Tag Archives: Phillip Zarrilli

Is disability culture going mainstream? ‘richard iii redux’ shortlisted for 2019 James Tait Black Award

I know the answer even as I wrote the title for this blog… No. And define ‘mainstream’ while you’re about it, O’Reilly. And ‘disability culture’… and no, I am not going to turn this blog into one of my academic essays about Crip’ culture and interweaving performance cultures (though I can refer you to where they’re published, if you want to drop me a line, below).

I started wondering about the place of disabled-led work after noticing it seems to be getting a higher profile these days, whether at Edinburgh Fringe or Lee Ridley (aka ‘No Voice Guy’) winning Britain’s Got Talent and heading off on a National tour. The RSC, National Theatre (London) and The Globe are all presenting more diverse casting regarding Deaf and disabled performers in recent and upcoming productions, whilst Ramps on the Moon and Agents for Change beaver away on inclusivity and creatively accessible theatre productions with their regional theatre allies.

This is all brilliant. I’m ecstatic when longterm collaborator Sophie Stone moves from spoken to visual language on a Westend stage in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s ‘Emilia’ and can’t wait for her embodiment of a Deaf Jacques in ‘As You Like It’ at the Globe later this year. And as for seminal moments… Francesca Martinez’s calling out of the Government’s austerity policy (“blood on their hands”) on BBC’s Question Time remains my political highlight of the year (see @chessmartinez pic.twitter.com/3zQUDVLvOa )

The visibility and presence of disabled and Deaf individuals on our screens and stages is finally increasing, which feels like a triumph. I’ve written previously about the importance of representation (in 2012 for The Guardian here Howlround here ). All my professional career I have tried to write and make work that is inclusive and from a politicised disability perspective, challenging notions of normalcy and embracing all the possibilities of human variety. To witness so much talent and intelligence finally taking a rightful place on national platforms is extraordinary and deeply gratifying.

Many years ago I realised that one way I could help bring about change was to use the only power I have as a playwright – to write inclusive plays but also specific parts solely for Deaf and disabled performers. peeling (commissioned by Jenny Sealey for Graeae Theatre Company, first produced in 2002) was the first script where I insisted that the rights were only available to companies casting Deaf and disabled performers in the role. Since then I’ve turned down eleven requests for production from all over the world, when the directors have said “there’s no disabled or Deaf actors in our town/country/planet, and so we’ll cast hearing and non-disabled actresses who will, well, ACT…” Given that peeling is a meta-theatrical play, with performer/actress characters stating: “Cripping up: it’s the Twenty First century answer to blacking-up” I have often wondered how closely the actual script had been read by proposed producers.

Thankfully now, seventeen years on from its first production, there are companies producing the play with sterling Deaf and disabled casts. Taking Flight Theatre Company produced peeling earlier this year in a Wales-wide tour, garnering a 4 star review from The Guardian. They will be re-mounting the production for a tour of England this September – tour dates and information here.

Seattle-based Sound Theatre will present the American premiere of peeling this August. Helmed by director Teresa Thuman, peeling offers “a fresh, if not jolting, perspective.”

Sound Theatre production of ‘peeling’. Caroline Agee. Photo by Kellie Martin.

“Seattle has never seen a play like this before,” director Teresa Thuman states in the press release (reproduced at the end of the post). “The very nature of theatre is to expose and make public all that is human – in every form, every ability. For those who live on the margins, theatre is a way to bring them to the center as fully human beings.”

This notion of putting disabled and Deaf figures centre-stage was at the heart of my co-written text, ‘richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III’. Taking Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’,  the veritable poster-boy of disability-as-the-emodiment-of-evil as inspiration, co-writer and director Phillip Zarrilli and I set out to reclaim historical Richard and ‘re-crip the crip’, as I put it in an essay for Howlround (‘Cripping the Crip’).
Written for long-term collaborator performer and disability activist Sara Beer, we wanted to put her centre-stage in a complex multi-layered solo, where she plays multiple fictional personas alongside an investigation into the historical Richard and Shakespeare’s ‘monstering’ of him.
We’re delighted to be able to reveal this week that ‘richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III’ has been shortlisted for the 2019 James Tait Black Award for Drama.

 

“The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Drama celebrates innovative drama produced worldwide. The prize is presented annually for the best original play written in English, Scots or Gaelic and first performed by a professional company in the previous year. The £10,000 prize is open to any new work by playwrights in any country, and at any stage of their career. The accolade was launched in 2012, when Britain’s longest-running literary awards—the James Tait Black Prizes—were extended to include a category for drama.

The play is a riotous one-woman piece promoting inclusivity in the arts and written from a radical disability perspective.  It challenges Shakespeare’s representation of the disabled monarch and the creation of ‘the twisted body/twisted mind’ trope, satirising the non-disabled actors who have ‘cripped up’ to play the part in the past.

The panel includes students and academics from the University of Edinburgh, representatives from the Traverse Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Schaubuhne Theatre, Berlin, and freelance theatre director Pooja Ghai.

‘This year’s shortlisted plays deal with some of the most pressing issues facing the world today. The innovation demonstrated by each playwright is truly astounding and I would like to congratulate each of them for being nominated for this esteemed international prize.’         Chair of the judging panel Greg Walker Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University

 The Award Ceremony will take place at the Traverse Theatre on Monday, 19 August, 2019 from 16:00-17:30. The other two finalists this year include two US plays: Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris and Dance Nation by Clare Barron.The ceremony will include readings of excerpts from each of the three finalist plays, interviews with the authors, and announcement of the winning play.  Further details here.

This accolade in being shortlisted for this prestigious prize was what prompted my opening question and the title of this blog post – Has disability arts gone mainstream? I am encouraged that a piece of Crip’ culture has been shortlisted for such a ‘mainstream’ award, never mind it being a critical irreverent poke at The Bard and his damaging presentation of physical difference equaling evil, written from a radical disability perspective, with a tone defiantly feminist and Welsh. It is a credit to the unique judging panel of the award that work like ours is valued and promoted. Phillip, Sara and I are hugely excited and thankful about this nomination… but rather as one swallow doesn’t make one summer, one nomination, or one casting, or one appearance on Question Time doesn’t make us ‘mainstream’, or with fair and equal worth and opportunity. But we are trying, and kicking down those doors, and raising our hands and our voices to speak and sign and make ourselves, our stories, our talents, experiences and lives visible.
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PRESS RELEASE: Sound Theatre Company produces ‘peeling’, the U.S. premiere of landmark play about disability.

SEATTLE, WA—In the U.S. premiere of playwright Kaite O’ Reilly’s internationally renowned play peeling, Sound Theatre Company continues staging authentic narratives and breaking new theatrical ground. peeling weaves audio description, sign language, and theatrical spectacle into a no-holds-barred play about representation, women, reproduction, war, and eugenics. With brisk wit and domestic backstage comedy, O’ Reilly’s storytelling style has earned comparisons to Beckett and Caryl Churchill. In an overproduced, postmodern production of Euripides’ The Trojan WomenAlfa, Coral, and Beatty have been cast in bit parts to fulfill a playhouse’s misplaced diversity program; but as tokens, the trio never experiences true inclusion. Sound Theatre centers disability justice by assembling a production team and cast that brings authentic lived experiences to this groundbreaking production.

Following Sound Theatre Company’s 2018 season of Radical Inclusion,
this season explores themes of erasure. To wit, peeling probes at buzzwords like “inclusion,” “diversity,” “authenticity,” and “equal
opportunities” as an extension of Sound Theatre’s ongoing effort to spotlight talented theatermakers with disabilities.

WHAT: peeling, by Kaite O’ Reilly

WHEN: Previews August 8, 9 at 8PM Opening August 10, 8PM Continues through Saturday August 24, 2018

WHERE: Center Theatre at the Seattle Center Armory https://www.artful.ly/store/events/14170

CAST

Carolyn Agee – Coral                                                                                                     Michelle Mary Schaefer – Alfa                                                                                       Sydney Maltese – Beaty

ARTISTIC TEAM

Teresa Thuman – Director
Monique Holt – Assistant Director and Director of Artistic Sign Language Andrea Kovich – Dramaturg
Parmida Ziaei – Scenic Designer
Taya Pyne – Costume Designer
Adrian Kljucec- Sound Designer
Jared Norman – Projection Designer
Richard Schaefer – Lightning Designer/Technical Director
Robin MaCartney – Props Designer
Zoé Tziotis Shields – Wardrobe Crew, Sound Board Operator
Roland Carette-Meyers – Accessibility Coordinator
Francesca Betancourt – Movement Director

This writing life: Summer 2019

My mother always said that life offered a feast or a famine and never a steady balanced three meals a day which might keep our blood sugar and nerves steady. No, it was a juddering, shuddering rollercoaster ride, swinging from gluttony to a wafer and water diet, and I should always be ready for either.

This year so far has certainly been of a generous rather than miserly disposition. I’ve been immensely fortunate with productions and commissions in 2019/20 and pause now, just post-midsummer, with my head spinning and my belly fit to burst. This, I promise you, is not gloating – the famine months will be upon me again soon enough, and I know from past experience what bolsters me through those lean times is the memory of small celebrations when things were bowling along famously, thank you very much. Success and steady employment is scarce enough in this business, so should be celebrated when it dallies in the neighbourhood. But as my friend Chris reminds me, it isn’t entirely luck when things go well, but a reaping of the benefits of work we seeded long ago. And so like the cricket in the fable, I am singing in the sunshine, but also trying to be the ant and prepare for the future.

Aesop’s Fables, Unicorn theatre.

Fables have been very much a companion the past few months as my first small commission for Unicorn Theatre goes into production. “Working in theatre with young audiences is a total privilege and helps make you a better artist” Aesop’s Fables directors Justin Audibert and Rachel Bagshaw said in a recent interview and I totally agree.

My writing commissions when I was starting out were for young audiences, and the first thing I think about when approaching a new script is considering who will be experiencing the event I hope to create. It directs the story, tone, aesthetic and theatre style. After huge state of the nation plays about death, difference, diversity and disability, it was hugely enjoyable to return to thinking about a young audience, and how to select and make current one of Aesop’s Fables for The Unicorn Theatre’s summer production.

Jessica Hayles and Guy Rhys in ‘Dog and Wolf’ by Kaite O’Reilly, Unicorn Theatre. Photo: Craig Sugden

I chose ‘Dog and Wolf’, a little known fable from Aesop’s trove, as I needed to find something that could have resonance for contemporary times and one that could be political (as in the personal is political) rather than archaic or moralistic. Aesop is often associated with ‘the moral of the story is…’ but there’s no moral here, it’s a teaching, which is just as well, as I abhor moralising. I think it’s better to engage through raising curiosity or empathy rather than through the flawed binary of right or wrong. This pithy fable explores quite complex relationships and issues – of ‘ownership’, hierarchy, freedom, and work/life ethics and fitted my politics of preferring to be hungry and free than well fed but not owning yourself.

I hasten to say, my looping, punning, tongue-twistery treatment of the fable may indeed verge on the post-dramatic, but it’s not as worthy as my hand-wringing description, above, suggests. Co-directed by both Justin and Rachel, it appears in the repertoire for both age groups, 4-8 year old and 8-11 years, and runs until August.

I’ve been thinking a lot about perseverance and longevity in career of late. It’s largely due to mentoring two brilliant but vastly different creatives, Gemma Prangle and Lisette Auton. The conversations we’ve had are as instructive for me as them. We’ve been thinking about trying new processes and form, discovering voice and tone while trying to beat that old bug bear, imposter syndrome. Both women are phenomenally talented and forging ahead with new practice and projects. It’s an immense privilege to be going part of the journey with them, reminding them that no, there is no one way to do anything, and part of their task is finding what works for them, and to hell with all the advice and theories about how to… I’m sure I’m not the only one who wasted an inordinately long time worrying that my process wasn’t like what the manuals or the best-selling authors or the Oscar winning screenwriters said was needed to succeed and get ahead.

‘Just do it’, I said during an impromptu lecture with members from Youth Theatres of Ireland who attended a performance of my play Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival. It’s not the first time I’ve been photographed outside a theatre with a large percentage of the audience, nor will it be the last time I’m suddenly press-ganged into an impromptu Q&A. I love it. It’s refreshing and invigorating to speak with our emerging practitioners and the future generation of theatre makers. These young creatives were spectacular, full of insight and curiosity, with a strong social and political conscience. Irish theatre is going to be just fine if these are the makers of the future.

Members from the Youth Theatres of Ireland with me outside the Firkin Crane, Cork, prior to a performance of ‘Cosy’ by Gaitkrash.

Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival was delicious, a wonderful experience of working with six female performers, playing age 16 to 76, at the top of their game. The following short video interviews can give a taste of the company, Gaitkrash, and the lively dynamic whilst dealing with the subject of death from performers Regina Crowley, Mairin Prendergast and Pauline O’Driscoll https://vimeo.com/341828036

http://https://vimeo.com/341828036

The director, Phillip Zarrilli, has his own playful riposte on the subject. https://vimeo.com/345047366

http://https://vimeo.com/345047366

July continues being female-collaborator led, with research and development on a new commission from Wales Millennium Centre, building on my 2017/18 Major Creative Wales Award from Arts Council Wales which had me exploring ‘The Performative Power of Words with Music.’

Sophie Stone and Rebecca Applin in rehearsal in Wales Millennium Centre

Working with long term collaborators composer Rebecca Applin and performer Sophie Stone is an absolute dream, and I will be opening up more about this innovative project later in the Summer.

Meanwhile also in July is the book release of ‘Persians’, winner of theTed Hughes Award for new works in poetry, published by Fair Acre Press.

We will be having a Poetry Party on 1st September at Mid Wales Arts Centre – celebrating ‘Persians’ and the publication of brilliant poet Chris Kinsey’s ‘From Rowan Ridge’, also published by Fair Acre Press. The event is free, and will feature readings from our new books, plus a host of invited poets from across Wales.

Persians’ will be published by Fair Acre Press on 29th July 2019, but advance copies can be ordered from the publisher here. It will also be available via Amazon, online, and all good bookshops from the publication date.

I also have other launch events and workshops happening in early September, with a few places left on my masterclass in adaptations at Small World Theatre, details here.

 

Launch and workshop:

I will be launching Persians in Cardigan at Small World Theatre on 7th September, following a workshop on adapting ancient texts:

Singing the old bones –  new stories from ancient texts. 
Revisiting older stories can be a masterclass in narrative. Myths, fairystories, epics from Ancient Greek drama and the oral tradition survive as they seem to speak to each age anew. These archetypal characters and narratives inspire and invite constant reinvention, yet the old bones remain true. In this practical workshop we will retell, remake and renew, participants exploring individual perspectives on timeless themes, reshaping ancient tales to illuminate something contemporary. The tutor, Kaite, is a repeat re-teller, creating to date three very different performances on the story of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion, and a new version of Aeschylus’s Persians,the oldest verse drama in the Western tradition, which won The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.
We ask participants to come with a myth, fable, ancient drama or story, which we will use to explore the fundamentals of story making: theme, structure, setting, dialogue and character. Through examples of Kaite’s diverse approaches to reinventing existing texts, we will make our own, sparking a new cycle of telling and retellings, seeding work which could be developed further beyond the masterclass.
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Workshop 2-5pm on 7th September 2019, £25.
Small World Theatre | Theatr Byd Bychan
Cardigan | Aberteifi, SA43 IJY
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Booking:
sam@smallworld.org.uk
01239 615 952
smallworld.org.uk
twitter: @theatrbydbychan
Numbers are limited and already almost sold out, but plans are afoot for a further workshop/event in November 2019 at the same venue. 
After the workshop:
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Launch of ‘Persians’ Kaite O’Reilly’s new version of Aeschylus’s classic verse drama. 6pm. Free entry.
Kaite will read from the verse drama and speak about the historical and contemporary contexts of this extraordinary text. There will be a book signing after the reading and launch.

 

A playwright’s work: Meaty parts for female actors of all ages. In rehearsals for “cosy’

Mairin Prendergast and Pauline O’Driscoll playing Mother and daughter in Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘Cosy’ rehearsals. Gaitkrash for Cork Midsummer Festival. Firkin Crane 18-22. June 2019. Photo: Sara Beer

I describe my work as a playwright as creating dynamic. I’m fascinated with complex relationships, flawed but engaging characters representing different perspectives.  Writing ‘Cosy’, a play with three generations of women in one family, was an immense pleasure, although, like any writing, it had its challenges… However, one aspect that was not difficult was writing meaty parts for female performers of all ages. 

‘Cosy’ has a cast of six, with playing ages from 16 to 76 years. I think this is essential – and, at risk of sounding a little worthy, part of my duty as a dramatist – to represent women of all ages.

There was a time when female characters became somewhat invisible at a certain age… A well known Classical actress once mapped out the trajectory of a woman’s acting career to me: You start as the ingenue, then get stuck as a housewife/mother cooking in the background, and if you’re very lucky you get to be Lady M in the Scottish play. Then you hang around being the wallpaper while the male actors have all the action and lines until you’re old enough to play Lady Bracknell…and….well….that’s it…

But happily no longer. Those days are increasingly in the past, and I’m delighted to be part of the new wave creating roles across the range of ages for the massive amount of female talent out there.

One of my joys as a writer when working on a first draft is setting off intelligent, gobby, fascinating and diverse female characters in dialogue with one another, cutting them loose in my imagination and just following their impulses, often not knowing where we might end up. The skill when revising the script is keeping all the plates spinning, the voices separate and distinct, the individual perspectives clear and not blurring into one another. When I teach writing for performance, I always remind writers to be aware of each characters’ world view; it’s very easy when juggling multiple characters for their vocabulary, speech pattern and syntax to bleed into one another, so they all end up sounding the same. Ensuring  each character’s point of view  keeps the dialogue distinct and the dynamic thrumming, whether through harmony or counter-point.

Theatre enables us to explore issues from every conceivable angle. I don’t want the characters I write to just echo my perspective – I relish exploring different points of view, even politics or beliefs distant from my own. ‘Cosy’ tackles some of the last great taboos – ageing, illness and end of life scenarios. The experiences and perspectives of my six female characters, ranging in age across five decades, provides immensely rich and diverse material.

8.00pm

Firkin Crane, Cork

Book here

Supported by an Arts Council Project Award., CIT Arts Office, UCC Department of Theatre, CIT Cork School of Music, Civic Trust House, Suisha Inclusive Arts, and The Guesthouse. 

 

 

 

Getting Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival 2019

“It’s like I’ve disappeared. I walk down the road and throw no shadow.”

“That’s what getting older does for you.”

Ageing is a lesson in humility – a time of reckoning. Rose wants an exit plan that is bold and invigorating, but her three warring daughters have other ideas. We all have to die, but what makes a good death? Everyone seems to have an opinion, even Rose’s precocious granddaughter and the strange Welsh woman taking refuge in the garden.

Cosy is a darkly comedic look at the joys and humiliations of getting older and how we shuffle off this mortal coil. It tackles head-on our obsession with eternal youth, and asks whose life (or death) is it, anyway?

Humour is a great panacea, allowing us to consider serious subjects with resonance for our times. I believe it is laughter which allows us to dare and shine a light into those darker corners of human existence which we might otherwise wish to avoid…

Ageing, mortality, and its impact on that original cast – the family – has long been of fascination to me. We all become children when we go home. When a family gathers across generations, siblings degenerate into nursery rivalries, retaining all the same childhood hierarchies, antipathies and alliances of the past. When this coincides with the serious issue of the fragility and uncertainties of ageing, and an apparent lack of agency and control about the future, what happens? Do those fragile fissures crack?

With a population top heavy with baby boomers, the next generation hungry for their inheritance, a care crisis and recent parliamentary debates around the ‘right to die’, Cosy is a play with immediate relevance today.

I’m immensely excited to be writing this first blog post about the forthcoming Irish premiere of the play, produced by Cork-based long term collaborators Gaitkrash. We co-created playing The Maids, previewing as work in progress in the 2014 Cork Midsummer Festival, so it is with a certain relish director Phillip Zarrilli and I return to the city and this lovely festival.

We started rehearsals this week, and I’ll be documenting that creative process in future blogs, reflecting on the challenges and changes of second productions, the impact of changing country and nationality, what is discovered and made new – and other topics as they arise. Meanwhile, here’s a little information about this specific production:

Cosy is an inclusive production for a mainstream audience, exploring universal ethical issues of life, death, and our relationship to the medical profession, powered by a disability perspective.

8.00pm

Firkin Crane, Cork

Book here

Supported by an Arts Council Project Award., CIT Arts Office, UCC Department of Theatre, CIT Cork School of Music, Civic Trust House, Suisha Inclusive Arts, and The Guesthouse. 

 

KAITE O’REILLY AND PHILLIP ZARRILLI, IN CONVERSATION WITH SEAMUS O’MAHONY
Crawford Art Gallery (lecture theatre)
20 June | 5.30pm
Join playwright Kaite O’Reilly and director Phillip Zarrilli of Gaitkrash Theatre’s Cosy, receiving its Irish premiere as part of Cork Midsummer Festival 2019, as they discuss our attitudes to end-of-life scenarios with Seamus O’Mahony, writer of the award-winning book The Way We Die Now. Has our society lost the ability to deal with death? Join the conversation as the three guests reflect on their work and the last great taboo: dying.
Tickets and how to book on the festival website.

The writer as listener

Read-through of ‘Cosy’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Winter 2018, Cork. GaitKrash

The person in a rehearsed reading studiously not looking at either the words on the page or the actor speaking, is invariably the writer. As in the photograph above, we are often unconsciously posed like The Thinker, fist to face, gazing out into the middle distance, apparently in a very different space than anyone else in the room. We don’t need to look at the script because we wrote it and so know it already. We don’t need to look at the performer as this is a reading and so we are listening to the rise and fall of the tempo-rhythm, the musicality of the language,  the dynamic.

I was given this photograph today by director Phillip Zarrilli. It depicts me amongst the cast of the forthcoming GaitKrash production of Cosy for the Cork Midsummer Festival, 2019. Originally taken during the first read-through last November, never before I have seen so clearly the different roles and relationships of collaborators during this particular part of the creative process. Fanciful, perhaps, but here is the writer as listener, attention pinned to the cadences of the script riding the air; here is the writer with her eye fixed on some imaginary screen, ‘seeing’ the potential future production.

I never follow the lines in a script in a read-through. I will balance the open script on my knee, turning the pages as the performers do, so if I suddenly have a query about anything I hear, I can immediately locate it on the page and make a note. I find following the text on the page as the actors read counter-productive. The words and letters are familiar. It’s likely I’ve seen them scores of times, if not more, and a certain distance and freshness comes when my face is angled away from the page and out into the space. I have never reflected on this process before, nor asked if it is the same for other dramatists. I have, however, heard of novelists who say they read their work aloud to check its flow and sense. Dialogue in plays is of course made specifically for the living voice, so perhaps it makes complete sense to put away the words and focus on listening.

“Everything in writing begins with language. Language begins with listening.” –Jeanette Winterson

I am immensely excited to be returning to Cork this week, flying over with performer Sara Beer and director Phillip Zarrilli for an r&d. Sara is the only member of the cast not based in Cork. She was in the Welsh premiere of Cosy in 2016 and will reprise the same role as outsider Maureen. The other cast members will play three generations of the same family – an all female cast with playing ages from 16 to 76. I will be working on the script with the company, revising it so it is Cork-based.

I suspect there will be a lot of gazing into the distance. And listening.

 

 

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.