‘Reassembled, Slightly Askew’ in London at Battersea Arts Centre

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(image by Richard Lavery/Tickle Here)

Reassembled… is off to an amazing start to its 3 week run at Battersea Arts Centre as part of their ‘A Nation’s Theatre Festival’, in which it is the only NI show to be invited to participate. It’s been in the very capable hands of NI actors, Stephen Beggs & Mary Lindsay:

Mary STephen out front

Coverage so far includes various London-based publications:

Time Out

listed as one of Time Out London’s ‘Hottest Theatre Openings’

The Arts Council NI’s website, a fantastic 4-star review from Lyn Gardner in The Guardian, a heartfelt blog post from Webcowgirl, and post-show feedback from audiences:

“If you see just one production in London this year, it should be this.”

“Profound evening…a real must-see!”

“Wow, what a thought-provoking 90 minutes, a slick and rounded arts experience.”

“Amazing… [I was] touched and impressed.”

“It is moving, beautiful, fragile and deeply important. Thank you.”

“Best binaural piece I’ve seen this year so far (you’re the 4th). “

“I felt more exposed than ever.”

“Such a deeply moving experience.”

 

With the show running until 28 May, there’s more feedback and reviews to come…

Helen Waddell research for ‘Redeeming the Time’

Helen Waddell books

Research used to inform the draft script of ‘Redeeming the Time’, courtesy of Louise Anson & family

During 2013, courtesy of an ACNI Minority Ethnic Artist Award, I was fortunate to get to know the life and writings of Helen Waddell, an inspiring, yet forgotten, female writer from NI who founded the genre of historical fiction through her famous novel, Peter Abelard (1933).

I was able to complete research from primary and secondary sources, including Helen’s own notebooks held at Queens University Belfast’s special collection, Helen’s personal letters to family and friends (courtesy of Helen’s great great niece, Louise Anson), and lengthy discussions with Dr Jennifer FitzGerald. From this, I drafted a short bilingual play, in Chinese and English, called Redeeming the Time. Initially, I had proposed to write a selection of short plays, but after reading the poetry and learning about Waddell’s life, a natural dramatic arc revealed itself and I decided to write a short play that had an emotional journey for the characters, with the poems acting as the connective tissue between scenes.

Themes that informed my script from Lyrics from the Chinese, Helen Waddell’s personal correspondence and life, and NI contemporary society include:

·   Binaries–how can you exist in the space between and bridge the two?
·   Sexism in politics
·   Transnationalism and cultural pluralism
·   Life of the mind vs. the cage of marriage
·   Love, loss, and betrayal
·   What happens when you are prevented from reaching your full potential
·   Being forgotten and also forgetting
·   How the mind offers escape from a bleak reality via fantasy and escape; getting lost in the minutia of life

A major barrier I have come up against to develop the play further is the lack of Chinese actors in Northern Ireland. The process of finding a Chinese translator to translate sections of the script and play into written and spoken Chinese highlighted the lack of infrastructure available in NI to work bilingually, whether it’s on a basic level of having translation at your appointment with your child’s playgroup, or on an artistic level of broadening the range of voices we hear onstage.

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Focus Group Feedback

On 23 May 2014, a cross-section of individuals from the biomedical/health & social care, arts, community/voluntary sector (brain injury support) organizations attended came to The MAC (Belfast) and participated in a one-hour focus group session in which they heard two sections of a draft of Reassembled…Slightly Askew.

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From General Public–

This was a powerful and enlightening piece of work. I felt frightened and nauseous in equal measure. It enabled me to empathise with Shannon and her trauma in a comparatively very short amount of time.

 

The audio engineering was great. You felt abstracted within the environment. The sound moved you through different realms. The voice brought you back to a place of consciousness.

It made me consciously aware of how good health care in NI is.

It was a spiritual, otherworldly experience.

Having worked in Brain Injury Services, I have some knowledge on how an ABI can impact on an individual, however, to experience it in this way was very insightful and has helped in my learning and understanding.

IMG_5457The technology could also be used to communicate how other hard to understand ailments feel to the sufferer—eg. Dementia/Alzheimers, Autism—so could have a very powerful social impact.

Trying to process what’s going on made me think about how my brain works.

I’d love to see it as a permanent installation in a hospital, a requirement in training.

 

 

 

From Neurosurgeons–

IMG_5453I was under the impression that empathy could not be taught, but this experience has demonstrated otherwise.

The hospital system doesn’t allow us to understand what that person’s going through. [They are] a disease entity we’re treating. We forget the humanity underneath.

I thought this was going to be something ‘arty-farty’. I had no idea it would affect me so profoundly and viscerally.

It allows you to have the patient experience without being paralyzed with fear…valuable as we are shifting to a patient-centred servic.

 A unique experience that every neurosurgeon would have to experience.

The neurosurgeons also shared that the focus group setting provided the first time they were able to chat with fellow neurosurgeons about their experiences in this way. The experience allowed them to discuss their practice, coping mechanisms and the process of going through parts of the patient journey via Reassembled, Slightly Askew prompted them to unexpected self-analysis, self-reflection and a place of consciousness of their professional competencies.

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An Outside Perspective on my Outsider Perspective

 

I always compare living and working in Northern Ireland to being underwater: when you start to feel like you’re running out of oxygen, you must come up for air and perspective, look around, fill up, then burrow back down. When you’re underwater, it’s easy to forget about the world above, that people might be noticing the flurry of your graft, and may even find it provocative and significant. I have found such a person in the lovely Fiona Coffey, who has been researching contemporary Northern Irish women playwrights as part of her work at Tufts University. Her outside perspective on my outside perspective has been refreshing, invigorating, intelligent, and generous. She has included my work in her recent publications and conference presentations:

Fiona Coffey, “Blurring Boundaries and Collapsing Genres with Shannon Yee: Immersive Theatre, Pastiche, and Radical Openness in the North,” in Radical Contemporary Theatre Practices by Women in Ireland, edited by Miriam Haughton and Maria Kurdi. Carysfort Press, Dublin. (2015)

Radical Contemp Theatre Practices Women Ireland webpage.jpgFiona Coffey, Challenging the Peace: the Dramatic Counternarratives of Northern Irish Women Playwrights, 1980-2010, Tufts University, 2013

Conference presentation: “Contemporary Playwriting in Northern Ireland: the health and status of women writers” Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Washington DC, 2012

Conference presentation: “Queering the Troubles: Shannon Yee’s performance of queer identity in Northern Ireland” American Conference for Irish Studies Northeast Meeting, Fairfield CT, 2012

Conference presentation: “Controversial and Unpopular Challenges to the Northern Irish Peace Process: the dramatic counternarratives of contemporary female playwrights” International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures, Belgium, 2011

‘Lyrics from the Chinese’, in Chinese

I am coming to the end of the 12-month research and script development period for a bilingual script based on themes from contemporary NI and the life of Helen Waddell, and her collection of poems based on the ancient Lyrics from the Chinese, which was published 100 years ago this year. Lyrics… was monumental for Helen’s career, and brought recognition to a woman who was truly ahead of her time. Given that Helen’s translations of Lyrics… was her translation of an English translation of ancient Chinese poetry, I thought it fitting to have some of the poems that inspired my script translated back into Chinese. One of them is about sexism and politics, an issue which is still relevant :

Helen Waddell的《中國詩詞》第 22:

智者之慧吾之力,

女子之慧吾之禍。

男子辛勞構城牆,

女子反手亦摧之。

男子難逃女狡黠,

到頭難免一場空。

聰慧直至身病時,

紛擾征戰均緣起。

女子休得參國事,

原本應歸灶臺地。

誤將聰智化利器,

自當守得織布機。

Poem 22:

The wise man’s wisdom is our strength,

The woman’s wisdom is our bane.

The men build up the city walls

For women to tear down again.

No man from any woman’s wit

Hath yet learned aught of any worth,

For wise is she, but unto ill,

To bring disorder on the earth.

What does she in affairs of State?

Her place is in the inner room.

Her wisdom doth least hurt in this,

To mind the silkworm and the loom.

Many thanks to the Arts Council NI for their support through the Minority Ethnic Artist Award scheme, to Lou and the Anson family for their generosity, and Dr. Jennifer Fitzgerald for her expertise.

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