Tag Archives: National Theatre Wales

“But you know I don’t think in words.” An essay by Kaite O’Reilly.

As part of my on-going Fellowship at the international research centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ attached to Freie Universitat in Berlin, I have been reflecting on my work between Deaf and hearing cultures and disability culture and the so called ‘mainstream’ – most notably my recent work with Deaf artists. “But you know I don’t think in words”: Bilingualism and Issues of Translation between Signed and Spoken Languages: Working between Deaf and Hearing Cultures in Performance focuses in particular on my work with actress, visual language director and BSL expert Jean St Clair and performer/collaborator Sophie Stone.

Originally prepared as a presentation at the centre in Berlin on my 2012 Cultural Olympiad production with National Theatre Wales/Unlimited In Water I’m Weightless (read about it here onwards), editors Holger Hartung and Gabriele Brandstetter invited a longer reflection on the processes Jean, Sophie and I embark on when working together.

The long essay included in this new book quotes both my collaborators at length, and includes director Kirstie Davis’s production of my bilingual play Woman of Flowers. I wrote the part of Rose specifically for Sophie, with Jean working as the visual language creative director. Our process was documented on this blog.

 

Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone working on ‘Woman of Flowers’ 2014. Photo by KOR

The title of the essay “But you know I don’t think in words” comes from an aside Jean made when I requested she answer some questions about our process via written English rather than visual language. I didn’t want to have translation from visual to written language, and Jean is fluent in English. Her being present ‘in her own words’ seemed immensely important for the essay.

I’m delighted to be able to share our creative process, and to acknowledge Jean and Sophie, crediting them for this liminal work, this ‘space in-between’ we inhabit when collaborating across spoken/written English and BSL/visual language.

20 Questions…. Mathilde Lopez

Continuing my series of short interviews with writers, choreographers, burlesque artists, poets, performers, and everything between… it’s with great delight I welcome director Mathilde Lopez to 20 questions….

Mathilde Lopez

Mathilde Lopez

Mathilde Lopez is August 012 Artistic Director. She trained at Central Saint Martins in Performance Design, has a Master in Theatre Directing from Birkbeck College and was a founding member of National Theatre Wales with whom she still regularly works. She also teaches at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Directing credits include: WISE (August 012/Cardiff University), CYRANO development (August 012), ROBERTO ZUCCO (August 012/Chapter), TONYPANDEMONIUM (National Theatre Wales) CALIGULA (August 012/Chapter), WHO KILLED THE ELEPHANT? (August 012/James Tyson), PORNOGRAPHY (Waking Exploits/Chapter and touring), MAN ON THE MOON (George Orange/Wales Millennium Centre and touring), DE GABAY development week I and II (National Theatre Wales/Gulbenkian Foundation), SERIOUS MONEY (Waking Exploits/Chapter), CROSSWIRED (East London Dance/Barbican Centre), CIEN AÑOS DE SOLEDAD (London/Prague), YVONNE, PRINCESS OF BURGUNDY (Hoxton Hall), HOTEL EUROPA and PROMETHEUS BOUND (Cochrane Theatre/Hoxton Hall) She previously worked as an assistant director and literary manager for Theatre Royal Stratford East, freelanced for ITV, BBC and BBC Wales as a production designer and with Carl Fillion on LA CELESTINA and 1984, both projects directed by Robert Lepage and produced by Ex Machina.

YURI, directed by Mathilde Lopez will be at Chapter Arts Centre 26th – 30th July and Edinburgh Fringe Festival Underbelly, Cowgate, Big Belly 4th – 28th August.

What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?

The tacit agreement between the audience and the actors.

What was your big breakthrough?

I haven’t had any.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

The speed I think. That is really a question for my collaborators and audience. I am pretty sure it is the speed.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you? Many but probably the key ones were the one I read during my teenage years, Caligula, Albert Camus play, Friday by Michel Tournier and Juan Munoz sculptures, all of them.

What’s more important: form or content?

Content is always in a form. No? I wouldn’t try to separate them, will just gravitate and rearrange the different embodiments.

How do you know when a project is finished?

When I am not anymore needed in the room

Do you read your reviews?

Yes, sadly and what a slavery.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

Try not to damage yourself and the others too much en route. But work hard.

What work of art would you most like to own?

None

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

I don’t know

What are you working on now? A site specific version of La Voix Humaine by Francis Poulenc.

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created? Juan Munoz sculptures, all of them.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

Not to loose time with doubts

What’s your greatest ambition?

To have a family and I have luckily done it

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

I wake up early and run

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

I can’t remember but there’s probably plenty out there.

And the best thing?

That I create meticulously organised chaos. My husband said that. Hopefully it was about my work.

If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

I wouldn’t try, it will likely to be obsolete as I write it.

What is your philosophy or life motto?

I don’t have any

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

About the creative life particularly I am not sure but about life, that it has an end. It’s true, we forget.

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

I am thank you.

 

Yuri directed by Mathilde Lopez will be at Chapter Arts Centre 26th – 30th July and Edinburgh Fringe Festival Underbelly, Cowgate, Big Belly 4th – 28th August. You can find out more about the project at the kickstarter https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/august012/yuri-in-edinburgh

Reinventing old stories, making the ancient contemporary

Sophie Stone in 'Woman of Flowers' by Kaite O'Reilly

Sophie Stone in ‘Woman of Flowers’ by Kaite O’Reilly

How do we take old stories and make them new, and relevant to our time?

We know (or we should know) there is no such thing as ‘original’ – the same plots have been going around for millennia (there’s only seven plots, apparently). I’m pretty sure the average soap opera concerns the same things ancient Greeks sat down to watch thousands of years ago – and I would like to include Chinese historical soaps in this, for they also cover warring dynasties and great battles.

Human beings are endlessly fascinated with other human beings. We gain great pleasure from watching ordinary people deal with extraordinary situations and grow, change, learn new skills, succeed, fail… We root for the underdog, we fair-minded gentle folk secretly love the dastardly ‘baddie’ – we project ourselves onto the protagonist, identifying with her, breathing with her. We have such an appetite for narrative it is extraordinary we never use all the possibilities up… Which brings me to reinvention, and finding perspectives pertinent for our times.

We know that Shakespeare used many received stories, and that the ancient Greek playwrights consistently revisited the same store of deities, symbolic figures, and conflicts. Today, adaptations of existing work are immensely popular. A glance at the mainstream London theatre scene for this week alone throws up reinventions of The 39 StepsThe Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare in Love and Ostermier’s participatory An Enemy of the People. I saw this update of Ibsen at the Schaubühne in Berlin two years ago, filled with cover versions of Bowie’s ‘Ch-ch-ch-changes’ done with acoustic guitar, live on stage. I don’t feel Ostermier succeeded fully in making the piece contemporary, but it was a bold move, and one that’s proved popular.

So how do we make the old new, with resonance for the times we inhabit? I ask this question often in my work. Over the past few years I’ve been involved in exactly this – reinventing existing texts and stories. My version of Aeschylus’s Persians for Mike Pearson’s 2010 site-specific production on MOD land for National Theatre Wales won the Ted Hughes Award for new works in poetry, and my latest play, currently touring, is a reworking of the the myth of Blodeuwedd from the fourth branch of the Mabinogion.

For me, the first stage is obsession. It’s all very well deciding to update an existing work, but if something about that story doesn’t grab you by the ears and pull you face-first into the narrative, don’t even consider starting.

I’ve been obsessed with Blodeuwedd for years, ever since I first moved to Wales and discovered the ancient text. It is fascinating and compelling: the woman of flowers made to be wife to a man cursed by his mother; the woman made to serve, who discovers desire and plots to have her way; the unnatural creature reared in nature red in tooth and claw, transformed into an owl as punishment for her transgressions… I could write many other versions of the story from different perspectives, which is what makes ancient texts so rewarding to work with. In my reworking of this myth in a commission from Kirstie Davis from Forest Forge, I had to settle on one approach, and one which I felt would have resonance to the times we inhabit.

The second stage is to find the angle that reverberates with current events. Without giving the game away too much, for me approaching Woman of Flowers, this involves the rise of all kinds of fundamentalism, and the corresponding belief systems, creation stories and values made through rhetoric and words. In the original, Blodeuwedd is made by Gwydion, the greatest living storyteller, from the flowers of the forest. I wanted to explore the power of language in this retelling, especially as we use visual language (theatricalised sign) as well and spoken and captioned English in the production.

I have also been very concerned with the rise of modern slavery – disturbing stories in the media of intolerable working conditions (the recent SOS written on clothes labels for Primark), and people kept against their will and treated as slave labour (a case most recently on a farm in Wales).

A further stage when remaking is to respect the original, but not to be strait-jacketed by it. As writers, we need to be free to work with the material as we see fit, but not to be directed into a dead-end by details, nor be imaginatively contained. I’ve had to shake off many ‘I really should…’ compulsions, ‘but the original…’ doubts. The aim is to have integrity in the handling of the material and its original elements, and to respect it, but not be dominated by it. We sometimes have to work against the authority of the text in order to find new ways of saying old things.

woman_of_flowers-96x148-1The text Woman of Flowers has been published by Aurora Metro and available at performances as well as here

The Forest Forge Theatre Company production opened in September and continues to tour nationally until November 1st 2014. Full tour details with links here and below.

Woman of Flowers tour

October 2014

Tue 14 19.30 Quay Arts, Isle of Wight, PO30 5BW 01983 822490

Wed 15 20.00 Brixham Theatre, Devon, TQ5 8TA 01803 882717

Sat 18 19.30 West Stafford Village Hall, Dorset, DT2 8AG 01305 261984

Tue 21 19.30 Ibsley Village Hall, Hampshire, BH24 3NL 01425 473065

Thu 23 20:00 Lighthouse Poole’s Centre for the Arts, Poole, BH15 1UG             O844 406 8666 BSL interpreted show

Fri 24 19:30 Bridport Arts Centre, Dorset, DT6 3NR 01308 424204

Sat 25 20:00 Dorchester Arts Centre,Dorset, DT1 1XR 01305 266926

Tue 28 19:30 Mere Lecture Hall,Wiltshire, BA12 6HA O1747 860163

Wed 29 19:30 Aberystwyth Arts Centre,Wales, SY23 3DE 01970 62 32 32

Thu 30 19:30 The Spring, Havant, PO9 1BS 023 9247 2700

November 2014

Sat 1 November 19.30 Greyfriars Community Centre, Ringwood, BH24 1DW 01425 472613

 

Woman of Flowers – from seed to bloom

Woman of Flowers

Woman of Flowers

In 2012, when director Kirstie Davis came to see my cultural Olympiad project with National Theatre Wales, ‘In Water I’m Weightless’, we sat and plotted in the  bar afterwards. Kirstie had directed my play ‘peeling’ for Forest Forge theatre company the year before, and we were keen to work together again. Asking me what ideas I had to make a new work if she was to commission me, I waxed on about an ancient story which had fascinated me for years – the story of Blodeuwedd, Woman of Flowers, from the fourth branch of the ancient Welsh treasure The Mabinogion.

Playwrights reworking old stories is not new. Many of Shakespeare’s plots came from received stories, and adaptations and reinventions of existing works is still very popular. One of the things that attracted me to Blodeuwedd was the capacity for the themes in the original to be reinterpreted with resonance for our times.

So in 2012 in the bar of the Wales Millennium Centre, I talked of a tale of duty and desire, of the power of words to create belief systems, and what happens if someone challenges the life already chosen for them – and the reinvention began to emerge. Kirstie and I already had an idea of who should play this transformative woman of flowers – Sophie Stone, one of the cast of ‘In Water…’, who had mesmerised us both with her charismatic performance.

And here we are in 2014, about to open at the Pleasance theatre in London on Monday, and embark on a national tour… Sophie is indeed in the piece, and as gripping in performance as Kirstie and I had hoped – and it’s not just us thinking that; the twitter response to our previews last week have been outstanding and encouraging for the wider reception of the production.

I’m giving a talk at Exeter University on 1st October when the production is at The Bike Shed Theatre (details here ) and this story will be one I will tell about how theatre happens. It is about building relationships with allies and dreaming ideal productions and cast, then plotting and scheming and working immensely hard to make it a reality…

We all know about the negative impact funding cuts are having on the arts; it always seems a small miracle to me that despite the odds people still insist on being creative, and inviting others to sample, to dream, think and enjoy… We need the arts, and we need strong audiences. Whether it’s Woman of Flowers, or an exhibition at your local art gallery, or any live music, poetry, spoken word event or theatre performance occurring in your vicinity – like the Fun Palaces weekend 4th-5th October – do your best to support them. Keep the work alive.

 

 

Dramaturgs wanted – National Theatre Wales

So what is dramaturgy? What does a dramaturg do? Might you be a dramaturg?National Theatre Wales are setting up a Dramaturgy Project to  explore the role of dramaturgy in theatre and in their own company in particular.

I’m delighted to be invited on the panel to choose this group. Artistic director John McGrath, Executive producer Lisa Maquire, co-playwright Roger Williams and myself will select six people who will lead this fascinating project –  four playwrights and two not.

John McGrath writes:

As a result of last years’ Dirty, Gifted and Welsh event, and a very interesting follow up discussion in the Writers Group on this network, I’m pleased to announce today that NTW is setting up a new Dramaturgy Project, to explore the role of the dramaturg in theatre in general and NTW in particular.

The group will involve six ‘dramaturgs’ – four of them playwrights and two not. The group will meet four times over a one year period, and also keep in touch via the online Writers Group. And if you are asking the question ‘but what’s a dramaturg’ then hopefully by the end of the year our team will have some good answers!

Historically the dramaturg has been a more consistent role in European theatre than British. Often this role involves a lot of research and support for the writer and director, but probably more than anything else a dramaturg is concerned with the shape, rhythms and sense of a play or piece of theatre – helping everyone involved to ensure that the production is the best possible version of itself. Dramaturgs may be theatre directors – and theatre directors often do a lot of dramaturgy on the plays they are directing, particularly with new writing – but perhaps most often they are writers who feel they have some skills and insight they can share.

The dramaturgy group at NTW will provide support to some of the writers NTW has commissioned, and will also explore the differing ways that a script and production can take shape, particularly when the usual conventions are being challenged.

The idea for our group grows out of a conversation about ways in which writers can provide support and advice for each other in the creative process – hence the majority of places on the group being for writers. However, there was also an acknowledgement in the discussion that dramaturgy can be equally important when shaping a theatre piece where words are not central. We felt therefore that it would be helpful to have non-writers in our group too.

There’s a small fee of £500 per dramaturg to cover the costs of attending at least three of the core meetings (virtual attendance is okay), plus an average of £1,000 each to provide support and input to writers on commission to NTW. I hope that the group will have a strong presence on this network, so that everyone can follow its development.

Applications to be part of the Dramaturgy Group are now open. Please send a message explaining why you’d like to be involved, plus a CV and a link to your profile on this network to mawgaine@nationaltheatrewales.org  Four writers and two other theatre makers will be chosen to form the group by a panel consisting of myself, NTW Executive Producer Lisa Maguire, and writers Kaite O’Reilly and Roger Williams.

The closing date for applications is May 31 2014.

New beginnings and first drafts…. and in praise of rural touring…

Woman of Flowers. Kaite O'Reilly for Forest Forge Theatre Company

Woman of Flowers. Kaite O’Reilly for Forest Forge Theatre Company

As the new year approaches, I have a new project: a commission from Forest Forge to write a play for their 2014 national tour.

I first worked with Forest Forge theatre company in 2011, when the artistic director, Kirstie Davies, had the inspired idea of producing my play ‘peeling’ and then touring it to village halls in rural areas. ‘peeling’ is a metatheatrical exploration of acting, eugenics, soup recipes, disability and Deaf politics and ‘The Trojen Women’, performed by one Deaf and two disabled performers across a variety of theatre languages… It’s a set text at various universities in Europe, Japan and elsewhere in the world for its radical politics and experimental form.

What I love about Forest Forge and Kirstie’s vision is alongside their national touring, they bring plays into the heart of a rural community – places often overlooked for cultural provision, many miles from building-based theatres and arts centres. What I particularly love is Kirstie’s decision to bring what might be perceived as ‘difficult’, or challenging plays. She doesn’t patronise her audience and well understands how people living outside cities have as broad a taste as those living within, and have just as strong a desire to see ‘edgy’ work. I’m always frustrated by the capital’s assumption that the ‘important’ work happens in the city, when with companies like Knee High, and the National Theatres of Wales and Scotland, some of the most innovative and risk-taking work has been taking place for years very far from the metropolis.

There is also an assumption I’ve come across in city-based theatre circles that rural audiences are somehow less adventurous or ‘able’ for work that pushes the boundaries. As a theatre maker, and someone who lives rurally, I couldn’t disagree more. Back in 2011, when I visited the production when it was touring, performers Ali Briggs, Kiruna Stamell and Nickie Miles-Wildin all spoke of the astonishing response to the work from the audience.  Roger Finn, an audience member wrote on the Forest Forge website: This is what I want from theatre – to be taken into new territories; to experience deep, human contact; to have my brain tickled and to discover new places in my heart. A true joy to go on this bold adventure. http://www.forestforge.co.uk/shows/peeling

As a playwright, and as someone who lives an hour’s drive from the nearest ‘cultural centre’, it feels a real privilege for my work to be brought to the audience in their communities – but we really need to challenge the assumption the edgy or important work happens only in cities.

And so to my burgeoning new play, set far from a city, on the edge of a forest… Woman of Flowers is inspired by the story of Blodeuwedd, from the ancient Welsh treasure The Mabinogion – a story I have known for decades, since before moving to live in Wales, and one which has captured my imagination.

I’m only starting out on this process, but the script won’t be an adaptation of this great classic, I’ll simply be taking themes and ideas from the original and try to give it a contemporary twist. So far my Woman of Flowers is a stylised telling of desire, duty, adultery, murder and revenge set in an isolated, rural household on the edge of a forest. The production will be presented in spoken and projected English with theatricalised British Sign Language. I will write about the process when the work is sturdy enough to bring into the public gaze, so until then… Good luck with all your writing and creativity….

No such thing as original… Writing plays and the ancient Greeks

Charles Mee

Charles Mee

I have a lot of time for the American playwright, novelist and historian Charles Mee. I was first introduced to his work by Phillip Zarrilli, who directed a large scale site-specific production of his version of Orestes in the US in 1998.

Mee does not believe that there is such a thing as an ‘original’ play – the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare retold existing stories and he believes all performance is both original and adaptation – we ‘remake’ as we go along.

His ongoing (Re)Making Project and the texts available on the site are offered as a free resource to be taken, used, refashioned and put to each artist’s use. He invites writers, dramaturgs, actors and directors to ‘…pillage the plays as I have pillaged the structures and contents of the plays of Euripides and Brecht and stuff out of Soap Opera Digest and the evening news and the internet, and build your own, entirely new, piece…’ He then encourages practitioners to share their own new re-makings. This way the old stories are made new, with resonance to contemporary audiences.

‘My own work’ Mee writes on his website ‘begins with the belief that human beings are, as Aristotle said, social creatures—that we are the product not just of psychology, but also of history and of culture, that we often express our histories and cultures in ways even we are not conscious of, that the culture speaks through us, grabs us and throws us to the ground, cries out, silences us.’

Owing to this, he tries to get past traditional forms of psychological realism, which in many ways over-simplifies the reasons why human beings do what they do. In an essay on theatre and translation for Theatre Journal in 2007, he celebrates what he views as the ancient Greeks more complex understanding of what it is to be human – what historians call multifactorial explanations: ‘We see now that we are formed by history and culture, gender and genetics, politics and economics, race and chance, as well as by psychology,‘ he writes.

Three years after writing my own version of Aeschylus’s Persians, I recently came across Mee’s opinion of the Greek chorus and found it similar to my own: the Greek chorus is the voice of the community, but composed of individual voices. In the version of Persians I wrote for National Theatre Wales in 2010, I separated out what I felt to be the different tones and ‘voices’ of the collective chorus into separate, identifiable, individual figures (I would not call them ‘characters’). They created the foundation and relief upon which the ‘principals’ rested.

‘I think the structures of the Greek plays were like Rolls Royces’. Mee states in the essay. ‘They work perfectly.’

I’m inclined to agree.

For further information on Charles Mee:

http://www.charlesmee.org/about.shtml

Kaite won the 2011 Ted Hughes Award for New works in Poetry for her version of Persians. For images of Mike Pearson’s stunning site-specific production, plus reviews and other information, see: http://www.kaiteoreilly.com/plays/persians/index.htm