Tag Archives: Theresa Wee-Yenko

From Singapore to Swansea – this writing life

I’m back in the rather wild and windy west of Wales after a stupendously creative six weeks in Singapore, working on a production with Intercultural Theatre Institute, plus a lecture-performance and workshop with Access Path Productions  for Singapore Writers Festival.

I’ve been to the writer’s festival in the past, so it was gratifying to be involved as a writer/performer and moderator this year, with a focus on inclusivity and my work in Disability arts and culture. After spending several decades trying to get past gate-keepers and a crip’ foot in the door, it was a delight to be welcomed and listed as one of the highlights of this international gathering. I gave a few lectures and public talks, reiterating how important disabled-led work is and also reflecting on the power and responsibilities of language. The festival’s theme was ‘A language of our own’ and we discussed how language can heal and hurt – my particular focus was on recent practice amongst politicians and the media in the UK, where language has been used to dehumanise those with difference and normalise disability hate crimes. As I said in my lecture at the festival:

Our voices, our languages, our modes of communication, our perspectives, our experiences – our lives – are important. Being invited to present on prestigious platforms like this is essential and hugely appreciated – in our contemporary situation, in the UK and elsewhere we are witnessing the systematic dehumanisation of disabled people by the government and the state. Brutal benefit cuts under the auspices of austerity were described on 16 November 2017 by the British Medical Journal – not a publication known for its sensationalism – as “economic murder” – with a reported 120,000 deaths caused directly by the current British government’s austerity policies. The removal of services, access and support for the disabled and Deaf communities have been coupled with deeply negative and damaging media narratives which in turn create an atmosphere where abuse, prejudice and violence is further normalised. In the UK, disability hate crime is on the increase – on Weds 9th October 2019 The Independent newspaper reported how violent crime against disabled individuals in England and Wales had increased by 41%, and offences with online element, up by 71%. We need to keep challenging the negative propaganda, the lies, offering diverse perspectives, with alternative expressions of what it is to be human, celebrating all the possibilities of human variety.

I am hugely grateful to the festival’s director Pooja Nansi for her innovative and inclusive programming. Thank you, Pooja, for giving a platform for such important discussions to take place.

Now that I am back in Wales, further conversations about disability and difference will flourish in my collaboration with historian Prof. David Turner as one of the Creativity Fellows at Swansea University, initiated by writer and Professor in Creativity Owen Sheers. We launch this Friday, 15th November:

The Creativity Fellowships are an exciting new initiative that offers two professional artists the chance to engage with and explore cutting-edge academic research at Swansea University.
Owen Sheers said:

‘I’m so pleased to be getting these Fellowships off the ground with two such talented and exciting artists. I hope they and their academic partners will have a fascinating year of collaboration and exploration, which also promises to be a powerful engine for furthering a vibrant conversation between the sciences and the arts at the University and in the wider community.’

Professor David Turner commented:

‘I am thrilled at the prospect of working with Kaite O’Reilly to bring the histories of disabled people to life. Kaite’s commitment to empowering disabled people through the creative arts will provide new and exciting ways of connecting the struggles of disabled people in the past with the experiences of people today.’

The event this Friday is free, tickets available here.

Returning from a long trip always disorientates me – it feels within moments of landing that the previous weeks were a mirage. Certainly adjusting to the temperature change alone is quite challenging – it seems unbelievable as I swaddle myself in thermals that 36 hours ago I was writing at a desk with two fans on high speed directed into my face…

So although the future work beckons – Swansea University, and a ‘Welcoming all Writers’ workshop at Small World Theatre with Chris Kinsey on 23/11/19, details below and tickets here  – it is important to reflect on where we have just been.

Singapore seems very far indeed from Cardigan, or even Rowan Ridge. For the past six weeks I’ve been working with the brilliant Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI), the graduating 2019 cohort and I worked to adapt my reimagining of Schnitzler’s La Ronde for a Singaporean context. Directed by Phillip Zarrilli, designed by Dorothy Png and production managed by Natalie Lim, Lie With Me opened at the impressive Esplanade Theatres on the Bay last week.

Lie With Me featured an international cast of theatre makers and performers who may well be the shaping force of performance in the future, going by ITI’s impressive alumni. A review of the production follows

Lie With Me – a powerful exploration of the longing for intimacy

Lie With Me, ITI

12 Nov 2019
Article by Yaiza Canopoli for Arts Republic Singapore

Written by Kaite O’Reilly and directed by Phillip Zarrilli, the Intercultural Theatre Institute presents the Asian premiere of Lie With Me – a play about human relationships, class struggles, and the quest for intimacy. Led by a cast both Singaporean and international, the play was adapted by producers and actors alike to reflect Singaporean youth, and how we form meaningful relationships with each other. This is achieved by following eight characters, presented in pairs; one character of each pair overlaps and slips into the following couple on stage, threading a cyclical narrative of interconnectedness. The fact that each pair of characters feels lonely and isolated despite the wider connection to the entire cast speaks for itself: the sadness that envelops each character in its own way seeps out from the stage and makes this play relatable and breathtaking.

Lie With Me, ITI. 2019. Ted Nudgent Fernandez Tac-An and Tysha Khan Photos by Bernie Ng

The writing tackles a variety of topics and issues: we encounter poor Singaporeans, immigrants looking for work, sisters battling grief, same-sex couples, women fighting mental health issues, people in toxic relationships, and much more that falls in between these lines. Many of the characters’ struggles begin to blend into each other to spell out a universally human longing for affection and love. As the fights that break out between couples, siblings, and strangers keep us on the edge of our seat, we are left with a deep sense of empathy for people whose actions are morally grey or straight-up terrible. A number of scenes end with characters who have lost their temper asking to be held, to be cared for – love and intimacy attempting to overcome anger and violence.

Lie With Me, ITI 2019. Photo Bernie Ng. Wendy Too and Theresa Wee-Yenko.

The diversity of these relationships is impressive. We even get to witness the delightfully surprising connection that springs up between a self-involved upper-class woman and the prostitute she hires. While the attempt to cover such a wide variety of relationships and issues could have easily diluted the intensity of each story, the genuine nature of the dialogue, the fantastic acting (with wonderfully accurate facial expressions and even walking styles), and the masterful production made for a play that feels real and relevant.

Lie With Me, ITI, Esplanade Theatres in the Bay, Singapore, 2019

Appropriately titled, Lie With Me invites the audience to feel and mourn with the characters as they hold on to the one thing they long for at the end of a terrible day: a moment of tenderness and unconditional human affection.

The cast were: Ted Nudgent Fernandez Tac-An, Tysha Khan, Wendy Toh, Nour El Houda Essafi, Regina Toon, Theresa Wee-Yenko, Jin Chen and Earnest Hope Tinambacan.  For the full review, click here

I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with such extraordinary people, and to collaborate with those from across the world. At the lecture/performance at the Singapore Writer’s Festival, my friend and long-term collaborator Grace Lee Khoo reflected on the difference between inclusive and participatory:

Inclusive means you’re invited to the party. Participatory means you get to dance.

Thank you to everyone these past weeks and looking forward to the future who has welcomed me, engaged with me, and enabled me to dance….