“YES – An Entertaining Thoughtful Drama.”
The first week of International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival is drawing to its end; and just as we say good-bye to the first bunch of theatre companies who brought their amazing work to Dublin, we welcome with open arms the second half of the cherry pie.
On her last day on rehearsals, I sit down to have a chat with Colette Cullen, the author and director of Yes, a brand new dramatic comedy about four people and their lives before and after the Marriage Referendum 2015. This year’s Dublin Gay Festival almost coincides with the first anniversary since Irish people voted YES to Marriage Equality.
Having participated in the IDGTF last year with her play Blind Date (which started out as a film), Colette isn’t new to the festival but a happy returner. YES is her second full length play for the IDGTF.
Having lived in London in the 90s, Colette attended a film school there, soon securing herself a job as part of a documentary team. Even though she had a deep interest in film and television, working with stories of real people made her feel uneasy and even intrusive. But soon Colette found a creative way out that allowed her not only to pursue her passion but also to keep telling stories. “I was quite interested in fiction”, says Colette “there I could take responsibility.” And soon the first film script was born. Nevertheless, she didn’t stop there, Colette also started directing both her own and other people’s work. Her credits to date include writing for one of Ireland’s longest running TV series – Fair City.
After years of living and working in London, Colette decided to return to Ireland. Here, in her home country, she enjoyed going to the theatre and seeing different productions; but coming from a middle-class working family, she just never thought that her own work could be good enough to stage in one of Ireland’s theaters. Colette also admits that she always thought it was much harder to break into theatre rather than into film.
But, Ireland is a fast-growing country with opportunities for everyone. Apart from the big mainstream theaters, there are a number of festivals and events that allow those theatre makers who are still establishing themselves to showcase their work: the Fringe Festival, Collaborations, Scene and Heard and even Dublin Gay Theatre Festival.
“I wanted to write stories, I wanted to work with actors, so I thought: why not?”, says Colette about her first feelings about breaking into Irish theatre scene. Moreover, Colette tells me that she has always enjoyed writing and editing, while shooting scenes has felt somewhat more technical.
In 2013 she made the decision to go back to college to do a MA in theatre directing. And even though a bit dubious about her decision at first, Colette absolutely loved the experience. “Even though it’s very academic, it makes you think about what you are doing, look at other playwrights and different directors”, says Colette “and that’s how I started directing”.
On that course, Colette met Laura Murphy with whom she developed her first play Beasts that was presented as part of Collaborations Festival in the Smock Alley Theatre last year. As part of the course, Colette also collaborated with Fishamble Theatre Company and worked as an AD on their productions of Spinning and Little Thing, Big Thing.
For a good director, it’s crucial to see as much diverse theatre as possible. “I like text-based work, but I also go to see a lot of dance and improvised work”, says Colette. “The psychology, the characters that would be me my approach.”, says she, at the same time admitting that she also enjoys working with different people and learning from them and their approaches, which sometimes can be radical from your own.
When it comes to theatre, Colette has always directed her own work and Yes isn’t an exemption. As a director, she enjoys spending time in the rehearsal room witnessing the process of a play turning from page to stage.
Bringing up a production has never been an easy task. On the last day of rehearsals I ask Colette to reflect on what has been the most challenging and the most enjoyable for her as a director and as a playwright during the whole process.
“I think casting is always difficult”, says Colette, “Sometimes it’s difficult to cast gay characters. I don’t care what the sexuality of my cast is, I just look for the best actors to work with. Another challenge is doing it with no money.” Colette tells me that all the plays she has done so far has been profit-share.”Everyone is working for free and it puts a lot of pressure on you. You end up doing a lot of publicity and production yourself.”
As for the most enjoyable: “Seeing your work coming alive”, says Colette with a smile. “I’m just thinking it’s such a privilege. You start with an idea. You have to do a lot of research and think about it. When you do work, it’s important how you represent people. When it’s something as big as this, you feel a kind of responsibility to the subject. You have to follow your instinct. You can’t think of what people are going to think about this and that. You just have to write it. Having a feeling about something and then seeing it coming alive on stage is really exciting; just knowing that it came out of your imagination.”
The idea for writing Yes came to Colette during the Marriage Referendum in May last year. Working on a play for the IDGTF at the time, she didn’t have as much time as she would have liked to to take part in the events surrounding the Vote Yes campaign. But Colette did have an opinion and her own vision of the situation that she wanted to explore regarding the referendum. “There was a lot of issues that the campaign brought up”, says Colette, who felt like some people were a bit condescending about voting yes while all that people who campaigned wanted was to live in an equal society. Colette admits that she was scared to see the results. “I was scared of putting myself up there. I remember on the day of the results writing on Facebook something like: what a great feeling, I woke up this morning, I looked around and two thirds of my fellow citizens were standing with me“, she says as her eyes get watery, a year after she still feels emotional about it.
Four different characters – four different stories: a mother (played by Denise Quinn) campaigning for her gay son – explores the family issues and how parents always want to protect their children; an elder gay man (played by David Grant), who lost his partner to the AIDS in the 90s and through him we can witness the whole history of homosexuality in Ireland; a lesbian woman (played by Andrea Cleary) in a long term relationship, who is the odd one in her family on the path of discovering what life will be like after the referendum; a young gay man (played by Andy Gallagher) from down the country who hasn’t come out to his family yet.
“I wanted to look at different generations and what they learnt from each other”, says Colette. “The play is looking at how homophobia affected all the characters. It’s also about families. You can cry, you can laugh; it’s entertaining and it’s kinda happy-ending but what I’m hoping is that people will be thinking about it afterwards”, says Colette. “I don’t want people to come in and think that I’m beating them over the head. I want for the play to be entertaining; I want to celebrate the referendum but look behind it, too.”
“We want people who don’t normally come to see plays to come and see our shows”, says Colette. She tells me that it’s crucial for her to bring people into theatre; drama has to be accessible and inclusive for everyone. For some people it might be the first play they see but, hopefully, it won’t be their last one; maybe it will motivate them to go and see other productions that are out there.
So, I ask Colette what makes YES different from other plays presented at the festival. “It has quite a big cast of four”, she says “it’s entertaining but, at the same time, it’s a drama. It’s a drama with comical elements.” Colette regards the festival as a great opportunity for different artists to present their work.