Tag Archives: The Llanarth Group

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.

 

 

 

Opening night! richard iii redux on International Women’s Day…..

Sara Beer in ‘richard iii redux’. Photo by Paddy Faulkner panopticphotography

And so it comes around… and appropriately, on International Women’s Day – the world premiere of richard iii redux OR Sara Beer [is/not] Richard III… Delighted to discover we’re sold out tonight at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff – it seems such a terrific way to celebrate today – a one woman show, taking on an iconic male role, subverting it, commenting on it, remixing it and making it her own….. And a disabled woman performer in a powerful role, commanding centre-stage…. I am so proud of the work Sara is doing, and so grateful to the talented and committed artists, designers, and crew working with The Llanarth Group.

The past few days have been tech and dress rehearsals, where Paddy Faulkner of panopticphotography took these images. Our final dress this afternoon was crowned with an interview with @MadeInCardiff TV – Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli and I all talking about our particular processes and perspectives on the project, which should be going out over the next three nights.

We also spoke with Nicola Heywood Thomas on BBC Radio Wales Arts Show, which you can listen again to, or download as a podcast here

@Buzz_Magazine also previewed the show in their March 2018 edition, on page 28, here

Sara Beerin richard iii redux. Photo by Paddy Faulkner panopticphotography

We are determined to make the show as accessible as possible, and so I am touring with the production as live captioner. I think this is a first. I’ve never heard of the playwright/dramaturg taking a place in the on-stage tech corner – responsible for projecting her text onto the screens, matching the performer’s spoken words. This is a production where there are no smoke and mirrors – everything is transparent and in view, which matches the metatheatrical nature of the performance. So many productions make a song and dance about captioning one show in a whole run – and that’s great, but not enough… we will caption every single performance, from Cardiff, Aberystwyth, to Theatre Clwyd in Mold, from The Torch at Milford Haven, to Small World Theatre in Cardigan. Captioning makes a production more accessible for all sorts of audience members, and creates an additional interesting aesthetic, as can be seen by Paddy’s photograph, above.

We are so excited to be finally bringing this production before an audience tonight – Sara is ready for her public! – and celebrating international women’s day, putting women usually left off-stage or in the shadows in full light, centre-stage.

All about the female….with thanks to those who fought…

One hundred years ago today some women in the UK finally got the right to vote.  I’ve been spending the day sharing images of these fighters, campaigners, politicians and visionaries on social media, and giving thanks to those who were ostracised, beaten, arrested, and force-fed, amongst other brutalities, so that I have a say in the governance of the country in which I live.

Welsh supporters of universal suffrage

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It is therefore an auspicious day for the trailer of richard iii redux OR Sara Beer is/not Richard III to go live. I am reminded of the immense freedom and privilege I have – to make public work, with support from the Arts Council of Wales, which uses cross-gender casting to interrogate that supposed epitome of the evil male, Richard III. This solo show puts a woman centre-stage – and not only that, but a disabled woman – “one of those from the margins, the shadows, come to stand before you, and reclaim that what is mine own….”

This project owes so much to those pioneers and campaigners I celebrate today. I am reminded again how much I take for granted – how this one woman show is largely possible because of all those who came before, who sought to change our society and power dynamic, whose actions transformed British democracy and paved the way for the freedom in my life and work I enjoy now. It is by design we open on 8th March, International Women’s Day; we wanted to participate in the festivities of that day, but also to remember those without the privilege and security we have.

With thanks to all the “shrieking sisters”, those brilliant and brave women who we remember today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cardiff Shoot – richard iii redux begins!

A red phone box in Roath… A corridor backstage in a theatre… Oh the glamour of a video shoot in Cardiff…

Mockery aside, it’s incredibly exciting to finally be starting practical work on The Llanarth Group’s next production: richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III. We have been researching and generating materials for months. I have been writing what I see as ‘punts’ or propositions in a collaborative project. Co-creating is vastly different from my solo authored work, where I monologue with myself. Collaborating means dialogue, it means pitching and persuading, throwing a cap of an idea into the ring and bracing myself for any takers. I love it.

Phillip Zarrilli directing Sara Beer on location backstage

richard iii redux has been a long time coming, a project discussed in excited whispers with director-collaborator Phillip Zarrilli for what feels like years. The production questions much of what we know about Shakespeare’s villain:

Richard III: Bogeyman. Villain. Evil incarnate. Or is he? What if he is she? What if the ‘hideous…. deformed, hobbling, hunchbacked cripple’ is portrayed by someone funny, female, feminist, and with the same form of scoliosis? How might the story change, the body change, the acting change, the character change when explored by a disabled actress with deadly comic timing and a dislike for horses?

richard iii redux will be an exploration of the above, in a one woman show featuring live camera and video – and that’s what performer Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli, videographer Paul Whittaker, designer Deryn Tudor and I are up to this week, sulking around backstage corridors and in red telephone boxes.

Sara will play a series of personas during the show – personas often, but not always, very similar to her actual self. We are still in the process of defining these voices and the attitudes they take to the subject matter, so Sara’s head is often swimming as we decide ‘not that Sara, the other Sara, you know, the third one’ should be voicing a particular mediatised section. As the shoot is in advance of our official rehearsal process, starting next week, I suggest we play safe and capture several versions of the same material in different personas/voices. By the end of the day, Madam Beer is tripping over her meticulously-memorised lines and I note with interest how the same speech when rendered in one persona comes easier than others.

Sara on location in a phone box.

At this point in the creative process, I feel like a detective – looking at all the material we have generated and deciding what might be clues, what might be evidence, and what are the red herrings which need to be discarded, as they take us away from our task in hand…. There is writing, then rewriting, flights of fancy and careful choreography instantly abandoned. To some, the slow, painstaking process of creation and discovery, rejection and affirmation must seem horribly haphazard, but there is an order to our chaos, and it is exhilarating when a production moves from the sum of its separate parts and begins to form a whole.

That is what lies ahead in the next few months, as we come together to rehearse and make, then part to reflect and absorb. We find spreading the rehearsal period out over several months immensely effective, enabling development of ideas and the creative dust to settle. I will be documenting this process over the next weeks, leading to the world premiere at Chapter arts Centre on international women’s day, 8th March. For a female production dealing with Richard III, that seems quite an auspicious date for opening….

 

Bosworth battlefield – starting work on richard iii redux

 

Sara in the ‘authentic soldier camp’, prior to the Battle of Bosworth re-enactment 2017.

We have been researching Richard III for some time…. Back in August 2017 collaborators Sara Beer and Paul Whittaker travelled with me to Bosworth for the annual re-enactment of the battle which cost Richard his life. Our favourite place was the ‘authentic soldier camp’, where enthusiasts, dressed in period clothing, camped out for days  in what they claimed to be authentic fifteenth century living conditions. The generosity and bonhomie of the camp undermined the supposed animosity between the ‘sides’, with the participants passionate and informed about social and political history.

A Richard III enthusiast gives a lesson in campfire cooking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enthusiasts had travelled considerable distances to participate in this annual jamboree. We spent time around the campfire of some students from Bangor University, got cooking tips from a postgraduate from America, and posed in the tent of a party following in Henry’s footsteps from France.

Matt, one of the students from Bangor, let Sara borrow one of his broad swords – just what was needed for a rendering of ‘A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!’

Sara Beer at the re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth, 19 August 2017

With many thanks to all we spoke with, who greeted us with such generosity, and in particular the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.

 

new year, new production – richard iii redux

Shakespeare’s Richard III: Bogeyman. Villain. Evil incarnate. Or is he? What if he is a she? What if the “hideous… deformed, hobbling, hunchbacked cripple…” is portrayed by someone funny, female and with the same form of scoliosis?

This is the premise of my forthcoming collaboration with Sara Beer and Phillip Zarrilli of The Llanarth Group: richard iii redux OR Sara Beer is/not Richard III will take a long, hard and not completely serious look at this infamous figure, evil personified, and raise questions both about Shakespeare’s hatchet-job on what historically appears to be a good and popular King, and the interpretations of this formidable role from actors ancient and modern.

The posters arrived…waiting to be sent out to the venues for the opening in March 2018

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The first two days of development begin tomorrow – and I can’t wait. We have researched the subject fairly comprehensively, read books, seen documentaries about the royal body in the carpark and scrutinised celebrated productions of Shakespeare’s play…  I’ll be documenting the process as it happens, here….

 

 

 

 

 

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.