Tag Archives: visual language

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….

 

In full bloom – Woman of Flowers

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge's 'Woman of Flowers' by Kaite O'Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge’s ‘Woman of Flowers’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

So we have officially opened and are receiving fantastic responses on twitter, which you can read here. We’ve had lots of accolades through the more official channels, with Lyn Gardner on her Guardian theatre blog picking us out as one of the week’s top tickets and there’s a fascinating interview with Sophie Stone on the BBC Ouch blog here. Sophie and I will be guests on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour tomorrow morning, 24th September, at 10am, talking about the show and our creative collaboration with director Kirstie Davis.

The piece is up and alive and breathing (or should that be flying? Being inspired by The Mabinogion’s Blodeuwedd, owls and night birds are a theme throughout the piece…)

We tour until November first and details of the venues are here,

I’m biased of course, for it’s my words and concept, but sitting in The Pleasance Theatre in London last night, I began to appreciate what an unusual piece it is aesthetically. It is a collaboration between Deaf and hearing cultures, but not in the more usual sense of having integrated sign interpretation throughout. There is no translation, we do not use BSL, but a re-imagining of my written text in sections of visual language, interspersed with live music, surtitles, and terse prosaic dialogue, in a setting which is both contemporary and oddly out of time. It is an intense experience owing to the commitment of the cast, who are never ‘off’, and what I and several on social media have called the mesmerising performance of Sophie Stone.  I hope people get to see it. I would love to know what others think of it.

Woman of Flowers continues this week at The Pleasance Theatre London until 24th September, then Cheltenham Everyman 25-27th September, exeter Bike Shed until 4th October, then touring until November 1st.

Making language visual

Turning written text into visual, physical language – transforming words on the page into signs and gestures that take flight….  I love working with Jean St Clair. In her London apartment this week, I worked with her and Sophie Stone, transforming written text from my new play Woman of Flowers into flowing, beautiful visual language.

Jean St Clair's encouraging feedback

Jean St Clair’s encouraging feedback

Although I’ve been working with Jean now for a dozen years on translation and recreating English text into theatricalised sign, I always feel very privileged to be part of the process. We last worked together on Forest Forge’s production of my play peeling, also directed by Kirstie Davis. It’s wonderful to have Jean as our creative sign director.

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I send her the speeches from my play which we want physicalised in advance and then Jean asks me questions about my meaning, intention, and preferred aesthetic via email or text. When we gather, she will have already explored possibilities, but will always be led by the performer – in this case Sophie Stone, who will be performing the part in the Forest Forge production when Woman of Flowers tours the UK in the Autumn.

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Woman of Flowers is a new play, inspired by elements of the ancient Welsh treasure, The Mabinogion. I’ve been obsessed by the story of Bloudewydd for many years, since I moved to Wales to live.

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The story tells of a female ostensibly made from the flowers of the oak and trees in the forest to be companion to a young man cursed by his mother never to have ‘a woman of our race.’ Quite what this ‘ideal’ woman might be has enthralled and perplexed me for years. I explored the notion of  computer generated avatars in Perfect, a piece I made with John McGrath and Paul Clay ten years ago at Contact Theatre, and which won the Manchester Evening News best play of 2004.

Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone working on 'Woman of Flowers'

Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone working on ‘Woman of Flowers’

Woman of Flowers, commissioned by Forest Forge and directed by Kirstie Davis, will be very different. A mixture of prosaic everyday dialogue in spoken English, and the poetic inner thoughts of Rose (played by Sophie) using theatricalised sign, will hopefully be visually stunning and emotionally effecting.

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Our rehearsed reading at Salisbury Playhouse earlier in the month left some of the invited audience in tears. Many spoke afterwards of the lyrical nature of Sophie’s spoken and signed language, mentored and polished by Jean’s experienced eye.

I have asked Jean and Sophie if they will guest blog about their process, working between spoken and signed language, between Deaf and hearing cultures. They have agreed, and I can’t wait to share more of this part of the creative process, which is often invisible, hidden from view.

Tour details: http://www.forestforge.co.uk/shows/woman-of-flowers 

Spoken language, Visual language – Woman of Flowers with Forest Forge

Sophie Stone signing, not singing.

Sophie Stone signing, not singing.

I’m in a small sound studio in Camden, watching Sophie Stone transform my written text into three dimensions. She has been working with my long term collaborator Jean St Clair on translating sections of Woman of Flowers, my commission from Forest Forge Theatre, into theatricalised British Sign Language (BSL) or visual language. I was unable to make these earlier sessions as I was at the Cork Midsummer festival, so Sophie and I are refining the work, preparing for a rehearsed reading of the script at Salisbury Playhouse in front of an invited audience.

This project is something of a dream one. Kirstie Davis, the artistic director of Forest Forge, came to see the National Theatre Wales production of my performance text In Water I’m Weightless in 2012, and fell under the spell of Sophie Stone, one of the performers. Kirstie and I sat together in the cafe after the show, scheming, plotting, dreaming up a way of working together again, and including Sophie. ‘If you were do something original for Forest Forge, what would it be?’ she asked, and I told her of a contemporary retelling of an ancient myth, filled with transformations and magic, desire and murder – a world where nothing is quite as it seems. ‘Oooh, yes, we’ll do it!’ Kirstie said as our imaginations entwined, and we clapped our hands and jumped up and down in our seats, laughing.

Laughter is continuous when working with Kirstie Davis. Her rehearsal rooms are joyful and creative places, filled with possibilities. Even in these austerity times, when funding is increasingly difficult, the arts given less and less value and projects are constantly under threat, Kirstie and her team at Forest Forge still make things happen, and with smiles on their faces. Sadly, it is so easy to be negative about the future of the arts in the current climate, but Kirstie and Forest Forge are resilient, inventive, and optimistic. They have a loyal and supportive following, too, which buoys the company up and is massively appreciated. A fundraising drive earlier in the year saved this production of Woman of Flowers and I’m grateful to all who supported the company, for the opportunity of making this work, which I hope will be inventive, emotionally engaging, and with resonance for our times.

Actors Sophie Stone, Andrew Wheaton, Liam Gerrard and choreographer  Junior Jones

Actors Sophie Stone, Andrew Wheaton, Liam Gerrard and choreographer Junior Jones

Woman of Flowers uses a mixture of spoken and visual languages, and will be surtitled throughout. I will write of the content more in a future blog. It will also incorporate movement, choreography, video, live music and an original score by Rebecca Applin. When we gathered at Salisbury Playhouse to read the script aloud for the first time, designer David Haworth was also there, presenting his model box design for the production.

Designer David Applin presents 'Woman of Flowers' design to the cast of the rehearsed reading, Salisbury Playhouse.

Designer David Applin presents ‘Woman of Flowers’ design to the cast of the rehearsed reading, Salisbury Playhouse.

After just five hours of rehearsal, we presented the work to an invited audience. As a playwright, it is always magical hearing the words you have written outside your own head that first time. The choices the performers make are often surprising, and enriching – their questions stimulating and often challenging. I strive to give a lot of space to my collaborators, especially when working with this kind of material, shape-shifting and poetic, where nothing is quite what it seems. Some of my answers to specific questions are ‘open’ – ‘yes, it could be she is lying; but then again, she might be telling the truth.’ I’m sure such apparent evasiveness can be frustrating to an actor who seeks a strong foundation to build their performance on, but it’s easy to give definite answers and for me, that is a closing down of possibilities rather than an opening up. Once in rehearsals, there will be three weeks of exploration and discovery, and so I always endeavour to leave space for the director and actor to make their work, and, invariably, surprise me with their interpretations and discoveries.

This issue was taken up in the Q&A after the reading, and both Kirstie and I spoke of the necessity of trust. I am fortunate to have worked with her before, on a production of my play peeling in 2011, and a strong, mutually-respectful relationship was built then. I find Kirstie a wonderful collaborator. Apart from her imaginative and inventive productions, she has a wonderful regard for the audience and awareness of that dynamic between the spectacle and the spectator. That focus brings an immediacy to her direction and alongside the excellent performers she casts, it creates a strong connection with the audience.

I was shaken to see members of our invited audience in tears after the reading, and several spoke generously about the emotional impact the work had and how excited they were by the content and the presentation. This was immensely gratifying for us to know – a large part of a rehearsed reading is to test the script and see if it is working – and the emotional response reflects the commitment and skills Kirstie and the actors brought to our short rehearsal process.

Given the response to this early part of the process, I can’t wait to see what happens when we are deep in it.