Women working at computer
Nur Shafiza (Shai)

And Suddenly I Appear: Reflections on a disabled-led creative process

Nur Shafiza (Shai) writes about working as Creative Captioner with Unlimited commissioned artist Kaite O’Reilly on the Singapore world premiere of ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’. She reflects on the impact this experience and being mentored by O’Reilly as dramaturg and disability advisor has had on her own wider work.

Working as a creative captioner on the Singapore production of Kaite O’Reilly’s Unlimited International commission ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’ was an insightful process for me. Premiering in Singapore in May 2018, it truly sensitised me to how much access is a basic human right. Captioning for theatre productions is not new to me but captioning inclusively and creatively for D/deaf audiences meant that I had to learn the visual demands of Deaf culture. This entailed incorporating specific details when captioning for D/deaf audiences such as use of different colours, fonts, sizing etc.

While our caption design was catered to D/deaf audiences, the aesthetics of access utilized meant that the captions served to be equally functional and visually pleasing for hearing audiences. This is especially telling as we had hearing audience members complimenting us on the captions in the post-show discussions. In my prior experience as a captioner, I would occasionally hear complaints on how captions are distracting and annoying for hearing audiences who would prefer not to have them.

As a creative captioner, I also learnt how to present text visually in a more evocative and poetic manner. This includes playing with the line breakages in the text, transition effects and even removing punctuation. Captions became not just perfunctory but a real visual treat with the right treatment.

Having learnt the aesthetics of access reminds me, as a theatre maker and a captioner, there is more than one way to receive the show, just as there is more than one way to process the world. We don’t always have to insist that one convention is better or right. We can equally co-exist and make space for each other’s needs if we take the time to meet in the middle. Access is a universal right.

As an Emerging Writer

Working with Kaite O’Reilly as my dramaturgy and disability advisor has forced me to be aware of my own privilege as a writer/dramaturg who is newly stepping into disability arts. Through the process of writing several drafts for Project Tandem (a Singapore-based initiative developing D/deaf and disabled theatre practitioners, led by Peter Sau), I have had to question myself on my writing choices and thought process.

Why am I portraying disabled persons in such a way? What impression does that reinforce or challenge for audiences? What is the hidden assumption behind my selections from the verbatim text I am using? What are the ethics of using verbatim texts? What does it mean for a work to be disabled led? By what markers do we measure this notion of normal or even disability?
Working alongside actors and artistes with disability in the co-writing process also led the way for me to also really understand and appreciate what it means to create a space for the disabled community to tell their stories. I developed greater empathy and used active listening in order to capture not just their story but their voice in the dramatic script. Being aware of my own thinking processes has allowed me to arrest and side step my own unconscious biases towards disabled persons and assumptions I may have made in my own writing.

On top of that, the practice of removing any mention of a person’s physical condition in my writing was the most impactful for me. By purposefully avoiding the medicalization of the body, the creation of the stories and the shaping of the storytelling was at its most powerful. I began to realize that the drama is not the disability. It is simply in the human condition and experience. Coming to this realization was by far, the single biggest change in the way I approach, process and write my material.

Continue reading Shai’s further reflection on Kaite O’Reilly’s website.

‘And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’ tours the UK from 5-12 September 2018, and is published by Oberon in September 2018.