Tag Archives: Paul Clay

Slow mo’ filming, audio description, and the Radio Wales Arts Show

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Mat Fraser recording his part of the audio description CD/download for In Water I’m Weightless.

It is, I think, a most peculiar way to make a living. No two days are the same and my working life at the moment is of such a surreal quality, normally loquacious taxi drivers are silent as I outline the activity….

‘Today at work I’m observing slow motion filming of water being poured onto various parts of various actors’ bodies…’

Still, that’s probably nothing compared to what Jacob probably said when he got home for tea that night (‘Well, I hung off the top of a ladder and had to pour a stream of water from a glass jug onto a specific mark on the bare shoulder of Karina Jones, whilst a group of men watched and filmed it’).

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Jacob, Karina and the crew slow mo filming

We are in the final week of rehearsals for In Water I’m Weightless with National Theatre Wales – a week filled with media activity as well as intense rehearsals and run-throughs.

It is our designer, Paul Clay, who has brought the slow motion filming and mediatised elements into the production. An accomplished designer and artist, he also live video mixes in the underground club scene of New York, where he lives.

The design and visual world of the play is a response to the poetic conceits at work in the text – the weightlessness from floating in water, and the sense of freedom and liberation this creates (see my earlier blog about filming stunt dives).

This is in direct contrast to the weight of prejudices, fear, and preconceptions usually loaded onto the disabled body. It was our director (and artistic director of NTW), John McGrath, who pulled out this quotation ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ from the large body of monologues I have written over the past few years, and from which the text of this montaged production is taken.

This is my second show with Paul, and John. The first, Perfect, at Contact Theatre in Manchester, also had a strongly visual component and won Paul the M.E.N award for best design of 2004, whilst I won best play. It is wonderful to be back in a rehearsal room with both, aware of the growth in experience, skill, and stature since we last collaborated.

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Designer Paul Clay recording a description of his set, costumes, and visual/video artwork on In Water I’m Weightless for visually impaired and blind audience members.

As In Water I’m Weightless is an Unlimited commission, part of the Cultural Olympiad promoting the work of Deaf and disabled artists, we are keen to make the work as accessible as possible – which brings us to the second mediatised experience of the week.

Karina Jones, one of the cast, suggested we prepare a pre-show recording for visually impaired and blind audience members, so they would have a sense of some of the visual and physical aspects of the work. One performance at the Wales Millennium Centre will have live audio description (a headset is provided for audience members, if required, and during the performance a description of action and visual elements is relayed), but we were all excited with Karina’s suggestion. I provided bullet-points for the performers to use as stimulus – a description of their bodies, costumes, and the dance/movement sequences – and Paul spoke about the visuals and his design concept. Mike Beer recorded them, and this should be available prior to the show at Wales Millennium Centre as a CD, and also hopefully as a download from NTW’s website.

The final media experience of the week occurred on Thursday, when cast member Nick Phillips and I were guests on the BBC Radio Wales Arts Show, with Nicola Heywood Thomas. The interview will be available for the next few days as ‘listen again’ on:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01kvdls   

Unlimited Abilities: article on In Water I’m Weightless

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Confounding expectations and challenging preconceptions are the avowed aims of In Water I’m Weightless – the latest production from National Theatre Wales. KAREN PRICE of The Western Mail/Wales Online met the writer and director of this provocative new work. 

17th July 2012.

ttp://www.walesonline.co.uk/showbiz-and-lifestyle/showbiz/2012/07/14/national-theatre-wales-reunites-with-writer-kaite-o-reilly-for-an-olympic-commission-91466-31391339/

Monologues will be delivered in a series of innovative ways when a cast of deaf and disabled performers take to the stage for an Olympic celebration. Karen Price meets the writer and director of the new production.

After receiving a Creative Wales Award in 2008, writer Kaite O’Reilly decided to use the funding to explore monologues. Four years on, her project is coming to fruition in the shape of a major performance produced by National Theatre Wales as part of the Olympic celebrations.

In Water I’m Weightless takes a provocative look at the body and will be staged in Cardiff and London by a cast of six deaf and disabled performers.

Combining movement and live projections, O’Reilly’s poetic, poignant and, at times, humorous texts are inspired by the imagination, experiences and attitudes of disabled people across the UK.

“As a playwright, I’d always written multiple parts and not approached monologues,” says the West Wales-based writer whose theatre credits include The Almond And The Seahorse (Sherman Cymru) and The Persians (National Theatre Wales).

“So after receiving the Creative Wales Award I explored the form of the monologue and was mentored by various experts. I also started writing a large body of work that was specifically for deaf and disabled performers reflecting their experiences.

“I’d been very frustrated at the huge amount of plays that represent disability but they often fall into negative stereotypes.  I wanted to present something from a different perspective  and I also wanted to ensure the piece was performed by deaf and disabled actors as there are so many fabulous performers out there.”

O’Reilly spoke to John McGrath, the artistic director of National Theatre Wales about the project she was working on – they had collaborated in the past when she adapted The Persians,based on Aeschylus’ original work, for NTW’s inaugural opening season.

Staged on a military range in the Brecon Beacons, it won acclaim from both audiences and critics – and Kaite went on to win the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for her efforts.

So when O’Reilly received a commission for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad’s Unlimited programme celebrating disability, arts, culture and sport, NTW were keen to come on board as producers.

Directed by McGrath, In Water I’m Weightless will be staged at the intimate Weston Studio at the WMC – the first time NTW has worked at the venue – before there are three performances  at London’s Southbank Centre.

“It’s great to work with Kaite again on something that’s completely different from The Persians and this touches upon a lot of experiences which are rarely performed on stage,” says McGrath.

“When people think of monologues they often think they will be performed like The Vagina Monologues or a piece of stand up comedy – by people sitting on a stool on the stage. But we wanted to play around with the different ways that monologues can work in the theatre.”

In Water I’m Weightless is a multi-media performance which celebrates the athleticism of the performers through some clever choreography.  It also incorporates film and music, including tracks from Dame Shirley Bassey and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The six cast members – Mandy Colleran, Mat Fraser, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone and David Toole – all come from different performance backgrounds and had a say on which monologues should be chosen for the production.

“We wanted six performers who were incredibly different from each other who would bring unique personalities to the stage,” says McGrath. “The piece has got so many moods – it’s funny and very poetic sometimes. It’s not at all what people might imagine when they think about theatre and disability.”

Both O’Reilly and McGrath are keen to show audiences how theatre can break away from stereotypes when it comes to disabled performers.

“There are often so many cliches but this is nothing like that.”

McGrath is collaborating once more with award-winning New York designer and media artist Paul Clay on the set and costume designs.

“The production features some amazing costumes which really work with the simple set.”

The set itself has a big screen backdrop and a series of suspended lights onto which film footage will appear.

With little over a week to go until In Water I’m Weightless is premiered, McGrath admits that the rehearsal process has very much been improvised.

“The monologues haven’t been written in any particular order so we’ve been moving them around. It’s more like constructing a dance show rather than a theatre play when you have a beginning, a middle and an end.”

In Water I’m Weightless is at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, from July 26 to August 4. There will be a post-show discussion on August 2. The box office number is 029 2063 6464

David Toole’s stunt dives – In Water I’m Weightless

Today rehearsals are unnusual, in that we have a slow motion film shoot for the production In Water I’m Weightless. Designer and artist Paul Clay has transformed the dance studio in Wales Millennium Centre where we are rehearsing into a film set.

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David Toole on the film set In Water I’m Weightless.

The performers all choose short movement sequences to film in slow motion, but the day begins with Paul capturing the cast weightless, in mid-air.

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Dave preparing for his stunt dive.

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The title of the production comes from one of my monologues and was chosen not just for its lyricism but sense of liberation – being free of constraints, liberated from the weight of prejudice and preconceptions associated with the disabled body.

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The session was exhilarating, especially the verve and power in David Toole’s stunt dives, hurling himself from his wheelchair, flying momentarily through the air.

photos by Kaite O’Reilly

Montaging In Water….

In Water I’m Weightless is a fantastic puzzle we are currently engagesd in solving.

We have excerpts of scripted monologues, movement/dance sequences building on the r&d work with Nigel Charnock, led by associate choreographer Catherine Benmett.

Designer Paul Clay is beginning to introduce text projection and live/pre-recorded video footage. As one of his many roles is a VJ, live video mixing in underground clubs in New York, he brings a fabulous edge to the work.

I’m blogging this on the hoof, leaving  the  rehearsals at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, heading off to the Malta Theatre Festival. When I’m back on Monday, we will try the first run-through – or ‘cry through’ as Dave Toole wryly put it.

Then begins the really exciting dramaturgical work – exploring the tempo-rhythms, structure and order, the contrasting textures and overall coherence. It will be an excitIng week.

‘In Water I’m Weightless’ – background and day one of rehearsals.

Nick Phillips dressing up, first day of rehearsals In Water I’m Weightless. All photos Kaite O’Reilly.

The first day of rehearsals for In Water I’m Weightless, with National Theatre Wales….

Performers Mat Fraser, David Toole, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Mandy Colleran and Sophie Stone are encouraged by director John McGrath and designer Paul Clay to play dress up….


David Toole.

In Water I’m Weightless is collaged from a large body of work I’ve been developing over several years – The ‘d’ Monologues (‘d’ denoting Deaf and disabled) – initially from a Creative Wales Major Award from Arts Council Wales, and then further developed with the Unlimited Commissions I have been awarded as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

Designer Paul Clay makes some adjustments to one of Sophie Stone’s rehearsal costumes.

In Water I’m Weightless came about from my ambition to put Deaf and disabled experience, what I call crip culture, and disability cool centre-stage on a national platform, performed by some of the best Deaf and disabled performers in the UK. I’m immensely fortunate that long-term collaborator John McGrath, the artistic director of National Theatre Wales, understood what I sought to achieve with this project, and was excited about it, deciding to bring it to fruition.

Warm-up, first day of rehearsals

Today was the first time the company came together since our r&d week in November 2011. It was an opportunity for us to begin recapping and revisiting earlier work, and for designer Paul Clay to explore some basic costume ideas.

I will be documenting the process over the next four weeks on this blog, and writing about a different process in collaborating and making performance than my two previous productions this year.

Hope you want to follow the journey…

In Water I’m Weightless: in development

Nick Phillips and Sara Beer in NTW’s developmental workshop of In Water I’m Weightless.

Many text-based productions are straight-forward in content and form: they are interpretations of existing scripts. So what’s the process for a ensemble piece using music, design, movement and selected monologues, with a newly-formed company who have never all met, never mind collaborated before?

This has been the challenge to National Theatre Wales this week, in development with In Water I’m Weightless, my commission from Unlimited, part of the Cultural Olympiad.

We have a sterling cast of emerging and established performers: Mat Fraser, Mandy Colleran, David Toole, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips and Sophie Stone working alongside director John McGrath, designer Paul Clay, movement director Nigel Charnock and emerging director Sara Beer. It’s a dream creative team – almost an embarrassment of riches – and the prevailing question in the weeks leading to this r&d period was where and how to start?

John decided for us, feeling the actors should lead this part of the process. The text we will eventually use in the production next year will be culled from a large body of work I’ve been developing over several year, The ‘d’ Monologues, which have been created specifically for Deaf and disabled actors. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about the issues surrounding casting (Cripping up is the twenty-first century answer to blacking up) and John felt this was a creative place to begin. Alongside the texts sent to the cast in advance, John posed several questions, including asking the performers to select parts they’d love to play but would never usually be cast in, and to identify sections which had resonance for them, which felt closest to their ‘voice’.

What followed was a fascinating exploration which challenged casting to ‘type’. As a way in to the work, we cast across gender, age, impairment, and sexual preference, reading the speeches the actors felt they would never usually get to play, making some wonderful discoveries – for example, a middle aged man can play a part written for a child without prompting unintended humour. We also found a universality in this non-traditional casting – our characters became Everyman and Everywoman, rather than the monologues being seen as autobiographical, specific only to that individual.

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Aided by his fantastic music collection, Nigel got the company moving, magically (and almost invisibly) creating shared physical vocabulary, so by the end of the week the actors were presenting physical scores and short choreographed sections. Combined with the projected animated text and live camera work Paul introduced, it was an impressive start to a process.

Those who saw our work-in-progress sharing on Friday were struck by the sense of a tight ensemble dynamic already in existence.

Our only complaint as we parted after the intense week was that seven months would have to pass before we got together again.