Tag Archives: Natalie Lim

From Singapore to Swansea – this writing life

I’m back in the rather wild and windy west of Wales after a stupendously creative six weeks in Singapore, working on a production with Intercultural Theatre Institute, plus a lecture-performance and workshop with Access Path Productions  for Singapore Writers Festival.

I’ve been to the writer’s festival in the past, so it was gratifying to be involved as a writer/performer and moderator this year, with a focus on inclusivity and my work in Disability arts and culture. After spending several decades trying to get past gate-keepers and a crip’ foot in the door, it was a delight to be welcomed and listed as one of the highlights of this international gathering. I gave a few lectures and public talks, reiterating how important disabled-led work is and also reflecting on the power and responsibilities of language. The festival’s theme was ‘A language of our own’ and we discussed how language can heal and hurt – my particular focus was on recent practice amongst politicians and the media in the UK, where language has been used to dehumanise those with difference and normalise disability hate crimes. As I said in my lecture at the festival:

Our voices, our languages, our modes of communication, our perspectives, our experiences – our lives – are important. Being invited to present on prestigious platforms like this is essential and hugely appreciated – in our contemporary situation, in the UK and elsewhere we are witnessing the systematic dehumanisation of disabled people by the government and the state. Brutal benefit cuts under the auspices of austerity were described on 16 November 2017 by the British Medical Journal – not a publication known for its sensationalism – as “economic murder” – with a reported 120,000 deaths caused directly by the current British government’s austerity policies. The removal of services, access and support for the disabled and Deaf communities have been coupled with deeply negative and damaging media narratives which in turn create an atmosphere where abuse, prejudice and violence is further normalised. In the UK, disability hate crime is on the increase – on Weds 9th October 2019 The Independent newspaper reported how violent crime against disabled individuals in England and Wales had increased by 41%, and offences with online element, up by 71%. We need to keep challenging the negative propaganda, the lies, offering diverse perspectives, with alternative expressions of what it is to be human, celebrating all the possibilities of human variety.

I am hugely grateful to the festival’s director Pooja Nansi for her innovative and inclusive programming. Thank you, Pooja, for giving a platform for such important discussions to take place.

Now that I am back in Wales, further conversations about disability and difference will flourish in my collaboration with historian Prof. David Turner as one of the Creativity Fellows at Swansea University, initiated by writer and Professor in Creativity Owen Sheers. We launch this Friday, 15th November:

The Creativity Fellowships are an exciting new initiative that offers two professional artists the chance to engage with and explore cutting-edge academic research at Swansea University.
Owen Sheers said:

‘I’m so pleased to be getting these Fellowships off the ground with two such talented and exciting artists. I hope they and their academic partners will have a fascinating year of collaboration and exploration, which also promises to be a powerful engine for furthering a vibrant conversation between the sciences and the arts at the University and in the wider community.’

Professor David Turner commented:

‘I am thrilled at the prospect of working with Kaite O’Reilly to bring the histories of disabled people to life. Kaite’s commitment to empowering disabled people through the creative arts will provide new and exciting ways of connecting the struggles of disabled people in the past with the experiences of people today.’

The event this Friday is free, tickets available here.

Returning from a long trip always disorientates me – it feels within moments of landing that the previous weeks were a mirage. Certainly adjusting to the temperature change alone is quite challenging – it seems unbelievable as I swaddle myself in thermals that 36 hours ago I was writing at a desk with two fans on high speed directed into my face…

So although the future work beckons – Swansea University, and a ‘Welcoming all Writers’ workshop at Small World Theatre with Chris Kinsey on 23/11/19, details below and tickets here  – it is important to reflect on where we have just been.

Singapore seems very far indeed from Cardigan, or even Rowan Ridge. For the past six weeks I’ve been working with the brilliant Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI), the graduating 2019 cohort and I worked to adapt my reimagining of Schnitzler’s La Ronde for a Singaporean context. Directed by Phillip Zarrilli, designed by Dorothy Png and production managed by Natalie Lim, Lie With Me opened at the impressive Esplanade Theatres on the Bay last week.

Lie With Me featured an international cast of theatre makers and performers who may well be the shaping force of performance in the future, going by ITI’s impressive alumni. A review of the production follows

Lie With Me – a powerful exploration of the longing for intimacy

Lie With Me, ITI

12 Nov 2019
Article by Yaiza Canopoli for Arts Republic Singapore

Written by Kaite O’Reilly and directed by Phillip Zarrilli, the Intercultural Theatre Institute presents the Asian premiere of Lie With Me – a play about human relationships, class struggles, and the quest for intimacy. Led by a cast both Singaporean and international, the play was adapted by producers and actors alike to reflect Singaporean youth, and how we form meaningful relationships with each other. This is achieved by following eight characters, presented in pairs; one character of each pair overlaps and slips into the following couple on stage, threading a cyclical narrative of interconnectedness. The fact that each pair of characters feels lonely and isolated despite the wider connection to the entire cast speaks for itself: the sadness that envelops each character in its own way seeps out from the stage and makes this play relatable and breathtaking.

Lie With Me, ITI. 2019. Ted Nudgent Fernandez Tac-An and Tysha Khan Photos by Bernie Ng

The writing tackles a variety of topics and issues: we encounter poor Singaporeans, immigrants looking for work, sisters battling grief, same-sex couples, women fighting mental health issues, people in toxic relationships, and much more that falls in between these lines. Many of the characters’ struggles begin to blend into each other to spell out a universally human longing for affection and love. As the fights that break out between couples, siblings, and strangers keep us on the edge of our seat, we are left with a deep sense of empathy for people whose actions are morally grey or straight-up terrible. A number of scenes end with characters who have lost their temper asking to be held, to be cared for – love and intimacy attempting to overcome anger and violence.

Lie With Me, ITI 2019. Photo Bernie Ng. Wendy Too and Theresa Wee-Yenko.

The diversity of these relationships is impressive. We even get to witness the delightfully surprising connection that springs up between a self-involved upper-class woman and the prostitute she hires. While the attempt to cover such a wide variety of relationships and issues could have easily diluted the intensity of each story, the genuine nature of the dialogue, the fantastic acting (with wonderfully accurate facial expressions and even walking styles), and the masterful production made for a play that feels real and relevant.

Lie With Me, ITI, Esplanade Theatres in the Bay, Singapore, 2019

Appropriately titled, Lie With Me invites the audience to feel and mourn with the characters as they hold on to the one thing they long for at the end of a terrible day: a moment of tenderness and unconditional human affection.

The cast were: Ted Nudgent Fernandez Tac-An, Tysha Khan, Wendy Toh, Nour El Houda Essafi, Regina Toon, Theresa Wee-Yenko, Jin Chen and Earnest Hope Tinambacan.  For the full review, click here

I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with such extraordinary people, and to collaborate with those from across the world. At the lecture/performance at the Singapore Writer’s Festival, my friend and long-term collaborator Grace Lee Khoo reflected on the difference between inclusive and participatory:

Inclusive means you’re invited to the party. Participatory means you get to dance.

Thank you to everyone these past weeks and looking forward to the future who has welcomed me, engaged with me, and enabled me to dance….

 

 

 

 

Returning

So I return back to Wales after six weeks in Hong Kong and Singapore, and find myself startled by the vibrant green of grass and the watercolour splashes of pink and blue in the hedgerow as we drive down the narrow lanes. It all feels so very gentle and quaint after the futuristic architecture of Singapore’s waterfront, or the technicolor fantasy that is the newly renovated Sri Krishnan temple on Waterloo Street.

Renovation of the temple on Waterloo Street, Singapore. Photo: Sara Beer

We were fortunate to be staying centrally, in an apartment close to Waterloo Street, and would pass by the temples most days when walking to rehearsals. The Gallery Theatre, where we premiered And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues, is in the impressive National Museums Singapore, built in 1849 and originally called Raffles Library and Museum.

National Museums Singapore

We had a great welcome at NMS, and soon I was acquainted with most of the front of house staff – the curators, security guards, volunteers, and ushers – after giving a series of Disability Awareness Training workshop/talks. There was a palpable interest in making the museum as accessible and welcoming as possible, and it was a real privilege to premiere the production there.

Volunteers setting out the accessible signage

And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues is an international dialogue between Singapore and the UK about difference, diversity, and what it is to be human. Inspired by interviews my colleague Peter Sau and his team held in Singapore, and my own conversations over many years with Deaf and disabled individuals in the UK, the fictional monologues were commissioned by Unlimited, with support from Arts Council Wales and the British Council.

Warming up: And Suddenly I Disappear cast, Gallery Theatre, National Museums Singapore

The production previewed last week, with an audience of students from a series of schools and colleges, who astonished and delighted us with their focus and engagement. We couldn’t have asked for a better first audience – so enthusiastic and curious about the work we presented. I’ve also never been in a situation before, where I had a selfie with a large proportion of the audience.

Part of the preview schools audience for ‘And Suddenly Disappear…’

A real opportunity for discussion and change feels possible at present in Singapore. Diversity and inclusivity are vogue terms here, just as they seem to be everywhere at present, but I’ve experienced less lip service and more action here than in Europe. I am encouraged – there does seem to be a palpable desire for change, and so in interviews, public talks and workshops, I’ve been banging on about the necessity of diversity in our cultural leadership. My concern is that whilst embracing notions of inclusivity and diversity, the same-old, same-old hierarchies will endure, and so a remarkable opportunity to re-examine and reinvent societal structures will be lost.

Our brilliant associate producer Natalie Lim with signage for the production

There is also a misunderstanding about the difference between arts and disability – where the non-disabled provide arts provision for ‘the disabled’ as part of their socialisation or therapy – and disability arts, where disabled artists lead, direct, create and control the product. Disability arts and culture sometimes – but not always – reflects lived experience, and can be a manifestation of identity politics informed by the social model of disability – which sees it is society and its attitudinal or physical barriers which is disabling, not the idiosyncracies of our bodies.

Company members Peter, Steph, Shirley, Ramesh and Grace backstage

My fictional monologues seek to reflect a wide spectrum of experiences, embracing all the possibilities of human variety and challenging notions of normalcy. Love, relationships, extortion, and ‘cures’ are explored amongst other themes. Although many expect me to write ‘disabled themes’ (whatever the hell they would be…), it’s the same material as usual – whatever captures my imagination and makes me want to explore dynamics and situations theatrically – what’s different is the world view and the theatrical languages at play.

I’m wary of ‘telling true stories’, as it is often phrased, when people assume that the story  belongs to the actor performing it, or it is the true experience of one individual. As a playwright, I’m interested in finding the narratives and form that makes the story larger than itself – speaking for a community of people, perhaps, rather than one (perhaps unfortunate) individual.

Interview in Singapore Straits Times

The work has now been realised and shared with the Singaporean audiences, premiering last weekend, 25th May. I will share responses and reactions as they emerge in a future blog, and also cover the live-streamed performance, another innovation in the presentation and touring of the work. At present I am dealing with jet lag and adjusting to the Welsh pastoral outside my window, and preparing the publicity alongside new monologues for the next stage of this project: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues, premiering at Southbank Centre 5-6 September, as part of Unlimited Festival.

Meanwhile – here’s the Singapore poster by our designer Ho Su Yuen….. unusually featuring the director and writer, alongside the cast.

Singapore poster

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And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues by Kaite O’Reilly, directed by Phillip Zarrilli and produced in Singapore by Access Path Productions, is an Unlimited International Commission, supported by Arts Council Wales and British Council. The performances in Singapore were possible thanks also to Singapore International Foundation, Singapore Press Holdings Foundation Arts Fund, NSM, and Kuo Pao Kun Foundation.

 

 

 

Singapore: talks, festivals, performances, artist meetings and a royal reception in a borrowed dress

Kaite O’Reilly at British Council talk, 17/11/17, Singapore Art Museum

 

The past month in Singapore has been a phenomenally busy but rich time. I fly back to the UK later today, having completed my teaching of Dramaturgy at ITI – the Intercultural Theatre Institute – and writing workshops for the emerging Deaf and disabled writers and practitioners of Project Tandem. Last night I presented my British Council ‘Knowledge is Great’ talk: Nothing About Us Without Us – What Can Singapore learn from 30 years of the UK’s Disability arts and culture?’ I presented in the Glass Hall of the beautiful Singapore Art Museum and am so grateful to have had this opportunity to speak about my work and the UK’s disability arts scene. Singapore is currently embracing all things to do with disability and diversity – a time full of great potential for reshaping a more inclusive society and arts scene in the future, although there are many questions, particularly regarding the difference between Disability arts – led by disabled artists, informed by the Social Model of disability and often an expression of lived experience in a disabling world, and arts and disability.

Singapore – natural and manmade

 

It was great to be able to speak about the work I’ve made both within the so-called ‘mainstream’ and with Deaf and disabled collaborators over thirty years, and to share some video and images from productions in the past five years. The response was fantastic, with many questions and comments and right at the end of a lively post-talk discussion, assertions regarding the need for agency and disabled and Deaf leadership opportunities, as opposed to the charity model currently prevalent in Singapore. It was a lively and stimulating event, and I’m thankful for all those who made comments and asked questions. All the organisations and individuals I have met in Singapore have said how dialogue is so important – to discover if there are lessons or shortcuts to be learned for Singapore from the experience in the UK. Every country has its own context and history and will forge its own path forwards to what we all hope will be a more fair and egalitarian future – and if I can assist in this dialogue of difference and diversity, I am more than happy to.

Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, Peter Sau, Lee Lee Lim and Grace Khoo: R&D ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’

 

I was so pleased we were able to share earlier this autumn the work in progress of my disability arts and culture collaboration with Singapore: And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. An international r&d commission from Unlimited, it was a good example of disabled and Deaf-led work and the seeding of work by Deaf and disabled artists into the cultural sector – Unlimited’s mission statement.

Natalie Lim, Lee Lee Lim and Nice the dog, Kaite and Danial Bawthan at the High Commission

This month has also been rich in meetings of the unexpected kind, with an invitation to the High Commission with my fellow collaborators for a royal reception. I attended with Nat Lim,  Peter Sau, Danial Bawthan, Lee Lee Lim and Nice the dog, in a borrowed dress, courtesy of Nat (thank you). Formal attire was not included in my suitcase when I packed to come to Singapore and I was certainly not expecting to meet Prince Charles.

The Indomitable Irishry: Singapore Writers festival

 

I was in Singapore at a great time to indulge my love for workshops, panel discussions and readings, as I coincided with the Singapore Writers’ Festival. Further fortune came with the focus this year being on Ireland, and I was able to meet and hear some of my favourite Irish authors and poets. Notes on these sessions and from some of the talks and workshops I attended will follow at a later date on this blog.

Artist Chng Seok Tin in her studio

 

 

 

A final and most delightful meeting was with artist Chng Seok Tin at her studio. Seok Tin works in an astonishing breadth of mediums, becoming more tactile in her work after she lost her sight many years ago. It was such a pleasure to meet a woman artist so inventive and expressive, who embraces change and learning new techniques and form. I have asked her to participate in my ’20 Questions…’ series and so hope to present more information about her and her work in a future post.

Masjid Sultan, muscat Street, Singapore.

The sun is blazing on this, my last day in Singapore, as I prepare for the chill of the UK and the closing-in nights of winter. I am so thankful to all who hosted me, met me, supported my work, talks and workshops and hope to return in Spring 2018.