Before beginning the Research and Development workshop for my play Trailing Rhiannon at Chapter Arts Centre, I was able to speak about the research behind the project at Cardiff University’s School of Welsh Research Symposium.
Why study Rhiannon? Because she is the Mabinogi‘s only female storyteller – weaving her narrative at a time when men controlled the magical act of storytelling. More importantly, her act of storytelling helps her to prove her innocence in the face of false accusations.
When falsely accused of destroying her child, Rhiannon is
forced to stand outside the gates of her husband’s court. When strangers pass by, she tells them the
story of what she has supposedly done and offers to carry them on her back to
In this moment, Rhiannon’s humorous, clever and sometimes subversive voice becomes the instrument of her punishment. But crucially, unlike so many of the female characters in mythology and folklore traditions, Rhiannon is never silenced.
Instead, she becomes a reluctant storyteller, narrating a
crime she did not commit.
In a wonderful event organized by Cardiff City Council, I was able to speak to 140 primary and secondary school students about education in America. I told them about my work writing plays about the Welsh Mabinogi, and shared that my love of theatre began at their age. They were very eager to know exactly how many shows I had written, how many shows I had been in, and if I knew the words to the whole Grease cast album (one fifth year class is performing the show in a few weeks!) Fingers crossed there might have been one or two future playwrights in the audience!
In April, I had the opportunity to attend the Storytelling & the Environment Symposium hosted by the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling at the University of South Wales. There, I presented my paper The Mabinogi’s Modern Environment: Re-Staging the Four Branches in Contemporary Wales, which discussed the romanticization of the Welsh landscape in adaptations of the Mabinogi. I encouraged storytellers to acknowledge the human-induced change that these environments are facing. To engage with the landscapes of myth, storytellers must confront the good and the bad, the serene and the industrial.
The conference was a wonderful chance to meet academics and creatives using the humanities to encourage environmentalism in the UK and around the world.
On hiking Pen y Fan in a blizzard, working as a Producing Fellow for Adverse Camber, and producing a professional workshop of my play Trailing Rhiannon
Two days ago, my friends and I clambered up Pen y Fan in Wales’ Brecon Beacons, equipped with thermoses of hot chocolate and – as you can see in the images below – brand new £2 sunglasses. It was pouring when we left Cardiff, and I decided that there certainly wouldn’t be any need for sunglasses on our hiking trip. When bright sun and blue sky greeted us on the morning of our hike, I decided to invest in a fancy new pair of very cheap pink glasses (Christian was very disappointed that I didn’t decide match his camo-print ones.) The sunglasses shaded us from sun on the way up the mountain – and deflected snow from the blizzard we encountered on the way down.
I spent the previous weekend up in Leeds as the Producing Fellow for Adverse Camber’s Storytelling Takeover, a thrilling weekend of stories from around the world. I spearheaded the festival’s Story Hub, an area for aspiring storytellers to network and learn more about the art form with leaflets and brochures from organizations across the U.K.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the Storytelling Takeover with the Storytelling and Social Transformation conversation – an inspiring discussion about storytelling’s capacity to engage with contemporary issues and share narratives of heritage, climate change and empowerment that might not otherwise be heard.
Between long train rides, glorious full days spent reading about postmodern fairytales for my MA, and perfecting the art of Earl Grey tea, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and collaborating with two wonderful Cardiff-based producers. Together, we’re striving to mount a professional research and development workshop of my play Trailing Rhiannon with a Welsh cast and creative team. Our first step will be a reading at Cardiff University’s School of Welsh and Celtic Studies, followed by a feedback session with some of the world’s leading experts on The Mabinogion – the medieval Welsh text on which the play is based.
In the midst of it all, I’m finding time to begin my next thrilling (and daunting) creative piece. I’m writing a new play, with messy notes and drafts and expansive visual research that I hope will eventually metamorphose into an environmentally-minded theatrical adaptation of the Mabinogion‘s Blodeuwedd, a woman conjured from flowers for the sole purpose of becoming a wife. This part of the process is the hardest for me, and I’m trying not to be intimidated by blank pages, remembering instead just how lucky I am to have a room of my own, and days in which to write. I keep a few post-it notes above my desk, with instructions that I’m trying to live by.
From Paula Vogel: “Write a play that’s impossible to stage.”
From Mary Oliver: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”