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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 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 Stephen Jones and Seána Kerslake

“But you’re not on your own so don’t be sad. Cos if you feel real bad then you’re not on your own tonight.”

– Daniel Dempsey 

Truthful. Naturalistic. Raw. Funny. 

After seeing their new and an absolutely smasher of a show From Eden (runs until December 5th in Theatre Upstairs), I had a great opportunity to sit down for a chat with Stephen Jones and Seána Kerslake.

From Eden is a story of Alan and Eva, who meet each other in a bathroom on a New Year’s Eve party. Both of them have secrets to hide, both of them need each other; somebody to listen, to understand.

Stephen Jones doesn’t only play the part of Alan, he also wrote the play. So, naturally my first question is about what inspired him to write a story like From Eden.

Stephen tells me that it had been a while since he had created his own piece of theatre and the longing for a written word was brewing inside. He also wanted to work with Seána, as they had never worked on a creative project together before.

The original proposal to write a play came from Karl Shiels himself. Knowing Karl and what kind of a space Theatre Upstairs is, Stephen  sat down to create a piece that would suite the atmosphere of the homey intimate auditorium.

Being quite limited in both space and time, Jones thad to think of a story that could unravel in the time frame of one hour and would require only two actors. The final hour just before the clock ticked twelve on a New Year’s Eve sounded like an idea worth exploring.

Seána was part of the project from the very start. Even though she didn’t take part in writing the lines as such, she still used her critic eye when it came to discussing ideas and trying out different scenes and dialogues. “Hearing Seána’s voice just saying some of the lines was very helpful”, says Stephen. It’s one thing seeing your work written down and playing it silently in your head, a completely different one when you actually  hear the words being pronounced out loud.

Having worked on a number of commercial projects in the last couple of years, Stephen just wanted to create characters who would be close to ordinary people. Somebody the audience can easily relate to and maybe even recognise themselves in.

Both Seána and Stephen are big fans of John Cassavetes films. And just like him, they wanted to create characters who would help the plot to unravel as opposed to the plot unraveling the characters.

Music in general is crucial to Stephen Jones when he writes. So another source of inspiration was found in the namesake song by Hozier. It’s not so much the lyrics of Holzier’s Eden that Stephen wanted to go for but the mood it created.

No idea is a completely new idea, we are constantly taking and borrowing from other artists who we admire and who inspire us. From Eden is filled with references to different songs, films and books. No piece stands lonesomely by itself, it’s just another fish in a huge pond of art.

Those of you, who had already seen the play, might be wondering about the songs playing in the background during the performance. I personally thought that the idea was perfect. The music made the world Alan and Eva were talking about real. There was no doubt the songs were coming from a party downstairs. It also somehow added intimacy to the situation in which our two characters found themselves.

And the music was far from being random. It well suited what was happening on stage at different moments. It started form a very heavy and dark mood and slowly transferred into more cheering and light tunes; while the action on stage presented quite a contrasting picture. The music helped to balance the story and the characters emotional state in a very subconscious way.

Another thing to look forward to in this play is the set. Stephen based the original idea of the stage design on a bathroom that he had seen before but Katie Davenport (the set designer) brought it on a different level. The bathroom in refurbishment beautifully represents the inner state of both characters.

The mirror on the wall also plays a very important part (and not only visually!). It’s symbolic. As Stephen puts it himself “Sometimes we need another person to be our mirror.” So we can see ourselves and understand that we are not alone on this planet, our problems are not unique and there is always somebody out there who will understand and support us.

Building interesting and multi-dimensional characters is what Stephen was trying to achieve while writing the play. No big plots, no mad scenarios filled with surreal twists; just two human beings with their human stories. During the first readings both Stephen and Seána decided that in order for the play to work they had to raise the stakes for their characters so high that the story wouldn’t only be believable, but also logical. It’s easy to make a character leave the stage, but it’s a much more difficult job to make her/him want to stay.

Being a couple in real life, I suppose it’s not that easy to play your first encounter on stage. At the end of the day, of course, it comes down to how convincing of an actor you are.”You don’t see your partner on stage, you just see another actor”, Stephen says. But he also points out that the biggest difference between Alan and Eva and themselves is that the two fictional characters aren’t involved romantically and it’s not a story about love.

One of Stephen’s personal main desires about this project was to be exclusively an actor once they went into rehearsals, and Karl (an actor, writer and director himself) took good care of it. It’s indeed very challenging not to look at your own writing from a writer’s perspective. A play is like a baby. It’s you own creature and feel responsible for it. It takes patience, skills and experience to let somebody else take over and make the decisions. And from Seána’s point of view, Stephen did a great job.

Seána also revealed to me that for her at the very beginning it was very challenging to flesh out her character – Eva, who is a very complicated human being with loads of going on in her life. It’s challenging, indeed, but also very exciting to create such big and deep character. No doubt, anybody who is going to see the play will agree with me that Seána’s has succeeded.

Just like any good script, From Eden is filled with very elaborate dialogue where every word is said for a reason. Apart from carrying the story forward, it’s also an enormous help for the actors. The arch of the story exists because of something that had been said at the beginning as a joke, later comes back as painful revelation. And only great characterisation can deal with such a rollercoaster.

When you are bringing a production; when you are working hard on making one play happen, nothing is more rewarding than welcoming the audience in and see how they react to your work.  And especially when their reaction is the one that you hoped for.

From Seána’s point of view, one of the most enjoyable things in bringing this production was getting the tone of the story right and just seeing the whole thing come in together piece by piece. For any actor dedicated to their craft it’s a true gift to be able to embody a certain character and give him/her a strong distinctive voice.

Coming from films and TV, Seána loved the chance of having one of her first plays being produced in such a small and intimate theatre that has an ambiance and an atmosphere of its own.

I can’t help but ask: what happens to Alan and Eva when the lights go down? What is waiting for them out there in the real world? Not every play gives you all the answers, neither should it. It’s a great tactic to leave the audience wondering and wanting to know more.

It’s good to remind ourselves that From Eden is not so much about the fascinating plot but about the characters and their inner stories. Some of the things they said to each other that night, they said them for the first time. And that is what’s important. It’s a story about a chance and perhaps the importance of being in the right place in the right time. No matter how wrong you think it might be.

As for the future projects, Seána Kerslake has been recently in a film called “A date for mad Mary“, directed by Darren Thoronton, that is due to come out next year. With a predominantly female cast, the film is based on a play written by Yasmine Akram.

Stephen is doing a radio play adaptation of Synge’s masterpiece The Playboy of the Western World, where he will take the role of none the less but Christy Mahon himself.

In the meantime, From Eden runs in Theatre Upstairs until December 5th. Do not miss your chance to see this extraordinary performance created and brought to life by some of  Ireland’s most talented young actors and writers. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/from-eden

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Filed under Awake & Sing Productions, From Eden, Theatre Upstairs

Meet the creators of Fried Eggs: Lindsay Jane Sedgwick and Karen Connell.

– Fried Eggs, please.

– I’ll give you fried eggs!

After having seen Fried Eggs earlier this week, I couldn’t wait to meet the creative team: the writer/director Lindsay Jane Sedgwick and the actress, who plays the twisted sisters, Karen Connell.

On a sunny summer afternoon we sit in the Theatre Upstairs to talk about playwriting, play performing and simply how to make Fried Eggs, “the story of two unusual sisters and one very understanding man”, not only eatable, but also enjoyable and meaningful.

Lindsay Sedgwick, undoubtedly a woman that has mastered the power of a pen, starts by telling me about her passion for writing; as long as she can remember herself, she has always been creating stories. That is something that runs in the family, along with the love for good old theatre. Lindsay’s mother used to bring her to watch lunch time plays (mostly Shakespeare), which had an enormous impact on the girl.

The first time Lindsay wrote a play was the year she left school: it was more than two and a half hours long and had a total of 45 characters. To date, she has written 12 plays for theatre, Fried Eggs being the lucky 13th.

Her plays have been performed all over Ireland, from south to the very north: Cork, Dublin, Derry… There has been a gap between 1997 and 2013, when Lindsay decided to focus on exclusively writing for the big screen. But, as Lindsay puts it herself “nothing gives you the same amount of electricity as seeing your characters come alive on the stage; while writing is like magic, you create new people, get inside their heads, create whole new worlds…”. Lindsay also reveals to me that some of the most vivid moments of her life are connected to audience reactions to her plays.

Originally written for Six in the Attic program, Fried Eggs was meant to be a two-minute audition piece… but in reality it lasted for more than twenty.

The first draft was a bit different from the play as we know it now. It consisted of two parts only and the ending was pretty much open to the audience’s interpretation. And, even though Lindsay did start writing a play about twin sisters, it´s in the process of expanding the piece when she thought of a possibility to make Lulu/Eloise the same person with a multi-personal disorder.

Lindsay reveals to me that there is very much of herself in this play. That might be just one of the reasons why she decided to direct the piece herself, something she wouldn’t normally practice. Sometimes a play is like a child, it’s a tiny fragile piece of your own self that you wouldn’t entrust to anybody else. The whole process of writing is a very intimate and personal thing.

I ask Karen about her reaction to the script when she first read it, and the answer is immediate “What do I have to do to get this?!” She never even considered not getting the part, that’s how strongly and passionately she felt about the characters and their story. Even though Connell wasn’t exactly the type Lindsay might have imagined when writing the play, the moment she saw her perform some extracts, she felt the hair stand up on the back of her neck. With her passion, enthusiasm, energy and creative ideas, Karen was the one.

What she particularly loved about the play, Karen says, is the act of telling the story to oneself. “It’s like creating a bubble around yourself”, she says “Eloise just had her own way of navigating in life in order to protect herself”.

When I ask Karen if she herself is more of Eloise or of Lulu, she laughs and says “a bit of both”. The more she reads the script, the more she likes both characters.

As in everything in life, there is a fan part, but there is always a challenge, as well. And every play, if it’s a good play, must challenge both the audience and the creative team behind it. For Lindsay and Karen the challenge was to bring onto the stage all the complexities of Fried Eggs, but make it in a very organic and natural way.

Not being a very visual person, Lindsay says that the majority of her plays can be performed at the back of a pub with a chair. The set of Fried Eggs (two chairs and a curtain) looked simple, but nice. The two chairs facing away from each other representing Lulu and Eloise; and the curtain, being the tiny but protective wall of the bubble they lived it, allowed the two-selves to peer out at the world through it.

Karen and Lindsay tell me that for them it was crucial not to push anything onto the audience but to invite them on a journey instead. What happened before the play? What happens after… or during those dark moments that Lulu and Eloise wouldn’t tell us about? it’s all up to you, as part of the audience, to decide. That’s the beauty of the realistic theatre. Just like in life, we are not always given all the answers. Some questions are better left unanswered, some moments are better left intact or subject to one’s own creative imagination.

Putting her “acting hat” on, Karen says that in the beginning of the rehearsals for her personally it was extremely important to know what every single word, let alone a line or a paragraph, meant! But it was up to her acting skill not to let all this information affect the way that the same thing might have quite a different meaning to somebody else and, more importantly, let allow this possible double interpretation to take over sometimes. The audience should be allowed to wonder, to fill in the gaps for themselves. That is exactly what makes a play memorable and interesting.

Karen adds that when you are on stage, it’s important to let some of the ideas dissolve into the air and just see where the current audience might bring you. Every night is a different night. Just like a flower you feed from their energy and what they have to offer to your experience, to that particular moment in time and space.

No performance is same. It stimulates you to think, to wonder, to question… to realise that we all have a second person living within us and keeping us sane. We all have identical twins, the only people we run away to when we are at our most desperate. Those twin sisters are the only one who have seen our souls and understand the very way we are.

So, why not drop in to see this amazing performance and discover whether your have your own twisted twin. Runs in Theatre Upstairs until August 22nd. To book tickets, as always… http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/fried-eggs

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Filed under Fried Eggs, Lindsay Jane Dedgwick, Theatre Upstairs