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.
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.
Hearing your own work read for the first time by actors is both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. It somehow makes it real, takes it out of your head and brings it to life. It’s a strange experience, after carrying the world of the play around in your head for so long. To hear it spoken by other voices throws up so many new ideas that it can be difficult to jot them all down. They tumble out.
Last week we got to do a development week on ‘Displace’ as part of the Belltable residency. It was an amazing experience, to get to develop a work-in-progress with such a great team of supportive people. Our actors were Sahar Ali, Roseanna Purcell and Niamh McGrath, with Sarah Baxter directing, Bryan Burroughs as movement director and Pamela McQueen as dramaturg. As Bryan put it, it was great getting the opportunity to work ‘just us girls’ :-).
We started by reading through the script a couple of times to get familiar with the story and characters. I don’t think I breathed for the first read. But everyone was so positive and supportive that it made it much easier than I thought it would be, and I relaxed. They gave some great feedback on the script, what parts really worked and suggestions for parts that weren’t quite there yet. I went home after the first day feeling energised and excited to start rewriting.
The movement days were Bryan were invaluable. Very often when I’m writing, I become overly reliant on words at first; they are a safe area. No playwright wants to have blank paper staring at them. But through the movement exercises you begin to see what can be spoken and created through the actors’ bodies on stage, and sometimes it can be far more affecting and powerful in the absence of words. Particularly in the two worlds of the play, where language is so different. In the Laundries for example, the women were forbidden from talking to each other. They only spoke in prayer. Yet friendships were formed secretively, a whispered, hushed form of friendship. In the direct provision centres, language can be a barrier between people from different countries and cultures, often when they are sharing rooms. It creates a whole new level of integration that has to be dealt with. The body can sometimes tell us what words cannot, and this can be particularly interesting on stage.
One of the days was spent with myself, Pamela and Sarah dissecting the second draft of the script, pulling it apart and then putting it together again, to see what structure works best to tell the story we want to tell. This was a really helpful experience as a writer, because so often we can get stuck in one way of thinking; it can become difficult to see different paths the story could take. But opening up to get new perspectives on it can lead to interesting discoveries about the characters and their individual journeys in the story.
After so many great chats, exercises and ideas, I’m scribbling away like mad to get a new draft ready for the rehearsed reading on June 20th in the Belltable. This will be a new step for me as a writer, I’ve never done a reading of a work in progress in front of an audience before so it’ll be brilliant to see what new ideas it sparks!
And so are you Marketa. The boys from Fishamble ain’t so bad either 😉.
All jokes aside, I just really want to say thank you for the place on the Belltable:Connect mentorship programme. It was a valuable experience.
Driving down to Limerick city once a month over the past 10 months to meet and connect with other emerging directors in the Beltable theatre was exciting. The directors group was hosted by Jim from Fishamble theatre company, whose manner is so chilled he put us all at ease.
It was full of first times for me and first times can be nerve wrecking. This is my first time to ever blog!!!!!.
But it was also my first time to ever pitch. My first time to sit in on a mentorship programme, my first time in THE Beltable theatre, my first time having any connection with Limerick City and my first time meeting all the other young, hip, cool emerging directors and Jim.
Little by little we got to know each other, our styles, our preference and our projects, through the monthly meet ups and chats.
It was great. Hopefully we will meet again. Until then onwards and upwards.
Having spent countless hours among the other mentees, taking and providing criticism (always constructive) on varying projects, we were given the opportunity to present some of our work to professionals in the theatre sector. When preparing a piece of work to present to a room full of strangers I tend to over think the prospect, allowing it to become a monster determined on devouring me. In the session running up to the presentation Gavin posed a question to our group; ‘what do you want from the presentation?’ Sitting amongst the other mentees I thought ‘I just want it over’. I had no definite answer to his question. Visions filled my head on how my work would be received. Images switching sporadically between wads of cash or rotten fruit being thrown from our gathered audience. Both scenarios were equally as terrifying, a face full of fruit would be embarrassing but an influx of capital would bring paralyzing pressure to succeed. The weeks inevitably passed and the day of reckoning flew closer and closer. I decided on presenting Play on Words, a piece that will be shown in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Tiger’s Eye Theatre Company. A safe bet, it is a play that is happening anyway it had a run out at the Scene and Heard Festival, it may not be loved but it certainly won’t be hated (hopefully). Box ticked. Job done. Yet Gavin’s question still bothered me, what did I want from the presentation?
On the 20th May, we gathered in the Belltable Hub and soaked up the nervous energy. Each person assuring the next that ‘it’ll be grand’ and ‘it’s no big deal’. We practised the running order with plenty of nervous laughter and awkward timing. There is nothing like a group of strangers to be honest about your art. These were professionals after all, not Mammy and Daddy patronising placing your work on the family fridge. At 2pm we were prepared for battle. Our invited audience filed into their chairs, nobody carried boxes of rotten fruit thankfully. The presentations came and went without any stumbles or issues. As each person finished their presentation the room became lighter and lighter; the cloud of potential screw ups lifted from the room. The relief was palpable, ironic that a group of theatre makers were so jittery about a four-minute presentation. Having completed my own presentation, I relaxed and enjoyed the pitches from my peers. My mind drifted to Gavin’s question, ‘What do you want?’ and it hit me. Sitting amongst representatives of the theatre community, each at different points in their careers, I wanted reassurance that what we are doing is worth it. That you can create art and lead a happy life. That the ‘struggling artist’ title does not have to be a lifetime sentence. And it is possible, it’s not a lifetime sentence. It is by no means a simple task, but it is possible. It is easy to become fatigued and disheartened working in theatre as you constantly struggle for employment and funding. I have gone through stages of bitter self-doubt when attempting to justify my career choice to friends and family.
The presentations carried out on the 20th May gave an insight into differing theatre projects, but more importantly for me it revitalised my passion for the art. If a room full of intelligent and talented individuals see the worth in pursuing their passion, then I owe it to myself to do the same. We push ourselves to the point of self-destruction to pursue our passion, and we always survive. That’s the fun in theatre, that’s the fun in living.
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”
This mentorship in Belltable came along at a time last September when I really needed a lifeline,-applications for everything between day jobs & arts stuff were coming back ‘No’s’ time and time again and I was feeling very deflated so when I got the email to say I had got a place on the course, my whole self just lit up and there were, I’m not embarrassed to say, a few tears as I sat rereading it over and over again ready to burst with a joy that just invaded my everything. I needed someone to recognise the potential in me that I know I have as a writer person thing and maybe to take a bit of a punt too and Gavin did that in choosing me to be part of the 12 so I’ll always be thankful to him for that. Soon after starting this course I found out whilst being glued to my Gmail – a daily routine, I had also got a place on The Next Stage – another artist development initiative as part of The Dublin Theatre Festival and I know this would not have happened if I hadn’t got the place on the playwrighting course so one definitely happened as a result of the other. I was back in the land of happy and hope and ’I am part of this’ – in the room and on an equal footing with people a few months before I never thought I would be.
Living a bit out in the shticks of Co. Galway, I can sometimes feel a bit on the outside or the only ‘creative in the village’ as a writer/performer full of ideas and wanting people to play / explore with ; staring out the window hugging my mug of builders tae , sitting not content at the table ‘trying to write’ – feeling a bit lost betimes with the ‘am I writer if I’m not writing, am I an actor if not acting, should I just go and work in a shop and stop codding meself debacle. So a journey to Limerick once a month, off the bus and in the doors of the Belltable at 9.30 on a Saturday morning, a coffee and let’s get stuck in, is to me a joyous relief and release and where I fit really – It’s there with my extremely talented group that I realise my gut feelings are right- I do have a contribution to make in the arts arena – I need to get out, make things happen, persist and make my mark cause no one else will do it for me. Life and ourselves can get in our own way sometimes and the thing we are meant for we can run away from or have to in some cases cause the rent needs paying etc but what I find this course is giving me as the months progress on aside from technical skills and meeting my peers which is a massive part of the good stuff is, it connects me and reconnects me, I feel rooted – an Anchor I think is the word. So regardless of any other goings on or noise in my life when I’m there, I’m present and I’m a writer (fuck it I said it ha ) and most importantly I’m me.
The few hours seem to tick by in a heartbeat and I’m walking away’ back into a busy Limerick Street/ soundscape with a sudden ‘oh it’s over ‘haze feeling. I want more, more of those few hours all the time, more ‘challenge me’ , more time with those people in my group I’m getting increasingly intrigued by with every meeting, more let me into the theatre space to play and create , more who are these directors in the room next door …. I just want to live in it- this world and not outside it if that makes sense. Bring on next time :-).