters. ‘Cripping up’, for some disabled people, is fine. For others, like me, ‘cripping up’ or ‘putting it on’ for Travellers, there’s an innate sour taste of a collective, pejorative projection that is not a representation of who and what we are. As a writer, I can illustrate shame but I refuse to carry it, regardless of how and where it’s projected onto me.

Having been exposed to disability arts in the context of mainstream theatre, the spark was lit. Kaite O’Reilly has been a role model and a mentor in many ways for me. I deliberately use the capital D when describing myself as a Disabled artist. This cultural phenomenon gives me reference points to work from, rules, not just for writing but rules for life. Our lives, our experiences and the veins of knowledge that we have as performers, writers and visual artists, need to be nurtured. My ambition for my work goes beyond any special category. While my work is grounded in a particular experience, the writing carries with it a calling for other disabled writers and performers to be part of the Irish theatre community. Being known as the only crip in the community is isolating. This also means often my voice isn’t loud enough to keep making demands on all areas of access for other disabled artists.

Rosaleen McDonagh is a Traveller woman with a significant disability, a playwright and human rights activist. Her short play Beat Him Like a Badger is part of Fishamble’s Tiny Plays for Ireland at Project Arts Centre 15th-21st March, 2012.