Tag Archives: peeling

Remaking… inspiration from existing texts

Reigen, better known as La Ronde, was written by Arthur Schnitzler in 1897, and was published a few years later, solely for private circulation. The play reveals the sexual morals and mores of a society, across all echelons, revealing hypocrisy but also how sex, like death, is the great leveller, regardless of status. In a series of duologues, the audience follows the characters through various encounters – the whore and the soldier, the soldier and the maid, the maid and the young gentleman, the young gentleman and the politician’s wife, and so on, around and around, until we turn full circle with the last encounter, the count and the initial streetwalking whore.

There have been many adaptations of the script over the years, most famously with David Hare’s two-hander, The Blue Room (1994) and Joe DiPietro’s Fucking Men, an exploration of sex in New York’s early days of HIV/AIDS. Schnitzler’s script has been used as a warning against sexually transmitted diseases since its inception, revealing how STDs are not limited to the lower classes, but can run through every layer of polite and not so polite society.

When director Kirstie Davis was approached by LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) to partner up with a writer for their Long Project, she thought of me. We’d collaborated on several other projects – Woman of Flowers, her commission to me from Forest Forge Theatre, and her fabulous re-imagining of my script peeling, with Kiruna Stamell, Ali Briggs and Nicola Miles-Wildin. I love working with Kirstie. As a director she is imaginative, discerning, supportive and full of integrity. It’s always a joy to work with her – in so many ways she really is a playwright’s dream collaborator.

As the LAMDA commission would be for graduating actors going into the world, we wanted to make work which showcased each actor’s individual skills and so reveal their scope. I thought of the structure of La Ronde, with its interlocking ‘daisy chain’ dramaturgy, enabling actors to be in two different duologue-scenes, thereby enabling diversity in what each performer does, and creating parity in stage time. This is not a text with lead and minor parts – all parts are equal in length and importance, with a deliberate mixture of interactive dialogue and monologue for each character.

Lie With Me is not an adaptation of Schnitzler’s text, but is inspired by it. I have taken certain aspects of the original – the circular dramaturgy, the notion of characters from different strata in society engaging – but my piece focuses on a broader representation of encounters, not just sexual, as in the original. I wanted to explore identity culture and how a character may change according to the context they are in, and whom they are interacting with. I also wanted to respond to the times we live in – the contradictions, deceptions and interactions in a ‘post-truth’ contemporary urban setting. My title is carefully chosen, reflecting, I hope, both the original inspiration and the often deceptive lives we lead in a world of ‘fake news’ and an ambiguous moral compass.

Rehearsals start next week, after I complete my fellowship at International Research centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ attached to Freie Universitat in Berlin. I will be flying to London to start rehearsals. Watch this space.

 

 

 

Lie With Me

by Kaite O’Reilly

13  19 July

The LAMDA Linbury Studio, London.

A world première, inspired by La Ronde, an exploration of the connections and degrees of separation between individuals in post-truth, contemporary urban life. Information here

‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ review – Disability Arts Online

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Reviews are gold dust. They are even more rare when the publication under the critical lens is a collection of plays. Plays get reviewed in production; they seldom make it into print, never mind being reviewed in print. So owing to this, I am hugely appreciative of the publications who have shown interest and support of my ‘atypical’ and crip’ work by providing critical engagement for my selected plays.

First up is the ever provocative and excellent Disability Arts Online, with a review by  Sonali Shah. I reproduce much of the review here, but you can read the  full text on the website, where DAO readers can find a 30% discount voucher for the collection.

Disability Arts Online: Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors Review July 4 2016 by Sonali Shah.

‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ is a collection of five unique, but equally powerful, poetic and political pieces of drama composed by the award winning playwright, Kaite O’Reilly. Review by Dr Sonali Shah (University of Glasgow)

O’Reilly’s policy and practice as a writer is to ‘put crips in our scripts’.[…] So with this motto in mind, O’Reilly’s ‘Atypical Plays’ present opportunities for disabled artists to occupy the stage and challenge audiences’ assumptions about disability and difference. The writer works together with her actors in a non-hierarchical and innovative way, continuously and purposefully adapting to each unique movement, to create the five theatrical pieces in this collection: Peeling, The Almond and the Seahorse, In Water I’m Weightless, the 9 Fridas and Cosy.

Written in the 21st Century and from an insider lens, these five plays subvert traditional notions of normalcy and encourage the possibilities of human difference to explore the whirlwind of relationships, emotions, choices and identities that, both construct us and are constructed by us, as we all move through life and try to work out what it is to be human.

These texts portray disabled characters as sexy, active and wilful beings in empowering and provocative stories, cutting against the grain of the trope for most blockbusters of stage and screen, which revolve around medicalisation and normalisation using disabled characters as a metaphor for tragedy, loss or horror.

The first play, peeling, described by the Scotsman as ‘a feminist masterpiece’, is a fine example of meta-theatre that explores themes of war, eugenics, and fertility. Written specifically for a Deaf woman and two disabled women (each strong, witty actors and feisty activists), peeling is a postmodern take on the epic Trojan Women.

Although the three characters – Alfa, Beaty and Coral – are consigned to the chorus, O’Reilly makes them central to this play, revealing their real personalities and hidden truths through vocal cat-fights and heckling matches (interpreted via BSL and audio description) while they wait to play the two minute part they have been awarded in the name of ‘inclusion’.

The Almond and the Seahorse is the second script, and the most structured of them all. Written for a cast of five, it examines the impact of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) for the individual and their slowly fading loved ones. Focusing on two couples (where one partner in each has a diminishing memory) it demonstrates the slow debilitating power of memory loss on present relationships and dreams for the future.

Reading this script evokes a sense of how critical and delicate the human memory is. This is reflected in the words of Dr Falmer (the ambitious neuropsychologist character whose beloved father had TBI) – ‘we should not invest so in such perishable goods’ (p.127). The vibrant clarity of monologue, dialogue and stage directions on the page makes it easy to visualise this play on the stage. Highly affecting, the performed text will undoubtedly give much food for thought for the audiences.

The third play in this collection In Water I am Weightless – is an apt title for exploring the heavy burden disability seems to provoke in society as in water it remains hidden. Written for a cast of six Deaf and disabled actors, and entrenched in crip humour and energy of the Disability Movement, the performance script adopts a monologue and dialogue style to create a mosaic of stories of the realities of living in a disabling society and being seen as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘in need’ by the non-disabled.[…] Performed at Unlimited in London 2012, and inspired by a range of informal conversations with disabled and Deaf citizens, this work is really does put “us” in the slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us”.

The 9 Fridas use the artwork of the disabled Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, as a lens to deconstruct her biography including her changing social positioning in terms of her disabled and feminist identities. The last play, Cosy, is a dark comedy exploring inevitable ageing and death.

Together the five plays make essential reading, both for educational purposes and pleasure. Informed by the Social Model of Disability, they have the potential to enact a kind of activism and a change in public perceptions towards disabled people, previously shaped by negative representations in popular culture. Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors offers an entertaining and poetical insight into what is means to be human.

 

With thanks to Disability Arts Online. Please check out this essential website – http://disabilityarts.online – an important hub for discussion, reflection and engagement with disability arts and culture.

Atypical Plays Discount code from Oberon books available to DAO readers here

Being Atypical at London’s Southbank Centre, 6th September 2016

 

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I love a good chat, so am delighted to confirm I’ll be in conversation on 6th September at Southbank Centre, with the London launch of my selected plays Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors. 

The event is part of  the Unlimited Festival 6-11 September 2016: “a festival of theatre, dance, music, literature, comedy and visual arts that celebrates difference with a spirit of artistic adventure, honesty and humour.”

The selected plays, published by Oberon books, gather together many of my performance texts around difference and disability, and have been getting some lovely responses:

‘An invaluable and long over-due collection of untold stories that deserve to take centre stage.’  Lyn Gardner, Guardian

‘Kaite O’Reilly is a poet of the human condition, a singer of temporal lapses, gaps, translations, missed connections and joyful vibrancy. The performance texts collected here show depth, pain and pleasure. They squeeze the reader, asking her to feel a human touch on her own skin, in her flesh, in the nervous system: this is work that reaches out, and demands that we feel sensations in response. You will be moved.’                                           Petra Kuppers. Professor, University of Michigan, and artistic director of The Olympias

The collection includes two Unlimited Commissions: the 2012 In Water I’m Weightless, produced by National Theatre Wales and directed by John E McGrath (who also writes the foreword), and Cosy, which premiered earlier this year, directed by Phillip Zarrilli for The Llanarth Group/Wales Millennium Centre, supported by Unlimited. I’ve included some of my earlier texts, including peeling (originally produced by Graeae Theatre Company 2002/03), The Almond and the Seahorse (2008), and the 9 Fridas, after Frida Kahlo. The latter has yet to be produced in English, but I’ll be heading to Taipei and Hong Kong this autumn, when the Mandarin production for the 2014 Taipei Arts Festival is remounted for the Black Box Festival at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre.

I feel immensely lucky that I have these Autumn platforms to talk about diversity and difference. As the late, much missed Jo Cox stated in her parliamentary maiden speech thirteen months ago, we have more in common than that which divides us.

Links and further information:

http://oberonbooks.com/atypical-plays

http://unlimited.southbankcentre.co.uk/events/book-launch-kaite-oreilly-in-conversation

 

 

 

 

Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors: Selected Plays by Kaite O’Reilly

I’m delighted to make this pre-publication announcement: Oberon books will publish five of my plays and performance texts to coincide with the World premiere of Cosy at the Wales Millennium Centre in March 2016.

The news is so fresh, we haven’t yet settled on the image for the cover. I’ve been liaising with my agents and editor at Oberon about what production photographs to use after drawing up a shortlist by the fantastically talented Toby Farrow and Patrick Baldwin, who documented In Water I’m Weightless (National Theatre Wales) and peeling (Graeae Theatre Company) respectively. Mock-ups of the front and back covers will be made early in the New Year, with publicity bling thanks to Lyn Gardner, theatre critic for The Guardian. My long-term collaborator John McGrath, out-going artistic director of National Theatre Wales and in-coming director of the Manchester International Festival, will write the preface.

What follows is from Oberon books website

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Atypical Plays For Atypical Actors is the first of its kind: a collection of dramas which redefines the notion of normalcy and extends the range of what it is to be human. From monologues, to performance texts, to realist plays, these involving and subversive pieces explore disability as a portal to new experience.

Includes the plays: peeling, The Almond and the Seahorse, In Water I’m Weightless, the 9 Fridas and Cosy.

Although disabled characters appear often in plays within the Western theatrical tradition, seldom have the writers been disabled or Deaf themselves, or written from those atypical embodied experiences. This is what contributes to making Kaite O’Reilly’s Selected Plays essential reading – critically acclaimed plays and performance texts written in a range of styles over twelve years, but all informed by a political and cultural disability perspective. They ‘answer back’ to the moral and medical models of disability and attempt to subvert or critique assumptions and negative representations of disabled people.

The selected plays and performance texts exhibit a broad approach to issues around disability. Some, like In Water I’m Weightless/The ‘d’ Monologues (part of the Cultural Olympiad and official festival celebrating the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics) are embedded in disability politics, aesthetics, and ‘crip’ humour. A montage of monologues that can be performed solo or as a chorus, they challenge the normative gaze and celebrate all the possibilities of human variety. The Almond and the Seahorse is different, a ‘mainstream’ character-led realist drama about survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury, with subversive politics in its belly. A response to ‘tragic but brave’ depictions of head injury and memory loss, and informed by personal experience, the play interrogates the reality of living with TBI, questioning who the ‘victims’ are.

peeling, a landmark play written for one Deaf and two disabled female actors, was originally produced by Graeae Theatre Company in 2002, 2003, and for BBC Radio 3. A ‘feminist masterpiece…quietly ground breaking’ (Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman), it has become a set text for Theatre and Drama and Disability Studies university degree courses in the UK and US. Frequently remounted, its lively meta-theatrical form supports its central themes of war, eugenics, and a woman’s control over her fertility, which are as relevant today as ever.

The performance text the 9 Fridas is a complex mosaic offering multiple representations of arguably the world’s most famous female artist, Frida Kahlo, reclaiming her as a disability icon. Performed in Mandarin translation, it was the closing production of the 2014 Taipei Art Festival and will transfer to Hong Kong in October 2016. It is currently being translated into German, Hindi, and Spanish.

Cosy is a darkly comedic look at the joys and humiliations of getting older and how we shuffle off this mortal coil. Three generations of a dysfunctional family explore their choices in a world obsessed with eternal youth, and asks whose life (or death) is it, anyway? An Unlimited Commission, Cosy will premiere and tour nationally in 2016, appearing at the Unlimited Festivals at Southbank Centre and Tramway.

The book will be published 1 March 2016 and is available for pre-orders at Oberon and Amazon

 

 

 

Art/Works to host Kaite O’Reilly 21-24 February 2014, Cork.

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Art|Works UCC is delighted to present playwright and dramaturg Kaite O’Reilly in a series of events including:
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Rehearsed reading of ‘Cosy’ 
Directed by Phillip Zarrilli, followed by wine reception

Saturday, February 22nd (5  7pm), Triskel Arts Centre, Cork

Cynthia Mackowick-Traun

Cynthia Mackowick-Traun

Kaite O’Reilly’s new work-in-progress play, Cosy, is a dark comedic tour-de-force written for six female performers ranging across three generations. Set in a dilapidated house, the estranged family gather —for the matriarch Rose wants to die. (Secretly) failed businesswoman Camille and her precociously intelligent teenage daughter, Isabella, arrive to find the house falling down around their ears and Ed, the elder sister/house-keeper isolated and old before her time. Then the much-traveled, many times divorced Gloria arrives, but the black sheep of the family is transformed – and who is the strange woman taking refuge in the garden shed?  The play explores family dynamics, issues of inheritance and self-ownership, and how to ‘keep the faith’ in the midst of economic chaos.

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“Do one thing every day that scares you.”  Get over the fear and start writing: A two day intensive with playwright Kaite O’Reilly.

(By application only)

Saturday, February 22nd & Sunday 23rd February

Triskel Arts Centre, Cork

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Lunchtime lecture:

 Neither Richard, nor Oedipus nor (Tiny) Tim. Dominant and Alternative Representations of Disability in Drama

Monday, February 24th (1 – 2pm), G1O Brookfield health Sciences Complex, UCC

Throughout the western dramatic tradition impairment has been a metaphor for the human condition. But what ‘truths’ have these metaphors generated and what might be alternative contemporary images and narratives?

In this lecture Kaite will briefly discuss the long cultural and linguistic practice of assigning meaning to the impaired body, and offer alternative representations, including from her own work ‘peeling’ and ‘The Almond and the Seahorse.’


 Lecture to mark Disability Awareness Week UCC

Disability Arts and Culture: “NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US”

A personal odyssey through the UK’s Disability Civil Rights Movement to ‘crip’ culture and disability arts.

 Monday, February 24th (5 – 7pm), venue TBC

 


For further information or enquiries please contact:

Dr Bernadette Cronin
Lecturer, Drama & Theatre Studies
School of Music and Theatre
College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences
University College Cork
+353 (0) 21 490 4070
b.cronin@ucc.ie

Dr Rachel MagShamhráin
Lecturer, German
O’Rahilly Building (1.41)
University College Cork
+353 (0) 21 490 2689
r.magshamhrain@ucc.ie

WHAT IS ART|WORKS?

Art|Works is a collaborative initiative intended to provide a vibrant hub that links Arts students, past, present and future, with academic stakeholders, employers, industry practitioners, and interested members of the wider public.

ENGAGE WITH ART|WORKS

Art|Works was launched in January 2013, with an inaugural event at the Triskel Development Centre, Cork. If you would like to engage with Art|Works, or be kept updated on forthcoming events, please feel free to connect with us:

E-mail:

info@artworksireland.org

Twitter

@ArtWorksIreland

Facebook

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Kaite O’Reilly has won various awards for her work, including the Peggy Ramsay Award for YARD (Bush Theatre, London), MEN Best Play of the year for Perfect (Contact Theatre), a finalist of the 2009 International Susan Smith Blackburn Award for The Almond and the Seahorse (Sherman Cymru) and the 2010/11 winner of The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for her retelling of Aeschylus’sPersians (National Theatre Wales). Productions in 2012 included LeanerFasterStronger (Chol/Sheffield Theatres) part of the Cultural Olympiad and In Water I’m Weightless (National Theatre Wales), an Unlimited Commission, part of the official festival at The Southbank Centre for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. She works between ‘mainstream’ and disability arts and culture, and is a Fellow of Freie University’s International Research Centre, Interweaving Performance Cultures in Berlin, where she is reflecting on her work. She is currently completing her first novel, and working on a commission from Sherman Cymru, Forest Forge, and Little Brother Productions. Woman of Flowers tours nationally in 2014, and The 9 Fridas has its Mandarin premiere at Taipei’s International Theatre Festival in August 2014.

Phillip Zarrilli is internationally known as a director, actor, and actor-trainer. He is the founding Artistic Director of The Llanarth Group (2000). He directed the premiere of Kaite O’Reilly’s critically acclaimed The Almond and the Seahorse for Sherman Cymru.

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That was the year that was. But has anything actually changed?

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The sublime Mandy Colleran in rehearsals of In Water I’m Weightless, National Theatre Wales, November 2011. All Photos: KO’R.

I began this blog back in August 2011 after I realised that 2012 would bring an embarrassment of riches production-wise. As the forthcoming work is diverse in aesthetic, process and content, I felt much might be learnt, and writing a blog might help externalise my learning, publicise the work and document the process(es).

For they are process(es)… Devising, playwriting, co-creating, collaborative montaging… I’m excited by what 2012 will bring, and the diversity both of the work and the creative approaches I’ll be involved with. It challenges that stereotype of the solo dramatist writing away, misunderstood and alone, in her garret – and the notion that there is only one way of writing plays/drama/performance work (delete as applicable).

But before moving forwards into 2012, and The Echo Chamber, the first project (which begins full rehearsals on December 28th 2011 and will be written about, here), I think it expedient to look back over the year at some of the projects I’ve made and the people I have collaborated with, particularly within disability arts and culture, and ask have we moved on? Has anything actually changed?

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Ali Briggs, in rehearsals of Forest Forge’s production of ‘peeling’, directed by Kirstie Davies, March 2011.

peeling’, first produced by Graeae Theatre Company and designed and directed by Jenny Sealey in 2002, had a revival in Forest Forge’s production, touring rurally. The director, Kirstie Davies, had been keen to find an opportunity to produce the script for some time and it was fascinating to return to an old script and see what had stood the test of time, what required updating, what was no longer relevant…

Perhaps it’s a sign of how far we still have to go in perceiving disabled and Deaf people as equal citizens and not ‘other’, but we discovered the cultural and socio-political aspects parodied or challenged in the play were still as relevant in 2011 as 2002. The only changes to the script I made were updating celebrity names. The stories in the play of being patronised, feared, or discriminated against still held – and the off-duty conversations we had in the green room about the challenges disabled and Deaf women face when working in the creative industries were as familiar and tiresome as they had been first time round, at the beginning of this Millennium.

Photocall: ‘peeling’ with Kiruna Stamell, Nicola Miles-Wildin and Ali Briggs.

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As I wrote during rehearsals in February 2011:

Ali, Nickie, and Kiruna are powerful, comical, and poignant… I am congratulating Kirstie Davis, artistic director of Forest Forge, on her superb casting and her liberating, inclusive attitude – for it is still extremely rare. Sadly, in my twenty plus years of professional experience in theatre, I have largely found a reluctance for companies to cast disabled and Deaf actors, even in parts written specifically for them. Perhaps this is based on fear, or ignorance, or uninformed preconceptions – things are certainly changing and improving – but we certainly need more like Kirstie in the industry.

I am also extremely excited by ‘peeling’s rural tour – bringing this work and this company to village halls and community centres. The fact large famous London theatres are still casting hearing, non-signing actors in Deaf, signing parts only highlights how quietly radical Forest Forge’s work is….   http://www.forestforge.co.uk/posts/45

This radical aspect to Kirstie’s programming was also appreciated by Mark Courtice writing about the production in April 2011 in reviewsgate:

Forest Forge, in taking [peeling] to the arts centres and village halls of Hampshire and Wiltshire,  demonstrate the sort of courage and enterprise that make the recent Arts Council decision to cut their grant seem more than usually incomprehensible. 

http://www.reviewsgate.com/index.phpname=News&file=article&sid=5563

Here is one area where I feel there has been a change: the 2011 reviews of ‘peeling’ were not as toe-curlingly insensitive or offensive as some had been, the first time round. Perhaps the influence of the Medical Model has begun to wane, but here were no lingering descriptions of the performers’ bodies or impairments, nor morbid fascination with physical difference. Thankfully, there was no polarity between ‘handicaps’ and ‘real people’ as there had been in The independent in 2002.

http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/31697/peeling

http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/leisure/entertainments/8946314.Sensitively_appealing/

And so from a remounting of old workmade new, to a new piece so new it has not had a production yet:

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Christopher Fitzsimmonds, Kiruna Stamell and Peader Kirk in workshop, ‘Your Tongue; My Lips’ , June 2011. 

‘Your Tongue, My Lips’ is work in progress exploring disability and sexuality, and part of my Unlimited Commission from LOCOG and the Cultural Olympiad, to develop new work inspired by disability experience. In June 2011 I had a residency at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, working with director Peader Kirk and performers Mat Fraser, Kiruna Stamell, Christopher Fitzsimmonds, Sara Beer, Tom Wentworth, Ben Owen Jones and Carri Munn.

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Mat Fraser

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I feel there has been a shift in many ways towards some of the work coming out of disability arts and culture – but it isn’t necessarily from the mainstream, but from what used to be snootily or suspiciously called ‘the avant-garde’.  In many contexts disability arts and culture has been viewed as either therapy or amateur expression – I have been wrestling with this for more years than I care to count. It comes then as no real surprise that many of the allies to my crip culture work have been artists working experimentally themselves, or gate-keepers to institutions or venues which value experimentation. Such was my experience when working with Peader and the actors at Chapter, and my interactions with James Tyson, former programmer of the venue, and Richard Huw Morgan of Good Cop Bad Cop, and Pitch, Radio Cardiff,  98.7FM.  

For a lengthy interview with the performers and me about this work, please follow the link below to Pitch,  ‘a cool arts magazine, but on-air’ (The Guardian’).

http://www.culturecolony.com/videos?id=6464

It is an archive recording of programme 6 and the interview between Richard and I starts 31.58 minutes in.

In the second part of this blog, I will write about my work in the latter part of this year, working more in the ‘mainstream’.

‘Cripping up is the twenty first century answer to blacking up.’ Peeling and The ‘d’ Monologues.


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Kiruna Stamell and Ali Briggs in Forest Forge’s production of ‘peeling’, directed by Kirstie Davies, Spring 2011. Photograph by Lucy Sewell.

Some years ago I received a Creative Wales Major Award from Arts Council Wales, to begin a project I called The ‘d’ Monologues – short dramatic solos written specifically for Deaf and disabled performers. There is a dearth of plays with disabled characters, and when these are produced, the parts are invariably played by non-disabled or  hearing actors. Those who know me and my play peeling will know I’m not a fan of this kind of casting. As one of the characters says in peeling, a play all about performance: ‘Cripping up is the twenty-first century answer to blacking up.’

The Western theatrical canon is full of disabled characters: From the pathos of the blinded Oedipus to the personification of evil in Richard III, the impaired body has often been used as a metaphor for the human condition. But seldom have the plays been written from a disability perspective, or performed by disabled actors. This was the impetus for my writing peeling in 2002 for Graeae Theatre. I wanted to write an edgy, inventive, and humorous play specifically for Deaf and disabled actors, which used Sign performance (theatricalised British Sign Language), and reflected the experience of disabled and Deaf women. Unfortunately so often in the media, we are portrayed as the victim or the villain – the object of sympathy, or charity, or superhuman inspiration. In peeling I wanted to create women who were witty, sexy, complex human beings who made difficult decisions about their fertility and potential offspring; women whose lives didn’t necessarily differ so much from non-disabled, hearing women’s lives.

A triumph in its original production, directed and designed by Jenny Sealey, and remounted earlier this year by Kirstie Davies of Forest Forge, peeling garnered prizes alongside outstanding reviews and is now seen as a watershed moment in the relationship between disability arts and culture and the ‘mainstream’ media. It was arguably the first production written, directed and performed by disabled and Deaf practitioners to be reviewed widely and seriously by all national press. A similar response came from within the specialised disability press: ‘Disability art grows up’ was one heading. The play was – and remains – controversial in elements of its content, politics, and depiction of disabled and Deaf women – but also for my refusal for it be performed by anyone other than Deaf and disabled performers.

I find non-disabled actors impersonating people with physical or sensory impairments extremely problematic – akin to the now offensive ‘blacking up’ of white actors to play Othello. This is not me being overtly PC, simply my rejection of what that message implies – that there are no black or disabled actors good enough to play these parts and that Caucasian non-disabled actors will always do it better…

I remember when it was announced the first black performer was going to play Othello  at the RSC. If my memory serves me right, I was in my early teens at the time and horrified when this came up, presented as some kind of celebratory cutting-edge news item on the local television station. “What?!’ I remember thinking. ‘There hasn’t been a black performer playing that part until now?!’

Everyone interviewed seemed to be most relieved this prejudice had been finally put to bed and shook their heads over the onerously-held negative opinions of actors of colour in the past. There would be no more boot polish and burnt corks smelling out the dressing rooms of the RSC or the UK regional repertory theatres. Caucasian actors blacking up to play the Moor owing to their supposed superior acting skills, knowledge of the Bard and ‘his’ language no longer held sway… And I look forward to the time – in my lifespan, I hope – when a similar change occurs regarding disabled performers and characters with impairments, whether congenital or acquired.

In the meantime, I’ll grit my teeth when every Oscar-hopeful pulls off their studied gimp impersonation and offer resistance by writing what I hope are interesting and subversive parts for Deaf and disabled actors.

I’ve been writing plays with disabled protagonists for almost twenty years. Throughout that period I have heard the same argument from theatres and directors from both sides of the Atlantic: How will they cast it? Where will they get good, experienced, professional actors who identify as disabled or Deaf? They just don’t exist! The audience or critics or theatre cat won’t accept it! and yada yada in finitum blah de blah until fade…

These preconceptions are incorrect. There is a vast collection of talented, professional performers, theatre practitioners, and live artists – and the numbers are growing. An incredible amount has been done to change perceptions and open up opportunities for training and professional work since my acting debut with Graeae Theatre in 1987. There is an army of the great unsung who have worked tirelessly and continuously to raise the portcullis of fortress professional theatre in the UK and elsewhere – but this has also predominantly been our own actions, created or ignited within the disabled community, working with allies.

Bringing this talent and experience centre stage on major platforms has become something of an obsession, and I’ve spent the past four years developing several projects which now are coming to fruition – projects I’ll be writing about on this blog in coming months.

When I received my ACW Creative Wales Major Award back in 2008, I spent a year exploring the form of the dramatic monologue, seeing solo work in Europe and the US, meeting and being mentored by experts of the form, like Sara Zatz and Ping Chong Company in New York. I shadowed part of Ping Chong’s  Undesirable Elements Series, watching testimonial theatre in various school halls and community centres in Brooklyn, the participants/performers using their own autobiographies to address the experience  and reality of being disabled in NYC.

Throughout this period, I was writing monologues in a variety of styles and dramaturgies, informed and inspired by my interactions with Deaf and disabled people across Wales. Unlike Verbatim, or the testimonial theatre of Ping Chong Company, I chose not to use the actual stories I had been told, but used  these anecdotes and experiences as inspiration, and created fictional drama informed by these interactions.

At the end of the year, the experiment proved to be a success and worth persevering with. A script-in-hand sharing of early work at Unity Festival at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff brought outstanding reviews and I later brought what I coined ‘The Cymru Crips’, a group of performers I’d been working with in South Wales – Sara Beer, Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds, Kay Jenkins and Macsen McKay – to The National Theatre Studio in London, for a further script-in-hand showing when I was there on attachment in 2009..


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Kay Jenkins, Macsen McKay, Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds, Sara Beer, Phillip Zarrilli, Kaite O’Reilly and Maggie Hampton at the National Theatre Studio 2009.

I was further encouraged by receiving an Unlimited Commission from the Cultural Olympiad, part of the celebrations to develop the project across the UK. But that is a further story…

Part of this blog originally appeared in: http://www.forestforge.co.uk/posts/45

http://www.kaiteoreilly.com/plays/peeling/index.htm

http://members.multimania.co.uk/graeae/productions/peeling/peeling.htm

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Peeling-Kaite-OReilly/dp/0571215947

http://www.artswales.org/what-we-do/funding/what-we-fund-in-wales/cultural-olympiad/unlimited/awards

http://press.artscouncil.org.uk/Resource-Library/The-Llanarth-Group-Wales-482.aspx