Tag Archives: Peter Sau

Diversity, d/Deaf, difference, disability…. Have the ‘d’ words become dirty with overuse?

Daniel Bawthan performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘And Suddenly I Disappear’. Photo by William AS Tan

‘Diversity’s just lip-service. A meaningless phrase flung around everywhere, without meaning anything.’ Or so I was told yesterday, in a discussion with a disgruntled friend, disillusioned about what’s being done to the ‘d’ word. ‘It’s become trendy, and a way to attract funding,’ he gloomily concluded. ‘I’m tired of all these people who never had any interest in the Deaf or disabled communities before, or people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual or gender identities, now jumping on the bandwagon just because it’s fashionable and there’s potential funding.’

It was a serious conversation, and at times tough, but unlike my friend (a seasoned theatre maker who, like me, has a long history in disability arts), I’m not as disheartened, owing to my recent experiences. I’ve been fortunate to have been party to some excellent work, full of integrity and engagement around this particular consonant. Earlier this year I was working in both Singapore and Hong Kong with organisations and individuals who really want to challenge the lack of diversity in organisations, cultures, and positions of leadership. For me the latter is essential – the work really needs to be led by those under-represented individuals, and the power structure needs to change, as otherwise the same-old, same-old endures. This I think is what troubles my friend – work coined ‘diverse’ which may cast A.N.Other, but in reality is shallow or tokenistic, with no alternative perspectives or content.

The ‘d’ word has been central to my work these past years, and especially most recently with ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’, touring the UK this September after its premiere in Singapore last May. This is work that is Deaf and disabled led, celebrating all the ‘d’s of diversity and difference.

I began working on the project which has become The ‘d’ Monologues back in 2009, with a Creative Wales Award from Arts Council Wales. I wanted to explore the form of the monologue as a means of creating work for a more diverse cast. Tired of non-disabled actors ‘cripping up’,  I set out to write solos and multiple character texts specifically for d/Deaf and disabled performers – what I later went on to call ‘atypical actors’ in my first collection with Oberon.

And Suddenly I Disappear by Kaite O’Reilly. Ramesh Meyyappan, Peter Sau, Lee Lee Lim, Grace Khoo, Sara Beer. Photo William AS Tan.

These were monologues informed and inspired by lived experience, telling stories that perhaps were not so familiar, from a d/Deaf and disability perspective – the original ‘d’ of the monologues – but as time passed and this body of work grew, so too has what the ‘d’ may stand for…. diversity and difference, yes, but how also about defiance, desirable, distracting and delectable? As I wrote for Singaporean rapper/beat-boxer Danial Bawthan in And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues:

“This body…. This body is dangerous. It desires, it delights, it delivers, it dances..”

Exploring other ways of considering our bodies and what it is to be human has been at the heart of my writing for this almost decade-long project. Imagination has played a large part, but so too has anonymous questionnaires and interviews I’ve led since 2009 across the UK with disabled and d/Deaf people and recently in Singapore led by my collaborators Peter Sau and Lee Lee Lim, amongst others.  These conversations about difference have inspired and provoked the fictional monologues I’ve written – I’ve never used anyone’s story or actual words, for that seems to me like theft – but I’ve been directed by and provoked by the many perspectives and multi-voicing it has been my great privilege to be privy to.
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We premiered the fruits of this dialogue between Wales/UK and Singapore at the Gallery Theatre, National Museums Singapore in May 2018, and will bring a revised version, with largely the same DNA, but with some new monologues (and performers) to the UK in September. Singaporean collaborators Grace Khoo, Peter Sau and Natalie Lim will travel to the Unlimited Festival at London’s Southbank Centre in early September, reuniting with Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli, and myself. We will then join with Macs Mackay and Garry Robson, bringing new monologues and energy into the ensemble.
 And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues were always imagined to be a moveable feast – a series of contrasting monologues which could adapt and change according to the venue size, cast and situation. It’s with a heavy heart we leave some of our amazing Singapore-based collaborators behind, but they will have mediatised presences, alongside UK-based performer extraordinaire Sophie Stone.

Tickets are now available for the UK tour:

5-6 September Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, London tickets
8 September Old Fire Station, Oxford, tickets
9 September Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, website
11-12 September Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, tickets
And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues

Video-trailer

I’m delighted that the collected ‘d’ Monologues will be published by Oberon in time for the tour. I’ll give further information about this, including various launches, readings and events, as it becomes available, but it is so exciting to think these texts will be widely available for others to use… to montage the monologues to make a full evening’s performance, to do script-in-hand readings, to use them as audition pieces, or my ideal: a sharing of monologues across the globe on the International day of the disabled person (also, please watch this space….).
‘The ‘d’ Monologues’ will also include the text to the solo performance richard iii redux, co-written with Phillip Zarrilli, originally for that diversity diva Sara Beer (pictured below in one of her personas from the show). The text deconstructs Shakespeare’s villain and challenges the cultural link since Shakespeare’s time between atypical bodies/disability and evil. We also ask wider questions about the nature of performance, representation of difference and the rewriting of history by the Bard – with lots of subversive fun along the way, exploring how Richard has been ‘cripped’ in the past.

Sara Beer in ‘richard iii redux’ Panopticphorography

You can access the fantastic reviews here and potentially catch the show if you are in Mainz, Germany, in September.  We’re delighted that richard III redux heads to Mainz for a performance on 20 September, 2018 as part of this year’s Grenzenloskoultur Theater Festival (‘Theater without Boundaries’), Mainz Kleines Stadt Theater, Germany.
We hope to have the production back on the road in 2019, but until then, here’s the delight of Sara Beer in the richard III redux TRAILER.
As to the issues of ‘diversity’ and whether the ideal is being tarnished from casual over-use…. As a playwright all I can do is keep on exploring what it is to be human, and to question our hierarchies, our power dynamics, and the (mis)representations that can become common currency. Artists and theatre makers identifying as Deaf and/or disabled are presenting work on an unforeseen scale (thanks also to initiatives like Unlimited and DaDaFest) and I can only applaud and encourage this, chivvying on the so-called ‘under-represented’ to be the makers and the directors and the leaders of the future. Whether the word becomes undervalued or not, true diversity will arrive with an expansion in the identities, experiences, politics, ethnicities and bodies of those holding the reins – and perhaps the work of those currently in control is to move aside a little, or learn to power-share.

 

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.

 

 

 

Time to Kill All Your Darlings…

David Mamet had it when discussing various uses of the knife…. Cut, cut, cut and kill all your darlings….

It’s not a phrase known amongst the And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues team, so I had to explain I wasn’t about to commit bloody murder, but start sharpening the editing pencil and serving the script….

And Suddenly I Disappear is a collection of fictional monologues informed by the lives of disabled and d/Deaf people in Singapore and the UK. My colleague Peter Sau with Lee Lee Lim led the interviews in Singapore, collecting experiences and perspectives never previously recorded here. I led the UK interviews and questionnaires, starting almost a decade ago. This material has inspired the monologues I’ve created, but as I believe we are our stories, I haven’t used anyone’s words or experiences, for that would feel too close to theft for my comfort.

Lee Lee Lim making adjustments to her braille script

We are now in the second week of rehearsals in Singapore, and I’m only now in the position to be able to start testing the material, cutting the surplus and sensing the flow as the performers become more familiar with the text. I tend to over-write, something I would always encourage other writers to do, for it is far easier to nip and tuck in rehearsals than suddenly be faced with the daunting task of filling a yawning hole in the script. The stage management team and I are trying to keep on top of the changes – and I was impressed by the speed and dexterity of Lee Lee Lim, making adjustments to her braille script in rehearsal.

The production is a series of discrete monologues presented in different ways and form, some character-based, others choral and collective, some individual stories intercut to create a mosaic of experience, and yet more are without spoken words. Ramesh Meyyappan has created a sequence in visual language which now requires audio description, so today we started exploring possibilities, trying to ensure the spoken word did not dominate.

Grace Khoo and Ramesh Meyyappan – in rehearsals for And Suddenly I Disappear,,, The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

It is an on-going process, using the aesthetics of access, using tools creatively rather than as a simple ‘add on’. Captioning, visual language, and integrated audio description are shaping the aesthetic and the performance style of this Unlimited international collaboration. It is an immensely exciting dialogue, and one that I hope will go on for quite a while…

Meanwhile, it’s back to the now heavily marked and crossed-out script in search of further darlings to excise….

 

Hong Kong, Singapore, Womenspire 2018!

Mid April already, richard iii redux completed for the time being after a terrific Wales-wide tour – and now far-flung travel beckons. I leave next week for Hong Kong, where I will be leading a six day workshop on inclusivity and forms of storytelling for ADAHK

I was last in Hong Kong in 2016 with my performance text about Frida Kahlo, the 9 fridas, directed by Phillip Zarrilli and produced for the Black Box International Festival at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, in association with Mobius Strip, from Taiwan.  It will be fascinating to spend more time in Hong Kong working with local theatre practitioners, learning about their approaches to inclusive practice. I’m hoping to have an opportunity to see new work as well as explore the art centres and galleries of Kowloon, where I will be based.

From Hong Kong I will fly directly to Singapore, to begin rehearsals on my Unlimited International Commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. We have just released tickets for the World premiere of this dialogue about difference, disability and diversity from opposite sides of the world, premiering on 25 May 2018 at National Museum of Singapore Bit.ly/and suddenlyidisappear

The production will tour to the UK in September, and I will give further details of the venues in England and Wales, plus special guests, closer to the time. My thanks, as ever, goes to our funders and supporters: Unlimited, Arts Council Wales, and the British Council, who alongside Singapore International Foundation and Centre 42 will make this innovative intercultural project possible. Meanwhile, here’s the glorious video featuring Sophie Stone, Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, Peter Sau, Grace Khoo and Lee Lee Lim, made by James Khoo with director Phillip Zarrilli:

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I was wonderfully surprised earlier this week to get an email from Chwarae Teg, informing me I had been shortlisted for their Womenspire 2018 Awards. Chwarae Teg is a charity working to redress the gender balance in the workplace in Wales, with a vision to create: “A Wales where women achieve and prosper.” I didn’t know I had been nominated for the Culture award, so to discover I’ve made the shortlist of four has been an incredible pleasure and privilege, making this quite a week. I’ll be celebrating the talent, passion, and vivacity of women in Wales at Womenspire 2018 at the Wales Millennium Centre on 5th June.

 

 

“It’s like The Vagina Monologues for Deaf and disabled actors.” The Stage interview.

My recent work in Singapore, developing my Unlimited international r&d commission, seemed to catch peoples’ curiosity and interest. What follows is an excerpt from an interview I gave to Joe Turnbull for The Stage. The full feature can be accessed here. 

O’Reilly’s collaborators Ramesh Meyyappan,
above centre, and Peter Sau, right, with Grace Khoo in And Suddenly I Disappear. Photo: Wesley Loh, Memphis Pictures West

Playwright Kaite O’Reilly’s latest groundbreaking production sets out to challenge the way disabled people are perceived in Singapore. Using disabled actors, she was determined to tell the stories of those who are not normally heard in a country where previous generations were locked up and left to die, as she tells Joe Turnbull

Five years ago, disabled playwright Kaite O’Reilly pushed the humble monologue into new creative territory with In Water I’m Weightless, an Unlimited commission for the Cultural Olympiad as part of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The show featured an all deaf and disabled cast. It had no discernible plot and experimented with dramaturgical form, incorporating access elements such as audio description and sign language into the creative material.

Now, O’Reilly’s latest project And Suddenly I Disappear…The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues, sees her return to this approach of creating a play out of a series of fictionalised monologues – sometimes delivered chorally – which are inspired by stories about the lived experiences of deaf and disabled people. It’s arguably even more ambitious than its predecessor.

Its development spans nine years, five languages and two continents (three if you include the trip to America that inspired it all). Not only that, it seeks to challenge the way disability theatre is both produced and received in Singapore and smash deep-seated preconceptions about disabled and deaf experience along the way.

“I received a Creative Wales Award in 2008-9, which allowed me an extended period of exploration and development,” recalls O’Reilly. “I spent time in New  York very briefly with Eve Ensler of the Vagina Monologues and Ping Chong and his Undesirable Elements series. I hung out with a load of disabled people that he’d interviewed who he then got to perform. I began thinking about that as a vehicle for challenging preconceptions and hopefully subverting some of the old narratives that are problematic – that are connected to what I would call the ‘atypical body’ – whether that’s neuro or physically or sensory. I interviewed over 70 deaf and disabled people from the UK and the material it inspired me to write became The ‘d’ Monologues, which provided the text for In Water I’m Weightless.”

O’Reilly’s affinity with Singapore predates even that, having had a relationship with its Intercultural Theatre Institute since 2004, and teaching there for the last six years. It was in 2004 that she met two of the main collaborators for And Suddenly I Disappear. The first is Peter Sau, a graduate of the institute and winner of best actor in the 2015 Singapore Life! Theatre Awards. Sau is associate-directing the project and managing much of the work being carried out in Singapore. The other is Ramesh Meyyappan, a deaf Singaporean visual and physical theatremaker now based in Glasgow, who will be overseeing the physical language elements of the project.

O’Reilly explains how she first met Meyyappan all those years ago: “He had just finished a performance of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart and The Masque of the Red Death. People were telling him this weird ‘ang mo’ [Singaporean for white foreigner] is waiting outside and says she won’t leave until she speaks with you. We just about managed to have a conversation, partly through Singaporean Sign Language and me with British Sign Language and sign-supported English. It all got very funny.”

O’Reilly reconnected with Sau in 2015 when he came to UK to do an MA. “We started to hatch the idea of what I would call an international dialogue of difference, diversity and disability and deaf experience from opposite sides of the world,” she says. The piece received an Unlimited International R&D in March 2017 and has been in proper development since.

“Although we hadn’t worked together before, I thought I had to have Ramesh on board as well. I explained to him that he would be the bridge. He knows Singaporean sign language and he understands both Singapore and the UK. Also if we’re going to do this work – and I’ve always done this – I want it to be disability-led and deaf-led. So Ramesh is leading the deaf cultural parts of the project.” Everyone else involved in the project also identifies as disabled or deaf, both culturally and politically. Sau and his team have been collecting testimonies of disabled and deaf people in Singapore, with O’Reilly doing the same in the UK, which have inspired the latter to produce a series of fictionalised monologues – some abstract, some character-driven. The monologues are delivered across multiple languages – English, Mandarin, Welsh, British Sign Language and Singapore Sign Language. O’Reilly is keen to stress it’s not verbatim.

“I’ve always said people’s stories belong to them. As long as something says ‘by Kaite O’Reilly’ it has got to be by Kaite O’Reilly, otherwise it’s theft. I think it’s to do with my Irish cultural heritage – your stories are who you are. Ping Chong got around verbatim by getting the interviewees for Undesirable Elements to perform it themselves. I’m not saying verbatim is necessarily bad practice, there are ways of doing it well. It’s just my personal position.”

But some of the testimonies coming out of Singapore have been deeply concerning to O’Reilly, a lifelong disability rights advocate, whose activism includes lying down in front of buses on Direct Action Network demos.

“The central thing I’ve got so far listening to the interviews from Singapore is how people are completely invisible, hence the title. I’m hearing the most terrifying stories of disabled people being kept in the back rooms, never actually going out. A lot of them in previous generations were left to die at birth. So what we’re doing here is really radical. I’m encouraging them to record the interviews as well so there’s an oral archive. These are voices, experiences, perspectives that have never been paid attention to previously.”

To read the rest of the article, please go to: https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/2017/writer-kaite-oreilly-on-singapore-d-monologues/

With thanks to Joe Turnbull, The Stage and Unlimited

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.

Singapore rehearsal diary for New Welsh Review….’And Suddenly I Disappear….’

What follows in an excerpt from my rehearsal diary, commissioned by New Welsh Review, documenting part of my process working in Singapore this Autumn on ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’, my international r&d commission from Unlimited. I am immensely grateful to New Welsh Review for providing this feature free – see more on the journal at https://www.newwelshreview.com and here

Stephanie Fam performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s international r&d Unlimited commission ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’ before a still image of Sophie Stone using visual language, Photograph: Kaite O’Reilly

 

 

18/9/17:

We arrive into Singapore at the end of the Month of the Hungry Ghosts. Flaming braziers sit on street corners and outside temples. Paper money from the Bank of Hell and small cardboard models of cars, smartphones, booze, cigarettes and all the trappings of the good life are set alight in the braziers as offerings to the dead ancestors. Zhong Yuan Jie is the period in the seventh month of the lunar calendar when the gates of the underworld are opened to allow the souls of the dead to roam the earth. Relatives burn offerings to appease their deceased family members, ensuring they don’t become ‘hungry ghosts’ up to mischief, jealous of the living and what they have.

Even in its Taoist and Buddhist rituals, Singapore is commercial, taking care of material needs into the afterlife.

We – performer Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli and I – are here for the r&d of  my collaboration between Wales and Singapore, ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’, an Unlimited International Commission and dialogue about disability, diversity and difference from opposite sides of the world.

Singapore is a young nation, a high-functioning capitalist culture valuing commerce and uniformity, where, my producer Grace Khoo tells me, she was raised ‘not to ask questions, to keep my chin down and not to stand out.’ It is recently embracing notions of diversity and inclusion, but its awareness of disability issues and culture are very much in its infancy. How challenging atypical embodiment, disability politics, the aesthetics of access and what I call ‘alternative dramaturges nformed by a d/Deaf and disability perspective’ may be here, I’m about to find out.

The UK has a long and proud history of disabled peoples’ activism, something Sara Beer and I have been engaged with for decades. Our background is punkish, proud and irreverent – ‘nothing about us without us’ is one of the Disabled Peoples Movement’s slogans – ‘Piss on Pity’ another, a badge I still wear. How this will fit with the ultra-conservative Singaporeans and a system that would not have tolerated our direct action of the 90s remains to be seen. A fascinating conversation is in the process of happening.

20/9/17:
We rehearse at Centre 42, a heritage house in downtown Singapore, greeted by my main collaborator, Peter Sau, and herbal teas from the local Chinese medical hall to help counter the excessive humidity. Peter is an award-winning actor and theatre maker, and a friend since my first visit to Singapore in 2004. He and producer Grace came to the UK in 2016 in order to explore disability arts and culture, with the aim to professionalise it in Singapore .

Some of the ‘And Suddenly I Disappear…’ team, including Sara Beer and Ramesh Meyyappan, Lee Lee Lim, Danial Bawthan and Shai outside Centre 42, Singapore.

Together we made an application to Unlimited, building on the model I developed from my 2008/09 Creative Wales award. Then, advised by Eve Ensler and Ping Chong, I explored the form of the monologue, interviewing d/Deaf and disabled people across the UK, using their perspectives, experiences, and opinions as inspiration to write fictional monologues. These were later produced as ‘In Water I’m Weightless’, the National Theatre Wales/Unlimited production, part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It’s important that I write the texts rather than ‘steal’ from the source material, for what are we but our stories? I prefer to invent. This also ensures that the material cannot be individualised, reduced down to one person’s unfortunate experience rather than a synthesis of the collective experience of prejudice we are all complicit in.

In Singapore, Peter and his dedicated team of researchers, transcribers, and translators are partway through intensive interviews with disabled and d/Deaf Singaporeans. These are stories that have gone unremarked and unreported. Despite the new focus on inclusivity and diversity, ingrained beliefs linger, and in many ways difference and disability is shameful in Singapore, so several of our interviewees, although eager to contribute, request anonymity.

The recordings and transcripts of the interviews are remarkable, Peter and his colleagues have eked out conversations of candour and passion. As I write the drafts I’m reminded of my own ‘coming out’ as a disabled person and personal revolution after meeting the social model of disability, which turned everything I previously knew upside down. I’d been reared on the Medical Model, where the body is at fault, requiring medicalisation and normalisation. The social model sees disability, like gender, as a social construct, and it is society and its physical and attitudinal barriers which are disabling, not the body itself. Value is given where previously there was none.

It is no surprise then that many of the conversations ongoing in Singapore prompt tears and extraordinary openness from people so often denied respect. How daunting and exhilarating then is my task – to write fictional work responding to this stimulus, and begin work on embodying these voices.

22/9/17:

Ideas from the interviews are reversed or reinvented, Peter, Grace and Lee Lee Lim advise me on the use of Mandarin, Hokkien and Singlish vocabulary, which help make the rhythms and cadences of the dialogue more Singaporean. The collaboration is shaping into a dialogue, resulting in a series of vibrant, multimedia monologues inspired by lived experience, layering theatrical languages and utilising captioning, integrated audio description and visual language in the aesthetics of access, a first for Singapore. We realise there are seven spoken and signed languages in use in the rehearsal room, reflecting the multicultural diversity and linguistic complexity of Singapore. I feel we’re exploring how stories change in different cultures, languages and contexts…. How do we ‘speak’ to each other?

25/9/17:

I write a choral monologue to be explored in spoken, projected and visual language.

Be like water. Be like a river. You dip a bowl into the river and the river fills it and becomes the bowl. Pour into a pot, it becomes the pot. Treat with fire and it becomes steam…. This is how you will be. Unstoppable. Fluid. Powerful.
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The day I need to submit this diary, just one week after meeting and four days before our in progress sharing, the inclusive company has come together with a startling cohesion. Peter’s team is filled with committed individuals keen to bring about change. Monologues that seemed too edgy and politically challenging on first reading now rise off the page, owned. The sense of pride and celebration is tangible. Sara asks Danial Bawthan, one of our emerging disabled performers, how he is finding the process. ‘Priceless,’ he says. ‘I want to be that water, the water that goes into that bowl.’