Tag Archives: Sophie Stone

Spies in our skies: the making of The Beauty Parade

Anne-Marie Piazza and Georgina White in ‘The Beauty Parade.’

The Beauty Parade, secret moon squadron, has finally landed, opening at Wales Millennium Centre to full houses and (I am so happy to say) emotional and enthusiastic audiences. I hope to write a full blog post about the process and reactions once I’ve caught my breath – so until then, here’s the programme notes  and an interview in The Guardian newspaper….

 

Kaite O’Reilly
Writer / Concept / Co-Director

“I first heard of ‘The Beauty Parade’ more than twenty years ago, when interviewing former Second World War Codebreaker Molly Schuesselle, who became a close friend. Molly worked with a pilot who dropped hastily trained British female agents behind enemy lines into occupied France between 1941-44 – codename ‘The Beauty Parade.’ Molly kept this information to herself for fifty years, having signed the Official Secrets Act. I was the first person she spoke to in depth about this.

For decades I have wanted to explore the stories of the ‘ordinary women’, nameless in war, who fell between the cracks, who perhaps did not return: women whose exploits even now languish in classified files owing to the clandestine nature of their war work.

An opportunity came thanks to the Arts Council of Wales who gave me a Creative Wales Major Award to experiment with form. Building on my thirty years of working with Deaf theatre practitioners, I set out to explore the creative potential of interweaving spoken, sung, projected, musical and visual languages into a performance, working with long term collaborators Sophie Stone and composer Rebecca Applin. Our process was unusual. I would write the material, select some for Sophie to transform into visual language, we would meet, polish the visual material, video it, then share with Becky, who composed following the tempo-rhythms of Sophie’s visual language. The process and outcome are unusual: the music follows the performer, and not the more usual way around.

I am immensely grateful to Wales Millennium Centre and our producer, Emma Evans, who understood the potential of this project, and who, despite my dogged insistence on the unusual process, still gave us a home.”

Graeme Farrow
Artistic Director, Wales Millennium Centre

Artistic director Graeme Farrow outside Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay

The Beauty Parade tells the stories of incredible women who played a vital, dangerous yet secret role in the Second World War. It’s a privilege to uncover these histories and to honour the invisible women who have, until now, been removed from history.

It has been a delight to co-produce this piece with ground-breaking theatre-maker Kaite O’Reilly. As an artist who has pioneered inclusive practice, her knowledge, experience and flair were integral for bringing these stories to life. She creates work that is thought provoking, creative and accessible.

Together with Kaite, we have explored new and innovative ways of working, and it has been hugely exciting to make work with visual language, music and text. The result is a multi-layered piece, that we hope will be seen and enjoyed by a wide audience.

With this co-production we continue our work that celebrates the voice in all its forms, and the responsibility we have to give a voice to those who have been forgotten or erased from history. We’re delighted to be celebrating these incredible women. It’s a thrill and a great responsibility to play our part in telling one of the most extraordinary stories of the 20th century.

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Spies in the skies: the extraordinary story of The Beauty Parade

Sophie Stone stars in Kaite O’Reilly’s show which celebrates the forgotten women of the second world war with a powerful visual language.

Gareth Llŷr Evans interviews the performer/visual language expert Sophie Stone and the writer, lyricist and co-director Kaite O’Reilly for The Guardian.

Different languages echo, augment and collide … Anne-Marie Piazza, Sophie Stone and Kaite O’Reilly during rehearsals for The Beauty Parade. Photograph: Rhys Cozens

 

Sophie Stone extends her right arm and lets her hand float downwards while moving her fore and middle fingers back and forth. With this gesture, the actor transports us from a lunchtime bar at the Wales Millennium Centre to a moonlit night in occupied France, where women parachute through the sky.

These are the women of The Beauty Parade, written and co-directed by Kaite O’Reilly. The title comes from a codename for a project established by the Special Operations Executive during the second world war. Fluent French-speaking women from England and Wales were recruited and trained as spies and saboteurs, before being flown across the Channel to join the resistance.

Based on O’Reilly’s text and lyrics, Sophie Stone has created a visual language to be performed as part of the work. Describing her process, Stone says: “It’s taking from a language anything that is visually iconic, and can be understood by either deaf or hearing audiences, then morphing it into a different image, led by an emotional context.” Images of war become tactile, modulated by gravity, speed and intensity. But this is not mere translation; it is deaf-led.

Stone identifies as Deaf with a capital D, which asserts deafness as a culture – rich with its own history, arts, languages and organisations – as opposed to solely the audiological condition, marginalised by a hearing world. “It’s not that I can’t hear,” she says. “I don’t hear. It’s self-empowering. It’s important to say.” She would film her sequences – a combination of elements of British Sign Language, with signed poetry and hand shapes – which were then used by composer Rebecca Applin for the show’s music and songs.

“I love the fact that you Google ‘beauty parade’ and you just get all these women in swimming costumes lining up,” O’Reilly says. But the show’s title also hints at a darker irony. These were women who had to use “their homespun beauty, appearing like the girl next door, to slip beneath the radar of surveillance”. These were extraordinary but ultimately invisible performances, undertaken in extraordinary circumstances.

It is, O’Reilly continues, a mostly forgotten history. “Because they were already using aliases, using their noms de guerre, these women fell between the cracks. Because they were often treated as criminals, they weren’t given POW status.” The war came to an end, and these women simply disappeared.

O’Reilly’s text allows for these stories to take centre stage. As a leading figure in disability arts and culture in the UK, foregrounding often marginalised bodies and voices is central to her work. Acclaimed for her writing specifically for deaf and disabled performers, her work invites audiences to interrogate our preconceptions of the centre and the periphery. The Beauty Parade is the first time that music has been central in the development of one of her plays.

On stage, Stone’s visual language, performed alongside actor-musicians Georgina White and Anne-Marie Piazza, is interwoven with O’Reilly’s text and Applin’s music. Sometimes these different languages echo and augment each other; sometimes they collide. But the effect, even when glimpsed early in their rehearsal period, feels viscerally theatrical. By necessity, according to the specific needs of the three performers, they breathe as one: setting the pace, shaping its rhythms and guiding each other.

In our separate conversations, both O’Reilly and Stone playfully suggest that the recent increased visibility of deaf and disabled stage performers was due to it being “fashionable”. But now, as a result of what might have initially been tick-box exercises, it is starting to bear real change. It is an exciting time, particularly for deaf actors, who are empowered beyond doing “lovely things with their hands,” as Stone jokes. “From being let into a room, people have realised that we’re worth so much more than that. It’s more than just fashion. It’s more than just box-ticking. We actually have something that makes the work richer.”

The Beauty Parade – interviews and features 7-14 Feb

Anne-Marie Piazza’s poster as Lillian in The Beauty Parade WMC

Now at the end of the second week of rehearsals for The Beauty Parade at Wales Millennium Centre, we’re excited at how all the different elements of this complex project seem to be coming together beautifully.

Much of the last week has been developing the visual language sequences, Sophie and I working with Jean St Clair and Duffy (Brian Duffy). It is always a privilege to be in a rehearsal room with such fantastic experts in ‘V V’- the Visual Vernacular… I find Sophie’s visual language sequences visceral and deeply moving, especially when combined with Becky Applin’s evocative musical composition. This project began as part of my Creative Wales Major Award from Arts Council Wales – ‘the performative power of words with music’ – so I’m relishing the unexpected emotional kick that comes with the combination of visual, sung, spoken and musical languages.

Sophie Stone in rehearsal in The Beauty Parade. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

I’ve been impressed by the skills of our actor-musician-singers Georgina White and Anne-Marie Piazza. Apart from delivering lines with aplomb, they seem completely unfazed by the breadth of styles Becky has composed in – from Second World War Swing a la The Andrews Sisters, through Torch songs to a cappella. I’m looking forward immensely to next week, when we begin to do run-throughs and combine the design team’s contributions with what we’ve been doing.

It’s also immensely gratifying to find that a subject which has been my obsession for so many years also seems to be capturing the imagination of others. Ticket sales are going well, and there’s been a lot of media interest, with a fantastic feature and interview earlier this week, below.

Information about the production can be seen in my previous post, or here. I’ll be writing further blogs ab0ut our process and collaborators as we draw closer to opening in almost three weeks time….

Meanwhile, here’s a feature in South Wales Life  and a hugely enjoyable interview I had with Nathan and Wayne of Wayne and Wyburn on Radio Cardiff.

The Beauty Parade

The Beauty Parade, WMC, 5-14 March 2020

Hugely excited to begin rehearsals next week for my co-production with Wales Millennium Centre: The Beauty Parade. Below, details and the trailers. I’ll be blogging about the process during the next few weeks.

“We are the secret moon squadrons. Dropped by moonlight to set Europe ablaze.”

It’s the 1940s, deep in wartime, men are fighting on the front line and women don’t engage in armed combat; they keep the fires burning, the factories going, and the children fed at home. Or so we were told…

Pioneering theatre-maker Kaite O’Reilly collaborates with composer Rebecca Applin and performer/visual language expert Sophie Stone to expose one of the most unique operations of the Second World War; whereby ordinary women were plucked from obscurity and parachuted behind enemy lines.

These falling women, spiralling through the dark became saboteurs and silent killers. Sent to spy, to eavesdrop, to encourage the spilling of secrets.

The project’s code name? The Beauty Parade.

A unique collaboration between Deaf and hearing artists, The Beauty Parade is captioned throughout and incorporates live music, evocative songs and visual language to tell one of the most extraordinary stories of the 20th century.

Further information and tickets here

Trailer on Youtube: https://youtu.be/iSL-InGyaVc

We also have the magnificent Sophie Stone presenting a synopsis in BSL in the following trailer: https://youtu.be/qN0-au3qwGw

Fortune favours the brave, but chance favours the prepared mind

Maybe it’s my greed for experience, but I have always wanted to lead several lives, a desire made manifest through my choice of projects and parallel careers. I have been a physical theatre performer, a chambermaid, a live art practitioner and a volunteer relief aid worker in war zones. I have written libretti, radio drama, short film, prose; sold shoes, meat and copy; directed film and dance theatre; been a writer in residence and Creative Fellow; and supervised postgraduate degrees in writing for performance whilst participating in Deaf arts, disability culture and the so-called mainstream.

I think one of the most important lessons I have learnt is never to perceive myself as one thing. This business will often try to label us, slap a convenient sticker on our forehead and file us away under a limiting, narrow definition. Although often seen as perverse, I pride myself on not being easy to define. I try to keep experimenting, taking on new challenges and developing my skills. I’ve often found in the UK that diversity is seen as an anomaly, a vulgar excess to be treated with suspicion. Phrases like ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ damn the Renaissance wo/man. I know writers who have limited their careers and creativity by believing it’s inappropriate to try something new, or that there are set patterns and processes to adhere to (if only they could decipher them), rather than inventing new ones.

But it’s difficult and daunting to initiate projects and career paths, especially when writers are often solitary figures in an industry that seems to work in mysterious ways. How to progress is a central question. I spent years expecting everything to suddenly become clear once I had gained enough experience, but now I don’t believe there is one route, method or direction. This is a territory that can’t be definitively mapped. Yet when I look back over my own career, there is a logical pattern, an apparently designed trajectory, although my progress felt haphazard and peripatetic at the time. The only conclusion I can draw is the importance of being guided through the labyrinth by individual curiosity and passions. It is the only way to stop getting ‘lost’ or losing time in dead-end pursuits.

Too often emerging writers second-guess what directors or publishers want, or copy trends rather than setting them, or enter into a strange ventriloquism using a borrowed voice, not their own. When developing new writers, I encourage them to work from their passion/s, to identify and locate what engages or fascinates them. I’ve found that this engagement will often translate into the quality of the work, providing the writer with their particular viewpoint, whilst sustaining them through the long and often arduous process of rewriting. When writers are truly connected to their material they are unlikely to abandon the project – and I think it essential to finish things – their practice is often richer and more complex and they’re less willing to accept second best. It also means the work has content – the writers have something to communicate.

When I started out as a playwright, it was still usual to send one copy of the script out at a time and then endure an agonizing wait of many months to hear from the agent/literary manager/editor/director, only to repeat the hateful pattern all over again. I learnt to cultivate a third skin (a second isn’t thick enough) and, despite my sympathies for the invariably over-worked literary gatekeeper of that time, to loath the power balance. I wanted to be in control as much as I could be of my life, my work and any emerging neuroses. The depressive, solitary writer waiting anxiously by the letterbox/inbox was all too possible, so I distracted myself by reading widely and hungrily the work of women writers in other countries and centuries and exploring performance aesthetics which had fired my imagination.

My understanding of dramaturgy and the multiplicity of theatre languages bloomed when I became increasingly involved in Disability arts and culture and collaborating with Deaf practitioners, using visual language in performance alongside spoken and projected English. A new horizon of performative and dramaturgical possibilities opened before me, along with new markets and opportunities outside the UK. Without realizing it, I had embarked on my freelance career and begun my own professional development. By following my curiosity and being open to new experiences, writing, and form, I grew – and by developing further skills in application writing and producing, I became increasingly in control. I was no longer the passive female writer and maker, but one who was pro-active, controlling and owning ‘the means of production’.

But writers are often shy creatures, backstage, off-camera. It is asking a lot to expect them to be suddenly dynamic and inventive, which is where networks or informal support systems come into their own. I have a close group of allies and friends who act as sounding boards, dramaturgs, editors and actors for readings of works in progress. We barter and pool our skills, mentoring and nurturing one another. When starting out, we even impersonated each other to bypass nerves or modesty, finding it easier to chase up one another’s contacts and scripts rather than our own. Being part of a community is invaluable, as is learning to collaborate and ask for help. I think being aware to our fascinations is important – being alert and conscious of what fires our imagination – and ready to act on it. Fortune may favour the brave, but as Louis Pasteur advised: chance favours the prepared mind.

© Kaite O’Reilly Extracted from ‘How Did I Get Here?’ The Writer’s Compass. National Association of Writers in Education. https://www.nawe.co.uk

I’m not one for making new year resolutions, but I am mindful of that sense of a fresh new slate many experience this time of year, and so decided to share the above essay commissioned by NAWE many years ago. I hope it may engage and perhaps encourage the many writers I’ve met across the world who follow this blog, and hopefully anyone curious enough to read this. In 2020 I feel we need to be more inventive, connected, and creative than ever before – to be kind and angry, gentle yet strong, resistant and problem-solving. I aspire to have integrity, empathy and what my mother called common bloody decency, given there is so little evidence of that in many current political leaders around the world. I think we also need to feel that the  arts and culture has significance and impact, and we’re not just fiddling while Australia and many other parts of the world burns.

As hate crimes, intolerance, ableism and racism becomes ever more normalised, I feel I have to resist and refuse, offering alternative narratives and representations. That perhaps is the only power I have as a writer – to try and encourage empathy and understanding – ‘othering’ is harder to accomplish when you’ve sensed what it’s like to be in another’s skin.

This is why I am such an advocate for diversity and under-represented voices and perspectives. I try to present these in my work, but also support others making work that is political, fresh, and passionate. I’m delighted to be mentoring Dzifa Benson and Lisette Auton into 2020 – fabulous writers tackling some fascinating and important territory (more of which, in their own words, anon) – and continuing to advise the brilliant Carri Munn on a performance project initiated at National Theatre Wales which is both personal and communal, already packing a tremendous punch.

Further hidden stories and perspectives will be explored throughout 2020 as I continue searching the archives of the South Wales Miners’ Library and Richard Burton Archives, guided by historian Professor David Turner as part of Swansea University’s Creativity Fellowship. David’s specialism is disability during the industrial revolution and with his support and access to his splendid research, I hope to write a series of historical ‘d’ monologues over the year’s fellowship, to join my contemporary The ‘d’ Monologues.

Other professional highlights include revisiting Told by the Wind, a performance using the Japanese aesthetic of Quietude, co-created with Phillip Zarrilli and Jo Shapland a decade ago and still in repertory with The Llanarth Group. We’ve been invited to share the work at The International Theatre Festival of Kerala in Thrissur next month. On our return, Phillip and I will go immediately into rehearsals for The Beauty Parade, a collaboration with composer Rebecca Applin and performer/visual language expert Sophie Stone, seeded in my Creative Wales Major Award exploring ‘the performative power of words with music.’ I will continue working with emerging composers on CoDI Text, a project with Ty Cerdd, and look forward to teaching a masterclass in writing for performance at Ty Newydd with fellow playwright and dramaturg David Lane. After all that activity I will need some time to write and focus, so I am immensely grateful to have been granted a Hawthornden Fellowship, which will allow me a month’s retreat and concentrated work on a new project, linked to my Creativity Fellowship at Swansea University.

All in all, already a busy year… but there is still time to be supportive, part of a community, and to rage against the negativity and fear pedalled to us through politicians and media. Resist.

I wish you all a creative and joyful 2020 – and to resist, resist, resist.

Change will come.

 

 

 

The Writer’s Compass: inclusivity, diversity, innovation

The Beauty Parade. Wales Millennium Centre 5-14 March 2020

A Christmas bauble of Sophie Stone, Georgina White and Anne-Marie Piazza in a seasonal image of my next production, The Beauty Parade. Opening at Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) in March 2020, I’m currently completing the book and lyrics for this performance, working with composer Rebecca Applin and co-director Phillip Zarrilli:

“We are the secret moon squadrons. Dropped by moonlight to set Europe ablaze.”

It’s the 1940s, deep in wartime, men are fighting on the front line and women don’t engage in armed combat; they keep the fires burning, the factories going, and the children fed at home. Or so we were told…

The Beauty Parade has been a project a long time coming… It was inspired by a story told to me by my ‘adopted Grandma’ Molly Schuessele in the early 1990’s, about ordinary women recruited, trained as agents and then dropped by parachute behind enemy lines into occupied France 1941-44. I began exploring both the theme and the form in my 2017/18 Creative Wales Major Award: The performative power of words with music, before being commissioned to bring it to fruition by WMC. A collaboration between Deaf and hearing artists, it exemplifies the innovation in form and aesthetic I have been speaking about recently, at Simbiotic Festival (Barcelona) and for the British Council / Acesso Cultura in Lisbon earlier this week.

Barcelona and the Portugese event featured interactions with directors, programmers and artists, where I argued that so-called ‘access tools’ should be put at the heart of the creative process – ‘the aesthetics of access’. Rather than being an ‘add-on’ for ‘the disabled’ or ‘the Deaf’, I argue that creatively incorporating audio description, captioning, sign or visual languages into our performances from the outset develops the form and leads to innovative, exciting work.

It is immensely gratifying to have interest in inclusivity and work led by disabled and Deaf artists. For decades I and many others have been banging on doors, proselytising about the necessity of diversity not just in bodies on stage, but the stories told, by whom, and how. Working with fabulous composer Rebecca Applin and performer/visual language expert Sophie Stone has been a phenomenal experience, interweaving Deaf and hearing performance cultures into a hybrid, a ‘third way’….

After a short r&d next week, our rehearsals start with the full cast and company in Cardiff at WMC in February 2020. Along with writing the book and lyrics, I’m also co-directing with Phillip Zarrilli and co-producing with Emma Evans of WMC. Tickets are on sale now and further information about the production is available here.

 

Is disability culture going mainstream? ‘richard iii redux’ shortlisted for 2019 James Tait Black Award

I know the answer even as I wrote the title for this blog… No. And define ‘mainstream’ while you’re about it, O’Reilly. And ‘disability culture’… and no, I am not going to turn this blog into one of my academic essays about Crip’ culture and interweaving performance cultures (though I can refer you to where they’re published, if you want to drop me a line, below).

I started wondering about the place of disabled-led work after noticing it seems to be getting a higher profile these days, whether at Edinburgh Fringe or Lee Ridley (aka ‘No Voice Guy’) winning Britain’s Got Talent and heading off on a National tour. The RSC, National Theatre (London) and The Globe are all presenting more diverse casting regarding Deaf and disabled performers in recent and upcoming productions, whilst Ramps on the Moon and Agents for Change beaver away on inclusivity and creatively accessible theatre productions with their regional theatre allies.

This is all brilliant. I’m ecstatic when longterm collaborator Sophie Stone moves from spoken to visual language on a Westend stage in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s ‘Emilia’ and can’t wait for her embodiment of a Deaf Jacques in ‘As You Like It’ at the Globe later this year. And as for seminal moments… Francesca Martinez’s calling out of the Government’s austerity policy (“blood on their hands”) on BBC’s Question Time remains my political highlight of the year (see @chessmartinez pic.twitter.com/3zQUDVLvOa )

The visibility and presence of disabled and Deaf individuals on our screens and stages is finally increasing, which feels like a triumph. I’ve written previously about the importance of representation (in 2012 for The Guardian here Howlround here ). All my professional career I have tried to write and make work that is inclusive and from a politicised disability perspective, challenging notions of normalcy and embracing all the possibilities of human variety. To witness so much talent and intelligence finally taking a rightful place on national platforms is extraordinary and deeply gratifying.

Many years ago I realised that one way I could help bring about change was to use the only power I have as a playwright – to write inclusive plays but also specific parts solely for Deaf and disabled performers. peeling (commissioned by Jenny Sealey for Graeae Theatre Company, first produced in 2002) was the first script where I insisted that the rights were only available to companies casting Deaf and disabled performers in the role. Since then I’ve turned down eleven requests for production from all over the world, when the directors have said “there’s no disabled or Deaf actors in our town/country/planet, and so we’ll cast hearing and non-disabled actresses who will, well, ACT…” Given that peeling is a meta-theatrical play, with performer/actress characters stating: “Cripping up: it’s the Twenty First century answer to blacking-up” I have often wondered how closely the actual script had been read by proposed producers.

Thankfully now, seventeen years on from its first production, there are companies producing the play with sterling Deaf and disabled casts. Taking Flight Theatre Company produced peeling earlier this year in a Wales-wide tour, garnering a 4 star review from The Guardian. They will be re-mounting the production for a tour of England this September – tour dates and information here.

Seattle-based Sound Theatre will present the American premiere of peeling this August. Helmed by director Teresa Thuman, peeling offers “a fresh, if not jolting, perspective.”

Sound Theatre production of ‘peeling’. Caroline Agee. Photo by Kellie Martin.

“Seattle has never seen a play like this before,” director Teresa Thuman states in the press release (reproduced at the end of the post). “The very nature of theatre is to expose and make public all that is human – in every form, every ability. For those who live on the margins, theatre is a way to bring them to the center as fully human beings.”

This notion of putting disabled and Deaf figures centre-stage was at the heart of my co-written text, ‘richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III’. Taking Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’,  the veritable poster-boy of disability-as-the-emodiment-of-evil as inspiration, co-writer and director Phillip Zarrilli and I set out to reclaim historical Richard and ‘re-crip the crip’, as I put it in an essay for Howlround (‘Cripping the Crip’).
Written for long-term collaborator performer and disability activist Sara Beer, we wanted to put her centre-stage in a complex multi-layered solo, where she plays multiple fictional personas alongside an investigation into the historical Richard and Shakespeare’s ‘monstering’ of him.
We’re delighted to be able to reveal this week that ‘richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III’ has been shortlisted for the 2019 James Tait Black Award for Drama.

 

“The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Drama celebrates innovative drama produced worldwide. The prize is presented annually for the best original play written in English, Scots or Gaelic and first performed by a professional company in the previous year. The £10,000 prize is open to any new work by playwrights in any country, and at any stage of their career. The accolade was launched in 2012, when Britain’s longest-running literary awards—the James Tait Black Prizes—were extended to include a category for drama.

The play is a riotous one-woman piece promoting inclusivity in the arts and written from a radical disability perspective.  It challenges Shakespeare’s representation of the disabled monarch and the creation of ‘the twisted body/twisted mind’ trope, satirising the non-disabled actors who have ‘cripped up’ to play the part in the past.

The panel includes students and academics from the University of Edinburgh, representatives from the Traverse Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Schaubuhne Theatre, Berlin, and freelance theatre director Pooja Ghai.

‘This year’s shortlisted plays deal with some of the most pressing issues facing the world today. The innovation demonstrated by each playwright is truly astounding and I would like to congratulate each of them for being nominated for this esteemed international prize.’         Chair of the judging panel Greg Walker Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University

 The Award Ceremony will take place at the Traverse Theatre on Monday, 19 August, 2019 from 16:00-17:30. The other two finalists this year include two US plays: Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris and Dance Nation by Clare Barron.The ceremony will include readings of excerpts from each of the three finalist plays, interviews with the authors, and announcement of the winning play.  Further details here.

This accolade in being shortlisted for this prestigious prize was what prompted my opening question and the title of this blog post – Has disability arts gone mainstream? I am encouraged that a piece of Crip’ culture has been shortlisted for such a ‘mainstream’ award, never mind it being a critical irreverent poke at The Bard and his damaging presentation of physical difference equaling evil, written from a radical disability perspective, with a tone defiantly feminist and Welsh. It is a credit to the unique judging panel of the award that work like ours is valued and promoted. Phillip, Sara and I are hugely excited and thankful about this nomination… but rather as one swallow doesn’t make one summer, one nomination, or one casting, or one appearance on Question Time doesn’t make us ‘mainstream’, or with fair and equal worth and opportunity. But we are trying, and kicking down those doors, and raising our hands and our voices to speak and sign and make ourselves, our stories, our talents, experiences and lives visible.
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PRESS RELEASE: Sound Theatre Company produces ‘peeling’, the U.S. premiere of landmark play about disability.

SEATTLE, WA—In the U.S. premiere of playwright Kaite O’ Reilly’s internationally renowned play peeling, Sound Theatre Company continues staging authentic narratives and breaking new theatrical ground. peeling weaves audio description, sign language, and theatrical spectacle into a no-holds-barred play about representation, women, reproduction, war, and eugenics. With brisk wit and domestic backstage comedy, O’ Reilly’s storytelling style has earned comparisons to Beckett and Caryl Churchill. In an overproduced, postmodern production of Euripides’ The Trojan WomenAlfa, Coral, and Beatty have been cast in bit parts to fulfill a playhouse’s misplaced diversity program; but as tokens, the trio never experiences true inclusion. Sound Theatre centers disability justice by assembling a production team and cast that brings authentic lived experiences to this groundbreaking production.

Following Sound Theatre Company’s 2018 season of Radical Inclusion,
this season explores themes of erasure. To wit, peeling probes at buzzwords like “inclusion,” “diversity,” “authenticity,” and “equal
opportunities” as an extension of Sound Theatre’s ongoing effort to spotlight talented theatermakers with disabilities.

WHAT: peeling, by Kaite O’ Reilly

WHEN: Previews August 8, 9 at 8PM Opening August 10, 8PM Continues through Saturday August 24, 2018

WHERE: Center Theatre at the Seattle Center Armory https://www.artful.ly/store/events/14170

CAST

Carolyn Agee – Coral                                                                                                     Michelle Mary Schaefer – Alfa                                                                                       Sydney Maltese – Beaty

ARTISTIC TEAM

Teresa Thuman – Director
Monique Holt – Assistant Director and Director of Artistic Sign Language Andrea Kovich – Dramaturg
Parmida Ziaei – Scenic Designer
Taya Pyne – Costume Designer
Adrian Kljucec- Sound Designer
Jared Norman – Projection Designer
Richard Schaefer – Lightning Designer/Technical Director
Robin MaCartney – Props Designer
Zoé Tziotis Shields – Wardrobe Crew, Sound Board Operator
Roland Carette-Meyers – Accessibility Coordinator
Francesca Betancourt – Movement Director

This writing life: Summer 2019

My mother always said that life offered a feast or a famine and never a steady balanced three meals a day which might keep our blood sugar and nerves steady. No, it was a juddering, shuddering rollercoaster ride, swinging from gluttony to a wafer and water diet, and I should always be ready for either.

This year so far has certainly been of a generous rather than miserly disposition. I’ve been immensely fortunate with productions and commissions in 2019/20 and pause now, just post-midsummer, with my head spinning and my belly fit to burst. This, I promise you, is not gloating – the famine months will be upon me again soon enough, and I know from past experience what bolsters me through those lean times is the memory of small celebrations when things were bowling along famously, thank you very much. Success and steady employment is scarce enough in this business, so should be celebrated when it dallies in the neighbourhood. But as my friend Chris reminds me, it isn’t entirely luck when things go well, but a reaping of the benefits of work we seeded long ago. And so like the cricket in the fable, I am singing in the sunshine, but also trying to be the ant and prepare for the future.

Aesop’s Fables, Unicorn theatre.

Fables have been very much a companion the past few months as my first small commission for Unicorn Theatre goes into production. “Working in theatre with young audiences is a total privilege and helps make you a better artist” Aesop’s Fables directors Justin Audibert and Rachel Bagshaw said in a recent interview and I totally agree.

My writing commissions when I was starting out were for young audiences, and the first thing I think about when approaching a new script is considering who will be experiencing the event I hope to create. It directs the story, tone, aesthetic and theatre style. After huge state of the nation plays about death, difference, diversity and disability, it was hugely enjoyable to return to thinking about a young audience, and how to select and make current one of Aesop’s Fables for The Unicorn Theatre’s summer production.

Jessica Hayles and Guy Rhys in ‘Dog and Wolf’ by Kaite O’Reilly, Unicorn Theatre. Photo: Craig Sugden

I chose ‘Dog and Wolf’, a little known fable from Aesop’s trove, as I needed to find something that could have resonance for contemporary times and one that could be political (as in the personal is political) rather than archaic or moralistic. Aesop is often associated with ‘the moral of the story is…’ but there’s no moral here, it’s a teaching, which is just as well, as I abhor moralising. I think it’s better to engage through raising curiosity or empathy rather than through the flawed binary of right or wrong. This pithy fable explores quite complex relationships and issues – of ‘ownership’, hierarchy, freedom, and work/life ethics and fitted my politics of preferring to be hungry and free than well fed but not owning yourself.

I hasten to say, my looping, punning, tongue-twistery treatment of the fable may indeed verge on the post-dramatic, but it’s not as worthy as my hand-wringing description, above, suggests. Co-directed by both Justin and Rachel, it appears in the repertoire for both age groups, 4-8 year old and 8-11 years, and runs until August.

I’ve been thinking a lot about perseverance and longevity in career of late. It’s largely due to mentoring two brilliant but vastly different creatives, Gemma Prangle and Lisette Auton. The conversations we’ve had are as instructive for me as them. We’ve been thinking about trying new processes and form, discovering voice and tone while trying to beat that old bug bear, imposter syndrome. Both women are phenomenally talented and forging ahead with new practice and projects. It’s an immense privilege to be going part of the journey with them, reminding them that no, there is no one way to do anything, and part of their task is finding what works for them, and to hell with all the advice and theories about how to… I’m sure I’m not the only one who wasted an inordinately long time worrying that my process wasn’t like what the manuals or the best-selling authors or the Oscar winning screenwriters said was needed to succeed and get ahead.

‘Just do it’, I said during an impromptu lecture with members from Youth Theatres of Ireland who attended a performance of my play Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival. It’s not the first time I’ve been photographed outside a theatre with a large percentage of the audience, nor will it be the last time I’m suddenly press-ganged into an impromptu Q&A. I love it. It’s refreshing and invigorating to speak with our emerging practitioners and the future generation of theatre makers. These young creatives were spectacular, full of insight and curiosity, with a strong social and political conscience. Irish theatre is going to be just fine if these are the makers of the future.

Members from the Youth Theatres of Ireland with me outside the Firkin Crane, Cork, prior to a performance of ‘Cosy’ by Gaitkrash.

Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival was delicious, a wonderful experience of working with six female performers, playing age 16 to 76, at the top of their game. The following short video interviews can give a taste of the company, Gaitkrash, and the lively dynamic whilst dealing with the subject of death from performers Regina Crowley, Mairin Prendergast and Pauline O’Driscoll https://vimeo.com/341828036

http://https://vimeo.com/341828036

The director, Phillip Zarrilli, has his own playful riposte on the subject. https://vimeo.com/345047366

http://https://vimeo.com/345047366

July continues being female-collaborator led, with research and development on a new commission from Wales Millennium Centre, building on my 2017/18 Major Creative Wales Award from Arts Council Wales which had me exploring ‘The Performative Power of Words with Music.’

Sophie Stone and Rebecca Applin in rehearsal in Wales Millennium Centre

Working with long term collaborators composer Rebecca Applin and performer Sophie Stone is an absolute dream, and I will be opening up more about this innovative project later in the Summer.

Meanwhile also in July is the book release of ‘Persians’, winner of theTed Hughes Award for new works in poetry, published by Fair Acre Press.

We will be having a Poetry Party on 1st September at Mid Wales Arts Centre – celebrating ‘Persians’ and the publication of brilliant poet Chris Kinsey’s ‘From Rowan Ridge’, also published by Fair Acre Press. The event is free, and will feature readings from our new books, plus a host of invited poets from across Wales.

Persians’ will be published by Fair Acre Press on 29th July 2019, but advance copies can be ordered from the publisher here. It will also be available via Amazon, online, and all good bookshops from the publication date.

I also have other launch events and workshops happening in early September, with a few places left on my masterclass in adaptations at Small World Theatre, details here.

 

Launch and workshop:

I will be launching Persians in Cardigan at Small World Theatre on 7th September, following a workshop on adapting ancient texts:

Singing the old bones –  new stories from ancient texts. 
Revisiting older stories can be a masterclass in narrative. Myths, fairystories, epics from Ancient Greek drama and the oral tradition survive as they seem to speak to each age anew. These archetypal characters and narratives inspire and invite constant reinvention, yet the old bones remain true. In this practical workshop we will retell, remake and renew, participants exploring individual perspectives on timeless themes, reshaping ancient tales to illuminate something contemporary. The tutor, Kaite, is a repeat re-teller, creating to date three very different performances on the story of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion, and a new version of Aeschylus’s Persians,the oldest verse drama in the Western tradition, which won The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.
We ask participants to come with a myth, fable, ancient drama or story, which we will use to explore the fundamentals of story making: theme, structure, setting, dialogue and character. Through examples of Kaite’s diverse approaches to reinventing existing texts, we will make our own, sparking a new cycle of telling and retellings, seeding work which could be developed further beyond the masterclass.
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Workshop 2-5pm on 7th September 2019, £25.
Small World Theatre | Theatr Byd Bychan
Cardigan | Aberteifi, SA43 IJY
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Booking:
sam@smallworld.org.uk
01239 615 952
smallworld.org.uk
twitter: @theatrbydbychan
Numbers are limited and already almost sold out, but plans are afoot for a further workshop/event in November 2019 at the same venue. 
After the workshop:
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Launch of ‘Persians’ Kaite O’Reilly’s new version of Aeschylus’s classic verse drama. 6pm. Free entry.
Kaite will read from the verse drama and speak about the historical and contemporary contexts of this extraordinary text. There will be a book signing after the reading and launch.