Tag Archives: Singapore

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.
.

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.’

The Art of Unknowing – an afternoon with Paul Muldoon in Singapore

 

Paul Muldoon by Oliver Morris

Paul Muldoon by Oliver Morris

 

I didn’t know there would be just nine of us.

Perhaps those considered literary monoliths in one part of the world loom less mightily when viewed from another geographic area. A writer who is relevant and admired in the US, UK, and Ireland, may have less resonance and relevance to South East Asia. Or so I reasoned when facing the eight empty chairs facing the white board, perplexed at the lack of clamour, crush, and cacophony. Usually I’m twenty rows back in a hedge of pads and pens, lucky to have a question answered, not being invited to engage in the conversation which constitutes the workshop.

I’ve just discovered the pleasure and privilege of participating in a literary festival located outside Europe: Not only does it make you view the familiar and famous from different cultural and geographic standpoints, it enables you to discover a wealth of respected writers perhaps not even published in your own part of the globe.

Poet friends in the UK became visibly tremulous when I said I was taking a three hour masterclass with TS Eliot and Pulitzer prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon at the Singapore Writer’s Festival. I promised faithfully to take notes and share all, expecting a massive marquee or Great Hall, with me squinting at a hazy figure in the far distance. I didn’t expect to be sharing a small seminar room with him and seven other participants, most of whom were unlike any workshop bunny I’ve encountered, before.

My fellow participants were in IT, data analysis, social work, and journalism, making the discussion often surprising, and less predictable than many of my previous experiences.  There was no ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ Or ‘do you have a special pen to write with, or a ritual you have to do before starting in the morning?’ – the questions I’ve encountered most frequently as a regular literary festival junkie. Instead, the conversation turned on the value of knowledge and not knowing – a particularly resonant subject for commercial Singapore.

‘Ends that do not tie up is not attractive in the money culture, right?’ Muldoon asked – something the majority of my co-participants agreed with. They were expected to know everything, otherwise they would lose status and credibility, they said. For Muldoon, the value is in the opposite. He imagined a writer at her desk hopefully having a channel open through which she can appeal to the unconscious, ‘opening up to what comes down the pipe.’

The Art of Unknowing started with a definition of ‘poetry’ taken from the original Greek: constructing, making things. Therefore a poet is a maker, ‘one in the construction business,’ as Muldoon coined it.

He spoke of the physics of the poem, set by Wallace Stevens, where the sound of the poem creates a pressure within which is equal to the pressure without. ‘A poem therefore is constructed like a piece of engineering. Just as every bridge presents a different problem, so does the making of every poem and the physics brought to bear on solving that problem. This is the more active part.’

The second phrase he wanted us to consider was ‘troubadour’ – at the heart of which is someone who finds, who stumbles upon things. This he saw as the chemistry of the poem, where, when elements are put together, there may be a reaction. ‘The poem comes to find you – or you search for it.’

‘The art of unknowing’ comes from Keats and his notion of negative capability – a quality Keats ascribed to Shakespeare. ‘Shakespeare is great, as he doesn’t know what he is doing – that is, he gives himself over to doubts and uncertainties instead of the irritable reaching after fact and reason.’

This is not to criticise the search for fact and reason, nor to dismiss it. Muldoon believes we need both, but at different times in the process of making, and to leave the knowing side (physics) out of the equation at first, so the chemistry can work in this state of questioning and not knowing. The capacity to engage with the unknowing is negative capability.

‘How to get to the place none of us expect is what we want both as a writer and a reader,’ Muldoon believes. ‘Being sure of things is a problem. 500 years ago they’d figured out how the body works through the humours. Had we got it right? Things change.’

He spoke of us as individuals being divided into reader and writer, the critic and creator, the conscious and unconscious. Writing is a constant to-ing and fro-ing between these. ‘You’ve got to make your own team – the reader and the writer – there are two of you already.’

Writing a poem is something sometimes mysterious, and certainly beyond ourselves. It is something we shouldn’t know of in advance, or try, in these first stages, to control: ‘We are appealing in humility to something beyond ourselves and if we can, we may have a chance something interesting may turn up.’

‘What’s not possible if you honour the poem that wants to write itself and if you give it the chance? Allow it to have its way with you.’

 

 

 

Na-nu Na-nu. Writing resources for you.

HEMINGWAY

I’m not one for Nanowrimo – that’s National Novel Writing Month. In truth, it’s been a mystery to me for some time. I only got the acronym correct because I googled it, and previously to that I was confusing it with what Mork used to say to Mindy.

But in light of the feverish fecundity of what is often the dreariest month, I wanted to share some online resources I recently located and have been finding useful.

National Theatre’s Discover More section on their website have all sorts of lovely videos on a plethora of things. For dramatists they have Roy Williams on political   playwriting, with other videos giving advice on writing characters, building a plot and writing dialogue.

For those heading off into the month of furious novel writing, my old favourite Mslexia have reproduced some workshops originally featured in the magazine, including Jenny Newman’s ‘MA in Novel Writing.’

Writing, we know, is all about rewriting, and I’m endlessly fascinated by the choices writers make in redrafts. Mslexia’s Inspirations asks a writer to compare the first draft with the published version, and fascinating reading it makes, too, for literary geeks. Deborah Moggach discusses her prose editing choices here, whilst Wendy Cope compares poetry drafts here. Finally, in this little gift of interesting reading on process, poet Polly Clark is interviewed about a specific poem.

Whatever your preferred form, or your plans for November writing, I hope it’s a creative month and that these links prove stimulating. I’m off to teach Dramaturgy in Singapore and so escape this dark month, but I won’t be escaping the writing – as ever, I have a deadline to meet.

 

 

 

What is a dramaturg?

In preparation for my work teaching dramaturgy in Singapore at the Intercultural Theatre Institute next month, I’ve been collecting definitions of what is often, in the UK at least, a slippery customer….

My seminars will be part of four perspectives – the playwright’s, the director’s, the actor’s and designer/scenographer’s. I’m excited, as part of the time I will be co-teaching with collaborators from actual productions of my plays, or performances we have co-created. We will be deconstructing the text, roles, and decision-making process, as well as sharing play texts and video/documentation of those specific performances with the students. I hope this will demystify what can be a perplexing and opaque process, and is the most holistic and revealing approach I have yet to come across.

The role of the dramaturg and the definition of dramaturgy can vary hugely. The understanding of the role in the German state theatre context is immensely different from many examples in the US repertory theatre system – and different again in the UK. To kick us off on what I hope will be a regular feature on this blog is a definition culled from the RSC’s ‘Radical Mischief’, Issue 02 from May 2014, and the associate dramaturg for the RSC’s Midsummer Mischief Festival, Sarah Dickenson:

‘The term “dramaturgy” refers to the art or technique of dramatic composition and theatrical representation: the means by which a story can be shaped into a performable form. All performance works have a dramaturgy, mostly sharing a set of base principles but diversifying widely within that. This dramaturgy is first created by the playwright/ makers when they construct a story for the stage, is developed in rehearsal by the director, designers and actors and then comes to full fruition in the interaction the performance has with its audience. This process varies, particularly if the piece is devised or physical, but the key points remain.

A dramaturg is concerned with supporting this process at some or all of these stages. In practice, that job might involve many different tasks, from the identification of performable work, to working with a playwright through several drafts, to hands on support in the rehearsal room. Sometimes it’s as simple as having a cup of tea with a theatremaker as they wrangle with a particularly tricky aspect of their piece. However, always at the heart of the dramaturg’s role is the ability to constructively, clearly and sensitively question a piece of work towards making it the best it can be, without confusing, overwhelming or blocking those making it.”

Sarah Dickenson in RSC’s Radical Mischief. Issue 02. May 2014.   @sedickenson

I will be sharing further perspectives and experiences later on this blog.

 

Diary of a collaboration. 8 days. Late August 2013.

diary

Where to begin?

The day before rehearsals start. The cliched still before the storm. Or, rather, a very restless, busy ‘stillness’, filled with reading and cleaning and searching and thinking and just standing, looking idly at nothing and everything….

So how do you prepare for a collaborative research and development week with an international group of artists, some of whom you’ve never even met?

We know our jumping off point – Genet’s The Maids. Our director has asked us to gather stimuli and propose specific entry points to themes we individually find in the script.

Various translations of Genet’s The Maids have been read, five beds have been made, bean stew for eleven prepared, travel instructions and directions to a rural location emailed… Music, images, and poetry with some form of resonance have been located, sleep has been interrupted, on and off line research pursued, a Genet biography read, past reviews sucked over, possible costumes envisaged and still I pace and deliciously fret and worry ‘What else…what else?’

One week is a a short time.

One week is a very short time for any form of collaboration, never mind one crammed with ideas and different entry points and diverse perspectives and a large company of five performers, one sound artist, one cellist, one director, three observers and one dramaturg (me). And five languages.

One week is a very short time to begin work with any real comprehension on new material generated by the group, never mind one coming together for the first time with artists from Wales, US, South Korea, Singapore and Ireland.

One week is a very short time to gather recently made material into any kind of comprehensive structure and dramaturgy – never mind then sharing it with a discerning audience of artists.

Which is what we are about to do.

And I shall endeavour to document it this week, end of August 2013.

Fasten your seat belts. It’s gonna be a bumpy (and I hope exhilarating) ride.

THE COLLABORATION is between The Llanarth Group (Wales), Gaitkrash (Rep. of Ireland) and Theatre P’Yut (South Korea).

The project will be performed by a five woman ensemble working multi-linguistically between English, Korean, and Mandarin (with possibly Irish Gaelic, British Sign Language, and German), accompanied by two on-stage musicians.

The artistic team includes:

  • Director: Phillip Zarrilli, LLANARTH GROUP (Wales)
  • Dramaturg/Playwright: Kaite O’Reilly, LLANARTH GROUP (Wales)
  • Soundscape/environment: Mick O’Shea, GAITKRASH, assisted by guest musician/cellist, Adrian Curtin (Ireland/UK)
  • Choreographers: Jing Hong Kuo, LLANARTH GROUP (Singapore), and Jeungsook Yoo (traditional Korean dance, THEATRE P’YUT)
  • Performers: Jing Hong Kuo (LLANARTH GROUP, from Singapore Regina Crowley and Bernie Cronin (GAITKRASH)
  • Jeungsook Yoo and Sunhee Kim (THEATRE P’YUT)