Kaite O’Reilly on the Cultural Olympiad. An extract from ‘Rich Text’ NWR 96:
It’s 1995 and I’m lying in front of the wheels of a bus in Wood Street, Cardiff. The bus is ticking over, the driver occasionally revving the engine to try and scare me and so dislodge my body from beneath his bumper. As he does so, a thrilling reverberation is sent through the fat rubber of the wheel and into my waist.
I am exhilarated and equally terrified. I haven’t been in an accident; I’m participating in a demonstration by the disability rights movement’s Direct Action Network, insisting ‘public transport’ is indeed public and accessible to all. DAN have brought the centre of Cardiff to a standstill, and other disabled activists have halted the trains at Cardiff Central. My contribution to the protest is over swiftly. Within seconds I’m yanked out by my feet.
I’ve always liked my politics with adrenaline.
I’ve always liked my writing infused with politics – but delicately so.
My involvement with the disability civil rights movement and culture has impacted on the content, form, and aesthetic of my creative work; it has helped shape me into the writer I am.
To read the full article you can buy the summer 2012 issue iof New Welsh Review at http://www.newwelshreview.com/shop.php
When NWR editor Gwen Davies asked me to write an article for the Summer issue of the journal, reflecting on the Cultural Olympiad and my Unlimited commission In Water I’m Weightless, I was happy to oblige.
The Unlimited commissions have allowed me to develop a complex piece of work over a considerable period of time, and will culminate in a performance by Deaf and disabled actors, on a national platform, creating a significant political and cultural precedent. John McGrath of National Theatre Wales will direct the montage of my text, Nigel Charnock’s movement/choreography, and media artist Paul Clay’s video/design.
The article appears in the section ‘Rich Text’, which focuses on process and the technical aspects of writing. It was great to be able to reflect on the relationship between my political life and how those beliefs and actions may impact on cultural expression – how lying down in front of a bus seventeen years ago may have influenced not just the content and form of what I write, but how I perceive myself as a writer at work in the world.
Unfortunately I can’t reproduce more than the excerpt, above, and in a bid to give support and solidarity to what is increasingly an endangered species – the literary magazine – I’d like to give a brief overview of what I feel is a diverse and thought-provoking edition of New Welsh Review:
The opening line of John Harrison’s article on St Kilda grabbed me and plunged me in: ‘ I forget about the face of the young woman in the photo as the massive bird attacks my face’ he begins – and I couldn’t stop reading until his final punctuation mark. The first of a series on ‘Islands on the Edge’, it is evocative, immersive writing.
From out-lying islands to the US, Egypt, and Argentina, there is an international flavour to the issue, with an article by Matthew David Scott on Occupy USA, Grahame Davies’s imaginary visit to Cairo’s St David’s Building, a former department store run by the Davies Bryan family, decorated with Iolo Morganwg’s druidic ‘secret sign’, whilst Sarah Howe explores the work of American poets Elyse Fenton, Dora Malech, and Darcie Dennigan. Richard Gwyn reviews Traveller of the Century, an epic novel by Argentine Andrés Neuman, one of the Bogotá39 list of promising young Latin American writers. Some of TS Eliot prizewinner Philip Gross’s poetry is reproduced, alongside the essential review section.
Translations include a Chinese poem by Xiao Kaiyu, adapted by Pascale Petit, and Tony Bianchi’s story, Eric ’n’ Ernie, translated from the original Welsh by the author. Further information on the edition, plus the new look blog can be found at www.newwelshreview.com
Literary journals and reviews are important to our cultural landscape.They are often our champions as well as our critics, providing a platform for the emerging, and established writer. I always think they are worth supporting – we need to be the readers as well as the writers.
For information on In Water I’m Weightless, please go to: http://nationaltheatrewales.org/whatson/performance/ntw20
We are approaching the end of the run of LeanerFasterStronger at Sheffield Crucible, and have had a fantastic response to the work in the regional press, on twitter, and via the Guardian and Sheffield theatres’ website. This is the start of a period of reflection for me – what lessons might be learnt? How much of my initial ambitions and intentions have I achieved?
When I was approached by Chol Theatre with this commission, I had no interest in sport outside watching Wales vs Ireland in international rugby matches, and no experience of participating other than representing Birmingham in the high jump as an over-excitable twelve year old. I’m a collaborator, not a competitor, so I wanted to understand this drive to succeed – highlighted by the strap line: ‘How far would you go to be the best?’ This was particularly important in relationship to commerce, sponsorship, and big business – the commercialisation of sport and the commodification of our athletes.
Apart from individual athlete characters and their pressures and challenges, I wanted to explore the bioethical issues around human enhancement, sports science, bio- and genetic engineering.
The internet has broadened the field of interaction, commentary and criticism, encouraging dialogue and discussion. Having access to members of the audience’s thoughts and reactions via chats in the bar after the show, to their online comments, can be tremendously useful to a dramatist. It allows a panoply of responses, from the professional critic to the amateur enthusiast, from fellow playwrights and theatre makers to the novice or occasional theatre-goer, perspectives from all walks of life, including sports engineers and elite athletes, the subject and focus of much of the script.
The timing of the production has been pertinent – many have commented on how some of the issues in the production will throw a long shadow across the upcoming Games:
‘…it’s a show bound up with the impending Olympics and the coverage surrounding that,’
The poet Andrew McMillan says on the Sheffield Theatres website:
‘…we’re all invited to be part of the Olympics through all mediums, radio, film, tv, even adverts now, the immersive nature of the piece, casting the audience as delegates watching conversations unfold, to me just simply continued this invitatiom to the Olympics, but examined sides to sport which might not readily be discussed. We debated some of the issues on the train ride home, and that is all an piece of theatre can really hope to achieve…’
‘As the Olympic torch moves around the country, I’ll be thinking and talking about LeanerFasterStronger’