This past September Belltable:Connect began its playwriting club in Belltable Hub, led by artist in residence Katie O’Kelly. The group consists of local Limerick playwrights who discuss work and current projects, share ideas and problems, and try to use their shared knowledge to help each other. Writer Paul McNamara shares his thoughts on participating in the playwriting club.
Being a writer can often be a bit of a lonely job at times. Having the opportunity to share with others and get ideas out of your head in the early stages of the writing process can be of great benefit. Getting to meet with other writers once or twice a month, all of whom are writing and excited about new work, makes the process more sociable and fun.
Using the wealth of experience in the room to overcome any problems is a great resource. Also, helping to solve other people’s problems or discussing different aspects of writing and theatre often inspires new ideas too.
At Belltable:Connect Playwriting Club everyone’s ideas and projects are at different stages of the process. This gives the meetings a sense of variety. One minute the group can be discussing how to fine tune a script getting ready for production, another moment we can be nurturing the seeds of a new idea. Not being stuck in one stage of development makes it all seem much more fluid and enjoyable. (This is also helped by the snacks provided)
Attendance at each meeting is always a little different as theatre people follow the lives of theatre schedules giving a constant flow of new ideas and perspectives. I have gotten the opportunity to get a lot of valuable feedback on my own new play which I am hoping to put on early next year and have gotten great advice from people on different ways to approach certain scenes and characters and ideas for staging.
Following the first work-in-progress rehearsed reading of Displace at Belltable a week ago, Artist in Residence Katie O’Kelly shares her thoughts on seeing the play come to life on stage for the first time.
Sitting in the front row of the Belltable last Wednesday watching actors read my work in progress script of Displace was a surreal moment. I usually perform in my plays, but for the purpose of the reading I had my writer hat on so was watching it with the audience. I’ve never actually heard any of my plays performed before, so it was a terrifying and thrilling experience. The actors were amazing and breathed life into the characters which have, until that night, existed only in my head.
We started off the reading with a brief talk with Limerick-based actor Frances Healy, who performed in The Magdalene Sisters, and Donnah Vuma, a founding member of MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) and Every Child is Your Child, and campaigner to end direct provision. It gave a context to the work, and an insight into the systems of marginalization, isolation and oppression which the play depicts. It was an honour to share the stage with such brilliant, strong and courageous women, and I’d like to thank them both for taking part and sharing their experiences with us.
A trio of very talented actors then took to the stage to read the work in progress script. Georgina Miller, Sahar Ali and Niamh McGrath were exceptional at weaving the story together and presenting us with the many characters depicted in both the worlds of the Magdalene Laundry and the Direct Provision centre. At the end of the reading the audience was given the opportunity to give feedback on the script, and I had the chance to ask questions about what worked within the story and what needed further developing. It was so great to get feedback from people in the audience who are directly affected by the direct provision system in Ireland at the moment, and to see what else I can bring to the worlds to make them clearer and richer for those watching it.
The reading was sensitively staged by director Sarah Baxter and the feedback session was articulately presented by dramaturg Pamela McQueen. The brilliant Mags O’Donoghue steered us through the technical side of things, with producer Clara Purcell working miracles throughout the day to ensure the smooth running of the whole event. For a play which is so much centred on the female experience in these systems, it was crucial to have such a competent, committed and talented team supporting the work. A huge thanks to all who came along and to those involved in bringing it to the stage. I am feeling fired up and excited about getting started on the next draft, and can’t wait to get a full production up on its feet!
The next performance in the development of Displace will take place in Belltable in December 2018. We will continue to keep you updated on the piece’s progress through Belltable:Connect blogs.
Ahead of the work-in-progress rehearsed reading of Displace at Belltable on Wednesday, June 23rd, at 8pm one of the actors who will help bring the piece to life Georgina Miller wrote about the piece.
Hi, I’m Georgina Miller, and I am one of the actors taking part in the public reading of Displace in Belltable on 20th June. I was thrilled to be asked, as it’s a powerful piece with a story that is so relevant and touching. Good writing is not easy to come by and, as an actor, this play is a gift.
The two story-lines, each with their own inherent drama, compliment each other really well. Set in two different times in the same building in Limerick – a Magdalene Laundry in the 1950s, which has been converted in the present day to a Direct Provision Centre. The struggles within masked by its walls are as heartbreaking today as they were in the laundry days.
To my shame, I knew very little about the process and conditions for asylum seekers here in Ireland. I think Katie O’Kelly has done a wonderful job of presenting the reality of their day-to-day existence. She’s also breathed real life into the whispered stories and headlines of existence for women in the Laundries.
I know sometimes it can turn people off when you say that a piece of theatre is important, but this one truly is. We can’t shy away from the horror of our past, nor be ignorant to the failings of our system in the present. That said, the play is also warm and light-hearted in places, and the authentic female relationships and companionships are brilliantly represented.
I’m a mum of two small kids and, for me, it’ll be interesting to see how that experience informs my connection with this work. Both women in the play are dealing with their difficult circumstances whilst having the responsibility of another small human to consider. The role of a mother is a complex and challenging one at the best of times, and these women are forced to carry that out under extraordinary conditions.
Katie has written a remarkably accomplished and engaging piece—it had me in tears on my first reading, and I’m really looking forward to seeing and hearing the audience’s reaction to it on the night.
Georgina has been working as an actress for fifteen years across theatre, TV, film and radio. She is also an experienced and busy voice-over artist.
Displace is being developed as part of Katie O’Kelly’s artist in residency at Belltable, supported by Limerick Arts Office. This reading marks World Refugee Day. To book tickets for the work in progress reading of Displace at Belltable on Wednesday, June 20th, at 8pm phone box office on 061 953400, ext 1 or visit our website.
An account from one of the last Magdalene Laundries in Dublin that closed in 1996. I remember 1996. Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland. ‘Ballykissangel’ was on the telly, and the film ‘Michael Collins’ was premiered. I saw the set of the burned out Four Courts when I was a kid. Mick McCarthy was manager of the Irish football team and the Spice Girls released their girl-power smash hit Wannabe.
On our street in Dublin, we spent the summer making up dance routines to it in our cycling shorts and Boyzone Tshirts. It’s hard to believe that while we were arguing about who got to be Sporty Spice there were women incarcerated in Laundries all over the country, never told when they would get out and forced to work in excruciating conditions for no money. Free slave labour. I found out recently that one of the last Laundries to close was in Donnybrook, five minutes from where I grew up.
Last week we Repealed the 8th Amendment, a huge win for women’s rights that have been oppressed and silenced for too long. But we still have a long way to go in unearthing and comprehending the systematic abuse inflicted on so many women for so long in this country. Justice must be sought. The church still hasn’t paid out the vast majority of what it owes to Magdalene Survivors. They seem to essentially be sitting on their hands until it is too late and there are no survivors left.
On Tuesday evening, I was outside the Mansion House as eight bus loads of Magdalene Survivors were driven to the Mansion House for a reception with the Lord Mayor and the President of Ireland. I bawled my eyes out at the sight of all these amazing women, ranging from their 40s to 90s, who had suffered so much at the hands of the Irish State and the Catholic Church. One woman shouted to me that the women of Ireland have ended this with the referendum, the stranglehold that our country has been in since the foundation of the Republic. But we still have a long way to go to fight for justice for Magdalene Survivors. We cannot afford to be complacent ever again. And we cannot forget our collective past.
This piece was written by Belltable Artist in Residence 2018 Katie O’Kelly. Read the Irish Times article which inspired this post here.
To book tickets for the work in progress reading of Displace at Belltable on Wednesday, June 20th, at 8pm phone box office on 061 953400, ext 1 or visit our website.
Clara Purcell has worked in theatre, film and TV production since 2012. She was production assistant on the feature-length documentary Nuala – A Life (2012, Accidental Pictures) and worked in production support in RTÉ for four years. Producing credits include Dubliner’s Women (2016, The New Theatre), which toured to Belltable in November 2017, and Norah (2018, The New Theatre). She has been Front of House & Marketing Manager of The New Theatre, Temple Bar since 2015.
Clara has been working with Belltable Artist in Residence Katie O’Kelly, dramaturg Pamela McQueen and director Sarah Baxter ahead of the June 20th work in progress reading of Displace at Belltable. Find out more about Clara’s work and the progress on the rehearsed reading so far in our question and answer session below.
Q. What has your role as producer of Displace entailed to date?
One of my main jobs as producer is to make sure that we are keeping in budget for the project and keeping track of our expenses. I have also been lucky enough to get the job that EVERYBODY wants when making theatre – applying for funding!
On a project that is based on real events and experiences, some of which are ongoing, it’s crucial that all members of the creative team get a sense of the worlds of the play. For this reason I organised a research trip to Limerick city where we visited the College of Art and Design which was formerly a Magdalene Laundry and Knockalisheen Direct Provision centre just outside the city where we met some of the residents. This field trip was crucial to fully understanding the gravity of the material we are tackling in the play.
I’ve also been working with Katie and director Sarah Baxter on organising the development workshop in May and the rehearsed reading in June – selecting and booking cast members, arranging the logistics of getting everybody in the rehearsal room and organising schedules to ensure we can get the most out of the time. The fun part is getting to sit in on the workshop and seeing the piece develop more and more each day. Having finished the workshop, our focus now is on the first public reading of the work in development on June 20th in Belltable.
Q. How much progress has been made in the project so far?
Katie has been working closely with dramaturg Pamela McQueen and director Sarah Baxter on the script since the project began late last year. Since then she has been busy meeting with people in the Direct Provision centres in Limerick and researching accounts of the Magdalene Laundries too. Katie is now working on her third draft of the script, having made amazing progress in our workshop two weeks ago with a fantastic cast of actors – Roseanna Purcell, Niamh McGrath and Sahar Ali. Sarah and Movement Director Bryan Burroughs helped to create a physical interpretation of the two worlds in the play which gave another dimension to the piece and Pamela helped Katie to restructure the script and develop the characters. We’re really excited to get feedback on this current draft from the audience following the reading on June 20th. The support from Belltable so far has been brilliant in providing rehearsal space, marketing support and really helpful suggestions and advice on the project. We can’t wait to show you what we’ve been up to!
Q. What should audiences expect from the work in progress reading on June 20th?
Audiences should expect to be drawn into two worlds by a brilliant cast of Sahar Ali, Niamh McGrath and Limerick-based Georgina Miller. They will have the chance to engage with the piece directly, giving notes and feedback to the playwright on how the play could develop. They will also get the chance to hear amazing speakers, Donnah Vuma and Francis Healy share their thoughts and personal experiences with the themes of the play.
After a long day, leaving Limerick before 4am and with a flight delay to get to know Helsinki Airport very well, I arrived in Oulu Friday night and was greeted by Brent Cassidy, director of the Irish Festival of Oulu. Brent hosted me in his home for two nights. I was able to spend the weekend exploring the area near his house by bike, heading through forest to the beach. On Saturday evening we headed to an Irish session which was amazing and bizarre. It’s odd to be so far north, to be the only Irish person, and to feel almost less Irish than everyone here. It’s definitely making me wish I could play more than ‘Twinkle twinkle’ on the tin whistle. Brent is fluent in Irish so it’s lovely to be able to speak a bit again, though I’ll admit I’m struggling with his Ulster Irish tongue. Flashbacks to that part of the Leaving Cert tape test!
On Sunday I met Anna Kaisa, who will come to Limerick as part of this exchange in November. I’m staying with her now until the festival starts next week. We went to an event at her workplace where we ate and watched some Finnish Improv Comedy. Luckily I got a running English commentary from her as so far in Finnish I can only say hello, goodbye, milk, gluten free and bag (and the odd expletive!).
Monday was the first day at the Irish Festival office in Culture Centre Valve. Brent took me on a tour and introduced me to some of the staff members there. It’s an amazing facility with a café, theatre, studios, and offices for various cultural organisations.
It’s been very grey since I arrived so I was really glad to see light today when the sun came out and I took a gorgeous walk around in the evening. The Autumn colours here are spectacular.
Tuesday was European Day of Languages and the Irish Festival was invited to perform and have a stand at an event at the nearby shopping centre. Anna Kaisa and I handed out festival programmes and spoke to people about the festival. With my handful of Finnish words and their mostly excellent English I didn’t do too badly. The festival definitely has a good reputation in the area. Almost everyone we spoke with already knew about it. But there are similar struggles here as at home with getting people to attend and especially to book tickets in advance.
The rest of this week was spent preparing the artist packs and itineraries for next week. I’ve been slowly getting to know all the members of the team and am being well looked after by everyone. Anna Kaisa and Asta, the festival producer, took me to sample my first reindeer stew on Thursday so just so everyone knows – I ate it…it’s delicious…sorry Santa!
On Thursday evening the 30 plus volunteers came to a meeting at Valve to go through the schedule and roles. It was a good chance for everyone to meet over pizza and get to know each other and the festival a bit more.
We ended the week by beginning to decorate Valve with an explosion of festival balloons and posters. Slowly taking over the place! I also had a really interesting meeting with the director of Valve, Arja Huotari, who shared loads of information about this great cultural centre they have here. It really is an amazing space for supporting artists with both office, rehearsal and performance space. There are some wonderful photography exhibitions hanging at the moment and the place is always buzzing with visitors to the café and the comic store and with people attending various dance and other classes. It was great to be able to chat to her about Limerick too and the projects we have going on and about the Belltable:Connect programme I’m on. All these international connections are so important to have and this is a really great opportunity to learn how things operate in other countries.
The countdown is on for the festival now. I’ll be taking over the @irishfestoulu Twitter account next week so do follow along there with all the madness of the most northern Irish festival in the world! Hei hei!
This is my second attempt at a blog post. The first was written a few days after a run of a show I’d directed. I was writing about the post-show bubble and how difficult it is to review your own work without letting other people’s opinions, good and bad, influence your relationship with it, yet how necessary it is to reflect on the whole experience in order to move on to the next thing.
I didn’t submit that blog because the more I read it, the more critical I became of it (which was fitting giving the subject matter) so I decided I’d wait and write again while away on an upcoming trip which might give me a new perspective.
Now I am on that trip, in Belgium, attending shows in Brussels as part of KunstenFestivalDesArtes, and in Ghent to explore the work of Ontroerend Goed. The work I have seen so far is a mixture of performance art and political interactive theatre. Some of it I have found quite inaccessible – it seemed more about the artists’ intellectual ideas as opposed to the execution of a piece that left room for an audience.
The shoe is on the other foot now, as I experience, interpret and judge the work of others, just a couple of weeks after churning over how to take praise and criticism of my own. I’m looking at these performances as an audience member, a [sensitive] critic and a theatre maker. I find hope in the things I don’t like, because I feel I can do better, and I find inspiration in the things I do like because it makes me want to be a better artist.
The work I have seen here traverses a line between stage and spectator, performance art and theatre, science and philosophy, film and lecture. These are not theatre pieces as such but happenings, protests, experiences, live art. I realise that although I talk about the desire to make theatre which is unpredictable and disruptive, I still want my work to involve skill, heart, aesthetic and a sense of artistry. Much of what I have seen here does not have that – the idea is the piece, rather than central to it; the execution seems disregarded and this is where I encounter a tension within myself.
I feel quite lucky that I can come away here and have these experiences and reflections. It’s great to be able to go and see work outside of Ireland as it informs my perspective and reminds me that it’s all relative. Last year I attended a workshop in London where participants complained about how theatre in the UK is too traditional, yet often in Ireland we regard theatre in the UK as being progressive (and obviously there are many organisations there which are). On the other side of that, this year I’m experiencing work which is so untraditional, it makes me wonder where the line is between accessibility and experimentalism. So much of this depends on audiences, on the appetite for the arts in any given place. Who am I making the work for? What am I responding to?
I’m not altogether sure where this leaves me in relation to my own theatre making and the post post-show bubble. The piece I recently directed was not experimental but it afforded me the opportunity to try out some simple yet potentially risky ideas, to work with somebody else’s script and a smaller cast. All of these elements of the traditional theatre process gave me secure conditions in which to create work and as such I learned an awful lot about directing. For my next piece, I plan to write it myself but leave room for collaboration and devising, working with a small cast and drawing on elements of Dadaism and post-dramatic theatre. A few weeks ago, I might have thought I was proposing something cutting edge but by European standards, this is nothing new – this is old hat. And that’s OK. I’m not making this piece for KunstenFestivalDesArtes and while I’m glad to have another context in which to place what I want to do, I’m not going to change my perspective to try to be relevant.
It’s great to be reminded that I’m not creating in isolation, in my own community, or my own country, but surrounded by continents of artists and a whole world of audiences. It’s quite freeing to think beyond my own perceptions of what theatre is and the possibility of where it could take me.
On the plane home I came across an extract from the writings of WH Auden and was reminded that reflection, self-criticism and authenticity are age-old struggles (I also thought it would make me sound very learned to conclude my blog with a quote from a poet):
”[Every writer] needs approval of his work by others in order to be reassured that the vision of life he believes he has had is a true vision and not a self-delusion but he can only be reassured by those whose judgement he respects . . . No writer can ever judge exactly how good or bad a work of his may be, but he can always know, not immediately perhaps, but certainly in a short while, whether something he has written is authentic – in his handwriting – or a forgery”
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I went through the doors of the Belltable way back in September for the start of the Director’s Mentoring programme with Fishamble. I was nervous and daunted but I decided to take the plunge and see where it might lead. Once I got there and mingled with the other participants I instantly knew that I was among like-minded souls.
They say you are only as good as your network (or something like that!!!) and the one thing I have gotten from these monthly sessions over the last eight months is a sense of belonging , support and being in a room with people who get the same things as I do. We are all so busy in our own creative corners that I think we often forget there are other people out there doing exactly what we are doing – taking a script or an idea and creating something unique and individual from it. A rehearsal room can be a creative, energising place but it can also be a scary one if people are always looking to you for the answers. My approach to directing has always been collaborative. I believe the best ideas come when actors, directors and often writers work together and have a shared vision of the goal.
I have always felt insecure about calling myself a Director as I studied Law in college and not Theatre. I am studying Theatre now so you could say I am doing things back to front!! There is such a diverse range of backgrounds and experience in the group that I come away from each session buzzing with new ideas and approaches. But most importantly I leave with a little more confidence in my right to call myself a director. I am trying to take my first steps in writing and always have a spurt of creativity after leaving the Belltable on Saturday afternoon!!!
It has also been a joy to meet the playwrights and feel the energy and enthusiasm they have for their writing. Writers have always been my heroes as I am in awe of how they write dialogue which sadly is a skill I have yet to master.
This has been a fantastic journey and my confidence has grown in leaps and bounds since it began. I would hope the participants will stay in contact when it comes to an end as getting to know you all has been an absolute pleasure.
The theatre writing course I am involved in as part of Belltable:Connect is not simply a writing course. It is a theatre course.
I have been a writer for a little under twenty years, which may sound impressive but I am only 23 so a lot of my career has well, flown under the radar. For as long as I can remember I have loved to write. From the age of four or five I have loved writing stories and poems. Creative writing assignments in school were an exciting challenge. While I still write poetry and have also in recent years delved into performance poetry to relative success another form of writing has taken over my interest.
Theatre didn’t enter into my life until my first year of college when I got the chance to act and then to work backstage. My first attempt at writing for the stage followed the next year. As part of the Writers’ Society in Mary Immaculate College I wrote numerous short plays which I would often help produce, direct, act in, provide music and lights for… etc. In other words it was quite a small setup. But over a number of years we managed as a group to improve and get bigger and better. We did this by, well, making every mistake possible and learning from them (for the most part anyway.) This led me to writing and producing my first full-length play in college ‘Searching for Rusty.’ Searching for Rusty was probably, for me at least, the pinnacle of my experience in college theatre. After that I was ready to try and enter in the real world and try to write outside of college. I was ready to write. I was excited. I also had absolutely no idea what to do, how to do it or where to find answers. Until…
Belltable:Connect entered into my life at the perfect time. I wanted to write and work in theatre but I didn’t know how. This was my way in. The course wasn’t going to do everything for me but it has given me the opportunity to learn from my mentor Gavin, my fellow writers, many of whom have a wealth of experience, and also the directors in the other course. I have gotten to learn about play structure, about character building, how to effectively critique a play. Also, very importantly, I learned how to effectively take critique and understand why certain kinds of feedback are given.
When I said at the start of this piece that the course is not simply a writing course it is a theatre course I meant it. The interaction we have with the directors, industry professionals and each other teach much more than just writing. The classes don’t just teach you how to write they try and help you understand the place of the writer in theatre. How to work with directors, managers, actors etc. and how you must realise all theatre is collaboration and everyone has a role in the creative process. This class for me has been a great aid in transitioning away from college theatre. I have got to meet and learn from so many great up and coming writers and directors. I have made connections that could lead to collaboration. The course has allowed a network of young writers and directors to come together and I cannot wait to see what everyone will accomplish both individually and hopefully in many cases as teams comprising of the people we have met here. After almost twenty years of writing (15 off which my parents and relatives were my only readers) I have a hell of a lot left to learn but this course has been a great start.