‘A surreal moment’ – Belltable Artist in Residence on the First Rehearsed Reading of Displace

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!

Post-reading feedback session with the creative team of Displace and the audience.

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.

‘This Play is a Gift’ – Georgina Miller, Displace Rehearsed Reading Actor

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.

Limerick research trip for Displace – Katie O’Kelly

 

There’s nothing quite like the bright lights of Obamaplaza on the road to Limerick from Dublin. It’s shiny, warm glow and astonishingly wide range of Obama souvenirs and trinkets always heralds that the journey is nearly over. On the way home from gigs in the Belltable in the past it has frequently been the provider of supermacs and road trip snacks for hungry actors. Last Thursday was no different, as we pulled in to its majestic car park on our research trip to Limerick City.

The trip was to show the team that I am working on my new play ‘Displace’ with some of the places that inspired the story. So at 9am I picked up dramaturg Pamela McQueen, director Sarah Baxter, movement director Bryan Burroughs and producer Clara Purcell in Dublin and we set off.

As a relatively new driver, most of my attention went on making sure I didn’t go up any one-way streets the wrong way while in the city, but once we were out on the road it was great to get to chat about theatre, the Belltable residency and some of the people I have met as part of my research.

The play is about a fictional Magdalene laundry building in Limerick that has been turned in to a modern day Direct Provision centre for asylum seekers while they wait for their application to be processed. This process can take years, and asylum seekers are left in a system where they are not allowed to work, not allowed to cook their own food, and given €21.60 a week. The price of two supermac meals in Obamaplaza, or a couple of keyrings with I heart Ireland on them.

When we reached Limerick, our first port of call was the Limerick School of Art and Design, what used to be the old Good Shepherd Laundry. It was amazing to see the building that I had read so much about transformed into a completely different setting, but with so much of the old laundry aesthetic still evident.

You can tell what parts of the building were the nuns’ quarters and what were the parts for the women incarcerated

there by the difference in design – some corridors have parquet wood on the floors and walls, while other areas are covered in old 1950s lino.

 

The team couldn’t believe how much of it was still there. The windows high up in the walls in some of the old laundry rooms meant that if you were one of the women working there you weren’t even allowed to look out. Given no indication of how long you would be there, cut off from the world, much like the people left in the modern day direct provision system.

We went in to the exhibition gallery, which used to be the old chapel in the grounds of the laundry. Here, the women would be brought in for Mass and seated on one side of the building while the children from the orphanage would sit in another part. There are accounts of the women craning to catch a glimpse of their child that had been taken from them and put in the orphanage, while the mothers worked only a short distance away in the steaming heat of the laundry. It was very affecting to be in the silence of that room, with its ornate marble and gold mosaic on the walls, and think of the suffering that those women were put through. It’s haunting.

Next we visited Marketa in Belltable before a very delicious lunch in Hook and Ladder – Bryan said he became a regular there when he was in Angela’s Ashes the Musical, and we can see why! Lovely food and a very nice atmosphere, we’ll definitely be heading back there for sure :-).

After lunch we visited a friend of mine in one of the direct provision centres in Limerick. I won’t say which one as I want to be sure nothing happens because of it – this is all part of the system, of keeping people separated and afraid of what can happen if you cause ‘trouble’. It’s shocking to visit these centres though, many of them are old religious buildings that have repurposed to house asylum seekers, out in the middle of nowhere and with extremely limited transport in to the city. If you get the bus in to town, it leaves at 9:30am and you won’t be able to go back until the return bus at 5:30pm. That’s a fecking long wait.

Some of the centres have an air of Stepford about them, with everything looking nice but something not quite right at the same time. The ones with children have playrooms for example, but the toys aren’t used and frequently the door in to the room is locked. There are no children to be seen, a strange feeling in a centre that supposedly houses 70 little ones.

In another centre that I went to, I was the first person to sign the visitors book in 2018. Two people had signed in last year, and five in 2016. How are people supposed to integrate in to the community, one of the things they look for when assessing applications, if you are purposely cut off from that community – placed in a big vacant building miles away from the nearest town?

We saw the canteen in this DP centre, the noticeboards of signs saying the rules, and the laundry where half the machines don’t work; the depressed atmosphere of waiting is palpable. The car ride home was very different from the journey down. Everyone was very moved and affected by what we had seen. There was far less chat, it seemed trivial after it somehow. We are determined to try to bring some of what we saw to the stage, to share it with a wider community.

I’ve finished my second draft of the script of ‘Displace’, and am all fired up to start work on the next draft for the reading in the Belltable on 20th June, which marks World Refugee Day.  I’ve never done a reading of a work in progress before, so it will be interesting to see what new ideas are sparked by it, as well as being just a wee bit terrifying! But it’s good to push your comfort zone sometimes, and the warm glow of Obamaplaza will always be there for the supermacs afterwards :-).

Katie O’Kelly, Belltable Artist in Residence 2018

 

Brendan Griffin – Writers’ Mentoring Programme

Belltable:Connect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

“Not so easy being a fly on the wall”

Fly 1                            They don’t mind getting up on a Saturday morning, I’ll say that for them.

Fly 2                            They are only here one Saturday in a month? They could well be sleeping the hell out of all the other Saturdays.

Fly 1                            True. True enough.

Fly 2                            We’ve ruled out Zumba, yoga, choir. Not a step, stretch or a note between them.

Fly 1                            Not a one. And we’ve also knocked in the head a water protest group.

Fly 2                            I think so. They have the enthusiasm alright, plenty fire in the belly, but they are way way too happy to be as a water protest group.

Fly 1                            I was sure they were a prayer group at the beginning. The way they all sat in a circle. And they have a shared reverence to something.

Fly2                             If only they occasionally closed their eyes or looked upward I would have given you the prayer group.

Fly 1                            And you are sure, not a political party? There is a leader, they share literature, there’s loads of discussion?

Fly2                             Has anyone walked out in a huff, banged a door? Has anyone been stabbed in the back?

Fly1                             Not that I noticed.

Fly 2                            We can definitely rule out a political party.

Fly 1                            And you have also given up on the community group idea?

Fly2                             For a time I was fooled by the obvious common purpose of the group. But has anyone said, “through the chair”, “point of order”?

Fly1                             Nope.

Fly2                             And a community group would certainly have talked at this stage about holding a raffle or a cake sale.

Fly1                             True.

Fly2                             They are a tough group to crack for sure.

Fly1                             Not to mind mentioning the parallel world…

Fly2                             Stop. Stop right there. Haven’t we enough mystery on our plate besides bringing up the group next door?

Fly1                             We have.  We have for sure.

Fly2                             I need a break.  Want to head down to that sugar bowl?