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Interview with Romana Testasecca and Tom Moran

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It’s less than a week before The Belly Button Girl opens in The New Theatre. I had an amazing opportunity to talk to the play’s writer and performer Tom Moran and Romana Testasecca, who is directing the piece.

Just before we dive into the interview, I want to make a special mention. I meet a lot of creative artists and theatre makers, who are, of course, very proud of their creations. But Tom and Romana were so passionate and enthusiastic about their upcoming play that the fire in their eyes were so contagious I couldn’t bare the thought of keeping it all to myself. Unfortunately, not always such an amount of belief and passion about your own work can be transmitted through the screen; so, I decided to simply say it.

Now to the interview.

I sat down with Romana and Tom primarily to talk about Squad Theatre company and The Belly Button Girl. It’s interesting to note that The Belly Button Girl is being brought to the audience not by one but two theatre companies. Walking almost hand in hand, Squad Theatre Company and Intensive Purposes are as close as sisters. Being formed around the same time (and as recently as 2015) by a group of DIT Drama graduates, both companies have quite an extensive experience behind their belts, including participation in Scene and Heard festival. Always trying to work side by side but allowing each other enough creative freedom at the same time, the two companies focus on creating their own content. The Squad is a company with 5 core members (and more than ten in total), while Intensive Purposes is pretty much a one-man project. It was Tom’s decision to be separated from the rest as he wanted to have the freedom to work on his own writings. At the same time, Tom and Romana gave me a feeling of a close unity between the two companies, they are always there to help each other to produce and present.

Having already some experience in writing and performing, creating The Belly Button Girl took more than a year to be fully developed.  Starting as a completely different story, with a different plot and a different title, Tom’s inspiration for the play came while practicing yoga. To be more precise, in a downward-facing dog pose. Acknowledging that he might have not been the best yogi and always being pushed to the back of the class, Tom felt like he was not getting enough attention from the teacher. Thus the idea of a guy who falls in love with his yoga instructor was born. “But then I realised that the play wasn’t about yoga at all, it was about the relationship”, says Tom. And that’s exactly what was left in the second draft: the relationship between two human beings.

“It’s very unfiltered”, says Tom about the nature of the play. “He – the protagonist – is not ashamed. There is a lovely kind of confidence in just being himself. He just says everything the way it is”, adds Romana.

Always trying to mix things up, Tom admits that he likes his “comedies to be dramatic and his dramas to be comedic”. “Otherwise it doesn’t feel real”, says he.

But it’s never easy to be the writer who performs in his or her own piece. Tom says that he always knew he was going to be the one telling the story not only from the page but also from the stage. When asked which of the two crafts he enjoys more, he honestly answers “I have this bone in my body that if I wasn’t performing I would probably go a little bit crazy”. He also notes that writing has become a huge part of his daily life and he couldn’t imagine himself not doing it anymore.

Tom admits that music is a very important component of his writing routine. It doesn’t only influence and inspire him and his mood, but it also helps him to find the rhythm of the piece. Evidently having a very well trained musical ear, he counts the bits in every word and every phrase to make it sound right.

Just like in any creative task, being the writer of the piece you are performing apart from the evident benefits also inputs some challenges. One of such might be that the actor starts taking liberties and creative freedom with his own (well-penned and already brought to perfection) script. It’s easy to change a word or a whole line while it’s your own creation. That’s why you have a director who is there to help you master the performance.

Romana came on board only a few months ago. While Tom knew from the beginning that he was writing a play for himself, he didn’t have yet a person in mind to direct it. “She gave me the best notes on the play”, says Tom who enjoys working with Roman and admits that he gets really excited when the two creative opinions collide in the rehearsal room and they have to find a way to make the scene work for both of them. Also coming from an acting background, Romana says that she always respects the actor’s point of view and ideas about how a scene should be acted out. But it’s always a mutual decision and the director has the benefit of seeing the performance from the outside. It’s definitely a challenge to find the balance in between imposing yourself as the director and listening to what your actor is trying to communicate to you.

The Belly Button Girl isn’t biographical”, says Tom “there is a lot of me in it, but none of it actually happened to me.” Inviting people to have a look at his own experience, Tom quotes Mark Birbiglia: “If you are not telling your secrets, you are not doing it right”.  And that’s exactly how Tom wants to engage his audience. “That’s what good art is”, he says, “telling your secrets. And this is what this play  – The Belly Button Girl – is. It’s the most unfiltered thing. He – the main character – is so free and lovely, and so disgusting. This play tries to show every part of a person and every part of a relationship.”

Not hugely relaying on the set design or props, the play is as stripped down as the protagonist’s soul in front of an audience. “He is there and he is telling you his story”, says Romana. “There is nothing else. It’s this guy on stage telling his story”.

Both Romana and Tom want the audience to have a real truthful understanding of a human experience. In his play, Tom aims to show people that it’s ok to go through different emotions internally but it’s even more ok to release them to the outside world. There is nothing to be worried or scared about. Even if you are a man. Especially if you are a man. Because before being a man, you are a human being. “Comfortable vulnerability” is the beautiful term that Tom uses for it, “to be comfortable with your own emotions and showing them.”

Tom and Romana have big plans for The Belly Button Girl. It’s less than a week before the play opens in one of Dublin’s city center venues, but the talk has it that the play will be well up for the Edinburgh Fringe in the next couple of years. Described as an “Unflinching, romantic and personal” play, The Belly Button Girl promises to be truly epic! So start booking the tickets before they are gone. For one week only with one day (Monday) preview at the price of 12.50 EUR only: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=268&gi_sn=57b34ad04e5ef%7C0 

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Filed under Intensive Purposes, Interview with, romana testasecca, Squad Theatre Company, The Belly Button Girl, Tom Moran, Uncategorized

Interview with Grainne Curistan.

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Just days before one of the most prestigious of fringe festivals in the world opens its doors, I got an opportunity to talk to Grainne Curistan, the Artistic Director of At Large Theatre Company that will be bringing not one but three contrasting pieces to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Having inherited her mother’s love for theatre, Grainne Curistan has never professionally trained as an actor. Nevertheless, she deeply enjoyed both performing and writing for the stage. The spark for creating a theatre company came in early 2010 when two friends of Curistan’s decided to go to New York to do an acting course. Soon after Grainne decided to join them, ending up doing a summer acting course in Stella Adler’s Studio of Acting in New York.

“I tend to just have one idea that, I suppose it’s a good and a bad thing, would lead to several other ideas. Once it was set I was going to New York I thought why not write a play before I go? “, says Grainne.

Thus Curistan’s first play Les Impossibles was born. Completely genderless, with four characters called simply Actor 1, Actor 2, 3 and 4 the play was Grainne’s first attempt to showcase herself and her talent at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2012.

At Large Theatre Company was born in 2010 in Belfast. Les Impossibles was the company’s first professionally staged work. It premiered in Culturlann Theatre in Belfast in 2010, later moving into the GAS theatre in Dublin. First set as a one night only show, due to a heavy snowfall and cancellations of all the other shows at the venue, At Large got an amazing opportunity to take over all the other vacant slots. Apart from having written the play, Grainne also appeared in it and directed it. When the show moved to Edinburgh, Curistan opted to focus closely on directing the piece and her role as Actor 1 was taking over by Anarosa Butler.

In 2016, At Large Theatre Company is bringing three different plays to Edinburgh’s Fringe: Beryl (by Lesley-Ann Reilly), The Meeting (by Grainne Curistan) and Nowhere Now (by Daniel O’Brien). All three plays are written, developed and performed by the members of the company. With 17 people in total, 2 weeks and 2 shows per day At Large is more than determined to wow the Edinburgh audience with their work.

Grainne says that her love for writing comes from her passion for acting. She also loves directing her own work.

“It’s in my head. I feel that the writer does know. You either have an ability to direct or not. Some people are just writers and that’s all. They are brilliant writers. But if you do have the ability to direct, I feel that you would be the best person to direct it. As a director myself, when I’m directing somebody else’s work, I want what they visualized, what their message is, what they had in their head… I do prioritize the writer’s vision over the director’s vision”, says Grainne.

With a number of on-going workshops by professional facilitators and help from the fellow members, in the At Large Theatre Company everyone is  encouraged to work on their own creative material until a fruitful result. No work shall be left abandoned, forgotten or given up on. To this moment, Grainne herself has three full plays and a few short ones, she also has a number of pieces that are work-in-progress.

This year Grainne isn’t only brining her own play as a writer to Edinburgh Fringe, but she is also being involved in brining up the other two. Having worked for a good number of years in an office, The Meeting was mostly inspired by experience and an office-nurtured atmosphere. And, even though none of the characters is based on anybody specific, all of them represent popular “creatures” inhabiting an office environment that anybody, who has ever had the pleasure of working in an office, will  easily be able to relate to. From Linda, who is constantly sick and out and is there to make everyone’s life a total misery to Owen, who’s the “ready to jump on any possible task” type of co-worker. The Meeting has a total cast of seven people, Grainne believes that all the characters are “hugely stereotypical but painfully believable.”

Going Fringe is a very hard and costly work. Grainne knows it better than anyone else. Having had previous experience, At Large is well prepared this time to be able to showcase their work as best as possible. Having secured one of the best venues in town (The Sweet Grassmarket), and having organized a tight but fair schedule, the members of At Large will not only be able to work but also enjoy the Festival with all the opportunities it has to offer to theatre makers participating.

“We see At Large Theatre Company as going far beyond the amateur circle, we don’t want to stay there, we want to be in Dublin Fringe Festival, we want to be in Dublin Theatre Festival, we want to be doing this properly”, says Grainne “That’s our trajectory.”

With the amount of plays showcasing during the festival, it’s already difficult enough to make your play stand out of the crowd; but what do you do when one company brings three different plays? Doesn’t it make you compete against yourself?

“It doesn’t. We are on at different times. Each play will be advertising the other ones. All the shows are very different. It’s very like that if people enjoyed one show, they will enjoy the others, as well. Nowhere Now is a very surreal play about a beef-producing industry; The Meeting is a straight-forward comedy, while Beryl is a quite serious, real to life, realistic piece about a guy who cross-dresses to access his past”, says Grainne.  In addition to that the there is a special deal if you are booking all three plays together: £25.

For At Large it will also be an experience to see people’s reaction and which one out of three plays they will favourite more. Grainne hopes that the “really really strong, well-developed characters” will help At Large Theatre‘s work stand out.

Just before they set out for Edinburgh, At Large will perform all three plays in Dublin for two nights only.

At Large is also all set for a bright and prosperous future. Grainne Curistan is taking up a new challenge of doing a Master’s course in acting in TCD this year. The members of the company are also hoping to widen the variety of workshops that they are offering in order to help other theatre practitioners to better their craft. Grainne really hopes that all that will help the ensemble of At Large to become a professional and well-trained troupe of actors. At Large is aiming to bring their work back to Ireland and apply for theatre festivals all over the country.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival is on from August 5th to August 29th. Celebrate the month filled with theatre, dance and variety shows by actually going to see one of them. For more information or to book tickets for the At Large Theatre Company‘s shows, follow the link: http://www.atlargetheatre.com/edfringe.html

For those who are staying in Dublin, At Large will be doing all three EDFringe shows in one evening for two nights only. More info and tickets can be found here: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/lift-off-at-large-edinburgh-fringe-festival-preview-tickets-25132715629?aff=ehomecard#tickets

 

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Filed under At Large Theatre Company, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Grainne Curistan, Interview with, The Meeting, Uncategorized

Interview with Seanan McDonnell

Revolver, the new play by Sugar Coat Theatre Company, opened in Theatre Upstairs this Tuesday past. The play is in full swing now entertaining the audience and wowing the critics; and I got a great opportunity to interview Seanan McDonnell, who wrote the piece.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your previous writing experience. What kind of writer are
you?  
I’ve been writing fairly consistently since I was a tot and my writerly sensibility probably calcified around age 8 watching The Simpsons and reading X-Men comics. In 3rd class, I remember keeping a notebook of short stories that were a mix of low fantasy children’s adventures and Bible fanfic.
My reading interests are pretty evenly split between genre writing – science fiction, horror, a little crime – and literary fiction and when I’m writing, I’m a magpie of my own interests. The best writing builds to ‘moments’, which I realise is a word that’s both plain and vague, but you know the ones I mean: the explanation for how the heist was pulled off, the closing of a causal loop in a time travel story, the memory of a piece of fruit that triggers a character to reflect upon a string of poor decisions. Great genre writing and great literary writing tend to go about creating them in very different ways: the former, usually, through story construction and the latter, usually, through burrowing deeper and deeper into its characters’ minds. But they’re not mutually exclusive, my very favourite writing marries them, and so when I write, I hope to build those ‘moments’ similarly.
Do you sit in the rehearsal room a lot?
I like to be a minimal presence in the rehearsal room. When it come to plays, you’re working in a collaborative medium so really the only functional approach for a writer (who has no interest in directing or acting) is to hand it over to the creative team and hope that the common understanding of the text’s scale and tone is close enough to your own that you don’t end up interrupting performances with “That’s not how you’re meant to say that line!”
How was the idea of Revolver born? 
I can’t really remember; I began the play five years ago. I wrote the female part for Charlene Craig, whom I’ve known since college, and whom I’m lucky enough to have play the part in the production. She swears that it was born from a suggestion I made in my old flat in London that we should do a play together but I have no recollection of that conversation. Her memory is better than mine though and it does make for a better story.
I do remember returning to the premise in my head because it offered a sustainable way to dramatise a pretty-difficult-to-dramatise aspect of human behaviour: the way the content of our opinions are overwhelmingly contingent not on the truth but on the perceived benefit it’ll bring us in whatever social set-up we assign most value. If you want to write a play about envy, you can write envious characters; if you want to write a play about malice, you can write a play about people who post Game of Thrones spoilers on Facebook; but if you want to write a play about people whose sense of self is ever-shifting, it’s hard to write credibly. People don’t speak about that and people aren’t conscious of it. But if characters can reset their encounters, you can have them passionately assume a position on a topic in one scene and then passionately assume the opposite position in the next. So, it’s a neat way of minimising the friction between the play’s character work and the play’s dramatic momentum and a neat way of having you question the reliability of the accounts the characters offer of themselves.
What was the biggest challenge while writing Revolver? 
The biggest challenge was creating dramatic tension when the characters are resetting the plot every five minutes. The temptation to have the play be a shapeless, discontinuous mass was high. But after a while, you spot ways to construct the story so you’re taking advantage of the structure. There were opportunities to create intrigue around the premise, to play with the differing levels of knowledge between the characters and the audience, to give the action urgency because it could be undone at any moment, and the writing was about finding those.
The editing was a nightmare though. The first version was significantly way too long and any time you wanted to make a cut, it meant looking at the entirety of the play: you’d remove some insignificant moment from scene 2 and then remember it was necessary for setting up a big moment in scene 8. That happened a lot.
What makes Revolver different from other plays? 
It’s science fiction. There are plays with science fiction premises but they’re usually called ‘absurdist’ or ‘playful’; this is unambiguously a piece of ‘science fiction’ about a technological advance and its consequences. It’s also a romantic comedy. Like everybody, I’m a big fan of the ‘Before Sunset’ movies: they’re wistful and charming but most importantly, I think, they follow the humps and hollows of real conversations. They strike this cadence that you’re at ease with at once and that was something I wanted to recreate, in parts, here. So, it’s a sci-fi rom-com and I don’t know any other plays, really, that are that.
What would you identify as the main message of the play? What do you want people to be thinking/feeling when they leave the theatre? 
The main message is “Our sense of self is a shaky thing and we’ll turn to anything, including kamikaze romantic relationships, to stave that notion off” but I hope that emerges from the drama rather than sits atop it. I really don’t like didactic drama. I’d hope, as hopelessly bourgeois as it is to say it, that people have a good time. It’s a comedy so I hope they laugh. It’s got revelations so I hope they gasp. And for all their flaws, the play’s two characters are motivated by desperation more than anything so I hope there’s sympathy for them. Mostly, I want people to come out feeling like it was 65 minutes of their life well spent.
Revolver, written by Seanan McDonnell and directed by Matthew Ralli, runs in Theatre Upstairs until June 4th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/revolver

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Filed under Interview with, Revolver, Seanan McDonnell, Sugar Coat Theatre, Theatre Upstairs

Interview with Colette Cullen

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“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.

YES, brought and produced by Home You Go Productions runs in The Pearse Center from May 9th till May 14th. For more info or to book tickets: YES.

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Filed under Colette Cullen, Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, Home You Go Productions, IDGTF, Interview with, YES

Interview with Rob Ward.

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It’s less than a week before Dublin Gay Theatre Festival opens its doors to two weeks (May 2nd to May 15th) filled with wonderful gay gems. Created in 2004, this year the festival isn’t only celebrating its twelfth birthday but also the first anniversary since Yes to Marriage Equality has been voted.

The 2016 programme for the festival is presented with both original and “back by popular demand” works. One of the most expected of “returning” pieces, without any doubt, is the highly acclaimed Away From Home  by the English theatrical ensemble composed of Hope Theatre Company and Working Progress Theatre, that was part of Dublin Gay Theatre in 2014.

Rob Ward, a co-writer of Away from Home, is presenting not one but two pieces at Dublin Gay Festival this year. Apart from Away From Home, there will always be a rehearsed reading of Ward’s new play Gypsy Queen on May 8th in The Teacher’s Club. It’s admission free, so don’t miss your chance.

Ahead of the festival, I had an amazing chance to interview Rob about his plays:

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your Working Progress Theatre Company. 
I am a Liverpool born, Manchester based actor and writer. I am involved in two theatre companies – Hope Youth Theatre (an offshoot of Hope Theatre Company, co-producers on ‘Away From Home’ in Dublin) and Working Progress Theatre. Working Progress was established in 2012 and our work includes the play ‘Loaded’, which later became a schools project, about gang crime and gun violence. As well as ‘Away From Home’ the company also produced ‘The C Project’ to raise money for The Christie cancer hospital in Manchester. 
Hope Theatre Company, and its artistic director Adam Zane, has led the way in Manchester’s LGBTQ+ arts scene over the past fifteen years including productions ofThe Laramie Project and The Laramie Project – Ten Years Later at The Lowry, Salford as well as anti-homophobia projects to tour schools Out/Loud and Here Comes Tangofor secondary and primary schools respectively. 
This is mine and the show’s second time in Dublin. We toured as part of a larger tour in 2014 and had a great time. I am also here with a rehearsed reading of my new play ‘Gypsy Queen’ which looks at the story of two gay boxers. ‘Gypsy Queen’ is free to all – Teacher’s Club, 3pm on Sunday 9th May.
2. How was the idea of Away from Home born? 
 ‘Away From Home’ was born out of frustration I guess. Frustration that as a gay football fan you can often feel isolated from the heteronormative ‘blokey’ behaviour that dominates the culture of the sport. Also, I despair at the lack of an openly gay footballer to provide a role model to younger gay men and football fans questionning themselves because they feel a part of this football world but cannot reconcile that with their sexuality. I don’t necessarily blame the footballers themselves for this, no one should feel forced into coming out and I appreciate how much media attention would come with it, but I am genuinely dismayed at the atmosphere that has developed over many decades in which homosexuality in football has been labelled ‘the last taboo’. In a country in which gay marriage is legal and members of the church can be openly gay? Come on!!
3. Can you tell me a little bit about the experience of co-writing a play with someone else? What were the positives and the negatives?
Co-writing is a fascinating and very rewarding experience that I would thoroughly recommend. Martin Jameson, my co-writer, is a an old pro having written for BBC television and radio for many years, and before that scripted several plays. Martin has an eye for storytelling and when I went to him with my  idea, between us we were able to sit down and plot the story from A to B to C etc. Only with this structure in place was I then able to go away and write the first draft. We both felt it was important it was my voice that dominated the play, both as the story came from within me and because, as the sole performer, I would be delivering the lines on stage. In terms of negative – I honestly can’t say there were many other than the fact when we would occasionally have passionate debates over particular lines as Martin is as stubborn as a mule (and he would doubtless say the same about me) and those conversations could go on for a while! 
4. Was there someone/something that has inspired you to write the play?
I suppose a lot of my answer to question 2 is relevant here. Its about a personal experience of feeling somewhat a stranger in a world I had loved from childhood (i.e. the world of football). Obviously whenever we talk about being gay in this sport, the ghost of Justin Fashanu and his tragic story hangs over us. Fashanu’s story both upsets and enrages me and I think its rather pathetic that twenty years after his death we are still in a situation whereby footballers are either afraid to come out or face external pressure to remain in the closet. 
5. What is the biggest challenge of performing this play? 
I suppose the biggest challenge, first and foremost, is remembering all the lines (as my nan likes to say) and then delivering them fresh, keeping in the moment. I have performed this play about 100 times, but not for over a year now so I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting back into it and seeing what new things I can find in there. There have been other challenges before – performing a play in which several characters have scouse accents to a crowd of five people in Frankfurt will be an experience I’ll never forget. Also, taking the play to New Zealand and working out what slang words or jokes would and wouldn’t read down there. But whilst its a challenge its also a great exercise in adapting to your audience. Because, ultimately, thats who the show is for. 
6. What makes Away from Home different from other plays?
Well firstly you don’t hear scouse accents on stage often! I also don’t think this story, or stories similar to it, are told often. When we premiered the play in 2013 it was commented on that the story felt fresh as the world of gay footballers has been a taboo subject in sport and generally in the mainstream. I know that over the past few years there have been other plays to tackle (pun intended) this subject which is great – the more voices the better! Hopefully, though, this play still retains a freshness and raw energy as I feel (and hope) it remains poignant relevant today.
7. What would you identify as the main message of the play? What do you want people to be thinking/feeling when they leave the theatre?
Ultimately its a story about love – forbidden love, love in challenging situations and what we’re willing to sacrifice for love. In this instance its the love between a gay escort and an unknown premier league footballer. Can they be together? More importantly, do they feel the world they inhabit will let them be together? I think there’s an important question in there for theatre audiences and football lovers too.
8. If you could describe the play in three words only, what would they be?
“Who are you?” (and now you’ll have to see the play to get that reference!!)
Away From Home runs in The Cobalt Cafe from May 9th until May 14th. For more info or to book tickets: https://gaytheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873551988/events

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Filed under Away from Home, Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, Interview with, Rob Ward

Interview with the creators of Slice, The Thief.

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“Slice The Thief.”

“Raw. Emotion. Energy.”

“Quick. Funny. Heart-Breaking.”

It’s a little over a week before Bitter Like a Lemon Theatre Company presents its new play Slice, The Thief, a dark comedy by Lee Coffey, that will open in the atmospheric The Boy’s School, at Smock Alley Theatre on April 4th.

The rehearsals are already in full swing and not even the Easter weekend going to stop the amazing hard-working team from making the text jump off the page. I got a wonderful opportunity to sit down for a chat with Lee Coffey, the writer of the play, Jeda De Bri, the director, and Wesley Doyle, who plays Slice, the thief.

What would you do if standing on one of Dublin’s streets you’d see somebody stealing a bike? Call the guards? Maybe, try to stop them? Well, Lee Coffey found a somewhat more creative way of dealing with the situation: he decided to write a play about it.

On a sunny March afternoon in one of Rough Magic’s offices, Lee, mostly known by his smash hit of a play Leper and Chip, starts the conversation by telling me about how he came up with the idea of writing Slice, The Thief, the third and final play in Coffey’s Dublin Trilogy.

Even though enjoyable, the process of writing this story wasn’t an easy one. Having had a rush of ideas and plots that he wanted to incorporate into the play, Lee didn’t quite have the right ending for the piece. He reveals to me that he was playing a computer game, when he got the idea of creating a whole set of disasters, each one worse than the previous one, that is simply accumulating to an already quite bad situation.

Coffey acknowledges the fact that Slice, The thief is a very male piece of theatre. “Man.Man.Man. It’s written from a male point of view”, says he. And having a female director just gives it a totally different perspective. Apart from directing the play, Jeda de Brí (the founding member of Sickle Moon Productions) has already directed snippets from Slice, the Thief for the Rehearsed Readings at Theatre Upstairs earlier last year and for the Night in Two Halves in the Smock Alley Theatre last August. Jeda reveals to us that she loved the play from the moment she read it for the first time and was very happy to be on board when the time and opportunity came to stage the full production.

Wesley Doyle, who plays the part of Slice, has also been very excited ever since he got the script. Having been engaged mostly in TV productions in the last couple of years, he already started to feel that yearn for the bright lights and dark spaces of rehearsal rooms; having worked with Amilia Stewart on Fair City, who, apart from being a producer on this production, is also a founding member of BLAL, he went to see Leper and Chip when it premiered in Theatre Upstairs. Later, it was Amilia herself who introduced Wesley to Lee and, relying on his fellow company member’s opinion, without audition Wesley was cast as Slice.

Dublin-born, Tallaght native Lee Coffey, has a great passion for his town and its people; and this love has reflected on and greatly influenced every play he has written. The city itself becomes a sort of a character on its own. On the analogy of O’Casey’s works, Coffey has created his own Dublin and therefore a modern day Dublin Trilogy. Lee adds that you don’t have to be from Dublin to understand the plays, but the actors in the plays have to be from Dublin in order to bring the authenticity to the pieces.

Slice, The Thief. Or shall I say, Slice The Thief? Being a dark comedy about a thief of bikes, the play still touches on a number of important and serious, I would even say ground breaking, topics. I’ve already mentioned before that this is a very mannish play; and through this mannish perspective it shows how some matters are being treated with a completely different reaction when they happen to a man as opposed to a woman. In a world where gender equality is being supported and demanded more than ever, there still exist stereotypes and prejudices, where the society still looks at you and judges you and have certain expectations of you purely because you are of a certain gender. A man, in this case.

Written in a style that Coffey calls “skinny list”, the script has almost  no paragraphs or long sentences. It’s almost like a poem or a free-style verse that goes in and out of rhyme from time to time. “A lot of violence, swearing; it’s quite quick, one of the quickest plays”, says Lee.”It’s raw energy on multiple levels”, adds Wesley. Almost animalistic-like, during the heightened moments of the play the words synchronize with Slice and his inner rhythm, his heartbeat.

“It’s easy to write a monologue”, says Lee, who did have mixed feeling about writing a one-person piece due to the amount of such already existing in the market, “everybody has a monologue in them. But people like Mark O’Rowe or Conor McPherson have set the bar so high that writing a really good monologue has become a real challenge”.

Three plays after, it’s quite safe to say that Lee Coffey has a very unique and easily recognizable style of his own. His fast paced plays hold your guts tight for an hour and then let it go without apologising, leaving you just to sit there realising that something great has just happened. It broke your heart, it exhausted your feelings, it played with your mind, but hell… it was great. Tough for the audience, sure it is. But it is even tougher for the actors on stage. Not everyone has the emotional ability and the strength go through such a crazy rollercoaster on a daily basis that Slice, the Thief, Leper and Chip or Peruvian Voodoo require.

When it comes to the most enjoyable thing about working on this production, for Jeda, as the director, it is the ability to be creative within given parameters. Due to the specific nature of the structure of the play, she aims to “find the flare within that stringent rhythmic parameter that she had been given”.

Wesley, for whom this play is going to be his first one-man show, says that rehearsing for Slice, The Thief really pushes him to think outside the box, as well as being open to new ideas and suggestions and simply trying things out.

From the very beginning, for Lee it was crucial to cast an actor with an authentic Dublin accent. And Wesley, being originally from Ballymun, turned out to be the perfect fit. Lee strongly believes in the authenticity, and even though there is a good variety of actors in and out of Ireland who can do a perfect Dublin accent, for such a fast-paced energetic piece like Slice, The Thief, they wanted somebody who could speak not only from the put on accent, but from the heart and the bones of his own body.

Jeda, Lee and Wesley all agree that the play is quite harsh and grim. But, at the same time, they want the story to have an impact on the audience and change them even a little bit. “We want the audience to go through every single emotion possible”, says Jeda, “we want the audience to go through the journey with Slice. I would like to break hearts. I hope I can just make people love and hate him [Slice] at the same time.”

“I want to lull the audience. I want to show people what funny can be.”, says Lee “I want them to laugh and to think, at the same time, I shouldn’t be laughing at this. I like to write dark stuff that puts the audience in a very uncomfortable place. I want to assault the audience. In a very non-threatening, non-physical way. I’m going to paint this picture. You make whatever you want from it. And then you can leave.”

“I want people to know me, to know Slice, on a very person level. I want them to love me and to know what they love about me; I want them to hate me and to know exactly what they hate about me”, says Wesley.

With Katie Davenport designing the set and Dara Hoban doing the lighting, in addition to the wonderful ensemble of Bitter Like A Lemon, Jeda De Bri and Wesley Doyle, this production has brought together some of the most talented and creative professionals in the business. For one week only, running from April 4th till April 9th in The Boy’s School at The Smock Alley Theatre. Come and slice yourself a piece of this cake. Fore more info or to book tickets: http://smockalley.com/slice-thief/ 

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Filed under Bitter Like a Lemon, Interview with, Sickle Moon Productions, Smock Alley Theatre

Interview with David Gilna

“What a play about 1916 means to you? What does it mean to you as an individual; not about the state, not about the country, not about the political agenda. It’s all about how it’s going to affect you.”

After opening this Tuesday past, The Unsung Hero is in its full swing and will be showing in Theatre Upstairs all the way till Saturday, April 2nd.

In the meantime, I had an opportunity to sit down for a chat with David Gilna, the writer of The Unsung hero. The story that had not been told before David Gilna decided to write it. Two people, Michael and Nannie, who were omitted from the pages of history books, two unsung heroes who have finally received the voice they’ve been waiting for for a whole centenary.

David Gilna is writer who is inspired by people: people who pass him on the streets, people who sit with him on the bus, people who sit at the tables in the cafes where David writes. Gilna’s path as a playwright is far from a simple one, but it’s the one which can without any doubt be referred to as “a blessing in disguise”.

Originally from Swords, David has become really interested in performing arts when a friend of his introduced him to acting by bringing him to DCU Drama, where Gilna fell in love with  the world of acting, rehearsing and theatre in general. In order to pursue his passion, after graduating school he went on to continue his studies at The National Performing Arts School. Having done a couple of films, ads and radio plays, David still wasn’t entirely convinced that a whole career can grow out of it. Nevertheless, he wanted to give it a try so he enrolled in the Theatre Studies course in Colaiste Dhulaigh.

Some time after, David was in an accident that put him into a coma, the recovery after which wasn’t an easy one. David started having difficulties communicating with people. And one of the specialists advised him to write about how he felt in order to verbalize the situation and help oneself to come to terms with it. That was the first step not only on David’s way of recovery but also in his career as a playwright. David’s first play “Gift of Lightning” was born out of the notes he made during his recovering process. After its Dublin debut, the production went on to be staged in London’s West End, where it got a five star review from The Times.

Having known Michael Scott, the director of The Unsung Hero,for more than twelve years now, David says he is one of the best mentors Gilna has had the pleasure to work with. Scott has brought the best out of Gilna both as an actor and as a writer.

Always wanting to learn as much as possible, always wanting to develop and progress, David acknowledges that he has been lucky to work and being mentored by some of Ireland’s best theatre professionals.

Gilna’s second play “The bedsit Window” was about the reality of the world of arts and the harshness of life. The play is set to show people how cruel and unfair real life can be; to show the audience the side of being and living that people don’t usually like talking about.”There is a bit of craic, a bit of banter, but it’s a tough world”, says David.

A play about Love, Freedom and Duty. 

The Unsung Hero is Gilna’s third play. Having known quite closely the O’Rahilly’s family, in particular Michael Joseph’s son Aodogan O’Rahilly, David learnt the story of the 1916 Easter Rising from first hands. He remembers himself being a 6-7 year old boy, sitting on Aodogan’s (one of Michael’s sons) lap and asking about the massive painting the family had on their house wall. Upon questioning who the paining was of, David learnt that it was The O’Rahilly father, Michael Joseph, who died on the back of Moore Street while he was fighting for the freedom of Ireland.

It wasn’t only the image that stuck in David’s head, but also the unfairness he felt when learning Irish history at school: he realised there was almost no mention of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly in the books.

As a playwright David could consider himself quite lucky; he didn’t only have the access to the family archives, but he also had an opportunity to talk to The O’Rahilly’s family in order to receive a somewhat more insightful, more private, more personal stories filled with warm memories, emotions and colours as opposed to simple dry facts. And it probably was because David personally knew the O’Rahillys that allowed him not only to write a play but fill it with a deeper meaning and show the humanity of it. He didn’t just want to write a story about O’Rahilly – the forgotten hero, he wanted to give a voice to Nannie and tell her story, as well. Even though in the shadows, she was just as much part of that battle in 1916 as her husband was. “Six months pregnant, having to raise a family on her own, Nannie is the true unsung hero of this story”,  David says.

Head in books, letters and newspapers, David deeply enjoyed the challenging process of writing The Unsung Hero. He tells me that he had read so much about Pearse, Connolly, Markievicz and other people involved in the Easter Rising that he actually felt like he personally knew them. And even though it was crucial for him to get all the facts right, he also wanted the story to sound fresh and make the language alive and authentic to the time when the action took place.

Unfortunately, not everything does the final cut. During the research, David has discovered a number of interesting facts about The O’Rahillys. For example: Michael taught Nannie Irish and she taught him French; so, only those two languages were allowed to be spoken in their house. Or: After his father’s death, Aodogan wouldn’t buy anything English at all. Or: The fact that Nannie O’Rahilly wouldn’t allow any of the letter she exchanged with her husband to be published while she was alive; even now, years since her passing, there are still letters unavailable to the public eye.

Another thing that really touched David’s heart was the fact one of the most notable of Irish poets, W B Yeats, wrote a poem called “Sing of The O’Rahilly” about Michael Joseph. Written more than 20 years after the Easter Rising, it was one of the bard’s last poems. And that was one of the reasons why Gilna decided to mention Yeats and include one of his poems (“He wishes for the cloths of heaven”) into the play.

Being a playwright, who enjoys sitting in during the rehearsals and come to every performance, David is happy that the actors playing Michael and Nannie (Conor Delaney and Roseanna Purcell) have done justice to their characters. Having worked on the play for two years now, David says that even still he gets something new, something different every time he sees it being performed. “Always have your editor’s hat on”, says Gilna.

Bringing The Unsung Hero to a venue like Theatre Upstairs, which is a very intimate space that allows the audience to feel deep inside the action occurring on stage, has a location significance in itself. When Michael Joseph arrived to O’Connell Str on that Easter Sunday, he didn’t only park his car around the corner from Eden Quay, but he also walked right down this building and took right to get to GPO. It’s also here, where he co-founded the Irish Volunteers Army. A century has past, but these walls that saw the Easter Rising, that once were bathed in soldiers’ blood, that heard the whispers and the talks, that hided one too many wounded and nearly dead in between them, are still very much standing and supporting Irish citizens.

A moment in history that shall never be forgotten. The Unsung Hero runs in Theatre Upstairs till April, 2nd. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/the-unsung-hero

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Filed under David Gilna, in conversation, Interview with, Theatre Upstairs