Tag Archives: the 9 fridas by kaite O’Reilly

A hat trick in 2016… UK, Germany, Hong Kong….

And here’s something I hope I don’t often do – puff out my chest and blog (brag?) about me me me…

I started this blog to write about process and creativity, to document various routes through writing and collaboration in live performance. This is terrific when you’re in the rehearsal room and have wonderful fellow artists to bounce off (and photograph), but it’s perhaps not so riveting (or possible) when in the slow dark hours of solitary revision, or research. This is why I’ve been focusing more on other writers, workshops, and small publishers of late whilst I’ve been cautiously working my way through the tentative revisions of a play and a novel.

But in the midst of what feels creatively like a deep winter, growth stirs underfoot and although it is only November, I already have confirmation of shoots appearing, particularly for March 2016. This is what I wish to share with you today, these emerging green tips…

February 2016 will start with rehearsals in Cardiff on the play I am currently writing. Cosy is an Unlimited commission, which you can read about on my sister blog here.  It will premiere in Wales in March 2016, directed by Phillip Zarrilli  with a cast of six fabulous female performers, and I’ll be posting more about the dates and details of this when the season launches shortly.

March will also bring the German language premiere of my play about the survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury – The Almond and the Seahorse – translated by Frank Heibert as Mandel & Seepferdchen. The premiere will be 24th March 2016 at Mainfranken Theater Wurzburg, Germany. Details in German here. I’m fortunate to have worked before with Frank – he translated my debut YARD  (The Bush Theatre 1998, winner of the Peggy Ramsay Award) for the Maxim Gorki Theatre in Berlin, where it ran for two years as Schlachthaus.

Schlachthaus by Kaite O'Reilly, Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin. http://www.kaiteoreilly.com/plays/schlachthaus/index.htm

Schlachthaus by Kaite O’Reilly, Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin. http://www.kaiteoreilly.com/plays/schlachthaus/index.htm

You can see some striking images from that acclaimed production, directed by Martin Kloepfer here. Frank and I have collaborated on other texts, and I feel so privileged to continue evolving this relationship across language and representation with such an admired and skilful translator.

Translation also features in my hat trick of the year, the remounting of my performance text about Frida Kahlo, the 9 Fridas. The closing production of The 2014 Taipei Arts Festival, directed in the Mandarin by Phillip Zarrilli, this Mobius Strip production will transfer to Hong Kong in October 2016, in association with Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. I hope to be back in Taipei for rehearsals and also at the premiere in Hong Kong in the Autumn. The autumn is a fascinating time to be in Taiwan, and my rehearsal/travel diary from the six weeks I spent in Taipei in 2014 was published by Wales Arts Review here.

There are also other projects afoot, publications and writing courses I will be revealing shortly (watch this space!) – but I hope that your own creativity is progressing slowly but surely. It may be winter, but there is still richness and fecundity in these apparent dreary November days.

A director’s perspective on research and development: Phillip Zarrilli on ‘Cosy’

I’m often asked about the research and development process attached to any project – What goes on? What purpose does it serve? The answer differs from project to project, depending on where in the process the r&d may take place. Sometimes it is to scratch the surface and begin exploring possibilities around a concept, perhaps collaborating with a team of actors/devisers/co-creators. For my work in progress ‘Cosy’, an Unlimited commission, the polished first draft was already in existence, written between productions over the past few years. I wanted to ‘hear’ the text in the air and outside my head, to try out some new sections, put it before an invited audience to get feedback, and to then reflect on possible future revisions.

A director’s purpose and focus for research & development hadn’t really occurred to me before (oops!). In my experience as a playwright, my own needs have always been paramount, so I’m grateful that Phillip Zarrilli, director of ‘Cosy’ let me reproduce his report on our two days research & development last month here:

'Cosy' r&d. Photo: Mike Salmon

‘Cosy’ r&d

Just as the initial two days of research and development on ‘Cosy’ have been of great benefit to Kaite O’Reilly as the playwright, our process has been immensely beneficial to me as the director. Very early in our process (1-2 May 2015) we auditioned a wealth of disabled and non-disabled actresses. We then spent one and one-half days (June 17-18, 2015) working on the script in the rehearsal room in Cardiff, and had a reading of the script-in-hand for an invited audience at Graeae Theatre Company’s Studio in London.

My first task as director of ‘Cosy’ is to assist Kaite in developing the best script she can within the context of what appears to be a ‘family drama’. Throughout our process, including our two days of research and development, I have provided dramaturgical feedback to Kaite as she has been refining and further developing the nuances of the script for the reading.

My second task is to actualize as best I can the potential of Kaite’s script through my work as we select the best cast we can for the six wonderful roles Kaite has written, and to guide the actors’ as they work on the nuances and complexities of Kaite’s script. ‘Cosy’ has a cast of six women including Rose (76 year old matriarch of the family); her three daughters—Ed (56), Camille (early 50s), and Gloria (late 40s); her granddaughter (Camille’s daughter, Isabella, 16); and Rose’s ‘friend’—Maureen. For the two day R & D period, we cast the core ‘family’ with five Welsh actresses: Rose [Sharon Morgan], Ed [Ri Richards], Camille [Ruth Lloyd], Gloria [Llinos Daniel], Isabella [Bethan Rose-Young]) who created a wonderfully dynamic and complex family at the reading. Finally, we cast Welsh actress, Sara Beer, as the quirky ‘companion/friend-to-Rose/outsider-to-the-family’.

Our first day of R & D began with a simple reading of the script so that Kaite could hear and respond to her first draft. After this initial reading we had an extensive discussion of the script, allowing actors to raise questions about their roles, and discussing some of the unique demands the script has for actors—the juxtaposition of the comedic element arising from the family dynamics once the female clan has gathered at the family home with the existential impact of how an aging woman faced the ‘facts’ of her aging and the loss of agency that confronts women as they age.

Having directed the premiere productions of two of Kaite’s other plays, ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ (Sherman Cymru, 2008), and ‘the 9 Fridas’ (Taipei Arts Festival with Mobius Strip and Hong Kong Rep, 2014), I know how difficult a task it is to guide actors toward the kind of nuanced playing of the types of characters that Kaite and the complexities of the situations in which she places her characters.

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

Our remaining session on the first day of development, and final session in London prior to the reading of ‘Cosy’ were devoted to (1) trying out new text Kaite was writing in response to the initial reading and our work on the script; (2) having ‘working’ rehearsals on each of the five scenes in order to begin to explore the nuances of each scene; and (3) providing directorial feedback to each actor on the playing of specific/key moments in each scene.

From my directorial perspective, it was a ‘luxury’ to have these days to work with this potential cast of six. In our day and a half of development work with the cast collectively provided our audience with a highly credible initial reading of Kaite O’Reilly’s second draft.

These two days together have allowed me to get to know each of these actresses as individual professionals, as well as how they might work together on Kaite O’Reilly’s dynamic and highly complex script.

And we’ve opened…. The 9 Fridas Taipei premiere

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

So we have opened – and to great responses.

It is extraordinary, the moment in the dress rehearsal when suddenly, for the first time, everything comes together. All those separate teams- the lighting design, the composer and sound composition, the set design, the costume department, the performers and director/playwright, the trusty stage management – suddenly all these individual bodies become one entity…. I sat in The Wellspring Theatre and saw all the aspects discussed in the many production and design meetings come together. It is a wonderful synergy – all the collective energies, imaginations and skills creating something other.

Every time feel like a small miracle. A production is a collective act of will – and faith. I am grateful to all my collaborators at Mobius Strip Theatre Company, the Wellspring Theatre and of course the Taipei Art Festival for this willing, generous and creative cooperation.

O'Reilly with 2 of her 9 Fridas - Bobo Fung and Faye Leong. Taipei 2014.

O’Reilly with 2 of her 9 Fridas – Bobo Fung and Faye Leong. Taipei 2014.

xx

Why I think Frida Kahlo is a disability icon: Frida Kahlo on pain and tragedy

From pinterest

From pinterest

“Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing.” 

Frida Kahlo journals

We are working on my performance text ‘The 9 fridas’ and dealing constantly with Frida Kahlo’s defiance in the face of pain and adversity. One reason why I chose to make this text was a desire to reclaim Kahlo as a disability icon and inspiration, rather than the ‘tragic but brave’ mainstream representations of her in more recent years. Before we coined ‘crip culture’ she was living it… I adore her for her refusal to be constrained by what could be viewed at the time as the limitations of her gender and impairment – for the fact she created extraordinary art the likes of which had not been seen before – for her laughter, her anger, her attitude in her paintings – what Andre Breton called ‘the pretty ribbon tied around the bomb.’

“My painting carries with it the message of pain.”
Frida Kahlo journals.

As someone who also experiences chronic pain, I am drawn to her paintings and the depictions of pain. Sometimes her work dwells, perhaps even relishes, her experience of pain – her face on a wounded deer, the tears and hammered-in nails of The Broken Column, both echoing the martyrdom of St Sebastian. It is something I have addressed in the production of ‘The  Fridas’ – this paradox between her laughing at tragedy (as Kahlo acknowledges in the top quotation),  and presenting her broken body as tragic.

YY's version of Frida's Day of the dead sugar skull. The 9 Fridas, Taipei.

YY’s version of Frida’s Day of the dead sugar skull. The 9 Fridas, Taipei.

As a Mexican, death would have been a constant companion and not taboo, nor as feared as it is in so many other cultures. In the script I use references to the ancient Mayan belief system which Kahlo quoted in diaries and letters: the sense all has spirit – even the rocks and cacti and hummingbirds – and that death is a natural state we return to after living. As someone who escaped death many times in her life through accident and disease, and who survived an excessive amount of serious operations, ‘le pelona’ – the bald one/Death – ‘dances around my bed at night.’ This is another aspect which I feel has much resonance for disabled people – the body interfered with, the reality of our corporeal state, the closeness of mortality and the joie de vivre that can arise from this awareness.

Our designer Yy Lim and costume designer YS Lee are having the time of their lives working on this Mobius Strip production for the Taipei art festival. In my previous post I reproduced some of the looks YS has created for our figures who are and are not Kahlo, and props appear daily in the rehearsal room, creating delight or pathos.

This extraordinary corset created by YS, exactly reproducing one of Kahlo’s plaster corsets silenced us this week.

Designer YS Lee's reproduction of Frida Kahlo's corset for 'The 9 Fridas'

Designer YS Lee’s reproduction of Frida Kahlo’s corset for ‘The 9 Fridas’

To love so fully, to create such masterly art work despite constant pain and managing her impairments, and to truly live until the moment she died… that’s why I call Frida Kahlo a disability icon.

Chevela Vargas, seated taiquiquan, and stinky tofu: second week rehearsals of The 9 Fridas in Taipei

Chevela Vargas haunts me. Her smoky, broken voice is the soundtrack to my dreams and the first thing I become conscious of when I wake. The raspy passion of her songs play in my head all day and then loop and replay in my mind all night. Torch singer, lesbian icon, rumoured lover of Frida Kahlo, her voice is part of the audio for the Taiwanese production of my script ‘The 9 Fridas’. The photo of her sexy and supine, her hand casually resting on the breast of a laughing Frida Kahlo is circulating our company like contraband.

Frida Kahlo and Chevela Vargas. Photo from Tumblr

Frida Kahlo and Chevela Vargas. Photo from Tumblr

We are in the second week of rehearsals with Mobius Strip Theatre Company, working on my performance text for the Taipei art festival. Inspired by the disabled Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, we are an integrated company of disabled and non-disabled practitioners, joyfully collaborating and sharing new skills.

Chih-Chung Cheng and Phillip Zarrilli in training before rehearsals

Chih-Chung Cheng and Phillip Zarrilli in training before rehearsals

Our director Phillip Zarrilli uses Asian martial arts in the training for his psychophysical approach to actor-training and it has been fascinating observing one of our actors, Chih-Chung Cheng, adapt kalaripayyattu and taiquiquan. Phillip is always very keen we adapt the martial art to the foibles and idiosyncrasies of our individual bodies, and was intrigued to encounter his long-term practice of taiquiquan in a new position – seated on the rehearsal floor, with Chung.

Chih-Chung Cheng and Phillip Zarrilli: seated Taiquiquan.

Chih-Chung Cheng and Phillip Zarrilli: seated Taiquiquan.

Taipei is lively, friendly, and so much fun. I was invited by the British Council and Taipei art festival to give a writing workshop and a public lecture: ‘Representations of Impairment in the Western Theatrical Canon’. This has been an area of my research for some time, developed partly during my on-going fellowship at Freie Universitat’s International Research Centre: Interweaving Performance Cultures.

In the dinner hour between the events I and my spontaneous girl gang – a group of fabulous creative Taiwanese women – headed for stinky tofu at a street cafe and the auspicious temple for match-making nearby.

Dinner on taipei street between creative writing workshop and a public talk

Dinner on taipei street between creative writing workshop and a public talk

The script is becoming more familiar to the actors, who are interrogating the content, asking questions, seeking clarity. It’s a hugely exciting time as the text begins to breathe and take shape. As a playwright, I am constantly editing and tightening the text as the different scenes start coming into focus. What may work on the page can trip, divert, or slow when put ‘up’ – the dynamics of individual moments, as well as sequences and the flow of the whole piece needs to be taken into consideration. Tempo-rhythm, dynamic and flow is of great importance to me, especially at this point in the process.

Phillip Zarrilli directing Faye Leung. 'The 9 Fridas' Taipei 2014

Phillip Zarrilli directing Faye Leung. ‘The 9 Fridas’ Taipei 2014

Makeshift props are beginning to appear in the rehearsal room and costume designer YS Lee is making some fabulous reproduction accessories from Kahlo’s paintings.

Costume designer Ys Lee with his replica of 'A Necklace of Thorns'

Costume designer Ys Lee with his replica of ‘A Necklace of Thorns’

One is his version of the necklace of a dead hummingbird from Kahlo’s self-portrait ‘A Necklace of Thorns’, used to great effect in the publicity for the production.

Bobo Fung in publicity material for 'The 9 Fridas' by Kaite O'Reilly. Mobius Strip Theatre/Taipei art festival 2014

Bobo Fung in publicity material for ‘The 9 Fridas’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Mobius Strip Theatre/Taipei art festival 2014

I can’t wait to see the costumes, including a leather corset he is making, based on one Frida Kahlo wore.

 

So this is Taipei…

 

Taipei viewed from the University of the arts

Taipei viewed from the University of the arts

There is sun and great heat and tropical plants and Mandarin in the air alongside the song of crickets. There are no sheep, or the blessing of Welsh rain – although I’ve been told to expect a typhoon or two in the next six weeks. In my fridge I have fresh lychee, longan (‘dragons’ eyes’), and green tea with grapefruit. There are smiles everywhere. As Phillip Zarrilli put it last night after we were showered with greetings coming out of the MRT (underground):  ‘In Taipei even the drunks are friendly.’

Phillip Zarrilli with the Mandarin translation of 'Psychophysical Acting,' ATHE Outstanding book of the year.

Phillip Zarrilli with the Mandarin translation of ‘Psychophysical Acting,’ ATHE Outstanding book of the year.

We are given a celebrity’s welcome by the Taipei International Art Festival, Mobius Strip Theatre company and members of the cast who have worked with Phillip before. We are then whisked to the studio where Phillip is presented with the Mandarin translation of his award-winning ‘Psychophysical Acting: An Intercultural Approach after Stanislavski’, translated by Taiwanese actors and former students Longlong (Chien-Lang Lin) and Ying-ni Ma. The book will be launched at the festival alongside Phillip’s production of my performance text The 9 Fridas. 

Chih-chung Cheng participating in Phillip Zarrilli's workshop for Taipei Arts Festival

Chih-chung Cheng participating in Phillip Zarrilli’s workshop for Taipei Arts Festival

On our first day Phillip begins an intensive workshop in his approach to psychophysical acting using Asian martial arts with a mixture of students and professional actors including the cast of The 9 Fridas. Last night we saw the Well Spring theatre, where we will perform, and met with the company and design team to discuss the set and costumes.

Phillip Zarrilli, Ys Lee, YY Lim, Cordelia Yang, Faye Leong and Alex Cheung

Phillip Zarrilli, Ys Lee, YY Lim, Cordelia Yang, Faye Leong and Alex Cheung

After all our skype interventions – conversations and even the first reading of the play in Mandarin – it’s great to finally meet Alex Cheung and Faye Leong, co-artistic directors of Mobius Strip Theatre Company in person. We’re all excited to be finally together, training together and beginning this intensive creative process together.

Phillip Zarrilli, Alex Cheung and Faye Leong, co-artistic directors of Mobius Strip Theatre, Taipei

Phillip Zarrilli, Alex Cheung and Faye Leong, co-artistic directors of Mobius Strip Theatre, Taipei

l’m grinning my head off. No wonder everyone is smiling at me.

The 9 Fridas – Frida Kahlo in Taipei

Original illustration  for Möbius strip Theatre's new play + "The 9 Fridas ( 九面芙烈達 )" Salt Tse-Ying Chiang (江則穎) http://salt-c-art.com/The-9-Fridas

Original illustration
for Möbius strip Theatre’s new play
+ “The 9 Fridas ( 九面芙烈達 )” Salt Tse-Ying Chiang (江則穎)
http://salt-c-art.com/The-9-Fridas

 

I’m really excited to see the publicity for my performance text ‘the 9 fridas’, to be produced by Mobius Strip Theatre Company for the 2014 Taipei international arts festival. I love the original artwork by Salt Tse-Ying Chiang, commissioned by the company for the production image, and the publicity trailer is beautiful:

http://eng.taipeifestival.org.tw/FilmContent.aspx?ID=421

This process is magical and exciting. A script I wrote, which previously only existed in my head, is now forming slowly into other manifestations, its visuals being shaped and determined by someone else’s imagination (but informed by my script) across in Taiwan.

I wrote a post some time ago about how director Phillip Zarrilli and I sat in an office in Berlin, listening in via skype to the first read-through in Taipei of the translation into Mandarin. The sense of the collaboration germinating was palpable. Now it continues to grow and evolve, taking form. The costume designs and set are taking shape and I can’t wait to get to Taipei later in the Summer to begin the rehearsals…