Tag Archives: Ramesh Meyyappan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With thanks to Joe Turnbull, The Stage and Unlimited

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

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

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

 

 

18/9/17:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22/9/17:

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

25/9/17:

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

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

Singapore ‘d’ monologue rehearsal photos 1

A week into rehearsals for And Suddenly I Disappear…. the Singapore ‘d’ monologues… Sara Beer, Phillip Zarrilli and I arrive to work at Centre 42 in downtown Singapore, the air heavy with tropical storms.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are working flat-out in preparation for three work in progress sharings at the end of the month – only  ten days of rehearsals for this new inclusive company of UK and Singapore Deaf and disabled artists, working on an International R&d commission from Unlimited.

Rapper Danial Bawthan in rehearsals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text is delivered in multiple languages, reflecting the cultural diversity of Singapore. I’m also working in visual language with Ramesh Meyyappan and find myself writing a rap for emerging Singaporean artist Danial Bawthan.

Teaching Lee Lee Lim the sign for ‘disappear’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time is short, with twelve hour rehearsals leading to the first sharing later this week, but I will try to blog when possible. Meanwhile, here’s an article from Huffington Post this morning

 

Five languages, spoken and signed: at work on ‘The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’

Ramesh Meyyappan and Sophie Stone ‘The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’ by Kaite O’Reilly, an Unlimited International Commission

I have known performer/visual director Ramesh Meyyappan since 2004, when I saw his non-verbal physical theatre adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart at The SubStation in Singapore. Since then our paths have continually crossed – at DaDaFest in Liverpool in 2005 shortly after he relocated to the UK, at the Vienna Deaf Theatre Festival around 2006, where I was presenting a paper on my work and was able to participate in his performance workshop. Over the years we have continued to meet, building a friendship and an appreciation of each others’ work. I’ve longed to work with Ramesh since I first saw him on the stage thirteen years ago…. and finally it is happening, in a project which unites the place where we first met with the place we now live.

Ramesh is a performer and visual theatre director for my Unlimited International Commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

I am immensely excited about his involvement in this ambitious project, an international dialogue about disability, Deaf experience, diversity, and difference, from opposite sides of the world. I will be writing future blogs reflecting on our process – it is complex, a multi-layered project involving grassroots engagement and research. My collaborators Peter Sau and Lee Lee Lim, plus other members of the Singapore team are amassing material from interviews  which are inspiring the fictional monologues I am writing. Time is short… We will soon be combining the UK and Singapore teams, collaborating in September to present r&d sharings at Centre 42 in Singapore.

Ramesh Meyyappan and Sophie Stone in T’y-n-y-Parc Studio. The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

This project has allowed me to indulge in playing ‘fantasy cast’…. Once I knew Ramesh was on-board, I knew I had to bring him together with Sophie Stone, a long-term collaborator who I have written parts for in my Unlimited Commission/National Theatre Wales 2012 production In Water I’m Weightless and Kirstie Davis’s production for Forest Forge Woman of Flowers (2014). I also suspected that these two innovative artists wanted to work together – so to be able to bring them together at our initial exploratory workshop at The Llanarth Group’s T’y’n-y-Parc Studio in beautiful west Wales was a dream.

Unfortunately owing to other work commitments, Sophie is not able to travel to Singapore with us in mid September, so we were sure to capture her presence through the project’s filmmaker, Paul Whittaker. The project will combine live camera, pre-recorded material with live action, so it was excellent to film Sophie so she can join us in the r&d as a mediatised presence.

Sophie Stone

This initial weekend of exploration in early August 2017 enabled me to try out emerging material and experiment with multiple languages. Completing the company was director Phillip Zarrilli and performers Grace Khoo, and Sara Beer.

I had given text to the company to translate or reinvent in different languages in advance of our workshop: Sara into Welsh, Grace into Mandarin, and Sophie BSL and visual language, Together  with Ramesh using Singapore Sign Language, we layered five spoken and visual languages together, resting on the baseline of English.

One of the monologues – ‘What Not To Say To A Person Who Is Depressed’ – was explored as an ensemble, simultaneously cutting between BSL, Welsh, English, Mandarin, and ‘Singlish’ – a variety of English spoken in Singapore incorporating Chinese and Malay. I began to appreciate the possibilities of humour as well as poignancy in this multilingual experimentation.

Grace Khoo, Sara Beer, Sophie Stone in rehearsal. The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues by Kaite O’Reilly

It was a phenomenally creative weekend, experimenting with multiple languages and form. Ramesh started creating a physical ensemble piece, responding to texts I had sent him and some extracts from some of our research interviews, and we had a chance to discover collaborative modes.

Sophie will of course be hugely missed when we gather in Singapore in a month’s time – but at least we will have her digitally….. and I can’t wait to get the full company together to start this creative and cultural dialogue.

For more information on Unlimited, go here.

Commissioned and supported by Unlimited, celebrating the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council of Wales and British Council.

The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

 

Ramesh Meyyappan from his website http://www.rameshmeyyappan.com

As announced at the No Boundaries Conference yesterday by Jo Verrent and Tony Heaton, I have been fortunate to be selected as one of the artists for the Unlimited International Commissions for 2017/18. Full details of all of the commissions can be read here.

It feels even more of a privilege than usual to be supported by funders – and not only that, but to make an international collaboration. The award of this commission is bitter-sweet, especially on this day, Wednesday 29th March 2017, when Teresa May triggers Article 50 and turns her back on European unity. If ever there was a time for coming together and connecting across distance and perceived difference, it is now – and I am grateful to Unlimited and all the funders, allies, and supporters for recognising the value of collaboration and international dialogue, and enabling such things to happen.

The blurb:

KAITE O’REILLY – THE SINGAPORE ‘D’ MONOLOGUES

Lead artist / Playwright: Kaite O’Reilly

Director: Phillip Zarrilli

Associate Director, Researcher and Performer: Peter Sau

Producer and Researcher: Grace Khoo

Visual Director and Performer: Ramesh Meyyappan

Disability Advisor and Performer: Sarah Beer

Researcher and Performer: Lim Lee Lee

The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues is an international theatrical dialogue of difference, disability, and what it is to be human, from opposite sides of the world. Inspired by previously unrecorded disabled experience, fictionalised monologues will be precedented across multiple languages (spoken/projected/visual), incorporating aesthetics of access. This performance will set an important precedent: the first multilingual, intercultural, disability-led theatre project created between the UK and Singapore.

Award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly, and internationally respected director/actor-trainer Phillip Zarrilli will lead the team, joined by veteran disability arts practitioner Sara Beer and Deaf UK-based Singapore-born Ramesh Meyyappan with his innovative visual performance skills. Together with Singaporeans Lee-Lee Lim, Grace Khoo and principle collaborator, Peter Sau, the performance will open up a much-needed discourse of disability in quality, accessible disability-led work, never experienced before in a home-grown Singaporean project.
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The background:
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I first met Ramesh Meyyappan and Peter Sau in Singapore in the same year, 2004, but in different productions. Peter was performing in a production directed by Phillip Zarrilli at The Esplanade, the graduating production for ITI (Intercultural Theatre Institute, formerly TTRP). There, Peter had the extraordinary privilege to be tutored by T. Sasitharan and the father of Singapore theatre, the visionary Kuo Pao Kun.
Ramesh was presenting his visual theatre adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Tell Tale Heart.’  Contact was firmly established with both independent artists, based on my conviction I would collaborate with them at some time in the future.
Following Ramesh’s work and occasionally participating in his workshops became easy when he relocated to Scotland, where he has been a leading light in physical/visual theatre.  Teaching Dramaturgy at the Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore has enabled me to keep in touch with Peter over the years, and he came to train with Phillip Zarrilli and I at the 2015 Summer Intensive in Wales, where the seed which became The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues was planted.
Peter is passionate about ‘theatre with a conscience’ and with his collaborators producer Grace Khoo, and mentee/performer Lee Lee Lim, they are determined to professionalise disability arts in Singapore and open up a much-needed discourse on diversity, disability and difference.
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The ‘d’ monologues:

My notion of a portable, flexible, diverse body of work informed by a Deaf and disability perspective and the Social model was initiated in 2008, when Arts Council Wales granted me a Creative Wales to explore the form of the monologue. I am not a fan of verbatim, so had many conversations with disabled and Deaf individuals all over the UK to try and get a sense of lived experience in a disabling world, the political and the personal, spiced by what I call crip’ humour. These encounters inspired a series of monologues I wrote in a variety of styles. These solo texts became the basis of an Unlimited commission, culminating in the 2012 Cultural Olympiad ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ with National Theatre Wales, Wales Millennium Centre and the Southbank Centre.

Cast of ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ by O’Reilly, National Theatre Wales/Southbank Centre 2012, part of the Cultural Olympiad. Cover image of ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. Photo: Farrows/Creative

The creative process, directed by John E McGrath with assistant director Sara Beer, choreographed by the late great Nigel Charnock, designed by Paul Clay and featuring six of the leading Deaf and disabled performers in the UK, is fully documented elsewhere on this blog (search In Water I’m Weightless, 2012). The montaged texts from this collaboration are published in my collected ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’, published by Oberon last year.

This model seemed perfect for a collaboration with Peter and colleagues in Singapore. He, Grace, and Lee Lee would initiate a series of interviews with disabled Singaporeans – lived experience never before documented or shared – and these would create the inspiration for fictional monologues I would write, and the basis of an oral archive. Peter would begin a series of skills-based workshops in Singapore with emerging Deaf and disabled performers, and Ramesh would develop visual theatre sequences.  Phillip Zarrilli would direct emerging work, joined by performer Sara Beer from the UK, with Lee Lee, Peter and Ramesh also performing. It is this r&d stage Unlimited have funded, with the ambition of a full production in Singapore and the UK in 2018.

Style and content of the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues:

We don’t yet know what form and shape this project will take – what tone, what content, what aesthetic – this will all be determined by the next six months and our collaborators. What we do know is the aesthetics of access will be a consideration throughout – and we will have a challenge with translation and captioning in quad-lingual Singapore. We hope our interviewees will have a sense of ownership, and the work will inspire and confound expectation, and the process will be one of symbiosis. I know there will be so much to learn from our Singapore collaborators, and a wealth of riches to be celebrated in this multicultural, intercultural theatre project of communication and dialogue.

UK Collaborators:

Director Phillip Zarrilli and performer Sara Beer are both long-term collaborators. I first worked with Sara with Graeae Theatre in 1987, when, as graduates, we both got our first jobs with this inspiring company. We have worked together consistently ever since, often with Disability Arts Cymru, a great organisation I am proud to be patron of.

Phillip and I have worked internationally as co-creators and collaborators for fifteen years, and has directed many of my plays, recently another Unlimited Commission, ‘Cosy’, which opened at Wales Millennium Centre in March 2016, and featured Sara as the enigmatic Maureen.

Sara Beer as Maureen in ‘Cosy’. Photo: Farrows Creative

What has come clear to me in the writing of this extended blog is the importance of Unlimited in supporting, nurturing and promoting work – in enabling creativity to flourish and artistic careers to thrive. It is such a remarkable hydra organisation with many heads and needs to be congratulated, I feel, for its ground-breaking work and determination to bring about change, its considered efforts for a more equal, and culturally diverse society.

Unlimited is an arts commissioning programme that aims to embed work by disabled artists within the UK and international cultural sectors, reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people. Unlimited has been delivered by the disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts and arts-producing organisation Artsadmin since 2013, and is funded from 2016-20 by Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, British Council and Spirit of 2012.

Unlimited and all the funders: thank you.

#UnlimitedCommissions

http://petersau.com

http://www.rameshmeyyappan.com

http://weareunlimited.org.uk/about-unlimited/

Unlimited e-book

2012 and the Cultural Olympiad with the respective London Games seems already so long ago… So it’s a lovely reminder to receive this link to an e-book featuring the Unlimited commissions to Deaf and disabled artists…. Bobby Baker, Ramesh Meyyappan, Claire Cunningham, Sue Austin, Candoco, Marc Brew… so many, including my own ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ with National Theatre Wales.

The images are spectacular. Well worth a look….

http://digitalpages.digitalissue.co.uk/?userpath=00000082/00008128/00083379/

Guest blog: Unlimited Impressions

Kaite asked me to write a guest blog about my experiences at the Unlimited Festival in London and I’m delighted to do so. I was overwhelmed by the vibrant and cheerful atmosphere at the festival – people discussing in speech and sign, moving around between workshops, panel discussions, performances, outdoor events, cafés and screenings of the Paralympic games. I came home to Berlin with so many new impressions and thoughts that I really struggle to arrange them in any systematic order. As a PhD student in theatre and peformance studies, I’m doing research about performances directed to Deaf and hearing audiences – which was my main reason for travelling to London. But as I have for once the opportunity not, or at least not only to write about my research topic, I prefer writing down some random impressions I got from the festival. As I don’t have much experience in disability arts, it was especially this part of the festival which delighted, surprised and challenged me the most. And now for my private Unlimited brainstorming.

David Toole

David Toole – this is my first association when I think of Unlimited. He really was a revelation to me – as a dancer, actor and performer. I didn’ know him before and saw him for the first time in „In Water I’m Weightless“, Kaite’s Unlimited concession. Watching him performing opened for me a completely new notion what human body movement can be. Due to his individual movement pattern – he walks on his hands – he is capable of moving in a way which I haven’t seen before. Walking, dancing, climbing and jumping on his hands, he sometimes seemed unaffected by gravity. I have never seen before someone switching so quickly between elegance, ferocity, vulnerability and buoyancy in his movements. I’m sorry, I’m incapable of describing it any better – even in German I couldn’t. If you don’t know him (and even if you do know him), I advise you to do the same what I did when I came home: go on Youtube and watch David Toole dance videos.

Vision

Karina Jones, actress in „In Water I’m Weightless“, performed a monologue [written by Kaite] about visual impairment. From all the beautiful text passages I heard, read and saw that evening, it was this one which opened me a completely new perspective on vision and impairment. In her speech she denies her vision to be passive and fragmented. On the contrary, with her sight she restructures the world around her. By one glance she is able to flatten buildings to surfaces – mere colours and lines. „My sight isn’t broken, rather it breaks the world!“ Of course I know that the so called reality is formed by our perception of it – but it never came to my mind that perception alone can be seen as an active shaping of our surroundings and that a visual impairment just is another mode of this creative process. By her tragicomic reference to the danger of uncovered manholes, Jones makes sure that this monologue is to be understood as an expression of confidence, not of denial.

Sign Language

In the panel discussion „Making creative performance for Deaf and hearing audiences“, Ramesh Meyyappan, Kaite O’Reilly, Jenny Sealey and Sophie Woolley agreed that captioning and sign language interpretation of performances shouldn’t be an afterthought but rather a part of the creative process of writing and staging a play. Especially in National Theatre Wales’ production of Kaite’s play, the interpreter was extremely present on stage. Jo Ross did a great job in performing not a mere interpretation, but a completely new expression of the same concept that the speaking actors performed.

Acrobatics

Two productions which were directed to a Deaf and hearing audience made use of aerial acrobarics. Graeae’s „Garden“ created beautiful poetic images by letting some actors climb and swing on huge flexible poles, looking like flowers in the wind. While this seemed to me rather like an illustration of a kind of fairy world, Ramesh Meyyappan’s use of ropes in „Skewered Snails“ was a proper narrative technique. It was astonishing how the use of space by climbing and swinging on ropes could be used to depict the characters and their relations to each other. In my opinion, Ramesh’s aerial acrobatics not only gave the audience a reason to watch in wonderment, but was – just as his gesture, mimics and choreography – an elaborate method to tell a plot without words. I can’t wait to see which performance techniques Ramesh will explore next.

Communication

Wherever Deaf and hearing people meet, communication is definitely an issue. In the meantime I’m quite used to communicate in international contexts. By combining German Sign Language, some BSL and international signs I’ve learned, fingerspelling (not in Britain, though, as Britain and Germany use different finger alphabets), mouthing, pantomime and especcially a lot of patience and goodwill on both sides, I had a lot of nice after show talks with Deaf and hearing artists, performers and spectators from all over the world. It feels always like a huge success to me and shows me that communication may not be easy, but is always possible.

Certainly the Southbank Centre in London is a good place for casual after show encounters. It may look like a parking deck from the outside, and the actual performance spaces seemed rather like a congress venue to me than a theatre space, but the wonderful terraces and sunlit halls encouraged meeting, talking in speech and sign.

Germany

During my stay in London, I wondered how the situation in Germany was like. As I said, I am not and expert in disability issues, but I have the impression that Britain has already achieved a lot which in Germany is still in its beginnings. Not only the overall accessibility of buildings, sights and public transport seemed to me better in London, but also in the sector of arts I think that Germany can get a lot of inspiration from Britain. Of course there exist some wonderful groups and artists in the sector of Deaf and disability theatre – but I doubt if it was possible to organize a festival on the same artistic level like Unlimited with German artists only.

But something is happening – first steps have been made. There are some groups which explore the possibilites of „aestetic access“ (a new term I learned in London, apparently mainly in use in Australia) and there exist projects in which Deaf, disabled and/or hearing and able-bodied artists cooperate and create new theatre and dance aesthetics. There is a slowly growing academic research interest in Deaf and disability arts and I’m proud to be part of it. I hope there is still more to come.

I still could write so much more, about the strange notion of „inspiring“ paralympic „superhumans“ and signing Drag Queen Bees, unreliable audio despcriptors and confusion about people’s hearing status, but I guess these few outlines should be enough to give an idea of my wonderful and inspiring experiences at Unlimited festival.

Rafael Ugarte Chacón is doctoral student at the Institute for Theatre Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. He is writing his thesis about aesthetic means in artistic performances for Deaf and hearing audiences.