Tag Archives: playwriting

Remaking… inspiration from existing texts

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Lie With Me

by Kaite O’Reilly

13  19 July

The LAMDA Linbury Studio, London.

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

On translation, lyricism, and alligator meat

I’m juggling projects and tasks at present – and unexpectedly, I’m liking the jambalaya effect (minus the alligator meat). Often I need to focus on one project at a time – it takes an age to get ‘inside’ a project’s DNA, and once there I like to stay until exhaustion demands I step away from the laptop. (Exhaustion? Not necessarily of me personally, but of the thread I’m pursuing. Like a seam of silver running through the earth, it can suddenly stop, or become so buried I know I have to come back to unearth more treasure another time…)

Quite a bit of the work at present is making the most of technology and the miracle that is Skype. For some years, since my work has been produced outside the UK, I’ve been using Skype to sit in on rehearsals remotely – and director Phillip Zarrilli and I are back to that this week, skypeing with Mobius Strip Theatre in Taipei. In 2014 Phillip directed the premiere of my performance text the 9 Fridas about Frida Kahlo for Taipei International Arts Festival; that production will be remounted this autumn and transfer to Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. We will go to Taipei for the final re-rehearsals before flying to HK in October, but meanwhile Skype enables us to revisit the work with the actors in advance, extending our condensed re-rehearsal period.

the 9 Fridas. Mobius Strip (Tawain) in association with Hong Kong repertory Theatre

the 9 Fridas. Mobius Strip (Taiwan) in association with Hong Kong repertory Theatre. October 2016.

The Taiwanese production of the 9 Fridas is in Mandarin, and many have asked me how it is possible to work in a different language. Neither Phillip nor I know Mandarin, but we know the script extremely well, and after a short while communication and comprehension becomes fluid, and it is surprising how proficient we can become at knowing exactly where we are in the script and what the performer is saying at any time.

There is a particular musicality to the dialogue I write – the punctuation, rhythm, pauses, and pace are almost as important to me as what is being said. I think I compose dialogue, needing to ‘hear’ its flow and musicality, its change in texture and syntax as well as content. This has become a focal point in another on-going translation project with theatre maker Martin Carnevali. Some years ago Martin was part of a workshop exploration of the 9 Fridas, and he forged a strong connection to the text and its aesthetic, as well as to me as a creative collaborator. To my great delight, he is now translating it into German for my Berlin agent.

Martin Carnevali

Martin Carnevali working on the German translation of the 9 Fridas. T’yn-y-Parc Studio, Wales, Summer 2016.

Martin fully understands the importance of the ‘sound’ of the words in the mouth, and during the Summer Intensive in West Wales, we took some time together in the T’yn-y-Parc studio for him to read aloud the work he has done. It was remarkable how his choices in German paralleled the rhythm of the spoken English, which was his intention. He would read sections aloud to me, testing it for flow, lyricism, and variety, amending the text as he went along for sound as well as meaning. Occasionally he would read the same section several times, and we would discuss whether there was a syllable too many or too few – whether the text moved in a rhythm appropriate for the content. It was a remarkably visceral  experience, and one I enjoyed immensely.

Martin Carnevali at work translating the 9 Fridas into German

Martin Carnevali at work translating the 9 Fridas into German

This process is still on-going, and we will continue our sharing of text between languages on Skype, although nothing will beat hearing the words within the stone walls of the old Welsh milking parlour, now studio. Nothing, except a German language production, of course.

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

atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Masterclass with Kaite O’Reilly at Ty Newydd, June 2016

 

Lloyd George's former home: Ty Newydd - writers' centre of Wales

Lloyd George’s former home: Ty Newydd – writers’ centre of Wales

 

I am delighted to announce my return to Ty Newydd, the writers’ centre of Wales, where I will be leading a Masterclass in Writing for Performance in June 2016…

The website has just gone live and you can read all about the residential courses offered here .  Use coupon code TN2015 at checkout to get 10% off 2016 courses until end of January 2016:

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends: A Masterclass in Writing for Performance

Mon 06 Jun – Sat 11 Jun 2016

Tutor / Kaite O’Reilly

Course Fee / From £475 – £625 per person

Genres / DramaPerformance PoetryTheatreWriting for Live Performance

Language / English

Working with participants’ own work-in-progress as well as selected performance texts by established writers, this masterclass will explore:

  • Dynamic openings and arresting starts. How to dive into the action of the moment, avoiding prevarication and ‘set-ups’;
  • How to keep middles taut, engaging, and with driving action;
  • Different kinds of conflict needed for effective drama, and how to map change in the beats, character development, and narrative;
  • Different form and dramatic structures for live performance; and
  • How to draw all to a satisfying close, avoiding the formulaic.

This intensive and practical course will give the participants opportunities to create new work as well as reconsider and revise existing work-in-progress.

The week will be intensely practical, with a selection of specially created exercises to explore new territory in on-going work, or to seed new work. Timed exercises will focus on developing the participant’s individual voice and vision. Practical group workshops will share emerging work, with one-to-one dramaturgical sessions to discuss participants’ projects.

In order to focus on the writers and support their writing, the course will run with only eight select participants. Successful participants will be asked to prepare for the week by reading several selected texts in advance.

To apply for the masterclass, please submit your initial ideas for new work or an outline of work in progress (max. 500 words) plus a paragraph outlining your goals for the week (max. 300 words).

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Name a thing and it is. Titles and character names…

I recently befuddled a friend with the title I’ve given my next play, ‘Cosy’. ‘But it’s about growing up, and ageing, and rubbish families and death!’ she exclaimed, ‘That’s hardly cosy material!’   ‘Exactly,’ I said.

This conversation made me reflect on the names we give things and the relationship we may have with titles. With plays, I either struggle and need suggestions and prompting, or I know straight away. I like titles of plays that hint at what I might experience if I attended a production – what’s been called ‘the promise’ is often there in the name. I like contradictions, or irony, or something that makes me pause and wonder about the content in an almost metaphysical sense. Beckett’s ‘All That Fall’ or ‘Rockaby’ lingered long after experiencing the text and production.

This then brought me back to a post I’d written about naming characters in our fiction or plays, and why they are important:

Shakespeare may have claimed a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but think of the added information that seeps through from knowing the character is called StJohn or Jerzey; Jonah or Jezebel; Shiraz or Shona, Sankaran or Steve. A sense of cultural heritage, class, social aspiration and period can be assumed through personal monikers.

Names are signifiers and they carry significance; more often than not they are a tip to the audience. It is not by chance that Ben Johnson’s protagonist in his Jacobean satire of lust and greed is called Volpone – Italian for ‘sly fox’.

Names can allude to character and disposition in an efficient, almost effortless way. Traditionally protagonists or heroes have big, heroic-sounding names – Lysander and Titania, Hermione and Ulysses. There is an underlying assumption of what a tragic or inspirational protagonist should be called – an assumption subverted to comedy effect by Monty Python in The Life of Brian.

Giving a character a name can be a significant moment for the writer in the process of making. It is perhaps when the fragmented flitting thoughts start finding shape in human form. When I’ve worked with writers on emerging scripts, some arrive with a name of a character as a starting point, and work outwards from there, guided by a sense of the individual’s personal traits, politics, guiding principles, almost as if they exist in reality and the writer personally knows them. Others, like me, may not have a name until well into the process. I sometimes have letters or numbers – 1, 2, 3, 4 – chosen simply by the order in which these emerging figures arrived on the page. When I find these numeric names limiting and annoying, snagging on my eye each time I read over the page, I know I have moved onto the next phase of development.

Naming characters always come swiftly. If I stumble between options, or dither, going eeny-meeny-miney-mo, I realise I don’t know enough yet about the character, or s/he is not yet sufficiently drawn to merit a title.

I can truthfully say I have never regretted a name I’ve given to a character, but that act of choosing has a galvanising effect on the way I engage with the character on the page, impacting on the words I put in her mouth, or the actions I give him.

I’m not sentimental about my work, so I never see them as my creatures or (god forbid) some kind of golem offspring – they are vehicles for my thoughts, or ideas I want to explore – but calling something brings it forth into being.

Name it, and it is.

Inspiration comes with the breath

I love the fact that the word ‘inspiration’ has its roots in breath – ‘being breathed upon’ in one online etymological source – as though artists were blessed or touched by some form of supernatural or divine grace. A thirteenth century source is even clearer: ‘immediate influence of God or a god.’ www.etymonline.com.

However, this lovely but romantic notion promotes the myth that we create through an external inspiration – a fickle force, sometimes favouring us, sometimes not – as though it is something other than the potential within each of us. Such persistent but old fashioned ideas suggests some people are creative and others not, and we must wait until the muse or inspiration strikes. It promotes being passive rather than active and making our own luck, our own inspiration, our own work.

I’ve written elsewhere that I believe the difference between writers and would-be writers (or artists and makers), is one gets on with it, whilst the would-be sits around talking about doing ‘it’ when the time is right and inspiration strikes, bringing the idea. I can be very scathing of this, calling it a form of laziness, an avoidance of doing the actual work. In kinder moods I know it can be the result of fear – of failing, of succeeding, of committing to oneself as a creative being, of finally taking on ‘the dream’ only for it to reveal itself as a nightmare… How much easier to put the responsibility outside ourselves. It’s something we can all be complicit in, Nietzche believed, rather than the reality of hard work and the lengthy creative process:

‘Artists have a vested interest in our believing in the flash of revelation, the so-called inspiration… shining down from heavens as a ray of grace. In reality, the imagination of the good artist or thinker produces continuously good, mediocre or bad things, but his judgment, trained and sharpened to a fine point, rejects, selects, connects… All great artists and thinkers are great workers, indefatigable not only in inventing, but also in rejecting, sifting, transforming, ordering.’ Nietzsche.

It’s the most common question I get asked by taxi drivers and hairdressers: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ My answer is long-winded and Evangelical:

From the ether, from life, from over-heards on the bus, from anecdotes we’re told, from newspaper headlines glimpsed on the train, from memories, from idle thought, from documentaries or articles, from received stories and pre-existing sources, from visual art, from going for a walk, from dreams, from anything and everywhere. The trick is in recognising the tug of interest and gathering up the stimulus or noting the idea before it goes, for it will. We will never remember those fleeting thoughts – they need to be notated before they evaporate.

We have to be like magpies – open eyed and curious, ready to dive down and snap up any bright, shiny thing that catches our attention. We often let the seed of an idea or inspiration pass, as it is simply a stirring, not a fully-formed plot, or an immediate understanding of what to write. In my experience that is inevitably a later phase, requiring considerable thought and effort, like heating and beating metal into pliancy and shape. The important task is to recognise the initial call and to understand it will take effort to make the oak from the acorn.

I don’t give too much thought to my selection of cuttings, images, essays, art gallery postcards and other miscellany which could be labelled roughly under ‘research’. It’s often completely instinctive – a tug in the gut and I’m buying that postcard, photographing that abandoned house or strange gully, surreptitiously tearing that article out of the decade old magazine in the dentist’s waiting room. I usually will not understand why I’m attracted to an image or a cutting or a phrase – I just know that it has spoken to my imagination in some way and so must be gathered, acknowledged. What this initial stirring turns into, if anything, is a different story….

The writer’s mind is in conflict with itself….

‘The writer’s mind is in conflict with itself – there is a knowing technical side and a dreamy side. The technical side is endlessly censoring.’         Rose Tremain

This quotation came to me this week via Mslexia‘s ‘Little Ms’ – and chimed immediately with the content of the masterclass I was fortunate to attend with Paul Muldoon at the Singapore Writer’s Festival a fortnight ago.

Muldoon spoke about each individual being a ‘team’ – we are both the writer and the first reader; the creator and the critic; the unconscious mind and conscious mind; chemistry and physics. (For more about this workshop and Muldoon’s take on chemistry and physics in the process of writing, read my blog here). We have to separate out these elements, otherwise we will never progress, as each part is ultimately in contradiction and potentially conflict with the other. As Muldoon put it, we have to ‘be open to whatever comes down the line’ in the initial creative part – having a fussy critic picking at what ‘comes down’ won’t help anyone to get words on paper, never mind enjoy the process.

I think the same principle has shaped my decision to ask writers I am teaching or mentoring to try and do one thing at a time, and when creating raw material, to send that inner critic off on a tea break. If we are watchful or critical too soon, we can sabotage our thoughts and so abandon or destroy the seed which may be insignificant in itself, but when watered and cultivated, may lead to a bloom.

Schiller describes this process I feel, in his response to a friend complaining of a dry period in his creative process, saying it is not good for the intellect to examine too closely the ideas pouring in at the gates:

 “In isolation, an idea may be quite insignificant, and venturesome in the extreme, but it may acquire importance from an idea which follows it. . . . In the case of a creative mind, it seems to me, the intellect has withdrawn its watchers from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does it review and inspect the multitude. You are ashamed or afraid of the momentary and passing madness which is found in all real creators, the longer or shorter duration of which distinguishes the thinking artist from the dreamer. . . . You reject too soon and discriminate too severely.” Schiller

I’m taking on this advice myself as I continue to revise my first novel – trying to identify the moments when I need to be creative without judgement, and when to let the critic loose. My impulse is to try and do both at the same time – breaking my own advice. I know it is counterproductive to try and edit as I write, yet the impulse is hard to resist. Perhaps now after the Muldoon workshop and these timely reminders from Tremain and Schiller I will proceed with more ease. I’m reminded of the Taoist saying: ‘The teacher teaches what s/he most needs to learn.’ Time to learn, O’Reilly, what you preach…