Tag Archives: Ty Newydd National writers’ centre for Wales

Women writers and creatives! Stop being so hard on yourselves! (Oh, and men too, of course….)

Writers are hard on themselves. Female writers in particular seem hard on themselves. This isn’t a new topic, nor is it a fresh revelation, yet I’m constantly surprised when in the presence of women writers (of whatever genre) beating themselves up seems to be the done thing… Of course not all women act like grim, spanking, confidence-crumbling harridans to themselves, just as all men are not supremely confident and self-loving – but it’s time to be gentle with our creativity, to end imposter syndrome and send the crucifying inner critic away.

Easier said than done, of course. I was phenomenally fortunate to work with Augusto Boal for many years, and his notion of ‘the cop in the head’ – that criticising, sabotaging, cruel and snide voice(s) that chunters away, undermining our confidence – instantly changed my world view. It was genuinely a personal revolution, and one that was immensely liberating, to be able to locate and identify these individual ‘voices’ that hissed or bellowed negative things –  Who do you think you are? Don’t get too big for your boots. What makes you think you have anything to say of any interest to anyone? – and, in Boal’s parlance, send them back to their barracks. We don’t need thought police, or censors, Boal argued, as we’re constantly policing, censoring, criticising, picking-on and beating ourselves up – limiting how we engage, think, and behave.

This subject came up earlier this week when I was in London leading a workshop for a group of phenomenally talented female dramatists, all with incredible ideas and stories to tell, all moving into that shaky period of completing first drafts… It was a pleasure and real privilege to spend an afternoon with them, primarily talking about structure and dynamic, but also the negative phrases that slip into the language women often use about their work and their ambitions, whether realised or not. I heard myself chirping away like an over-earnest Pollyanna about how we need to embrace positivity, give ourselves time to explore and the necessity of being able to fail (without then torturing ourselves for doing something that can often be the turning point on the road to ‘getting it right’). 

So what? We haven’t fulfilled our ambitions or managed to find the allies or outlet for our creative work yet – but that doesn’t mean we won’t. It doesn’t mean we’ve failed forever… We know that the creative industries are shaped by many external forces, that chance, luck and timing are almost equal components to the ‘success’ of a project as the talent and skill displayed…. Maybe it’s not the right time for that experimental creative non-fiction memoir; maybe the market’s saturated with books displaying ‘Girl’ in the title; maybe the socio-political and cultural focus of the day is away from a particular obsession and it’s proving impossible to find a market for it now… But. Who knows what may be possible or attractive in the future? I have a novelist friend who put her book under the bed for several years, who then took it out and threw it into the submission ring again – and found an enthusiastic publisher. She hadn’t reworked the manuscript extensively, but neither had she submitted an overly flawed or still-in-progress ms – she simply gave space and time to a well-developed story and was rewarded in finding a home for what might have previously been considered a ‘failed’ product.

It makes me think about  Shakespeare and ‘ripeness is all.’ Perhaps the time isn’t ripe for the work. Perhaps the work needs to mature and ripen through revisions, or perhaps it needs to be rested, left alone, then reassessed, with a fresh eye?

I’m not trying to be ‘magical’ here (another Boal term). I’m not expecting us all to close our eyes and ram our fingers in our ears and la la la about how we’re actually unrecognised geniuses and a prophet is never recognised in her own land, etc etc. I’m not advocating arrogance, self-deceit, or female impersonations of Tony Hancock’s Artist, waxing and waning about how posterity will judge… I simply think writing (or creating, making, insert your own phrase here) is hard – life can be tough – there will always be more than enough people willing and able to criticise and undermine us, without us doing their work for them…

So I’m now on a positive drive. I’m calling for savage inner critics to be subdued, for negative phrases to be returned unused to the dictionary, for self-flagellation to be given a holiday, for us to be understanding and kind to ourselves when in the process of writing or creating or making or thinking or researching or devising or (insert your own phrase here).

JOY I heard myself saying in the workshop. ‘If we’re going to be miserable, or make ourselves miserable, why do this?’ The process is difficult enough as it is, so let’s find and celebrate the pleasure in what we do. We’re hugely fortunate to have this creative life – I’m aware that my working life is something my parents and grandparents could only have dreamt of…. so let’s try and bring more positivity into the process. I’m not suggesting we become lackadaisical in our approach (though that can have its moment), nor that we waft around like immortals, thinking we have forever to make the work. We don’t. Our time is finite, but that doesn’t mean our working lives have to be miserable or gone at furiously and out of focus, like a bull at a gate….

Or so I’ve been musing to myself these past days…

I’ve been reflecting a lot the past two weeks. It’s been a phenomenal time, with a world premiere in Singapore, a national award, news of a September production at Southbank’s Unlimited Festival followed by a UK tour, and auditions for a 2019 production of my play peeling. All these I will expand on in later blogs, but this sudden and unexpected affirmation of my work has of course added to my current state of mind and coloured my response to my fellow female dramatists in that workshop earlier this week….

We need to be disciplined, focused, and willing to dare. We need to have longevity and commitment to projects, but also to understand we won’t get it right the first time (immense congratulations if you do, and savour it, as it’s unlikely to happen again). We need to understand PROCESS – that, in the immortal words of Hemingway, “all first drafts are shit”, but, as Lear said to Cordelia ‘Nothing comes of nothing” – so don’t censor or worry or be too critical, just get something down – words on the page, clay on the potter’s wheel, fingers on keys, insert your own phrase here – as then you’ll have something to work from. And tell that guard at the gates of the mind that Seneca recognised to feck off – it’s not the time to be on duty. Finally, let us try and stop seeing our as yet unrealised projects as failures – redefine what you mean by success. And whatever else happens, be glad to be alive, to be creative. Let’s try and enjoy.


End note

I’m teaching an intensive workshop in writing for performance at Ty Newydd Writers’ Centre. We have places for just eight writers, so please click below for description, and contact Ty Newydd for further details.

Kaite O’Reilly at Ty Newydd Creative Writing Centre, Wales.

Writing for Performance Masterclass 8-12 October 2018.

 

Fifty Playwrights on their Craft… and a masterclass at Ty Newydd

It’s a real privilege and pleasure to be one of the playwrights included in this recent anthology from Bloomsbury, Fifty Playwrights on their Craft. I was one of the twenty-five UK-based writers interviewed by Caroline Jester last year, whilst Caridad Svich interviewed a further twenty-five across the pond in the US.

I’ve only recently received my copy, and as I’m on tour with richard iii redux OR Sara Beer [is/not] Richard III, (first five star review here), I have yet to take the required time to settle down, dip and savour. There’s a terrific breadth of voices and experiences included here, and much to learn from the vast array of contributors.

Bloomsbury describes the book as follows:

In a series of interviews with fifty playwrights from the US and UK, this book offers a fascinating study of the voices, thoughts, and opinions of today’s most important dramatists.

Filled with probing questions, Fifty Playwrights on their Craft explores ideas such as how does playwriting help a global dialogue; where do dramatists find the ideas that become the stories and narratives within their plays; how can the stage inform the writer’s creative process; how does crossing boundaries between art forms push the living art form of theatre-making forward; and will there be playwrights in another 50 years? Through these interrogating interviews we come to understand how and why playwrights write what they do and gain insight into their processes and motivations. Together, the interviews provide an inter-generational dialogue between dramatists whose work spans over six decades.

Featuring interviews with playwrights such as Edward Bond, Katori Hall, Chris Goode, David Greig, Willy Russell, David Henry Hwang, Alecky Blythe, Anne Washburn and Simon Stephens, Jester and Svich offer an unprecedented view into the multiple perspectives and approaches of key playwrights on both sides of the Atlantic.

Table of contents

Introduction
Chapter One: Writing that spans nations
Chapter Two: Stories and Narratives
Chapter Three: Structure and Stages
Chapter Four: Writing Across Artforms
Chapter Five: Role and Responsibility

Further information about the book can be found here.

I find the process of making, and the process of teaching, discussing, and sharing endlessly fascinating.I am without doubt a dramaturg geek, and I’m sure this book will provide many happy hours comparing and contrasting perspectives, opinions, and practice.

Ty Newydd

 

I’m looking forward to my annual masterclass intensive at Ty Newydd writers centre, in the beautiful surroundings of Lloyd George’s old home,overlooking the sea in north Wales. Masterclass in Writing for Live Performance, 11 -16 June 2018. It’s a very special time, when eight writers and I make a small creative community, starting new work or developing work-in-progress, with dramaturgical support from me in class and one-to-one tutorials, and practical workshops to stimulate new writing, teach and clarify technique, and basically move along the scripts – whether emerging or being polished – to the next level. It’s a time for writers to develop the idea niggling at the back of their brain, or to try out early drafts, or be supported in completing and polishing a piece of performance writing. There’s skills-based exercises, timed writing exercises to create and develop new material, practical script-workshopping, discussion, laughter, beautiful walks, views, and amazing food from Tony… (Imagine completing a really satisfying three hour session to the growing aroma of cakes baking in the oven, to be gobbled down when still warm with a well-deserved cup of tea on the break… Yes, this actually happens…. no wonder I love going to this remarkable place so much… and Tony also shares his recipes – including a vegan banana cake! – here )

I love doing this work, and the participants seem to enjoy it, too, as we get many returning for guidance and support on their latest work – whether that’s a script, monologue, performance poetry, or something in-betwwen. We still have places for this Summer, so if anyone is interested, please contact Ty Newydd and see further information here

Meanwhile…. it’s back to the theatre and the third night of  richard iii redux OR Sara Beer [is/not] Richard III. We’re on tour until March 23rd, tour dates and venues, below.

TOUR DATES

Chapter Arts Centre,

Cardiff www.chapter.org

8, 9, 10, 16, 17 March: 8pm

17 March: 3pm.

Aberystwyth Art Centre Studio

14 & 15 March [SOLD OUT] 

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

http://www.theatrclwyd.com

19 & 20 March: 7.45pm

The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven

http://www.torchtheatre.co.uk

21 March: 7.30pm

Small World Theatre, Cardigan

http://www.smallworld.org.uk

23 March: 8pm

 

 

2017 residential masterclass with Kaite O’Reilly 19-23 June 2017

Ty Newydd

Ty Newydd

I know I’m biased, but nothing beats the wild Welsh landscape on a mellow Summer’s day…. The view from the library at Ty Newydd is spectacular – over the fields and down to the coast: a view always tempered for me by the knowledge this was once Lloyd George’s bedroom and this was the view he looked at during his last days…

It’s been my great pleasure and privilege to lead an annual residential course at Ty Newydd for more years than I care to admit to. Each year I create new content and writing exercises, as I find the process symbiotic. I relish trying out new approaches and stimuli as I engage with the participants in particularly beautiful surroundings…… not that participants get to see much of them, as I’m notorious for working everyone very hard (but we have also been known to dance on the lawn under the full moon after midnight – but I’m telling tales, now….).

tynewydd_back

So it is with the greatest of pleasure I announce the course for next year… I’ve been fortunate in being able to negotiate what I feel are the ideal conditions for an intensive retreat – a hand-picked group of only eight writers will join me for five days in June. Please read below for details, or check here and contact Ty Newydd to reserve a place.

What follows is from the Ty Newydd website:

PLAYWRITING AND PERFORMANCE MAKING

Mon 19 Jun – Fri 23 Jun 2017
Tutor / Kaite O’Reilly
Course Fee / From £395 – £495 per person
Genres / Drama Performance Scripting
Language / English
This course is a creative exploration of the mechanics of writing for performance. This enjoyable, packed week will challenge and stretch your creative muscles with specially formulated exercises to work both your imagination and understanding of craft. Expect workshops on dramatic structure, effective dialogue, character, and creating the world of the play or text. One-to-one tutorials will give you the opportunity to address your concerns or further develop your work in progress. This course’s group size will be smaller than usual to create an intimate, supportive community of playwrights, poets, and performance-writers working intensely but effectively to bring participants to the next level.

Tutor

Kaite O’Reilly

Kaite O’Reilly works internationally as a playwright, dramaturg and tutor. She won The Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for her dramatic retelling of ‘Persians’, produced by National Theatre Wales in their inaugural year. Other prizes include The Peggy Ramsay Award, M.E.N. best play and she was a finalist in the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for women playwrights and James Tait Black Award for Drama. Her work has been produced in eleven countries worldwide, most recently her play The 9 Fridas was performed in Taipei and Hong Kong. Her work is published by Faber, and her critically acclaimed selected plays, Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, was published by Oberon in 2016.

http://www.kaiteoreilly.com

The Price of Self-Employment. Guest blogger: Sophie McKeand

Last spring I met the lovely Sophie McKeand on a Writing for Live Performance  Masterclass I was teaching at Ty Newydd Writers’ Centre on the southern coast of the spectacular Llyn Peninsula in North Wales. I was recently reading her blog and one recent post in particular caught my attention: ‘The Price of Self-Employment’. This is a brave subject – something so important and yet so seldom discussed widely in our industry. I asked Sophie for permission to reproduce her post – and I include details of her biog and links, below:

Sophie: I’m not sure how I imagined the journey when first setting out as a freelance/self-employed writer seven years ago. It’s been a difficult but ultimately rewarding expedition, especially considering the only thought was: forward and onward and don’t look back.

The ego has been shredded, rebuilt, blasted apart, glued back together and shredded again. At 39 I earn a third of the salary I did when I was 27. I don’t own a house or have savings or a pension anymore, and instead of my company car I share an old Renault Espace with my partner (also a freelancer).

I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

Was it Gary Snyder who said we should aim to be ‘famous for fifteen miles’? This is my mantra (although admittedly I work slightly farther afield that that).

Working geographically, as opposed to by genre, means I’m involved in communicating with people across the whole spectrum of my community. Studying to pinpointed PhD depths seems a little redundant here so adopting a more rounded approach means I’ll facilitate poetry workshops with 10 eight-year-olds, or eight ninety-year-olds, or 250 year 7s. I work with people with early stage dementia, NEETS, gifted young writers, adult learners and people with mental health issues. Each group has wildly varying support needs and expectations, and each workshop has to be tailored specifically to meet those needs. I’ll also have at least three or four other workshop plans ready in case of any ‘eventuality’ (yes I have plans B, C, D, E and F in my suitcase every time.

A large percentage of the people I work with have had their enjoyment of literature strangled by a didactic curriculum set by careerist politicians (not the fault of teachers) and this has instilled a fear, not a love, of creative writing. People have become terrified of verbs, pronouns, adjectives, grammar, spelling and punctuation, which is a shame because language is free and belongs to us all.

In these sessions I focus on our shared understandings of language. I want our group to concoct a nourishing, creative stew of ideas, thoughts and imagination to devour. Metaphor, simile and image are the building blocks of great poetry and we all use them, it’s just a case of recognising when we do and learning how to nurture that element of thought.

There is absolutely a skill to being a writer. Developing a philosophy behind the words and understanding the editing process are the next steps for anyone thinking of taking the writing further, but for these initial workshops, for those hours, I want people to forget about how they should write and to just have fun writing.

I’d love to be able to do this for free. Unfortunately that’s not possible. I still have bills to pay. On a good year I’ll earn maybe £14k (pre-tax), on a quiet year £10k (at least then my tax bill is small). I’m lucky my partner in business is also my partner in life, and he’s incredibly supportive. Work wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun without him and as a freelance partnership (he’s a graphic designer and partner in an independent record label)  we manage to pull in enough to pay the bills and have a comfortable, although not extravagant life.

One of the elements I struggle with most is finding suitable rates to charge. At one end of the scale I’ve been paid £130 per one-hour workshop (fees were set by the project coordinator) and at the other end I’ve been offered £15 for one hour because ‘that’s more than the usual hourly rate for staff here’.

I was very grateful for the former, although I wouldn’t dream of asking for that, but declined the latter. This is not because I’m overly precious or egotistical. When you book me you’re paying for eleven years of work: three years of a degree then a year freelancing whilst working full-time before leaping into full-time-self-employed.

When you book me for a half-day please understand I’ve spent at least that time again planning the workshop, sourcing materials, photocopying/printing, researching and imagining just how it will all come together to create a meaningful experience for your group. When you book me for an hour it’s unlikely I’ll be able to work anywhere else that morning.

You don’t have to think about holiday pay, sick pay, tax, national insurance, maternity pay or public liability insurance. There’s no redundancy package or notice period when you decide to use another freelancer (which you absolutely should to ensure your group/s have access to a full range of styles and approaches). I can’t have a bad day, be ill, have the car break down or have a family crisis on a day I’m coming to you because you might think I’m unreliable and not book me again. Perhaps all ‘arty’ people are like that? No. No we’re not. I’m not even going into the raft of DBS/disclosure certificates I have proving that I’m not a danger to anyone.

On top of that I have to ensure I’m still writing. If I’m teaching something I should be actively engaging with that practice myself, so a ‘holiday away’ tends to involve staying at the oasis of literature that is Ty Newydd for a week. This means I’m confident my writing and workshop facilitation are of a high standard.

I perform at events and festivals, give readings and submit work to various publications because these are the benchmarks supporting my assertion I’m a suitable person to come and work with your group. I also make a point of creating at least one or two voluntary projects in my community each year because it’s an important element of who I am and being self-employed allows me the time to do this.

I wouldn’t change any of this. I love every minute of work and wake every morning knowing that, whatever I’m doing, it’s generating creativity and inspiration in my community. I’ve been involved with truly dedicated people at National Theatre Wales, Literature Wales, Oriel Wrecsam, Age Cymru, The Wales Millennium Centre, The Hay Festival, Barnardos, Clwyd Theatre Cymru, Night Out/Noson Allan and various other local, regional and national organisations over the years, and I’m grateful that most try their best to ensure artists are paid a living wage.

I’m living the dream.

Or at least I’m living my dream of working with words in my community and using poetry as a way to help people find their own voice. Witnessing participants discover the confidence to read out work they’ve just written and knowing I helped them achieve that is, to put it bluntly, totally awesome and worth every penny I don’t now earn.

I know budgets are tight, and this can force people to just focus on the bottom line when considering booking a freelance writer, but having the opportunity to work with a writer, musician or artist on a creative project can  make a genuine difference in people’s lives – it’s changed mine incomparably.

Sophie McKeand biog

Freelance poet and workshop facilitator in Y Gogs. Longlisted for the Poetry Society‘s National Poetry Competition in 2014, published widely including in Poetry Wales, Dark Mountain, Earthlines and Adbusters with new work forthcoming in Tears in the Fence (Sept 2015). Performs regularly at festivals and events such as Wenlock Poetry Festival, Green Man, Wilderness and Dinefwr. Works as a freelance workshop facilitator with Literature Wales, Arts Council Wales, Oriel Wrecsam, Age Cymru, Barnardos and more. Organises National Theatre Wales’ Word4Word in Wrecsam and sits on the ntwTEAM Panel (2014). Dysgu Cymraeg.

http://www.sophiemckeand.com/blogs/index.php

https://goglife.wordpress.com/a

In praise of mentoring and creating a community of fellow writers

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Ty Newydd: The National Writers Centre of Wales and former home of Lloyd George.

I recently wrote about the joys and symbiosis of mentoring playwrights through my association with Ty Newydd, The National Writers Centre of Wales. In this capacity, I was the tutor, the dramaturg, the reader who wrote encouraging reports on works in progress with the occasional sting in order to jolt the writer (I hoped) out of inertia or unproductive habits and into focused activity. One of the strengths of working with writers you have known for many months, and in some cases several years, is the mutual trust this sharing of time and processes brings, and the knowledge of what works best for them in this most particular dynamic when deadlines are approaching and new drafts need to be delivered – the carrot or the stick.

The other tangible benefit from this kind of close engagement is the potential creation of community. Writing is a notoriously singular activity, requiring long stretches of solitude and solo focus. Unlike other forms, theatre has its moments of social activity, for it is a blueprint for the stage which needs the massed imaginations and skills of the collaborators (actors, director, scenographer, lighting designer, dancers, musicians, etc) to bring it to fruition. It is often a relief to move into this engagement after the solo slog – and enlivening (at the least!) to discover other interpretations and imaginations responding to a work which has perhaps until this date existed only in the voice in your own head.

But meanwhile before that – when perhaps a script is still emerging, or relationships have not yet been forged with a company to move the script into this next phase of development… what happens then?

You create the company for yourself, utilising whoever is at hand.

I am a great believer in people power. Perhaps it’s the old punk in me, but I’m an exponent of ‘doing it yourself’.

For years I have been gathering friends who, if not professional actors, are willing to be drawn into reading my script aloud. And often the carrot of wine or food once we have done this task isn’t always a required inducement. Of course such homemade workshops may not be as effective as working with an experienced cast and director or dramaturg, who have an inkling of what they’re doing… But when you are stuck in a strange sort of hiatus, hearing those words in the room rather than inside your head can often move the work forward.

Tom Wentworth, one of the participants on my recent Mentoring Scheme, has written about the joys of peer review and this kind of workshop exploration on the DAO website, link below. He outlines some of the processes we went through over the scheme, and the joys of sharing extracts of the scripts in progress in the beautiful, tiny theatre of The Lloyd George Museum in North Wales last month.

I hope that this group will continue nurturing and supporting each other. We have a well-established private google group where we urge each other on, or share opportunities in the flick of an email. We have created our own small community of fellow writers – and I hope we will continue to observe each other’s development and success of careers over the coming years.

For Tom Wentworth’s article, go to: http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/?location_id=1951