Tag Archives: #UnlimitedCommissions

Alchemy in production week and technical rehearsals

Ramesh Meyyappan and Phillip Zarrilli in tech rehearsal ‘And SuddenlyI disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues.’ Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

Weirdly, I love technical rehearsals. I say ‘weirdly’ as it is often a very stressful, time-consuming, boring, tiring twelve hours in the dark, with people shouting at you….. (Actually, they’re shouting – and signing, lit with torches – to ensure the safety of those on stage when Dorothy Png, our lighting designer extraordinaire yells ‘Stage dark!’ and we’re plunged into blackout…).

I love tech’ because that’s the moment is all starts coming together – the time when my script stops being ‘mine’ and a script and becomes instead performance – alive in peoples’ mouths and hands. It’s the time when ideas originally communicated in writing on paper, and then reinvented via the director’s approach, transforms and becomes a living collaborative act.

This week I sit in the Gallery Theatre of National Museums Singapore and witness the alchemy of a production coming together…. I’ve been familiar with the performers’ work – but it shifts and takes on a new vibrancy once the lighting,  sound design and videography come into play.

Stephanie Fam performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s international Unlimited commission ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

This week is also one of interviews and engagement, with the national newspaper, The Straits Times, featuring an (inaccurate at times) interview with Singaporean collaborator Peter Sau and myself. I’m gratified that the arts correspondent Akshita Nanda focused on my desire in the monologues to challenge notions of normalcy and embrace all the possibilities of human variety. Many of these notions are quite new to Singapore, which largely follows the Charity model of disability. Although the UK is far from perfect and has been going backwards in recent years, I have been privileged to be part of the UK’s disabled peoples’ movement and our Deaf arts and disability culture for almost thirty years. My work in the ‘d’ monologues is informed by the Social model of disability, perceiving disability as a social construct, rather as gender, and that it is society’s physical and attitudinal barriers that disable, not the idiosyncrasies of our bodies.

Interview in Singapore Straits Times

This past week has also involved public talks, workshops and engagement around disability awareness training. I’ve given three workshops to the ‘front line’ staff of National Museums Singapore – those engaging with the public, from security guards, to the ticket and information desk, ushers and volunteers. I’ve enjoyed this engagement hugely, warmed by the genuine interest of the participants, keen to dialogue and share perspectives on how we can make the venue as barrier-free as possible, for all. I also love the mischief of walking through the museum, greeting the curators and security guards by sign name…

Sadly, all too quickly, this remarkable project will pass… We open this week, and close this Sunday – and tickets have almost completely sold out throughout the run, thanks to the sterling efforts of our producers and and all involved in bringing this international collaboration to the Singapore theatre-going audience. We will be bringing a version of this work to the UK in the Autumn – announcements of that tour will follow.

As I revel in the dark intricacies of technical rehearsal, I hope this is the start of vibrant, home-grown disabled and Deaf-led professional theatre work in Singapore. Very exciting times….

 

Time to Kill All Your Darlings…

David Mamet had it when discussing various uses of the knife…. Cut, cut, cut and kill all your darlings….

It’s not a phrase known amongst the And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues team, so I had to explain I wasn’t about to commit bloody murder, but start sharpening the editing pencil and serving the script….

And Suddenly I Disappear is a collection of fictional monologues informed by the lives of disabled and d/Deaf people in Singapore and the UK. My colleague Peter Sau with Lee Lee Lim led the interviews in Singapore, collecting experiences and perspectives never previously recorded here. I led the UK interviews and questionnaires, starting almost a decade ago. This material has inspired the monologues I’ve created, but as I believe we are our stories, I haven’t used anyone’s words or experiences, for that would feel too close to theft for my comfort.

Lee Lee Lim making adjustments to her braille script

We are now in the second week of rehearsals in Singapore, and I’m only now in the position to be able to start testing the material, cutting the surplus and sensing the flow as the performers become more familiar with the text. I tend to over-write, something I would always encourage other writers to do, for it is far easier to nip and tuck in rehearsals than suddenly be faced with the daunting task of filling a yawning hole in the script. The stage management team and I are trying to keep on top of the changes – and I was impressed by the speed and dexterity of Lee Lee Lim, making adjustments to her braille script in rehearsal.

The production is a series of discrete monologues presented in different ways and form, some character-based, others choral and collective, some individual stories intercut to create a mosaic of experience, and yet more are without spoken words. Ramesh Meyyappan has created a sequence in visual language which now requires audio description, so today we started exploring possibilities, trying to ensure the spoken word did not dominate.

Grace Khoo and Ramesh Meyyappan – in rehearsals for And Suddenly I Disappear,,, The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

It is an on-going process, using the aesthetics of access, using tools creatively rather than as a simple ‘add on’. Captioning, visual language, and integrated audio description are shaping the aesthetic and the performance style of this Unlimited international collaboration. It is an immensely exciting dialogue, and one that I hope will go on for quite a while…

Meanwhile, it’s back to the now heavily marked and crossed-out script in search of further darlings to excise….

 

Rehearsals begin for international collaboration

Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, Peter Sau, Lee Lee Lim and Grace Khoo: 2017 r&d ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’

I’m writing from an unusually dreary and rain-lashed Singapore, on the second day of rehearsals for international collaboration ‘And Suddenly I Disappear…. The Singapore ‘d’ monologues’. This Unlimited commission is an international theatrical dialogue of difference, disability, and what it is to be human, from opposite sides of the world.  Inspired by previously unrecorded lived experience in Singapore and the UK, I’ve written a mosaic of fictionalised monologues which will be presented across multiple languages in spoken, visual and projected forms, incorporating the aesthetics of access.

I’m currently at the testing phase – trying out material and testing its content, sense, and coherence. It is only day two, but already I’ve been editing and reshaping monologues and thinking of different orders and dramatic structures to create dissonance and counterpoint, shade and light across the various ‘voices’ and experiences I’ve chosen to explore. The cast is an ensemble of experienced and emerging theatre practitioners from the UK and Singapore, who all identify as Deaf and/or disabled. I will be writing more about them and our progress in forthcoming days.

I’m tired now, but it is an excited exhaustion… This production will be the first multilingual, intercultural, Deaf and disability-led theatre project created between the UK and Singapore. After premiering May 24-27 at the National Museum Theatre in Singapore, a version will tour to the UK in September. Further details will follow once the event has been announced in the UK.

Meanwhile, I will endeavour to document the process over the next three weeks as we ask how to make the rehearsals and production inclusive and accessible, whilst also being innovative in our practice and creating new challenges.

Singapore rehearsal diary for New Welsh Review….’And Suddenly I Disappear….’

What follows in an excerpt from my rehearsal diary, commissioned by New Welsh Review, documenting part of my process working in Singapore this Autumn on ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’, my international r&d commission from Unlimited. I am immensely grateful to New Welsh Review for providing this feature free – see more on the journal at https://www.newwelshreview.com and here

Stephanie Fam performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s international r&d Unlimited commission ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’ before a still image of Sophie Stone using visual language, Photograph: Kaite O’Reilly

 

 

18/9/17:

We arrive into Singapore at the end of the Month of the Hungry Ghosts. Flaming braziers sit on street corners and outside temples. Paper money from the Bank of Hell and small cardboard models of cars, smartphones, booze, cigarettes and all the trappings of the good life are set alight in the braziers as offerings to the dead ancestors. Zhong Yuan Jie is the period in the seventh month of the lunar calendar when the gates of the underworld are opened to allow the souls of the dead to roam the earth. Relatives burn offerings to appease their deceased family members, ensuring they don’t become ‘hungry ghosts’ up to mischief, jealous of the living and what they have.

Even in its Taoist and Buddhist rituals, Singapore is commercial, taking care of material needs into the afterlife.

We – performer Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli and I – are here for the r&d of  my collaboration between Wales and Singapore, ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’, an Unlimited International Commission and dialogue about disability, diversity and difference from opposite sides of the world.

Singapore is a young nation, a high-functioning capitalist culture valuing commerce and uniformity, where, my producer Grace Khoo tells me, she was raised ‘not to ask questions, to keep my chin down and not to stand out.’ It is recently embracing notions of diversity and inclusion, but its awareness of disability issues and culture are very much in its infancy. How challenging atypical embodiment, disability politics, the aesthetics of access and what I call ‘alternative dramaturges nformed by a d/Deaf and disability perspective’ may be here, I’m about to find out.

The UK has a long and proud history of disabled peoples’ activism, something Sara Beer and I have been engaged with for decades. Our background is punkish, proud and irreverent – ‘nothing about us without us’ is one of the Disabled Peoples Movement’s slogans – ‘Piss on Pity’ another, a badge I still wear. How this will fit with the ultra-conservative Singaporeans and a system that would not have tolerated our direct action of the 90s remains to be seen. A fascinating conversation is in the process of happening.

20/9/17:
We rehearse at Centre 42, a heritage house in downtown Singapore, greeted by my main collaborator, Peter Sau, and herbal teas from the local Chinese medical hall to help counter the excessive humidity. Peter is an award-winning actor and theatre maker, and a friend since my first visit to Singapore in 2004. He and producer Grace came to the UK in 2016 in order to explore disability arts and culture, with the aim to professionalise it in Singapore .

Some of the ‘And Suddenly I Disappear…’ team, including Sara Beer and Ramesh Meyyappan, Lee Lee Lim, Danial Bawthan and Shai outside Centre 42, Singapore.

Together we made an application to Unlimited, building on the model I developed from my 2008/09 Creative Wales award. Then, advised by Eve Ensler and Ping Chong, I explored the form of the monologue, interviewing d/Deaf and disabled people across the UK, using their perspectives, experiences, and opinions as inspiration to write fictional monologues. These were later produced as ‘In Water I’m Weightless’, the National Theatre Wales/Unlimited production, part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It’s important that I write the texts rather than ‘steal’ from the source material, for what are we but our stories? I prefer to invent. This also ensures that the material cannot be individualised, reduced down to one person’s unfortunate experience rather than a synthesis of the collective experience of prejudice we are all complicit in.

In Singapore, Peter and his dedicated team of researchers, transcribers, and translators are partway through intensive interviews with disabled and d/Deaf Singaporeans. These are stories that have gone unremarked and unreported. Despite the new focus on inclusivity and diversity, ingrained beliefs linger, and in many ways difference and disability is shameful in Singapore, so several of our interviewees, although eager to contribute, request anonymity.

The recordings and transcripts of the interviews are remarkable, Peter and his colleagues have eked out conversations of candour and passion. As I write the drafts I’m reminded of my own ‘coming out’ as a disabled person and personal revolution after meeting the social model of disability, which turned everything I previously knew upside down. I’d been reared on the Medical Model, where the body is at fault, requiring medicalisation and normalisation. The social model sees disability, like gender, as a social construct, and it is society and its physical and attitudinal barriers which are disabling, not the body itself. Value is given where previously there was none.

It is no surprise then that many of the conversations ongoing in Singapore prompt tears and extraordinary openness from people so often denied respect. How daunting and exhilarating then is my task – to write fictional work responding to this stimulus, and begin work on embodying these voices.

22/9/17:

Ideas from the interviews are reversed or reinvented, Peter, Grace and Lee Lee Lim advise me on the use of Mandarin, Hokkien and Singlish vocabulary, which help make the rhythms and cadences of the dialogue more Singaporean. The collaboration is shaping into a dialogue, resulting in a series of vibrant, multimedia monologues inspired by lived experience, layering theatrical languages and utilising captioning, integrated audio description and visual language in the aesthetics of access, a first for Singapore. We realise there are seven spoken and signed languages in use in the rehearsal room, reflecting the multicultural diversity and linguistic complexity of Singapore. I feel we’re exploring how stories change in different cultures, languages and contexts…. How do we ‘speak’ to each other?

25/9/17:

I write a choral monologue to be explored in spoken, projected and visual language.

Be like water. Be like a river. You dip a bowl into the river and the river fills it and becomes the bowl. Pour into a pot, it becomes the pot. Treat with fire and it becomes steam…. This is how you will be. Unstoppable. Fluid. Powerful.
.

The day I need to submit this diary, just one week after meeting and four days before our in progress sharing, the inclusive company has come together with a startling cohesion. Peter’s team is filled with committed individuals keen to bring about change. Monologues that seemed too edgy and politically challenging on first reading now rise off the page, owned. The sense of pride and celebration is tangible. Sara asks Danial Bawthan, one of our emerging disabled performers, how he is finding the process. ‘Priceless,’ he says. ‘I want to be that water, the water that goes into that bowl.’

And Suddenly I Disappear… cycles of inspiration

 

This is a story of collaboration and inspiration…. of how a project inspired a poem and the poem inspired a design and the design became a poster and therefore the image for the project…

There is a poetic symmetry to this cycle of inspiration which I find hugely satisfying.

I am in the midst of an international collaboration – And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. commissioned by Unlimited, which you can read about here, here, and here. My collaborator in Singapore, Peter Sau, had recently embarked on a massive research exercise, gathering the stories from d/Deaf and disabled Singaporeans to inspire The ‘d’ monologues I would write. One of Peter’s research volunteers, Shai (Nur Shafiza Shafie) became fascinated with the title…. what might the ‘d’ stand for? That tantalising enigmatic letter became a thought, became a response to the project and our ambitions – and became a poem:.

Invitation to D
 .
Dearest,
Disadvantaged, disempowered
Despised, deprived, downtrod
Deviant, daring and disturbed
Devoutly disillusioned with God
 .
Destroyed, damaged and dirty
Dishevelled and disheartened
Dismayed, depressed and dreary
Demonised yet defiant
 .
Determined, deserving, delicate
Different, distinct and diverse
Disabled, deaf and deliberate
Definers of your own dark universe.
 .
Do it. Defy the disbelievers.
 .
Disarm them. Deflect them.
Dance around their dreadful hum.
Devour them. Diminish them.
Drown their egos with your drum.
 .
Decry them. Deplore them.
Dilapidate your despair.
Disturb them. Distress them.
Devastate them if you dare.
 .
Debate them. Debunk them.
Dig down deeply for the fight.
‎Destroy them. Defeat them.
Drag them kicking to the light.
 .
(C) Copyright Shai (Nur Shafiza Shafie) 2017
 .
The project’s UK producer, Grace Khoo, shared Shai’s words with me and I was delighted that our project was inspiring such a creative response from our generous volunteer.
 .
Then Shai’s poem was seen by our publicity and marketing designer Ho Su Yuen, who swiftly responded with a striking block letter design, using the words from the poem. I, meanwhile, was developing the title of the project. A common theme seemed to be emerging from the video footage and transcripts from the interviews – that of d/Deaf and disabled people being made invisible. This sentiment offered the full title to me: And Suddenly I Disappear…. The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. The new title was passed on to Ho Su Yuen, who immediately responded with a new offering. 
 .
Various conversations followed and the design went back and forth as it evolved, Grace and Sara Beer (collaborator on the project and development officer for Disability Arts Cymru) advising on making the logo more accessible.
 .
And suddenly – there it was…. The beautiful bold image, above… the logo for our project, the poster image created from defiant poetry written in direct response to the interviewees who are inspiring the fictional monologues. This is such a wonderful example of how generosity feeds inspiration and creativity generates more creativity…
 .
With great thanks to Shai (Nur Shafiza Shafie) and Ho Su Yuen for your beautiful contributions.
 .
 .
Commissioned and supported by Unlimited, celebrating the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council of Wales and British Council.

How to live and make art….. Peter Sau

Elbow-deep in revisions and new writing for my forthcoming visit to Singapore and the r&d of my Unlimited Commission And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues – I read an artistic statement on the website of Peter Sau, my leading collaborator…. What he writes is so striking, so evocative of the practice we are trying our best to pursue, so encouraging and inspiring, I have to reproduce it here:

 

http://petersau.com

ART & LIFE

THEATRE is an evolving art form that stems from life.

An artist needs to react responsibly and envision open-heartedly.

An artist needs to learn consistently to reflect deeper about his/her practice.

An artist should step out of his/her comfort zones and always find new languages of work.

An artist needs to give importance to his/her heart, mind and body.

An artist should create works that can transcend boundaries, languages and nationalities to reach the universal.

An artist should inspire others to work honestly from the SELF but not be selfish so as to provide vast imaginative and empowered spaces to the audience.

An artist should resist the temptation of consumerism and overproduction.

An artist should reach for depth, not skim the surface.

An artist needs to be mindful of his/her ego.

An artist needs to be truthful and ethical.

An artist should and needs to care.

ACTIVE CITIZENRY.

INCLUSIVITY.

DIVERSITY.

EQUALITY.

A THEATRE WITH HEART.

AN ARTIST WITH CONSCIENCE.

The Necessity of Diverse Voices in Theatre Regarding Disability and Difference: Howlround

The Necessity of Diverse Voices in Theatre Regarding Disability and Difference. Excerpt from an essay for Howlround:

Theatre could be defined as the study of what it is to be human. For millennia we have come to sit communally—a group of human beings watching another group of human beings pretending to be other human beings. We are endlessly fascinated with each other, yet a place purported to be about the range of human possibility has for too long been circumscribed and limited, especially towards almost a fifth of the population. Statistics vary, depending on definitions of “disability,” but the World Health Organization estimates 15 percent of the world population as being disabled, whilst a 2012 US Census Bureau estimate brought the figure in at just over 19 percent of the American population.

For thousands of years in the Western theatrical tradition, the atypical body has been used to scare, warn, explain, and explore human frailty, mortality, and the human condition. Disability has been a metaphor for the non-disabled to explore their fears and embedded societal values.

Since the Ancient Greeks disabled characters have appeared in plays, but seldom have the writers been disabled or written from that embodied or political perspective. The vast majority of disabled characters in the Western canon are tropes, and not only that, they reify notions of “normalcy” rather than broadening the lens and embracing all the possibilities of human variety. These misrepresentations are so prevalent in Western culture that negative representations of impairment and associations have become ingrained. Strange untruths have therefore been created and recycled in our dramas for stage and screen, and the rich, rewarding reality of disabled peoples’ lives has been replaced with problematic representations which work to keep us different, “special,” and apart. This “othering” of difference (which also includes sexual preference, cultural heritage, belief system, and so on) provides a “useful” slide rule against which notions of “being normal” and “fitting in” can be measured. These distorted ideas enshrined in our entertainment media legitimize the negative attitudes that can lead to discrimination and hate crime.

Richard Rieser in his teaching guide to disability and moving image media, published by Disability Equality in Education, gives an example of how the limited narratives and visual lexicon impacts on people’s consciousness and actions. He focuses on Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, noting how after its release in the UK the previously archaic term “hunchback” reentered common parlance as a derogatory term directed at disabled people. At the same time, The British Scoliosis Society complained to the then minister of Disabled People, Nicholas Scott, about a sudden increase in violent physical attacks against its members—over 100 attacks in the six months following the film’s release, when in the six months previous to this, there had been none.

Images and narratives in our entertainment media help form the mirror reflecting our society, through which, it could be argued, we gain a sense of community, morality, and self. Without a diversity of voices, perspectives, and experiences, prevailing negative attitudes and values remain entrenched and go unchallenged.

Thankfully change is coming, albeit slowly, with more disabled and d/Deaf artists coming to the fore across art forms. This is partly the fruit of the UK and US disability civil rights movements, out of which disability arts and culture grew, and the disability arts forums, organizations, and festivals that supported and still encourage this growth. In the UK it is also down to initiatives such as Unlimited, a funding strand keen to promote, commission, and implant the work of disabled and Deaf artists in the “mainstream” on a level never experienced before.

As a playwright and dramaturg who identifies as disabled, I have been working for several decades across and between so-called “mainstream” culture and what I coin “crip” culture, informed by the social model of disability. I consider disability a social construct—I am a woman with a sensory and physical impairment, but it is society’s attitudinal and physical barriers which is disabling, not the idiosyncrasies of my body.

In my work I am interested in creating new protagonists, with different narratives, and with different endings—and to challenge and expand the actual theatre languages at play in live performance through my engagement with the aesthetics of access. I believe reimagining disability opens up creative possibilities in aesthetics, form, and content—changing the stories we tell, how they are told, and the people who tell them.

To read the rest of the article, please go to Howlround

This essay first appeared on 2nd July 2017 at: http://howlround.com/the-necessity-of-diverse-voices-in-theatre-regarding-disability-and-difference

http://bit.ly/2sxogRc