Belltable:Connect has been a fantastic experience for me. Firstly, the commission gave me permission to write the play that I wanted to write. It was important to be trusted as a playwright in this way. Secondly, the play was a departure from my previous work and I got the chance to experiment with a more poetic mode. I feel my writing has really improved through this experiment and Belltable:Connect gave me the time and space to be able to do that. Thirdly, Belltable:Connect gave me the resources to work with actors on the text for a couple of days. This resource was invaluable and I learnt a lot about the play from that experience and from the audience that came to see the works in progress. I would highly recommend this programme with its simple, trusting and well resourced schedule.
Belltable: Connect has been an invaluable resource to me as a playwright. The commission has allowed me the time and space (underestimated resources within Ireland’s predominantly unsustainable arts industry) to create a new piece of work. The financial remuneration has allowed me to develop the play while still making rent. As well as the privilege of being offered a commission, which is very reassuring in and of itself, Belltable: Connect has provided professional and personal support to me at all stages of the artistic process – guiding and advising through difficult moments of self-doubt and worry – through more reassuring and positive moments of discovery and learning.
Marie [Boylan] and I were delighted to receive a Belltable:Connect commission for our play ‘Red Army’ last June. Writers work in a void – we never know if our work will be commissioned or funded. We never know if it will make it onto a stage. Belltable:Connect managed to address both these issues in one fell swoop. We knew that the commissioned plays would be showcased to a public audience in November so we could finesse the script with that in mind. This is the best way to test a script. Prior to the showcase, we worked with the four actors and director for two long and exhausting sessions.
If the play was a car, then this was the
garage, where it went through rigorous testing, adjusting and stripping. This
was a brilliant learning process and watching a director (the wonderful Jean
McGlynn) at work with the actors was a lesson in itself. Words on a page take
on a whole new life when spoken and acted and the script shape-shifted accordingly.
Actors ask very tough questions and we needed to be on our toes with the red
pen. This was invaluable to us – to have actors, a director, a studio, tech
time in preparation for the reading – what an incredible resource for
playwrights to have.
night itself was a great success. It was wonderful to sit in the audience and
watch the work of our Limerick peers while we waited for our piece. After the
first on cue laughs from the audience, we relaxed and enjoyed our own play (Is
that possible?). The audience reaction was excellent. We left the Belltable,
determined that the next time we hear our own words, spoken and acted, that it
would be the full play. The whole story.
We always love to hear about the impact Belltable:Connect has on participating artists. In this case, we are absolutely delighted that a short play Henry Martin wrote as part of Belltable:Connect Theatre Makers in 2017, is receiving a production in London’s Bunker Theatre. Congratulations to Henry and break legs to the production team.
Belltable Artist in Residence Katie O’Kelly writes about the experience of asylum seekers waiting to hear if their status application has been approved.
Have you ever waited anxiously to get a letter, waiting to hear if some fishing line you previously threw out in to the world has worked out for you? It’s a familiar feeling in the theatre world about eight weeks after the frenzied Arts Council deadline time. You open the door as you hear the postman coming to see if he has anything for you. As if your life depended on it. Giving the poor postman a fright in your pajamas and mad bed hair. You know as soon as you see the envelope size. A big envelope means it worked. You got some funding to make a thing. A small envelope means you didn’t. “Due to the high number of applications received I am sorry to inform you…” It’s always a tense time. You count down the days to getting that news.
But imagine if your life actually did depend on it. On what was in that letter. And instead of eight weeks, you had to wait months. Sometimes years. Getting the “we are sorry to inform you…” and having to apply again. And again. Requesting protection in Ireland. Appealing when your application is rejected. Seeking asylum from something you can’t go back to. This is Direct Provision. Walking down to the reception of the centre you have been put in every day to check. To see if you’ve gotten a letter. What size envelope it will be. To get that sinking feeling over and over in the pit of your stomach. Knowing that the letters from the Department of Justice usually arrive on a Friday, and that if you didn’t get one you will have to wait until next week. But you still check every day, just in case.
My friend told me about this. I met him in Limerick, he is in Mount Trenchard Direct Provision Centre in Foynes. He said it was awful, waking up every morning, going to check for a letter every morning and being disappointed every morning. He has been in Direct Provision for three years. Sharing a room, eating canteen food, not allowed to work, your life on hold. For three years. It’s a form of torture, an endurance test with no finish line in sight. He called me a couple of weeks back. He sounded different to usual. He told me he had received a letter. I waited to hear what would come next; he has been appealing his case and we knew this was the final chance. The words sprang down the phone line. He had been granted the leave to remain. I nearly jumped out of my seat on the packed bus I was on, the news fizzing down the crackly what’s app connection. Leave to remain. Three crucial, life changing words.
A couple of days later we were sitting in the Pipers Bar, across from the Abbey Theatre, having a celebratory pint. Celebrations like this don’t come too often, you have to mark them when you can. A famous traditional singer who was sitting at the bar was introduced to us, and the reason for our libations explained. He said he wanted to welcome our new friend properly to Ireland, and sang an old sean-nós Connemara song of welcome that reverberated around the bar, hushing people to stop and listen. I felt uplifted at this act of solidarity and humanity as the beautiful tune echoed through the bar.
But I also felt appalled that our government continues to enforce Direct Provision for years on end on people seeking asylum on our shores. What my friend has endured should never have been endured, and could very easily have been avoided. All it takes is one A4 page. A letter. A letter that determines the outcome of years of waiting. As the song came to an end I thought of Vicky Khokhar, who danced on the Abbey Theatre stage across from the pub we were in as part of Jimmy’s Hall Today, before going to the airport to be deported. A nurse from Pakistan, he had been in Direct Provision for three years, volunteering five days a week at a nursing home, but his application for asylum was denied. He was deported.
Back in the Pipers Bar, the song ended, and as me and my friend said goodbye I boarded the crowded Luas, full of people on a Thursday evening. Full to the brim with people going places, people with worries and schedules and craic and lives lived. And as the Luas departed Abbey Street, I thought of the 4,500 men, women and children still waiting in a state of stasis in Direct Provision centres across Ireland. Waiting for that letter. For the letter to arrive, at some point, that will grant them leave to live.
The next performance in the development of Displace by Belltable Artist in Residence Katie O’Kelly will take place in Belltable on Thu, 13th December 2018. Click to book tickets.
An old army barracks. A disused hotel. A former convent school for girls.
This motley collection of buildings, each constructed with very different purposes and each with stories from their various pasts, have now diverged into a connected present. They have been repurposed from their former lives, transformed into a new function. They are now Limerick’s Direct Provision centres, scattered across the county from Foynes to the city centre to Knockalisheen.
I visited all three centres on one very hot day last week. My sunburnt arm from hanging it out the car window is testament to my Limerick odyssey-of-sorts. The mission was to put notices up in each of the three centres, inviting residents in Direct Provision to an open dress rehearsal of the Abbey Theatre’s production of Jimmy’s Hall, which opened in the Lime Tree Theatre earlier this week. It is the story of Jimmy Gralton, the socialist who built a little dancehall in a field in Leitrim and refused to hand control of it over to the Church. For this he was subsequently deported by DeValera’s government as an “undesirable alien”, despite being born in Effrinagh, County Leitrim in 1886. It is a story with the struggle for justice, freedom and equality at its core, and a community’s fight against an unjust deportation. Not a million miles away from the stories and experiences of many currently living under threat of deportation in Direct Provision right now.
Knockalisheen DP Centre is situated on a hill with a view of Limerick City when the sun shines. A labyrinth of portakabins and low-rise buildings, it houses around 230 people who have come to Ireland seeking asylum, including about 70 children. It is the only centre in Limerick with family accommodation, as two small play areas in the grounds indicate, yet when I arrive these lie empty. I go to the reception to stick up the notice about the play on the board, beside signs for English classes and how to seek legal advice on your application.
This centre used to be an army barracks, but its new reincarnation is not unfamiliar to it. In 1956, more than 500 Hungarian refugees were housed here. They were given a great welcome by the citizens of Limerick, but this welcome did not last on an administrative level. Despite the UN Convention conferring on all refugees the right to work, considerable efforts were made to prevent the Hungarians from seeking employment. One article from the Limerick Leader dated November 26th 1956 quoted some of the Hungarian men as saying that “they did not want to be idle”. This is scarily still the case in Direct Provision now, with the new regulations around the Right to Work still inaccessible to the majority of asylum seekers.
The Hungarians were confined to the Knockalisheen camp, and a Department of Defence report at the time likened it to an internment camp. In April 1957, most of the adults went on hunger strike as a stand against the conditions they were forced to live in.
Fast forward to 2007, when 200 asylum seekers in the same Knockalisheen camp went on hunger strike in protest against the diet and the poor quality of accommodation in the centre. History has a scary way of repeating itself. As I left the reception area having been relieved of most of the flyers by some enthusiastic young girls, I noticed the sign they have up on the wall – “Enjoy each day, and don’t forget to smile”. It takes on an eerie aggression in a place where people are sent to wait for months, often years, while their asylum application is processed.
Heading back in to town I make for Glentworth Street DP Centre, in the middle of the city. The plaster on the walls outside is crumbling, and the hinges where a sign once swung in the breeze can still be seen. This was the historic Hanratty’s Hotel, a busy spot in the epi-centre of Limerick life. DeValera used to stay there when he was canvassing in Limerick and Clare. In the 1980s, touring theatre companies to Belltable used to opt for the surroundings of Hanratty’s after performing. I’d say many a seisiún was had there after shows. But it has changed a lot since those days. The little door to get in to the centre is around the side and there is no natural light. I’m dazzled for a bit after coming in from the sun outside, but stick the notice up on the board. There are mostly single men in this centre, and some of them ask me about the play. The manager watches me from through the reception desk Perspex glass as I leave.
Back on the road heading to Foynes for the final stop, my arm considerably pinker than when I left this morning. Mount Trenchard houses 55 single men, an old grand house that was later bought by the Sisters of Mercy and turned in to a private boarding school for girls. The original house was built by the Anglo-Irish Rice family, and it has a dramatic past. It was used as a safehouse by IRA fighters during the War of Independence. The family boat was used to ferry men and arms across the Shannon Estuary. Mary Spring Rice who was reared on the Mount Trenchard estate was actively involved in gunrunning in the fight for Irish freedom in 1913 and 1914, held many nationalist meetings in the house and set up a branch of Cumann na mBan in Foynes. The Sisters of Mercy later built on to the original house, and what was the old chapel is now the recreation room for the residents in Direct Provision, a few pool tables lit up by the sunlight coming through the stained glass windows.
I had no idea how many people would turn up for the open dress rehearsal of Jimmy’s Hall. Western Limerick Resources and Doras Luimní very kindly sorted transport from the two isolated centres, as otherwise it would be impossible for people to get to the Lime Tree Theatre. But at 2pm on Saturday, people started arriving. About 40 in all, from all around the world and of all ages.
I sat beside one eight-year-old fella as the director Graham McLaren introduced the play and said it was an honour to have so many people currently living in DP as the first audience for the new version of Jimmy’s Hall. The band struck up and got a rapturous applause after each of the preshow tunes, especially the rendition of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. The little fella beside me sat on the edge of his seat the entire show, glued to the stage. It was an electric, exhilarating performance, and though I had seen the show a few times before it took on new meaning seeing it in that audience. The lines about deportation and injustice especially took on a weighted significance. The resistance dance at the end was explosive, and got a great applause from everyone. It was one of those rare times where you see anew what theatre can do. One guy afterwards told me he had never seen theatre before, and was blown away by it. The power of theatre is that it can challenge, demand attention and bring us to places we didn’t think possible. It is entertaining yes, but that intangible something that comes from watching exciting, enlightening theatre is what really gets me. The resistance dance played on loop in my head as I waved at the buses heading back to Mount Trenchard in Foynes and Knockalisheen. And it stayed with me all the way in the car back to Dublin. What happened to Jimmy Gralton must not happen to anyone else seeking refuge in our country. We must all dance the resistance dance and demand an end to Direct Provision. It is time.
The next performance in the development of Displace by Belltable Artist in Residence Katie O’Kelly will take place in Belltable in December 2018. We will continue to keep you updated on the piece’s progress through Belltable:Connect blogs.
The first work in progress rehearsed reading of Displace by Belltable Artist in Residence Katie O’Kelly took place on June 20th, 2018. Following the performance we spoke to some audience members to get their thoughts on the piece’s progress so far:
Displace is being developed as part of Katie O’Kelly’s residency at Belltable, supported by the Arts Council and Limerick Culture and Arts Office. This work-in-development rehearsed reading marked World Refugee Day. You can read Katie O’Kelly’s thoughts on the rehearsed reading here.
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.
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.