I have dedicated this page to highlighting some of my past projects, and what my theatre and writing work has meant to me generally.
I don’t often work on a theatre project that profoundly touches me and causes me to re-evaluate my own life … but Vessel, a devised show by the amazing Quintessence Theatre Company, did exactly that. It took place in An Táin Arts Centre in Dundalk in November 2015, followed by a run in Dublin’s New Theatre during April 2016. During that pre-Repeal era, Vessel aimed to give a voice to Irish stories and lived experiences of abortion. With the procedure being almost impossible to legally access in Ireland at that time – and the issue continually swept under the rug by successive generations of politicians – we always knew it was going to be a tough subject to tackle.
Rehearsing the play was both a great joy and a great challenge: fiendishly difficult and emotionally taxing work at times.
Just before opening night, An Táin received a series of tweets from someone who accused us of being ‘abortionists and Islamists.’ On the same afternoon, a crew from Louth TV came to film our dress rehearsal and interview our director, Anna. They warned her ‘not to be political’ during the interview – leaving her in a bit of a quandary, as the controversy around the Eighth Amendment was a looming political issue at that time. They then made a very deliberate point of refusing to continue filming after a particularly charged moment in the show – and later that night, a woman upped and left the theatre at the very same point in the performance.
People of differing perspectives came to see the show. I remember feeling relieved about that, as I had been concerned that only people who were staunchly pro-choice would turn up. I can recall one audience member in particular: a religious education teacher who took a firm stance that life began at the moment of conception, but acknowledged the validity of some of our points, and praised Vessel for bringing the topic out into the open. Meanwhile, another audience member who was opposed to abortion said that the show had ‘made her think.’
Before taking part in Vessel, I would have been afraid to speak out on the abortion issue, for fear of causing a row or being seen as pushy or controversial, but my participation in the show melted away a lot of my fears in that regard. Abortion had been swept under the rug in this country for far too long, and everyone on the Quintessence team was proud to play their part in breaking the silence. Vessel was the play that caused me to be openly, unapologetically pro-choice.
On a separate note, I gained great confidence as a performer and writer by conquering my nerves and performing Stripped, a spoken word piece that I had written myself. That was a new experience for me, and I deeply treasured it.
Don’t Call it That
I have regularly worked with Born to Burn Productions, a Dublin-based theatre company which aims to promote work written and produced by women. Many of its members fall somewhere along the LGBT+ spectrum, so our work often – but not exclusively – deals with themes that are of interest to the queer community. I first started working with them as an actress in summer 2014, and every single production I’ve done with them has taught me something new.
Over the course of my Born to Burn career, I have acted in plays where I had to make a show of pretending to forget all of my lines (causing my panic-stricken friends in the audience to believe that I really had suffered a severe lapse in professionalism), donned Shakespearean gear, acted as the fictional love interest of the legendary Granuaile, and enjoyed countless moments of laughter and camaraderie.
One play I would really like to highlight, however, was 2017’s Don’t Call it That, which dealt with the issue of sexual assault. I felt so vulnerable even as I sat at my desk, writing it … but that was nothing compared to the experience of seeing my words performed live on stage. The actresses did an incredible job.
The extract below gives a sense of what the play was all about.
Two friends, Violet and Anna, are in a café during their lunch break. Violet has just been regaling Anna with her stories about a recent night out.
Violet I missed my wingwoman.
Anna Seems like you did well without me.
Violet Yeah, but with no Anna cheering me on, it wasn’t quite the same. You haven’t been out with us in ages.
Anna I’m tired right now. There’s a lot going on at work.
Violet I miss your advice. Your technique. None of us were slouches back in college, but you – you could always get whoever you wanted. It’s astounding to watch you at work. You draw them all in like a magnet.
Anna (flatly) I don’t.
Violet Oh, come on! No point denying it to me, Anna. D’you remember that poor girl who chased you around campus for months after you’d only been with her once –
Anna You’re exaggerating, Vi.
Violet And what about that DramSoc Ball?
Violet Oh, and that hilarious time, after you’d been with Anthony, and you had to do the walk of shame past all those guards, in that tiny sequinned dress –
Anna (snaps) Look, Violet, can we change the subject?!
Violet What’s up with you today?
Violet Anna, you’ve been acting strangely for a while.
Anna I have a lot to do.
Violet You’ve been off with me for weeks.
Anna It’s not you, Vi, it’s just … never mind.
Violet I’m worried about you.
Anna I’m fine.
Anna It’s nothing.
Violet Anna, I won’t leave you alone until you talk.
Anna Fine. Fine. Look, I … I went on a date at the start of the month, and…
Anna The thing is, I thought he seemed like a nice guy. When I first met him, that is. I didn’t realise…
Violet What’s wrong?
Anna Violet, promise you won’t say anything. To anybody.
Violet That goes without saying, Anna.