Tag Archives: Sophie Stone

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.

“But you know I don’t think in words.” An essay by Kaite O’Reilly.

As part of my on-going Fellowship at the international research centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ attached to Freie Universitat in Berlin, I have been reflecting on my work between Deaf and hearing cultures and disability culture and the so called ‘mainstream’ – most notably my recent work with Deaf artists. “But you know I don’t think in words”: Bilingualism and Issues of Translation between Signed and Spoken Languages: Working between Deaf and Hearing Cultures in Performance focuses in particular on my work with actress, visual language director and BSL expert Jean St Clair and performer/collaborator Sophie Stone.

Originally prepared as a presentation at the centre in Berlin on my 2012 Cultural Olympiad production with National Theatre Wales/Unlimited In Water I’m Weightless (read about it here onwards), editors Holger Hartung and Gabriele Brandstetter invited a longer reflection on the processes Jean, Sophie and I embark on when working together.

The long essay included in this new book quotes both my collaborators at length, and includes director Kirstie Davis’s production of my bilingual play Woman of Flowers. I wrote the part of Rose specifically for Sophie, with Jean working as the visual language creative director. Our process was documented on this blog.

 

Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone working on ‘Woman of Flowers’ 2014. Photo by KOR

The title of the essay “But you know I don’t think in words” comes from an aside Jean made when I requested she answer some questions about our process via written English rather than visual language. I didn’t want to have translation from visual to written language, and Jean is fluent in English. Her being present ‘in her own words’ seemed immensely important for the essay.

I’m delighted to be able to share our creative process, and to acknowledge Jean and Sophie, crediting them for this liminal work, this ‘space in-between’ we inhabit when collaborating across spoken/written English and BSL/visual language.

Theatre as a study of what it is to be human

atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors

This September has been a remarkably rich and exciting month owing to the Unlimited Festivals at Southbank Centre in London and the current one at Tramway, Glasgow. Apart from immersing myself in the art exhibitions, performances, discussions and many events around disability culture and issues of diversity at these festivals, I’ve been ‘in conversation’ and launching my selected plays ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. On Saturday 24th September, 2-5pm I will be in conversation with Nicola McCartney and then leading a short workshop/talk ‘Atypical in Action’ at Tramway, 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow G41 2PE. 

What follows is a guest blog I wrote about the workshop and talk and my work, collaborators, and why accessible and culturally diverse work is so essential:

The Study of What it is to be Human…. 

Guest post for: http://www.kimaskswhat.online/2016/09/guest-post-by-kaite-oreilly-theatre-as.html?m=1

Theatre could be defined as the study of what it is to be human. For millennia we have come to sit communally – a group of human beings watching another group of human beings pretending to be other human beings. We are endlessly fascinated with each other, yet a place purported to be about the range of human possibility has for too long been circumscribed and limited, especially towards a quarter of the population.

As I have discussed at length elsewhere, for thousands of years in the Western theatrical canon, the atypical body has been used to scare, warn, explain and explore human frailty, mortality and the human condition. Disability has been a metaphor for the non-disabled to explore their fears and embedded societal values. Although disabled characters appear in thousands of plays, seldom has the playwright been disabled, or written from that embodied, political perspective. Some strange untruths have therefore been created and recycled in our dramas for stage and screen; the rich, rewarding reality of our lives replaced with problematic representations which work to keep ‘us’ different, ‘special’ and apart.

That, thankfully, is changing, with more disabled and Deaf artists coming to the fore across artforms. This is partly owing to the fruits of the UK and US disability civil rights movements, out of which disability arts and culture grew, and the disability arts forums, organisations, and festivals which supported and still encourage this growth. It is also down to initiatives such as Unlimited, keen to promote, commission, and embed the work of disabled and Deaf artists in the ‘mainstream’ on a level never experienced before.

As a multi award winning playwright and dramaturg who identifies as a disability artist, I have been exploring this territory, informed by the social model of disability, working across and between so-called ‘mainstream’ culture and what I coin ‘crip’ culture for several decades. I consider disability a social construct – I am a woman with a sensory and physical impairment, but it is society’s attitudinal and physical barriers which is disabling, not the idiosyncrasies of my body.

In my work I am interested in creating new protagonists, with different narratives, and with different endings – and to challenge and expand the actual theatre languages at play in live performance.

Paul Darke and other Disability performance scholars such as Carrie Sandahl have written about the limited plot lines for the disabled character. Often, as seen again recently with the film version of JoJo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ – it is emphatically ‘better dead than disabled.’ In films and plays stereotypes rule – the blind wise ‘seer’, the evil and twisted mastermind, the hero who overcomes her impairments to ‘pass’ as non-disabled. From Tiny Tim to Richard III to Oedipus, we have been the personification of uselessness, or evil incarnate. These stories and characters are so prevalent, Paul Darke claims the audience believes they understand and know disabled experience, even though it is through a filter that isolates, individualises, medicalises or finally normalises the character. What the audience is experiencing is not the ‘truths’ of our lives, but the long cultural and linguistic practice of ascribing meaning to the atypical body. We are metaphors – something my actor characters in ‘peeling’ are fed up with, and wish to rebel against.

So as a playwright, I try to present different protagonists and different stories – often challenging contemporary representations of disability. The survivors of TBI (traumatic brain injury) in my 2008 play ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ subvert notions of brain injury splashed across the media and questions who the real ‘victims’ are – if indeed there are any. Protagonists, their journeys and outcomes can be subverted and changed – offering more possibilities and rich, engrossing drama which avoids stereotypes.

I am also involved in ‘aesthetics of access’ – embedding audio description into the text of my script ‘peeling’ – working bilingually in visual and spoken/projected languages. As a hearing woman, I have been blessed with generous Deaf collaborators – Jenny Sealey, Ali Briggs, Denise Armstrong, Ruth Gould, Sophie Stone and especially BSL expert and visual language creative director Jean St Clair. Through our experimentation across spoken and visual languages, they have helped me develop into the playwright and dramaturg I am.

What these devices do, along with what I coined when AHRC creative fellow ‘Alternative Dramaturgies informed by a Deaf and disability perspective’, is make work more accessible, yes, but also challenge the ingrained assumptions and hierarchies in contemporary theatre and culture. When we change the bodies which perform, design, direct, create, and commission the work in our pleasure palaces, when we change the theatre languages used, the processes and practice are inherently changed, too. We can then truly be a place which celebrates all the possibilities of human variety, challenging notions of ‘difference’ and revoking the old stories and their predictable endings.

Kaite O’Reilly will be launching her book Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, followed by a workshop exploring the aesthetics of access used in her award-winning work, at Tramway on Saturday 24 September 2016, 2pm – 5pm

Book tickets here

More information here

The spaces in between words… ‘Woman of Flowers’ published and reviewed

‘I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.’      Thornton Wilder

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge's 'Woman of Flowers' by Kaite O'Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge’s ‘Woman of Flowers’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

I’m grateful that the difficult story I was trying to tell in my latest play, ‘Woman of Flowers’ seems to be communicating, and getting great responses. A reinvention of the myth of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion, it asks questions about our origins, and our duties, and how to deal with issues of autonomy and desire.

I’ve been obsessed with the story of Blodeuwedd for more years than I care to count. It can be endlessly reinvented, and interpreted through so many different prisms: The ‘perfect’ woman, made from flowers of the forest to be wife to a man cursed by his own mother… The ancient fear of awakened female sexuality and appetite… The amorality of one reared in nature, red in tooth and claw… The politics and rhetoric of belief systems, of honour revenge, of punishment…

I sought to explore this universe created solely by words in visual language, working with Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone in theatricalised sign as well as spoken and projected language. This collaboration between Deaf and hearing cultures has been warmly received by both signing and non-signing audiences, a rare occurrence, and one I feel particularly proud of, and grateful to Jean and Sophie for their willingness to experiment with me.

I was really touched by the thoughtfulness of this recent review:

THE spaces in between the words we say and our thoughts are explored with poetic beauty in Woman Of Flowers, a powerful contemporary reworking of one of the ancient Celtic myths contained in the Welsh treasury known as The Mabinogion

Written by Kaite O’Reilly for the supremely versatile deaf actress Sophie Stone, Woman Of Flowers is at one level a story of duty, desire and revenge, but it operates at many different levels – who are we and where do we come from, how do we reconcile the apparent facts of our life with what we don’t know, what is a woman, what is love, what happens when you want a different life from the one chosen for you?

Rose cannot remember what came before the house at the edge of the isolated forest. Farmer Gwynne says he magicked her out of the flowers, and he doesn’t want her to know anything about the world outside. He has chosen her for his nephew Lewis, but Lewis is ignorant, little better than an animal himself. He has no imagination and he cares nothing of the world beyond the forest.

Rose plays her part, whatever Lewis wants, whatever Gwynne wants, she gathers the eggs and kills the chickens, she cooks, she scrubs their backs, she obeys Lewis’s demands, she takes off their dirty farm boots and cleans them.

She is a little more than a servant and she seems to accept her existence – but inside her head she asks questions, she sees things, she imagines another life, she questions who she is.

Using what is described as “theatricalised sign language” Sophie Stone communicates powerfully with the audience – she is by turns a bird, a flower, a beautiful woman, a witch …

Then a stranger comes to the forest. He shows Rose the birds and the trees, he tells her about the owls, he tells her the story of Athene Noctua, the little owl.

The production, directed by Kirstie Davis, Forest Forge’s artistic director, uses live music, dance and surtitles (for both the spoken and the signed dialogue and Rose’s thoughts).

The action revolves, indeed it dances, around Sophie Stone who is on stage for virtually the whole performance. She is a compelling performer and her choreographed movement takes us into her consciousness, into the heart of darkness of the forest and above the trees to the mysterious world of the owls.

Lewis is played by Tom Brownlee. Pete Ashmore is the violinist and plays Graham, the scientist who comes into the forest. Forest Forge regular Andrew Wheaton plays Gwynne, a man who hovers on a strange border between brutal and kind – what does he know about Rose’s background, is he protecting her or did he kidnap her as a child to be their slave?

As you leave the theatre or village hall, the poetic words and the beautiful images of Woman Of Flowers will stay with you.

The production is on tour throughout October, including dates at the Victoria Rooms, Fordingbridge (Saturday 11th October), West Stafford village hall (18th), Ibsley village hall (21st), Poole Lighthouse (23rd), Bridport Arts Centre (24th), Dorchester Arts Centre (25th), Mere Lecture Hall (28th) and finally at Greyfriars Community Centre, Ringwood, on 1st November.

FC http://www.theftr.co.uk/woman-of-flowers-forest-forge-salisbury-arts-centre-and-on-tour/

woman_of_flowers-96x148-1

.

The script is published as a programme with full play text by Aurora Metro, available at performances during the national tour and also here 

 

Being ‘green’ as a playwright and 4 stars for Woman of Flowers

I’m in Cork mentoring Orla Burke, funded by Arts Council of Ireland and Arts Disability Ireland. Over the coming six months Orla will be developing a play, and I will be supporting her and advising her about the script and the profession. Orla will also be writing about her adventures here and I wanted to share some of our conversations this morning about process and creativity.

I always advise writers not to throw anything away. It is hard to ignore the chastising inner critic, but often ideas jotted down and kept become seeds for the future. Going back over my old notebooks have opened up new possibilities. I feel writing can be the greenest profession there is, once we learn to recycle and develop ideas instead of sending them away to landfill. I remember sitting in on a lecture once when researching archeology for ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ and discovering the priceless tomb of Tutankhamen was unearthed under the debris from other digs. Keep your notes and ideas and excavate – you never know what treasure you may find.

Delighted at lunchtime to see a 4 star review from Remote Goat for Woman of Flowers at Cheltenham Everyman this weekend, then touring to Exeter and beyond next week.

‘..an exciting play that featured clever design choices, powerful performances and a creeping, unsettling sense of claustrophobia and fear. 
…[Sophie] Stone uses sign language to stunning effect, trailing off in the middle of her sentences to draw the audience into her own private world… her emotions… expressed through a combination of mesmerising signing and dance.’

Full review here – http://www.remotegoat.com/uk/review_view.php?uid=11380

 

 

Challenging, provocative, yet strangely timeless… Woman of Flowers

Woman of Flowers

Woman of Flowers

Performer Sophie Stone and I were welcomed into Broadcasting House today, to be interviewed by Jenni Murray on BBC Radio 4’s  Woman’s Hour. Jenni came to see the show last night and said she’d enjoyed it very much. She spoke about a conversation she’d had with a member of the audience about the importance of having a Deaf or disabled presence on stage, and how this seems to be increasingly difficult. For me, this just highlights the significance of the work that Forest Forge theatre company are doing and long may they continue…

Our interview about the origins of Woman of Flowers and Sophie’s experience as being the first Deaf actor to train at RADA can be heard again here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0278jsz

I have also guest blogged for What’s on Stage on the power of language and the shaping nature of words and stories…. You can read that here.

We’ve also been getting some lovely reviews and responses on the Forest Forge website. John Foster wrote:

An absolutely terrific production. Very powerful, evocative and gripping, laced with moments of humour, but brilliantly expressive in its performance, direction, and in the lyricism and poetry of the writing in a rich and complex play by Kaite O’Reilly. A wonderful piece of writing, gripping, moving, deeply evocative. The central performance by Sophie Stone-Rose was mesmerising, what a great actor, she held the attention throughout. The other performances were also very effective. The music and soundscape were haunting and disturbing, beautifully conceived and executed. A play embracing modern themes of slavery, power, communication and identity but also concerned with ancient elemental tensions with a powerful sense of landscape, the enclosed world of the forest, and insanity of isolation all deftly forged. Terrific set design by David Haworth and incisive beautifully orchestrated direction from Kirstie Davis. Challenging, provocative yet strangely timeless. Highly recommended.

Teresa Warren wrote how it had particular resonance for the Deaf community  

due to the natural attachment to sign language for many and the importance of having an internal voice which isn’t taken for granted by members of the Deaf community.’

Deepa Shastri wrote:  ‘

I am a deaf sign language and use caption (surtitles) to access the dialogue and have to say that Forest Forge is a great example of their commitment to making the show inclusive (with theatricalized signing in some section.) Without the captions i would have not been able to follow the whole show…[which is] fantastic.’

These last two comments from our Deaf audience members mean a lot. As earlier posts have documented, Jean St Clair, Sophie Stone and I worked hard on re-imagining sections of my poetic text in visual language. It is gratifying to see our efforts and those of our director Kirstie Davis to tell an old story in innovative and accessible ways is appreciated by the audience we hoped to connect with.

Thanks to all for the insightful and encouraging comments. More can be seen on the company website

The production continues on tour until 1st November.

 

In full bloom – Woman of Flowers

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge's 'Woman of Flowers' by Kaite O'Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge’s ‘Woman of Flowers’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

So we have officially opened and are receiving fantastic responses on twitter, which you can read here. We’ve had lots of accolades through the more official channels, with Lyn Gardner on her Guardian theatre blog picking us out as one of the week’s top tickets and there’s a fascinating interview with Sophie Stone on the BBC Ouch blog here. Sophie and I will be guests on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour tomorrow morning, 24th September, at 10am, talking about the show and our creative collaboration with director Kirstie Davis.

The piece is up and alive and breathing (or should that be flying? Being inspired by The Mabinogion’s Blodeuwedd, owls and night birds are a theme throughout the piece…)

We tour until November first and details of the venues are here,

I’m biased of course, for it’s my words and concept, but sitting in The Pleasance Theatre in London last night, I began to appreciate what an unusual piece it is aesthetically. It is a collaboration between Deaf and hearing cultures, but not in the more usual sense of having integrated sign interpretation throughout. There is no translation, we do not use BSL, but a re-imagining of my written text in sections of visual language, interspersed with live music, surtitles, and terse prosaic dialogue, in a setting which is both contemporary and oddly out of time. It is an intense experience owing to the commitment of the cast, who are never ‘off’, and what I and several on social media have called the mesmerising performance of Sophie Stone.  I hope people get to see it. I would love to know what others think of it.

Woman of Flowers continues this week at The Pleasance Theatre London until 24th September, then Cheltenham Everyman 25-27th September, exeter Bike Shed until 4th October, then touring until November 1st.