Tag Archives: Kaite O’Reilly

2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry launches today.

As a former winner of The Ted Hughes Award, I was sent this press release today and asked to share…

The Poetry Society launches the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.

“I’m delighted to be announcing the fifth Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. In a short space of time the award has established itself as one of the major national prizes for poetry, recognised for the breadth of its connection with other forms of artistic expression. It’s an award that helps to promote both new and established poets, and it provides a platform for emerging artists, like last year’s winner, the wonderful Kate Tempest, allowing a whole new audience to appreciate their work.” – Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate and founder of the Ted Hughes Award.

Established in 2009, the Ted Hughes Award highlights the ways in which poets engage with other art forms. In order to reflect the collaborative nature of the award, the judging panel comprises artists from a range of backgrounds: this year, poets Sean Borodale and Denise Riley team up with artist Eileen Cooper RA.
The award seeks to reward poetry in books and beyond – on the stage, on the radio, on film and TV, in art galleries and around us in the built environment.

Previous winners of the £5,000 prize include Kate Tempest in 2012 for Brand New Ancients, a spoken word story told over a live orchestral score, Lavinia Greenlaw in 2011 for Audio Obscura, a sound work; the playwright Kaite O’Reilly for her 2010 verse translation of The Persians; and, in 2009, Alice Oswald for her illustrated collection Weeds and Wildflowers.

Kate Tempest said of winning the 2012 award: “I was overwhelmed. It was amazing to be in that room with those judges and have them say to me ‘we loved your work’. When you’re a performer or on stage people are looking at you, judging you but they’re not necessarily looking at the work […] what felt really special about the Ted Hughes Award is that it was about the work.”

In order to consider the full sweep of new poetry, the Ted Hughes Award invites members of the Poetry Society, and / or Poetry Book Society, to recommend a living UK poet, working in any form, who they feel has made an outstanding contribution to poetry in 2013. Recommendations are shortlisted by the judges in February 2014 and the winner is announced in March.

Recommendation forms are available to members of Poetry Society and Poetry Book Society and can be found by clicking here. Completed forms should be sent to Helen Taylor at tedhughesaward@poetrysociety.org.uk. 

A range of work is showcased on a dedicated ‘New Work’ page of the Poetry Society website, which aims to demonstrate the scope of work recognised by the award, and suggestions for additional projects are welcome.

Best wishes,

Robyn Donaldson

Marketing Assistant
The Poetry Society,
22 Betterton Street,

Phone: 020 7420 9886
Email: marketing@poetrysociety.org.uk

Don’t forget to enter the National Poetry Competition 2013!
Deadline for entries 31st October 2013


James Tait Black Prize for Drama 2013

I’m delighted to reveal that I’ve been shortlisted for the first James Tait Black Prize for drama for my performance text In Water I’m Weightless. The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes are Britain’s oldest literary awards, and are awarded annually by … Continue reading

Exit pursued by bear…. some thoughts on stage directions

imagesI recently got into discussion with two different friends about the same issue. It was not about Syria, the treatment of women in India, Cameron’s stupidity on Europe or even the distressing activity of the nasty party in the UK generally. We weren’t discussing the level of unemployment in Spain, or the depth of the snow in the East neuk of Fife. I’m afraid it was one of the geekiest of dramaturgical discussions. It was about stage directions.

When I teach, this is an issue which crops up repeatedly. How much information should we put into our scripts? What follows is a precis of some (but not all) of my thoughts on the issue of stage directions…

1) We are dramatists writing a blueprint for the stage. (Passionately) Please respect the skills and imaginations of those who read the work, plus the actors or directors who may produce it. (Sarcastic) It is a collaboration. Allow actors to surprise you with how they interpret a line. (With menace) Please try not to control your actors, nor infringe on their and the director’s process and creativity by trying to direct how a line ‘should’ be said by putting an impossible action (bursting into tears) in italics, bold, or brackets before a line of dialogue. (Laughing bitterly) You may discover they know better than you how to present the line, and in an unexpected, thrilling way, beyond the narrow confines of your own initial ‘hearing’ or interpretation provided by the voice in your head. Besides, they will no doubt ignore what can be seen as a vain and ridiculous attempt to nail everything down, to be in control. Sadly, you will only be revealing your own inexperience and distrust. If you have done your work well, the character, dynamic, and intention will come across. It will be there in the dialogue, the pace, the action, choice of vocabulary, the syntax, the subtext, the thrust of narrative and revealed characterisation. Of course errors and misinterpretations can occur, but please please please don’t give emotional stage directions anywhere in your text.

2) Be sparing in your descriptions of the set. You will discover that the detailed description of every stick of furniture, its placement Stage Left/Right/Centre, plus items on it (also known as props) will invariably not have been written by any playwright post 1956, but is actually the loving, exquisite work of the company’s Deputy Stage Manager, or DSM, who has recorded all from the production in ‘the book’. This then may have been the script sent to the publisher.  However, the tendency to write extremely long descriptions of an interior in excruciating and gnomic detail in the second decade of the twenty first century will invariably reveal that the playwright has probably not read a contemporary script, or a publisher other than Samuel French. I am not being snide, snobby, or bitchy about Samuel French – I think they do splendid and immensely useful publications, specialising as they do in presenting all the practical elements required for production (including prop lists, costumes, etc). The issue is when a contemporary playwright presents such a description of the set. It will either be seen as further proof of a control freak (see 1), or someone not widely promiscuous in the purveyor of play texts. I personally know that when we are first creating the world of our play, we need to write everything down (including description of set, costume, traffic of the stage, how lines are said, etc). Once the draft is developed, it will probably do the writer a favour to then cut these descriptions out. Allow your reader (and hopefully future director, designer, actors, etc) to create it anew – to ‘own’ it – and provide their own versions.

 3) A handsome man of above average height wearing a check suit under a buttoned-up mackintosh enters USR. With a barely perceptible smile he moves elegantly on a diagonal to the battered oak table, its surface ruined by coffee rings too numerous to count and generations of careless family use, sitting on a slight angle front edge pointing DSR on the elegant Persian rug CS. The moon glints in the window USL and falls on the exquisitely hand knitted Arran jumper worn by our heroine, sauntering with assumed nonchalance   

Had to stop, was losing the will to live writing that. See 2 above re-‘the book’ and DSM re-traffic of the stage and 1 above for being a tyrannical control freak.

Don’t do it. A simple indication of who enters or leaves will suffice. The director and actors will decide where they stand/move. The lighting designer will decide where the moon glints from (if at all). The costume designer will decide – etc etc. Our job is to write the play. We don’t like it when a director or actor tries to rewrite our lines or do our job. So respect, and let them do their job, also.

4) Assume you will have a production and there will be collaborators to deal with that other stuff (If you don’t want others to contribute, but want to do it all yourself, good luck, but I doubt you’ll have read this far, anyway).

5) There are of course exceptions to these – playwrights whose vision not only created extraordinary stage worlds, but who also rewrote the so-called rules, who challenged convention, transformed theatre, and brought in new forms, processes, theatre languages… They of course often used stage directions extensively (see Beckett), but not in the manners outlined, above.

I hope we will continue to have more such innovators, so as for everything I write, nothing is rigid, nothing is prescribed, but I hope it is stimulating.

(c) Kaite O’Reilly. 25/1/13. 

The Stage, Disability Arts Online, and Sparklewheels on In Water I’m Weightless.

I started this blog a year ago, wanting to document process and hopefully reveal some of the skills and experiences I as a dramaturg/performance writer may go through when making work in a broad range of styles.

I also want to have this as a place for discussion and reflection – dialogue, if you like.

My most recent production, In Water I’m Weightless, with National Theatre Wales, closed at The Purcell Rooms, Southbank Centre, London, as art of the Cultural Olympiad and celebratory Unlimited Festival, between the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I am now working in Berlin, but receiving more reactions to the work – interviews, reports, and reviews. I will partly reproduce them here, with the link to the relevant website so you can read further, if you so wish.

What follows is a mixture of opinion and perspectives – from the so-called ‘mainstream’ speciality industry publications (The Stage), disability culture (DAO) and a personal blog, informed by a disability perspective (Sparklewheels). It might be an illuminating mix!

Kaite O’Reilly: Putting the focus on humanity

Friday 31 August 2012Derek Smith for The Stage

Playwright Kaite O’Reilly is seeking to confront and confound people’s perceptions of disability with her latest production, writes Derek Smith:


Photo: Hayley Madden




A decade ago, Kaite O’Reilly, the award-winning playwright, poet and disability arts campaigner, created a stir. Peeling, the darkly comic play she had just written for the Graeae Theatre Company, proved groundbreaking enough, but some of the language used to champion her views on disability in theatre, must have caused a fair few in theatre to undergo some soul searching.

Speaking to O’Reilly recently in-between rehearsals for her new show, In Water I’m Weightless, there’s clearly still a burning belief that what the international dramaturg, author, mentor, tutor and honorary fellow at Exeter University said all those years ago hit the bull’s eye.

“One of the lines from that play has become a slogan,” she reflects with palpable pride. “What I said 10 years ago was that ‘cripping up’ had become the new, 21st century answer to blacking up. You know, that Richard III thing when someone pretends to have a hump or lose a leg, and so on. Mental health, disability and impairment roles are in so many plays, but invariably still played by non-disabled actors pretending to have that disability,” she says.

In 2012, it’s still the case, but it is getting better, she says. There’s still a huge amount of work to be done in the area of disability acceptance and inclusion in the arts – a fact borne out by actress Lisa Hammon’s recent comments in The Stage (August 23, News, page 2). “We just have to encourage people to get over their worries and their fears, says O’Reilly. “But, it’s very interesting now because people are getting excited about the challenge and the ideas.”

To read more of this interview, please go to:





The official image of Unlimited Festival by the superb Sue Austin.



.Paul F Cockburn for Disability Arts Online (DAO) Talks to Kaite O’Reilly and the Cast of In Water I’m Weightless about the production:

After an acclaimed run in Cardiff, National Theatre Wales and a cast of deaf and disabled performers brings the award-winning Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ to London as part of the Unlimited festival at the Southbank Centre.But how did such an imaginative, poignant and funny work come together? Paul F Cockburn, dropped in during the final week of rehearsals last July.

The morning DAO drops in on rehearsals, the cast have been working on In Water I’m Weightless for four solid weeks. With opening night now only a few days away, the momentum is palpable as the show’s ensemble cast — Mandy Colleran (who has to drop out after injury), Mat Fraser, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone and David Toole — physically flex and warm their bodies to the soundtrack of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

The morning, according to NTW Media Officer Catrin Rogers, will be spent primarily doing ‘tech’. This is the first time the cast have been given their costumes, so the focus will be on going through the ‘tops and tails’ of scenes, focusing not on performance but the practical issues of stage positions and costume changes.

Director John E McGrath underlines how the cast should raise any issues they have from this process, not least visually impaired Karina Jones, who at one point has to dance in a big dress while wearing high heals. She’s up for it, but there are concerns: “You have a go at everything, because you’re fearless,” John tells her, though he later wonders if the question of her shoes will “haunt the whole production”.

The afternoon is dominated by the first proper run-through of the piece that brings together not just the cast but also the technical team with the music, soundscape and visual projections which are an integral part of the show. “Focus on meaning, on the work that’s been done on a scene,” John tells the cast.

“There are no happy endings. There are just run-throughs,” responds popular cast-member Nick Phillips, humorously paraphrasing what all too quickly becomes as an important theme of the work, repeated through the production.

Nick is the ‘original find’ of this production. Although professionally trained as a dancer, he had given up on performance after a car accident. It was involvement in an earlier NTW production that helped change his mind.

“I kind of just came to the conclusion that, actually, it was no different to what I used to do; it just happens that I have my wheelchair now,” he explains. “I’m still a bit wary of this not being my usual projected image on stage. My safety net is the others around me. I think I would have a different feeling about it if I was on my own — that first step onto the stage would be a lot scarier if I didn’t have these guys around me.”

To read more of this please go to: http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/?location_id=1873

Two further reviews of In Water I’m Weightless is also on the Disability Arts Online website.

Rehearsal photo of In Water I’m Weightless, by Kaite O’Reilly.

Finally, the fabulous Nina of Sparklewheels.blogspot writes about the panel I was part of ‘Making work for Deaf and hearing Audiences’, plus reviews In Water… on her blog.

‘In Water I’m Weightless’ starts off like a fashion show. Pounding music and bright lights is the backdrop as the five actors enter the stage in elaborate gowns, suits and striking headpieces. The characters take turns in shouting at the audience, shouting that we are all the same, we are all mortal. After this impressive beginning, ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ goes on to explore how the story of the five characters overlaps, and how it overlaps with everyone’s story.

 To read more of the above, plugs coverage of Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre, please go to Nina’s blog:


‘Theatre has to get to get over itself and put crips in its scripts.’ Guardian Comment is Free.

The Guardian Comment is Free asked me to respond to Lisa Hammond’s Open Letter to Writers: Put Crips in your scripts (reproduced on this blog at: https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/lisa-hammonds-open-letter-to-writers-put-crips-in-your-scripts/)  

What follows is their edit of my article.

I think it is edifying to read the forty plus comments on the Guardian website in response to the article. You will find the article and the comments at:


Theatre has to get over itself and put crips in its scripts.

Kaite O’Reilly. 

Guardian Comment is Free.

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. It’s a sentiment I support, and have for some time. As a playwright, I’ve been trying to put complex, seductive, intelligent characters who just so happen to have an impairment into my scripts for decades. It is only in rare cases I am commissioned to write such a play; usually I have to smuggle it in like a Trojan horse, with disability politics and what I call “crip humour” in its belly.

Disability is often viewed as worthy, depressing, or a plethora of other negative associations I (and many others) have been trying to challenge and subvert in our work for years. I find this representation astonishing, for the vast majority of my disabled friends and colleagues are the wittiest, most outrageous and life-affirming human beings I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with.

I identify proudly as a disabled person, but am often struck how to those without this cultural identification the impaired body is “other”. Disabled people are “them” – over there – not a deaf uncle, a parent with Alzheimer’s or an acquaintance who has survived brain injury following a car accident. Although the vast majority of us will acquire impairment through the natural process of ageing, through accident, warfare or illness, disabled people are still feared, ostracised and set apart.

The western theatrical canon is filled with disabled characters. We are metaphors for tragedy, loss, the human condition – the victim or villain, the scapegoat, the inferior, scary “special” one, the freak, the problem requiring treatment, medicalisation and normalisation. Although disabled characters occur in thousands of plays, seldom have the writers been disabled themselves, or written from that perspective. It is also rare for actors with impairments to be cast in productions, even when the character is disabled. As I scornfully stated in my 2002 play Peeling, in which Hammond performed: “Cripping up is the 21st century’s answer to blacking up”.

As Hammond suggests in her essay, the theatre profession just needs to get over it – their fear, concerns about expense, about difference. There are fantastic deaf and disabled performers in the UK, just as there are talented and experienced choreographers, directors, visual artists, sit-down comedians, and writers. I hope that the Paralympics, and Unlimited at Southbank Centre,  part of the Cultural Olympiad, will change preconceptions just as the Olympics did regarding sportswomen and abilities.

For “putting crips in our scripts” means we have different protagonists with different stories, which don’t always have to revolve around yet another medical drama. The active, sexy, wilful protagonists of In Water I’m Weightless are an anomaly simply by being protagonists, and in control of their lives. The work is a montage of movement, visuals, excerpts from fictional monologues and not, as most of the reviewers assumed, the actors’ autobiographies (as director John McGrath said, “that’s called acting”).

We need characters who are not victims, whose diagnosis or difference is not the central drama of their lives, but multi-faceted individuals with careers and relationships, dreams and challenges. I want characters who are full of themselves, their hands and mouths filled with a swanky eloquence. Whether in signed or spoken languages, words can dazzle and dip, shape form, shape meaning and shape a perspective that counters the previously held.

We need to have crips in our scripts not just to reflect the society we live in, but, as one of my characters says, to “threaten the narrow definition of human variety … [to] broaden the scope of human possibilities”. And we need crip actors to perform these parts, not yet another non-disabled actor doing an impersonation, with an eye on an award.

(c) copyright Kaite O’Reilly 30th August 2012.

Guardian review: In Water I’m Weightless – 4 stars

David Toole and Nick Phillips – In Water I’m Weightless. Photo: Farrows/ National Theatre of Wales

The following is a review by Alfred Hickling, 3rd Augut 2012, reproduced from http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/aug/02/in-water-im-weightless-review

The writer Kaite O’Reilly says that she maintains two careers: “the mainstream playwright and the less visible disability artist.” Recently, that balance has arguably been reversed. Three months ago, Sheffield Crucible and Chol Theatre presented O’Reilly’s LeanerFasterStronger – a provocative meditation on biological engineering that predicted Paralympians may one day overtake their able-bodied rivals.

Now comes this Cultural Olympiad commission for the National Theatre Wales, featuring some of the finest differently abled performers in the country. There’s no plot, narrative or characterisation to speak of, though the point is simple enough to grasp. Despite all the advances made in accessibility and civil rights, disabled people still find themselves ostracised, patronised and feared. “We’re a fire hazard. A drain on your resources,” they state – and they’re angry. Very angry. John E McGrath’s production opens in high-concept mode, with much strobing and strutting to loud music that seems to suggest a catwalk show. Then the five performers (originally six – Mandy Colleran unfortunately had to withdraw through injury) take a turn at the microphone and tell their stories. Often these are sardonically funny: in a section entitled Things I Have Lip-Read, deaf actor Sophie Stone recounts someone saying, “Well, at least the phone bill will be small.” At another point David Toole and Nick Phillips compare notes on typecasting. “I’m always the monster, the serial killer or, worst of all, the plot device,” Toole complains. “I got to play a regular criminal once,” Phillips replies, “but they had to change the line ‘take him down’ because of the stairs.”

The cut-and-paste make up of the monologues can sometimes be frustrating: there is a tendency for significant points to be raised rather than developed. But there are some thrillingly vitriolic passages enhanced by the aggressive physicality of the choreography by Nigel Charnock, whose death from cancer was announced yesterday. Mat Fraser contorts his body through a spasmodic sequence of movements to the Sex Pistols’ Bodies, whose sneering line, “I don’t wanna baby that looks like that” sums up the show’s punk-like ethos. And there’s an arresting instance of table-turning when Stone delivers a long speech in British Sign Language without translation. Suddenly you realise how incomprehensible the world would seem if you lost the ability to hear. I couldn’t understand a word, though the final gesture – a middle finger jabbed aggressively upwards – was enough to give the gist.

  •  At Southbank Centre, London on 31 August and 1 September

‘Funny, yet tender; gutsy and still poignant’ – In Water I’m Weightless review

Cast of In Water I’m Weightless (Mandy Colleran excepted). Photo: Toby Farrows.

Tom Wentworth on In Water I’m Weightless.

Disability Arts Online. August 1st 2012.


Punching right between the eyes from the first second, In Water I’m Weightless is truly an energy-packed, relentless spectacle. Written by Kaite ‘O Reilly (The Persians, LeanerFasterStronger) and directed by National Theatre Wales’ Artistic Director John E. McGrath, the show manages to be funny, yet tender; gutsy and still poignant, whilst maintaining its integrity for an audience as a highly truthful exploration of life with a disability.

One of the greatest strengths of the production is its ensemble cast. Performers Mat Fraser, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone and David Toole (unfortunately, due to an accident, Mandy Colleran was unable to perform but hopes to re-join the company soon) perform a complex lattice work of monologues, chorus pieces and dance and movement sequences to a range of music, (including a wonderfully comic and sexy routine to ‘Hey, Big Spender’ by Choreographer Nigel Charnock).

dig deep into the fundamental nature of disability and impairment, exploring the body as well as constantly seeking to question our perceptions. (“How do you describe seeing?” asks Karina Jones provocatively at one point.)  The cast each have their own set pieces with Nick Phillips providing us with a central image: “In water I’m weightless,” he tells us. However, the sequences are never isolated; but flow seamlessly.

Kaite O’ Reilly’s complex mix of word play, rhythms and imagery within the text provides the heart beat throughout the production, which has been developed as one of the Unlimited Commissions for the Cultural Olympiad.

Using the metaphors of war to give an insight into the way the body reacts to its own internal warfare through illness or disability is just one very powerful device through which the audience are drawn in, to experience a fresh, and often surprising, perspective on the unspoken, unseen minutiae of human existence.

There are lighter moments too. Sophie Stone’s part signed, part spoken piece entitled ‘Things I Have Lipread’ is both warm and engaging (the production integrates British Sign Language – often in unexpected ways – throughout.) Even during the darkest and bleakest moments, the humour of the show shines through.

The show is always visually stunning. Designer Paul Clay has created a spectacular set (suspended balls onto which are projected text, images and live video as the actors put a camera into their mouths to observe the tongue.) Clay has also employed a large cyclorama which displays a wide range of images from diagrams showing how a Cochlea implant works to fantastically breathtaking video of actors suspended.) The costumes too are bold and designed to make a statement – and they do.

‘In Water I’m Weightless’ is ultimately a feast of textures. Seeking to question, explore and surprise, the production manages to do all of this throughout; holding the attention and being – to use the production’s own ‘water-imagery’ – completely immersive. Most impressive of all, however is the production’s strength to empower its cast, crew – and ultimately its audience. A must see.

In Water I’m Weightless runs at the Wales Millennium Centre until the 4th August, after which it will play as part of the Unlimited Festival London’s Southbank Centre on 31st August – 1st September.