As announced at the No Boundaries Conference yesterday by Jo Verrent and Tony Heaton, I have been fortunate to be selected as one of the artists for the Unlimited International Commissions for 2017/18. Full details of all of the commissions can be read here.
It feels even more of a privilege than usual to be supported by funders – and not only that, but to make an international collaboration. The award of this commission is bitter-sweet, especially on this day, Wednesday 29th March 2017, when Teresa May triggers Article 50 and turns her back on European unity. If ever there was a time for coming together and connecting across distance and perceived difference, it is now – and I am grateful to Unlimited and all the funders, allies, and supporters for recognising the value of collaboration and international dialogue, and enabling such things to happen.
I first met Ramesh Meyyappan and Peter Sau in Singapore in the same year, 2004, but in different productions. Peter was performing in a production directed by Phillip Zarrilli at The Esplanade, the graduating production for ITI (Intercultural Theatre Institute, formerly TTRP). There, Peter had the extraordinary privilege to be tutored by T. Sasitharan and the father of Singapore theatre, the visionary Kuo Pao Kun.
Ramesh was presenting his visual theatre adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Tell Tale Heart.’ Contact was firmly established with both independent artists, based on my conviction I would collaborate with them at some time in the future.
Following Ramesh’s work and occasionally participating in his workshops became easy when he relocated to Scotland, where he has been a leading light in physical/visual theatre. Teaching Dramaturgy at the Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore has enabled me to keep in touch with Peter over the years, and he came to train with Phillip Zarrilli and I at the 2015 Summer Intensive in Wales, where the seed which became The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues was planted.
Peter is passionate about ‘theatre with a conscience’ and with his collaborators producer Grace Khoo, and mentee/performer Lee Lee Lim, they are determined to professionalise disability arts in Singapore and open up a much-needed discourse on diversity, disability and difference.
The ‘d’ monologues:
KAITE O’REILLY – THE SINGAPORE ‘D’ MONOLOGUES
Lead artist / Playwright: Kaite O’Reilly
Director: Phillip Zarrilli
Associate Director, Researcher and Performer: Peter Sau
Producer and Researcher: Grace Khoo
Visual Director and Performer: Ramesh Meyyappan
Disability Advisor and Performer: Sarah Beer
Researcher and Performer: Lim Lee Lee
The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues is an international theatrical dialogue of difference, disability, and what it is to be human, from opposite sides of the world. Inspired by previously unrecorded disabled experience, fictionalised monologues will be precedented across multiple languages (spoken/projected/visual), incorporating aesthetics of access. This performance will set an important precedent: the first multilingual, intercultural, disability-led theatre project created between the UK and Singapore.
Award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly, and internationally respected director/actor-trainer Phillip Zarrilli will lead the team, joined by veteran disability arts practitioner Sara Beer and Deaf UK-based Singapore-born Ramesh Meyyappan with his innovative visual performance skills. Together with Singaporeans Lee-Lee Lim, Grace Khoo and principle collaborator, Peter Sau, the performance will open up a much-needed discourse of disability in quality, accessible disability-led work, never experienced before in a home-grown Singaporean project.
My notion of a portable, flexible, diverse body of work informed by a Deaf and disability perspective and the Social model was initiated in 2008, when Arts Council Wales granted me a Creative Wales to explore the form of the monologue. I am not a fan of verbatim, so had many conversations with disabled and Deaf individuals all over the UK to try and get a sense of lived experience in a disabling world, the political and the personal, spiced by what I call crip’ humour. These encounters inspired a series of monologues I wrote in a variety of styles. These solo texts became the basis of an Unlimited commission, culminating in the 2012 Cultural Olympiad ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ with National Theatre Wales, Wales Millennium Centre and the Southbank Centre.
Cast of ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ by O’Reilly, National Theatre Wales/Southbank Centre 2012, part of the Cultural Olympiad. Cover image of ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. Photo: Farrows/Creative
The creative process, directed by John E McGrath with assistant director Sara Beer, choreographed by the late great Nigel Charnock, designed by Paul Clay and featuring six of the leading Deaf and disabled performers in the UK, is fully documented elsewhere on this blog (search In Water I’m Weightless, 2012). The montaged texts from this collaboration are published in my collected ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’, published by Oberon last year.
This model seemed perfect for a collaboration with Peter and colleagues in Singapore. He, Grace, and Lee Lee would initiate a series of interviews with disabled Singaporeans – lived experience never before documented or shared – and these would create the inspiration for fictional monologues I would write, and the basis of an oral archive. Peter would begin a series of skills-based workshops in Singapore with emerging Deaf and disabled performers, and Ramesh would develop visual theatre sequences. Phillip Zarrilli would direct emerging work, joined by performer Sara Beer from the UK, with Lee Lee, Peter and Ramesh also performing. It is this r&d stage Unlimited have funded, with the ambition of a full production in Singapore and the UK in 2018.
Style and content of the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues:
We don’t yet know what form and shape this project will take – what tone, what content, what aesthetic – this will all be determined by the next six months and our collaborators. What we do know is the aesthetics of access will be a consideration throughout – and we will have a challenge with translation and captioning in quad-lingual Singapore. We hope our interviewees will have a sense of ownership, and the work will inspire and confound expectation, and the process will be one of symbiosis. I know there will be so much to learn from our Singapore collaborators, and a wealth of riches to be celebrated in this multicultural, intercultural theatre project of communication and dialogue.
Director Phillip Zarrilli and performer Sara Beer are both long-term collaborators. I first worked with Sara with Graeae Theatre in 1987, when, as graduates, we both got our first jobs with this inspiring company. We have worked together consistently ever since, often with Disability Arts Cymru, a great organisation I am proud to be patron of.
Phillip and I have worked internationally as co-creators and collaborators for fifteen years, and has directed many of my plays, recently another Unlimited Commission, ‘Cosy’, which opened at Wales Millennium Centre in March 2016, and featured Sara as the enigmatic Maureen.
Sara Beer as Maureen in ‘Cosy’. Photo: Farrows Creative
What has come clear to me in the writing of this extended blog is the importance of Unlimited in supporting, nurturing and promoting work – in enabling creativity to flourish and artistic careers to thrive. It is such a remarkable hydra organisation with many heads and needs to be congratulated, I feel, for its ground-breaking work and determination to bring about change, its considered efforts for a more equal, and culturally diverse society.
Unlimited is an arts commissioning programme that aims to embed work by disabled artists within the UK and international cultural sectors, reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people. Unlimited has been delivered by the disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts and arts-producing organisation Artsadmin since 2013, and is funded from 2016-20 by Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, British Council and Spirit of 2012.
Unlimited and all the funders: thank you.