Tag Archives: theatre

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.

Two Minutes With Kaite O’Reilly…. a film by David Hevey

Balance and confidence: The tricky tightrope of being freelance

 

writing

It’s tricky, being a freelancer. We need to exude confidence but avoid arrogance, appear reliable and professional, whilst maintaining a creative edginess. We have a precarious vocation, but can’t be seen to court convention or the prosaic. Being the innovator or blue skies maverick often gets us jobs (and certainly pushes on form and content), but some ideas can be too ‘out there’ for commissions – and when the means to support ourselves relies on a regular income, the rope we tread is high and tight indeed.

Quite how we support ourselves in this increasingly challenging and, frankly, anti-arts and culture climate is a perennial problem. I have no solutions, just a steadfast impulse that we need to be true to ourselves. We write and create for many different reasons, and for me the sense of communing with myself, knowing my thoughts and reactions in response to the times I inhabit is a pleasure I can’t underestimate. This alone, however, doesn’t put grub on the table. In this capitalist system we need to work, and the product of our labour needs to be valued in monetary terms. How we go about making a living whilst having a life is a constant negotiation, but there are a few things I’ve observed which I feel don’t help.

For years I’ve seen artists and writers trying to second guess directors, producers, editors and literary managers, or considering shaping their emerging work towards whatever is currently doing well. It’s an understandable impulse, but deadly. Never try to jump on a bandwagon. Whatever is currently trending would have been seeded over eighteen months ago. By the time ‘your’ version amounts to something, it will be very much out of date.

I’ve also seen colleagues compromise ‘too much’ with the work, and that can leave a taint on the tongue. I’m all for collaboration and negotiation – I have grown substantially as a writer by exploring avenues I would never have travelled if left to my own navigation. It becomes a problem when artists or makers by their own admission feel they have conceded in some way, or given too much to a premise, aesthetic, or product not conversant with their concept or plan. Finding the balance between being a flexible and responsive team player and the assured primary creative is essential, and something that requires fine tuning. Again, we need confidence, but not egotism.

And as to what ‘they’ want…? What every director and literary manager and producer I’ve ever spoken to is looking for is fresh work made with energy and skill and passion, about subjects that matter to you, communicated in a way that has resonance to all, relevant to now. They want strong, developed, realised ‘voices’ with something to say. They don’t want mynah birds, or would-be mind readers. They want to be surprised, moved, excited. They want to hear what you think is important, in the form and aesthetic you want to use. Given the insecure nature of our profession,and the hourly rate which would defy any notion of ‘minimum wage’, much of our remuneration for the effort put in is not in financial form.  Even more reason to check the balance and trust your own voice and your own passions.

Why we need disabled and Deaf playwrights and theatre makers

In reaction to the cuts in Access to Work and the Independent Living Fund, and inspired by Jenny Sealey’s Guardian article We Will Not Let Government Cuts Make Us Invisible,  I wrote an article for Exeunt magazine: Embracing all the possibilities of human variety – why we need disabled and Deaf playwrights and theatre makers. You can read the article here

Female playwrights, Female parts and casting into deep waters

photo-36

I’ve spent the past two days holed up at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, holding auditions for my Unlimited Commission ‘Cosy’. Joined by stalwart companion director Phillip Zarrilli, our most consistent subject of conversation has been the wealth of talent parading in through the door: Women actors, female performers, actresses, whatever it is they may prefer to be called, the diverse array of skill, facility and emotional intelligence has been glittering and humbling, leaving us with the impossible next task of selecting the cast for the r&d process.

‘Cosy’ is a dark comedy with six characters, all women, disabled and non-disabled, playing ages 16 to 76 years. This fact alone elicited a few cheers and several full body hugs, female actors embracing the female playwright who for many years has made a commitment to writing roles right across the age range. This was a decision I made in my early twenties, when as a jobbing actor I started writing my own audition pieces as I was fed-up of the limited fayre. The theatrical landscape before me looked thin and uninspiring. It seemed after being the ingenue and playing Juliet, there might be Lady M in the Scottish play (I’m Irish, I’m superstitious, I can’t help it), and then the oasis of nothingness until sexless old haughty Lady Bracknell. I decided then to write meaty parts for women of all ages, and ‘Cosy’ is the latest manifestation of this commitment.

I think this is a serious subject – the representation of gender (and impairment) in plays and also the corresponding dearth of women playwrights being produced. We are still underrepresented – still considered either domestic or ‘risky’ (see this article about Hytner and The National Theatre in London and why women playwrights are still marginalised). This is another reason why I celebrate Unlimited and the funding bodies, venues, and organisations supporting this initiative. If women actors have a limited spread of roles and opportunities (hence the penchant for all female Shakespeare productions recently), and female playwrights still are marginalised (see this Guardian  blog about gender inequality in the theatre) what hope then for disabled or Deaf playwrights, makers, dancers, choreographers, and practitioners?

I’m sure this is a subject I will return to.

In a previous post, Casting Haiku on my parallel http://www.cosytheplay.co.uk blog, I wrote of the process of creating pithy character descriptions for agents and performers to get a glimmer of the role they were being considered for. Little did I know in that innocence of a few days ago how my interpretation of these characters would be changed – and for the better.

As a playwright, I have lived with the voices of my characters in my head for quite some time. These voices all speak with different syntax, rhythm, vocabulary and world views from each other, but the ‘acting’ is one and the same – my own inner ‘voice’. Imagine then the delight, the absolute GIFT of sitting as a steady stream of engaged, passionate, talented actors passed through, revealing a spectrum of surprising and different interpretations of these characters I thought I knew so well… These talented women showed me perspectives and possibilities I had never imagined and  I am extremely thankful to all who brought those characters off the page, out of my head, and into life.

Phillip and I now have the slow and difficult deliberation of making a credible ‘family’ cast  from the actors we saw…. Mother, siblings, niece/grand-daughter, plus the matriarch’s quirky friend. There are so many different permeations – all could work – they just lead to very different styles and takes on the script. We are currently locked in this delicious but frustrating wrestle. We may be some time.

Inspiration comes with the breath

I love the fact that the word ‘inspiration’ has its roots in breath – ‘being breathed upon’ in one online etymological source – as though artists were blessed or touched by some form of supernatural or divine grace. A thirteenth century source is even clearer: ‘immediate influence of God or a god.’ www.etymonline.com.

However, this lovely but romantic notion promotes the myth that we create through an external inspiration – a fickle force, sometimes favouring us, sometimes not – as though it is something other than the potential within each of us. Such persistent but old fashioned ideas suggests some people are creative and others not, and we must wait until the muse or inspiration strikes. It promotes being passive rather than active and making our own luck, our own inspiration, our own work.

I’ve written elsewhere that I believe the difference between writers and would-be writers (or artists and makers), is one gets on with it, whilst the would-be sits around talking about doing ‘it’ when the time is right and inspiration strikes, bringing the idea. I can be very scathing of this, calling it a form of laziness, an avoidance of doing the actual work. In kinder moods I know it can be the result of fear – of failing, of succeeding, of committing to oneself as a creative being, of finally taking on ‘the dream’ only for it to reveal itself as a nightmare… How much easier to put the responsibility outside ourselves. It’s something we can all be complicit in, Nietzche believed, rather than the reality of hard work and the lengthy creative process:

‘Artists have a vested interest in our believing in the flash of revelation, the so-called inspiration… shining down from heavens as a ray of grace. In reality, the imagination of the good artist or thinker produces continuously good, mediocre or bad things, but his judgment, trained and sharpened to a fine point, rejects, selects, connects… All great artists and thinkers are great workers, indefatigable not only in inventing, but also in rejecting, sifting, transforming, ordering.’ Nietzsche.

It’s the most common question I get asked by taxi drivers and hairdressers: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ My answer is long-winded and Evangelical:

From the ether, from life, from over-heards on the bus, from anecdotes we’re told, from newspaper headlines glimpsed on the train, from memories, from idle thought, from documentaries or articles, from received stories and pre-existing sources, from visual art, from going for a walk, from dreams, from anything and everywhere. The trick is in recognising the tug of interest and gathering up the stimulus or noting the idea before it goes, for it will. We will never remember those fleeting thoughts – they need to be notated before they evaporate.

We have to be like magpies – open eyed and curious, ready to dive down and snap up any bright, shiny thing that catches our attention. We often let the seed of an idea or inspiration pass, as it is simply a stirring, not a fully-formed plot, or an immediate understanding of what to write. In my experience that is inevitably a later phase, requiring considerable thought and effort, like heating and beating metal into pliancy and shape. The important task is to recognise the initial call and to understand it will take effort to make the oak from the acorn.

I don’t give too much thought to my selection of cuttings, images, essays, art gallery postcards and other miscellany which could be labelled roughly under ‘research’. It’s often completely instinctive – a tug in the gut and I’m buying that postcard, photographing that abandoned house or strange gully, surreptitiously tearing that article out of the decade old magazine in the dentist’s waiting room. I usually will not understand why I’m attracted to an image or a cutting or a phrase – I just know that it has spoken to my imagination in some way and so must be gathered, acknowledged. What this initial stirring turns into, if anything, is a different story….

Unlimited Commissions 2015

At a launch earlier this week, the next nine commissions from Unlimited were announced. I’m delighted to be one of them.

Cosy is a darkly humorous play in an inclusive production for a mainstream audience, exploring universal ethical issues of life, death, and our relationship to the medical profession, and its desire to mend and sustain the body, regardless of quality of life. It aims to examine the final taboo with wit, intelligence and full emotional engagement, powered by a disability perspective.

Kaite said:

“I’m delighted that the panel behind Unlimited have seen the potential in this new play, exploring what is arguably our last taboo – the means by which we shuffle off this mortal coil. I hope to explore this often feared topic with humorous irreverence, as well as sobriety and respect. What I love about humans is our ability to live joyfully and in the moment, despite the knowledge our time is finite and we will all die one day. How these two opposing perspectives co-exist will be fascinating to explore theatrically – and the deceptions, avoidances, contradictions and confrontations within a family with distinct and different ethical, religious, and political perspectives of end of life scenarios.

As someone who identifies as disabled, I have long been part of a vibrant community known for its joie de vivre and gallows humour – created, perhaps, from our knowledge of the fragility and resilience of the human body. I want to bring some of the quality of this insight and perspective to the script, in a production I hope will be funny, quirky, honest, daring, and fully engaging emotionally and intellectually.’

‘Cosy’ will be directed by internationally recognized Wales-based director, Phillip Zarrilli. It will premiere in Wales in spring 2016 before taking it to the Unlimited festivals at the South Bank, London and Tramway, Glasgow in September 2016.

Jo Verrent, Senior Producer of Unlimited, said:

‘Art is at the heart of Unlimited; it’s the work that disabled artists and companies create that has the power and potential to transform perceptions. It’s a real privilege to be able to extend that opportunity now not just to artists based in England and Scotland but Wales too. I can’t wait to see what they all have to offer!’

COMMISSIONS

The nine Unlimited commissions for 2015-16 span a wide range of disciplines – including theatre, visual arts, dance and literature – and are created by some of the most talented disabled artists in the UK.

‘Demonstrating the World’ Aaron Williamson (Visual Arts)
‘The Doorways Project’ Bekki Perriman (Other)
‘TV Classics Part 1’ Cameron Morgan (Visual Arts)
‘The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight’ Claire Cunningham (Dance)
‘Grandad and the Machine’ Jack Dean (Literature)
‘Cosy’ Kaite O’Reilly (Theatre)
‘Assisted Suicide: The Musical’ Liz Carr (Theatre)
‘Cherophobia’ Noemi Lakmaier (Visual Arts)
‘Him’ Sheila Hill (Theatre)

http://weareunlimited.org.uk/commissions/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DT_ayisd2go