Tag Archives: plays

Why Diversity Matters: Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors

Feature for booksbywomen.org

“You have to see it, to be it.” This slogan seems to be cropping up everywhere in these diversity-conscious days, whether it’s about creating role models or better representation for girls, mature women, or what is increasingly known as BAME – individuals from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic origins. It is particularly important in the media, which supposedly mirrors our society and whose powerful imagery helps shape our values, morals, norms, and ambitions.

Moving image media, theatre, and novels help us understand the world, our feelings, relationships, and social responsibilities, playing a crucial role in communicating what is ‘appropriate’ for our age, gender and cultural heritage.

Female protagonists? No… For far too long women were harridans or eye candy, the supporting cast hanging onto the white male hero’s arm, or being dismissed as a nag and a hag. Black and Asian actor friends despaired at being cast, yet again, as the gangster/drug dealer, the ‘exotic’ princess, or victim daughter forced into an arranged marriage.

These limited and limiting stereotypes proliferate in books, on screen, and stage, and although the situation is slowly improving, these harmful ‘types’ and narratives still linger, constantly reflecting negative images of ‘difference’. Never is this more obvious, I would argue, than in the representation of impairment – part of the diversity argument we still hear little about. The desire to subvert or challenge harmful images of disability is what fired my writing Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, published by Oberon.

Tiny Tim. Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dam. Mrs Rochester, the mad woman in the attic. Captain Hook. Richard III….to name just a few. Since Oedipus, disability has been used in the western theatrical and literary traditions as a useful shortcut to signify evil, helplessness, instability, and a plethora of other negative human traits that inspire pity or fear. The images continue in films: the tormented genius, the evil Bond ‘baddie’, the blade-slashing psychopath, the victim who conveniently leaves the scene either by dying, being institutionalised, or ‘overcoming’ the condition and so ‘passing’ as non-disabled…

To read the rest of this feature, please click here

Feature originally published on http://booksbywomen.org/why-diversity-is-important-atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors-bu-kaite-o-reilly/

the 9 Fridas in Hong Kong

 

1617_台北莫比斯圓環創作公社《九面芙烈達》The-9-Fridas_325-370

Frida Kahlo goes to Hong Kong!

Delighted that my performance text about Frida Kahlo – the 9 Fridas – originally produced for Taipei Arts Festival in 2014 by Mobius Strip Theatre Company, in association with Hong Kong Repertory Company, will transfer to Hong Kong later this autumn. The production features an integrated cast of male and female, disabled and non-disabled performers from Taipei and Hong Kong, all representing aspects of the great disabled Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. Directed by my long term collaborator, Phillip Zarrilli, the production is in Mandarin, with some Cantonese and Spanish. I will be travelling to Taipei to re-rehearse the production with Phillip, and then to Hong Kong, where the production will be part of the International Black Box Festival at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre 27-30 October: http://www.hkrep.com/en/events/16-bb4/

1617_台北莫比斯圓環創作公社《九面芙烈達》The-9-Fridas_325-370-3

When there, I will be giving some talks on disability arts and culture, and leading writing workshops.

I’m immensely excited about this, and so looking forward to being back in Taiwan with the wonderfully talented actors and designers of Mobius Strip – the production is visually stunning. It will be interesting to revisit the production and see its transformation into a black box studio.

 

 

Two Minutes With Kaite O’Reilly…. a film by David Hevey

‘Kaite O’Reilly has always been a rule breaker.’ Exeunt magazine

What follows is an interview with Joe Turnbull for Exeunt magazine. You can read the original feature here

With thanks to Joe and Exeunt.

 

Kaite O’Reilly has always been a rule breaker. Her 2012 play, In Water I’m Weightless set a precedent by having an all Deaf and disabled cast. She’s pioneered creative access throughout her career, informed by her longstanding affinity with Deaf culture. Plays such as The 9 Fridas, subvert traditional theatrical form and aesthetic. And even when she deliberately sets out to make mainstream work she can’t reign in her recalcitrance. She describes the Almond and the Seahorse, her 2008 play which got a five-star review in the Guardian, as her ‘Trojan Horse’: “I created what seemed to be the most commercial theatre script I’d ever written. Only it’s got subversive politics in its belly.”

Her latest work Cosy, which is set to premiere at the Wales Millennium Centre on 8 March, very much falls into the latter category. It’s ostensibly a traditional family drama encompassing three generations of women, which tackles the thorny issue of end-of-life scenarios and ageing.

“I’m deliberately taking different perspectives of a family coming together. It’s familiar – the family all get together and all these discussions and events happen in the family home. But perhaps some of the content and arguments and perspectives being presented are not the ones we would usually hear”.

It turns out O’Reilly’s dissident sensibilities are in her blood. “My family were always rebels, they were always the dissenting voice that would shout up from the back”. As O’Reilly regales me with her backstory, I’m transported to the West Midlands in the 1970s.

O’Reilly’s father, an Irish migrant is holding court amidst a bustling farmer’s market. A proper working-class Irishman, his sales patter is a performance aimed at punters as he tries to flog his sheep. Back at the O’Reilly family home, get-togethers also provide a stage, and everyone is expected to deliver, whether it’s a poem, song or a story. This is the theatre of everyday life. It clearly had quite an impact on the young Kaite.

“The performative aspect that comes culturally from being working class Irish was huge. As I get older I understand how formative that was because it was always about entertaining, engaging, challenging, provoking.”

It isn’t something that they can teach at drama school, nor is it something you can read in a book. “I think that right from the get-go, if you’re going to be a playwright it’s got to be about the living words in the mouth. You know as soon as something sounds stagey. There’s something about engaging with language in the absolute moment that you have to be able to dazzle and create and engage with words.”

But her working-class Irish heritage isn’t the only aspect of her identity that has been seminal to O’Reilly’s work:

“Identifying politically and culturally as a disabled person was essential, because it changes you. It affects everything about how you perceive the world. I think that is huge as a playwright because we’re trying to – as that old hackneyed Shakespeare quote goes – ‘to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature’. Well if you are actually seeing nature and the notion of normalcy as being different from what the majority culture says, then there’s some really interesting things happening”.

O’Reilly doesn’t shirk from the label, she has always embraced it, even in her work, whether that’s using integrated casts, embedding creative access or by directly addressing disability themes. As is common for many successful disabled artists, O’Reilly finds herself at times awkwardly straddling the two worlds of mainstream and disability arts. Cosy is perhaps a sign of things to come for O’Reilly as something of a middle ground between the two. Although the play doesn’t address disability political issues directly, it was inspired by her thoughts around assisted dying which is a very important topic for the disability rights movement.

“I started to think about ageing, about end-of-life scenarios, our relationship to the medical profession and how industrialised care has become. What are the family dynamics in end-of-life scenarios? So basically, Cosy is quite a dark but sophisticated comedy looking at whether we truly own ourselves.”

O’Reilly is eager to acknowledge that her perception of language and working process as a theatre maker have been massively influenced by her work with Deaf collaborators, such as performer and director of visual language, Jean St Clair. “Seeing what language can be through the prism of Deaf culture and experience has been really important; the form, the means, the aesthetic and the possibilities were broadened as I began to learn sign language”.

“I’m notorious for my bad signing,” she tells me, wryly. “Jean teases me all the time about it. Whenever I threaten to go and learn BSL she says ‘no don’t because I actually like what you’re doing, because it makes me think differently’”.

Due to budgetary restrictions, not to mention the changes in Access to Work benefits, O’Reilly regrets that Cosy won’t be the “all-singing, all dancing, all-signing access-fest” as previous works such as In Water I’m Weightless. The play will be captioned, and they are also trialling an app which encompasses different languages and possibly audio description. In spite of the restraints and her past successes, O’Reilly is still not taking anything for granted, displaying the enthusiasm and passion of a young upstart. “Every day I wake up smiling and thankful that we’ve got this opportunity from Unlimited, it’s an incredible gift”.

Perhaps it’s fitting for these austere times that Cosy sees O’Reilly going back to basics in more ways than one. “Cosy isn’t breaking new ground in terms of form or aesthetic but I think it’s interesting that we have reached the point of maturity, where we can have a big growling play with these different perspectives all mashed up and arguing together.”

But it just wouldn’t be an O’Reilly play if it wasn’t pushing the boundaries in some way. Cosy has an integrated all-female cast of disabled and non-disabled actors with ages ranging from 16 to 76, “how gorgeous and delicious is that?” she enthuses. Even more significantly, the roles with the most power in Cosy are predominantly staffed by people who identify culturally and politically as disabled, including the director (Phillip Zarrilli) and assistant producer (Tom Wentworth) in addition to O’Reilly herself as the writer.

“I think it’s interesting that the powerbase is coming from a very open identification as disabled. Often they’re the ones who are non-disabled and the people that are being cast are disabled. I wonder if that’s a shift that has come from Unlimited and their legacy, that we’re now becoming more and more in the position of the powerbase.”

In concert with the launch of Cosy, O’Reilly also has a book entitled Atypical Plays for Atypical actors being published by Oberon Books. It will feature a selection of five plays and performance texts spanning nearly 15 years of work, each of which is informed by disability politics. Clearly, there’s no chance of this rebel being assimilated by her mainstream success.

And like all true revolutionaries, O’Reilly isn’t content being the sole dissenting voice in what can at times be a very homogenised profession. Instead she’s looking to use her profile as a vanguard for others. “There are things that I’m trying to do through my practice and engagement that I hope is going to help shift things and provide opportunities for other people as well. For me it’s very important that we have people in leadership and positions of power who are not only disabled and Deaf, but who identify culturally and politically as so.”

Cosy is on at Cardiff Millennium Centre from 8-12th March. Tickets and info here

 

Wales Arts Review: Exploring taboos: the Genesis of ‘Cosy’

 

Ruth Lloyd and Bethan Rose Young in 'Cosy'. Image: FarrowsCreative

Ruth Lloyd and Bethan Rose Young in ‘Cosy’. Image: FarrowsCreative

The following is a feature I wrote for Wales Arts Review. The original article, including more images, can be accessed here

Even as a child, I was drawn to taboos. What was hidden, or not to be brought to everyone’s attention was – and remains – hugely attractive to me. I loved to expose the unmentionable, to revel in revealing the forbidden, not just out of mischief, but to see the reaction this provoked. I wanted to talk openly about what the grown-ups mentioned in lowered tones and coded messages, to question their absolutes, to view things from the other side. As I matured, this curiosity led me to theatre – the place to explore all that it is to be human – where nothing is verboten.

As a playwright, I’m tempered by the times I live in, influenced by the debates surrounding me. Two themes caught my attention and imagination several years ago when I started writing Cosy when on attachment at National Theatre Studio in London – the cult of youth in an increasingly ageing population, and exit strategies.

The invisibility of women ‘of a certain age’ in our media has been a hot topic of late. It’s an absurd situation, as in our maturity we’re more likely to be confident and vibrant, shedding the insecurities of a younger age – yet the faces of teenage models sell anti-wrinkle cream for the over 40s in magazines and actresses over thirty five are deemed ‘too old’ to be the love object of men several decades their senior – a Hollywood fact fabulously pastiched in Inside Amy Schumer – Last Fuckable Day.

Although the recent employment of eighty year old Sophia Loren as ‘the face’ of’ a beauty brand caught the headlines and suggested a turn in the tide, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. We live in a youth-loving society that seems to give little value to maturity and experience, especially of the womanly variety. Immediately I knew I wanted to explore this, in the company of six female characters ranging in age from sixteen years to seventy-six. Through a classical device of three generations of one family, I chose to explore complex emotions and perceptions from myriad perspectives, from one embarking on adult life, through those in the middle, to one nearing the end of it.

The second issue that demanded my attention as I started sketching in ideas for the new play is one of the most important in recent times: assisted death. The argument has raged for years, splitting political parties as well as the disabled community, carried into parliament with the Marris Assisted Suicide Bill in September 2015, with opposing groups campaigning on the Westminster streets outside. Dignity in Dying and Care Not Killing were engaged in a face-off, divided between ‘My Body, My Choice’ and ‘Better Living, Not Easier Dying’. By the time the Bill was defeated in the Commons by 330 votes to 118, my play was fully formed.

Cosy is not a drama about assisted suicide, or death. It is a dark comedy about living, and the realities and options that entails. We all have to die, but what makes a good death? Such questions often cause discomfort; I’ve actually seen people flinch when I describe the central themes of Cosy as ‘a gallows humour family drama about getting older, end of life and exit plans’. Poke, poke, prod, prod: there goes another taboo.

I don’t fully understand why we in this particular society seem so afraid of death. It is the one certainty we have, and yet we continue to ignore it, seldom thinking of our demise, and how we might want to manage our old age and what comes after. It’s considered to be morbid to want to shine a light into this dark and neglected corner. Many think it is gloomy. I think it a source for wry observations and, as we’ve discovered in rehearsals, raucous comedy.

There’s certainly been a lot of laughter in our rehearsals so far, and long, tender conversations. The Cosy company is a treasure trove of Welsh actresses – Sharon Morgan, Ri Richards, Ruth Lloyd, Llinos Daniel, Bethan Rose Young and Sara Beer, led by director Phillip Zarrilli. With an award-winning design team featuring Simon Banham, Ace McCarron and Holly McCarthy, I feel fantastically fortunate. We’re a solid team, many of us collaborating before – Simon and I on NTW’s Persians; Ace, Phillip and I on The Llanarth Group’s Told by the Wind, Simon and Holly on myriad productions. We’re a mature bunch willing to take on a grown-up subject with equal irreverence and sensitivity. Humour allows us to study the absurdity and poignancy of being mortal, while also acting as a buffer against more painful aspects.

I want to handle this often feared topic with wit, as well as sobriety and respect. I love human beings ability to live joyfully and in the moment, despite the knowledge our time is finite and we will all die one day. How these two opposing perspectives co-exist is fascinating to explore theatrically – and the deceptions, avoidances, contradictions and confrontations within a family with distinct and different ethical, religious, and political perspectives.

As someone who identifies as disabled, I have long been part of a vibrant community known for its joie de vivre and gallows humour – created, perhaps, from our knowledge of the fragility and resilience of the human body. I hope I have brought some of the quality of this insight and perspective to the script, in a production I hope will be funny, quirky, honest, daring, and fully engaging emotionally and intellectually.

Cosy is the sole Welsh Unlimited Commission – an initiative aiming to embed work by disabled artists within the UK sector, hoping to reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people. I hope we can help shift perceptions of that final curtain, too, and the means by which we shuffle off this mortal coil.

Cosy is at Wales Millennium Centre 8-12 March 2016. For more information, go HERE and Wales Millennium Centre box office here

“Rewriting isn’t just about dialogue” Cosy developments

Rewriting isn’t just about dialogue; it’s the order of the scenes, how you finish a scene, how you get into a scene.

Tom Stoppard

Writing is all about rewriting, and revising a script prior to it going into production is probably my favourite part of the solo process (writing is solitary; rehearsals are communal and social and collaborative).

‘Cosy’ has had a long gestation period – the initial ideas and research into end of life scenarios and exit strategies began when I was on attachment to the National Theatre Studio in London in 2010. I had completed the first draft when I applied to Unlimited for a commission and production grant.  I was ecstatic when I was successful in the bid, and immediately embarked on the r&d, with an initial reading of the revised script with our cast in June 2015. Informed by that experience, I began revisions on the script and the second part of the research and development process occurred in Cardiff in November, at Wales Millennium Centre, where the production will preview on 8th March 2016.

Sharon Morgan in 'Cosy'. Photograph by Toby Farrow

Sharon Morgan in ‘Cosy’. Photograph by Toby Farrow

It’s wonderful revising a script when you know who the actors will be. Throughout the rewriting process, I’ve been hearing the voice of Ri Richards, or Sara Beer, and the other four fabulous performers as I tackle revisions. It’s a delicate process; I’m not changing the dialogue to fit the actors, rather, my knowledge of the skills of Bethan Rose Young, Llinos Daniel, Sharon Morgan and Ruth lloyd are urging me on, inspiring me to write a more complex symphony as I can ‘hear’ the individual ‘instruments’ in my head.

I have been tracing through individual strands or plot points, ensuring the characters are consistent, balancing the beats, editing the unnecessary, checking the speed and pace (they’re not the same thing) throughout the text. I feel like a composer setting ideas off into motion. I re-read the work in progress continuously, checking the flow, the change in rhythm, the moments of pause and activity, taking the emotional and dramatic temperature of the piece throughout.

Back in the Summer, I invited partners, allies, directors, dramaturgs, and the interested to a reading of the second draft of the play, collating feedback and responses. These comments informed my revisions but didn’t dictate them…. the amount of contradictory feedback I received was quite wonderful and would have been perplexing, were I not a mature playwright, with a strong sense of the piece I am making!

When working in a room with the actors, our process has not been one of devising, but strengthening the existing script.

The r&d in November was small and private, involving the full cast, director Phillip Zarrilli and  Unlimited Impact trainee producer/playwright Tom Wentworth.The company sat around a table with me, working through the script line by line. We identified areas that needed clarifying, or extending, and had open discussions about the themes of ageing and end of life scenerios. I am now finalising what will be the rehearsal draft, the version which will be published in my forthcoming Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors with Oberon.

This gathering also gave Phillip and Llinos a chance to share with us some of the early explorations they’re making for what might be the ‘soundtrack’ of the production. Llinos is a talented singer and musician, known in Wales for playing the harp, but for ‘Cosy’ she and Phillip have been exploring the use of medieval instruments – the crwth and bowed psaltery.

Llinos Daniel with crwth and hammer psaltery. Cosy r&d day

Llinos Daniel with crwth and bowed psaltery. Cosy r&d day

Rehearsals begin in early February, which is putting wind in my rewriting sails. As I write, I’m just finishing off the last details – where god and the devil are reputed to be – knowing the text will change again once we are in the rehearsal room, trying it out on the floor. I can’t wait.

Answering back and returning the gaze: Alternative Dramaturgies

Cover of Horizons/ Theatre no.4. Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux

Cover of Horizons/ Theatre no.4. Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux

Delighted to receive a copy of Horizons/Theatre numero 5 from the University of Bordeaux Press today, which includes an essay I delivered at a conference in Tangiers last year on ‘Alternative Dramaturgies.’ The work builds on my 2003/06 AHRC Creative Fellowship ‘Alternative Dramaturgies Informed by a d/Deaf and disability Perspective’ and my on-going Fellowship at the International Research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ at Freie Universitat, Berlin, since 2011. The essay is in English, and the abstract follows:

Answering Back and Returning the Gaze: Two examples of ‘alternative dramaturgies informed by a Deaf and disability perspective.’

Kaite O’Reilly

Abstract:   How do we ‘write’ disability? Is it in the aesthetic, the narratives, the content, the form, or the bodies of the performers? This paper seeks to introduce ‘alternative dramaturgies, informed by a Deaf and disability perspective’, exploring some of the dramaturgical developments I have initiated as a playwright working within disability arts and Deaf culture since 1987. Alternative? To the mainstream, hearing, non-disabled perspective, and by ‘alternative dramaturgies’ I mean the processes, structures, content and form which reinvent, subvert or critique ‘traditional’ or ’conventional’ representations, narratives, and dramatic structures in performance.

Much of my work as a playwright and theatre maker explores issues of how distinctive Deaf and disability cultures operate with, against, and/or in opposition to ‘mainstream’ or ‘dominant’ cultural paradigms. The paper will raise questions on the dynamic between majority and disability culture, and signed and spoken languages, looking at the interface and relationship between hearing majority culture and Deaf culture, and experiments in bilingualism between spoken/projected English and theatricalised BSL (British Sign Language).

This paper aims to reflect on my work exploring alternative dramaturgies regarding the aesthetic, content, form, processes, and narratives in a series of my past works, including peeling (Graeae Theatre 2002) and In Praise of Fallen Women (The Fingersmiths Ltd, 2006).

 

Copies can be obtained through the director, Omar Fertat, Horizons/Theatre omar.fertat@u-bordeaux-montaigne.fr