The Uncategorisable 2016

To say 2016 was an eventful year would be an understatement. Personally, I’ve faced a lot of upheaval and faced a number of challenges of the ‘I’m not dead so must be stronger’ variety. However, the exercise of looking back at the year has made it abundantly clear that I’ve been incredibly lucky and have a huge amount to be thankful for.

Work at the Abbey Theatre

The past two years  as Literary Manager of the Abbey Theatre have been exciting and rewarding, but daunting at times. 2016 saw the premieres of six new plays and four short plays across the Abbey and Peacock stages and the publication of seven playscripts. I was immensely proud to be involved in a year which showcased so much new writing across both stages of the national theatre, with sell out runs of Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland (co-produced with the Royal Court and nominated for an Evening Standard Award for Best New Play), Tina’s Idea of Fun by Sean P. Summers, Town Is Dead by Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell and The Remains of Maisie Duggan by Carmel Winters. We also workshopped at least fifteen shows in development, spent a week doing intensive research into the women’s canon in the company of theatre practitioners, read and discussed 12 Shakespeare plays in the company of fantastic actors, ran a Scratch Night and the Future Tense short play readings to showcase work of the playwrights of the future, and I travelled to London, Belfast, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinbugh and New York. I estimate that I saw 120 new writing shows.

My final show as Literary Manager was Anna Karenina, in an adaptation by the amazing Marina Carr. Working with Marina and Wayne Jordan, a director who I loved working with on on his choral/poetic adaptation of Oedipus in 2015, was one of the highlights of my time as Literary Manager. The adaptation of a novel of Anna Karenina’s scope is a tremendous undertaking for any playwright, and the pleasure of working with Marina’s witty, dark, irreverent and ambitious interpretation of the text would be difficult to overstate. It’s a script full of deeply moving quotes which catch your breath and bring you up short. Stiva’s line to Levin about his tendency to view the world in black and white has a special resonance for me this year:

‘…there’s very few of us trying to get it wrong.’

Working on Anna Karenina was a brilliant way to finish up in the role of Literary Manager, and I’m looking forward to working with both Marina and Wayne on new projects in the future.

 

Poetry Business

I can hardly believe I’ve had time for anything other than the Abbey this year, and yet, poetic opportunities have presented themselves like seedlings pushing up through frozen ground (the snow in the above image could be influencing my simile choice here). Here’s a quick round up of what I got up to in 2016.

January

I kicked off the year with a reading at the brilliant Troubadour in London.

Troubadour 1

I had a fantastic time reading with Kate Bingham, Tamar Yoseloff, Carole Bromley, Lesley Saunders, Owen Lewis, Greg Freeman and Maura Dooley with Henry Fajemirokun. Huge thanks as always to the dynamic Anne-Marie Fyfe!

March

March was a busy month, with readings at Tanya Farrelly and David Butler’s Staccato, which I’d highly recommend you look up. They get really excellent readers on board.

I also had a new poem featured on Sunday Miscellany – I was asked at the last minute to contribute something film-themed, which proved really serendipitous as it helped me focus on a poem I’d been trying to whip into shape for years. You can hear the poem, ‘Silent Movie’, here.

April

poets-rising-pic

April was something of a personal highlight, as I got to take part in A Poet’s Rising, a wonderful initiative by the Irish Writer’s Centre and the Arts Council. Myself, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Thomas McCarthy, Theo Dorgan and Paul Muldoon were commissioned to write poems in response to figures who fought in the Easter Rising. I had the pleasure of writing about the inimitable Dr. Kathleen Lynn. The poems featured in the Irish Times, in a documentary on RTE One, and are even available on an app walking tour of Dublin. Big thanks to all at the Irish Writer’s Centre for the opportunity! Here’s the video of my sestina for Kathleen Lynn.

I was also really happy to be featured in Poetry Ireland Review’s The Rising Generation, an issue which showed a selection of work from poets who have published first collections in the past five years. Vona Groarke challenged us all to answer an intriguing series of questions to accompany the poems. It was a really interesting approach that really served to illuminate the poets’ personal approaches.

 

I was also delighted to have poems featured in Agenda’s New Generation Poets issue in April. It might sound like a funny thing to say, but the poems chosen were ones I was quite happy with, which isn’t always the case!

agenda-cover

June

June brought with it a nice U.S. publication in the form of The Café Review, and a great launch reading in Books Upstairs with editor Steve Luttrell, a man clearly passionate about new work.

July

July found me thinking about WWI (probably something to do with our Abbey/Headlong tour of Frank McGuinness’s wonderful Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme) and I was delighted to have a poem on the subject broadcast on Arena. You can listen back here

I also taught a very enjoyable one-day poetry course for the Irish Writers Centre

What Happened To August and September?

Other than From the Isle, a great reading at Kildare Village sponsored by Poetry Ireland in the company of excellent poet Victoria Kennefick, not that much. Here’s why:

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival happened.

The Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival happened.

The Dublin Theatre Festival happened.

And in the middle of it all, I escaped to California for two weeks:

 

yosemite

#Sorrynotsorry

October

In October I got another lovely invite from Sunday Miscellany, this time to contribute to their Culture Night live recording, alongside Conor Mulvagh, Deirdre Mulrooney and Paul Howard.

I also kicked off a six week Poetry Course at the Irish Writers Centre, with a really insightful, funny and talented group of emerging poets. I didn’t want it to end!

November

I think one of my favourite poetry events of this year was Ó Bhéal’s Winter Warmer Festival. What a friendly and well-run festival. Hugh thanks to Paul Casey and co. I had such a fantastic time and I’m so glad to have had the chance to catch up with Anne-Marie Ni Chuirrean, Elaine Feeney, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Emily Cullen, Paula Cunningham, Kerrie O’Brien, Afric McGlinchey, Leanne O’Sullivan and many more. This couple of days really recharged my batteries.

ww-fest

Rapt in the front row

December

December brought with it two great publications, one from U.S. Magazine Prelude and another in the form of inclusion in the excellent Arlen House’s 40th Anniversary publication in honour of Eavan Boland, Washing Windows?: Irish Women Write Poetry.

One More Very Important Thing

One of the reasons I’ve managed to keep writing in spite of the onslaught of a busy life is my monthly poetry group, composed of very close friends who have done more for me than I can say. This September, we lost Shirley McClure, a warm, generous, insightful, and honest friend. I’m still in shock, I think. Here is one of the last poems that Shirley brought to us, just weeks before she passed away. I’d like to give her the final word.

 

May God

I am searching
for a kind of god:
like ours
but feminine,

a rock,
root,
river
pan-deity

a hey girl! Pachamama

who’d be as easy
standing guard for me
within a vessel

on the dresser of our kitchen,
as in a field of sunflowers
cradling like a hammock
wrought of moss & silken twine
my battered body –

she is on her way to me, I trust
she’s on her way.

(c) 2016 Shirley McClure

Mindshift – From Page to Stage at the Irish Writers Centre

I’m delighted to be taking part in a professional development day for aspiring playwrights at the Irish Writers Centre this Saturday 4th October.

There’s a great line up and I’ll be kicking off the day with some tips on submitting your play to theatres. I’d highly recommend this Mindshift event for any aspiring playwrights or theatre makers, as it’s a great way to familiarise yourself with the industry and the people who work in it promoting and producing new writing. Here’s the full programme for the day:

Mindshift: From Page to Stage with Industry Professionals

Learn the dos and don’ts of preparing your play for submission from the Abbey Theatre’s Literary Reader, Jessica Traynor. Hear from Karl Shiels (Theatre Upstairs), Anthony Fox (The New Theatre), Sarah Ling (Project Arts Centre) and Kris Nelson (Dublin Fringe Festival) as they present on the opportunities available to emerging playwrights.

Literary Managers Aideen Howard (Abbey Theatre), Gavin Kostick (Fishamble) and Maureen White (Rough Magic) discuss the kind of work they’re interested in receiving and what makes a good play. Ireland’s leading playwrights Michael West and Deirdre Kinahan will share their experiences of getting produced. All sessions will be followed by Q&A from the audience.

I think some places are still available – booking here: http://writerscentre.ie/html/courses/Autumn2014/PageToStage.html

Keeping Busy

It’s been quiet around here the last while as I’ve been busy with a couple of projects. Firstly, I changed roles within the Abbey at the beginning of June and am now the Literary Reader. I’m really enjoying my new work; it’s much more closely focused on reading and assessing plays, which is what I like to do. There are also some other exciting developments in the works, but more on those later.

I’ve just finished up a Wednesday evening workshop course with Big Smoke Writing Factory, which I’m already missing. This was a course for slightly more advanced playwrights who have a draft of a play that they want to knock into shape. I had a lovely group with interesting voices and incredibly varied interests and preoccupations. It’s wonderful being in the middle of that creative dynamic. The structure of the course was as follows: each week I’d circulate an extract from some successful contemporary plays from Ireland, the UK or the USA and we’d begin the session by discussing them. In this way I hoped to give mini-masterclasses on current trends in theatre while also demonstrating certain playwrights’ skills for characterisation, dialogue, structure etc. After this, we would workshop an individual scene from two or three of the participants’ plays. None of us purported to be brilliant actors or readers, but hearing the scene read aloud and receiving the group’s critique is an invaluable part of the process which can be difficult to simulate at your writing desk on your own. A combination of complementary reading and workshopping seems to be a winning formula when it comes to developing work and the group all left very happy, some of them with plays that will be produced in the near future. I do miss them, though – it was a lovely way to spend my Wednesday evenings. I’m hoping to run a similar course at the beginning of 2014.

Dublin’s independent writing school

Over the past months I’ve also been working as dramaturg with Chalk Talk Theatre Company, helping the wonderful Máirín O’Grady and Louise Melinn develop their play for the Fringe Festival. Working with director Aoife Spillane-Hinks has also been fantastic and after a couple of months of hard graft, the script is ready to be subjected to the rigours of the rehearsal process. Both playwrights were always open and receptive to feedback and demonstrated a real passion and dedication to their work. Even over the past few weeks, when both knew they were on the home stretch (and were exhausted) they kept plugging away at the script, smoothing out any final inconsistencies or hang-overs from previous drafts. It’s so refreshing to see that winning mixture of energy and discipline in young playwrights. It was a real pleasure to work with them and I’m looking forward to seeing the play, which is a smart and funny – a surreally allegorical take on the Irish emigrant experience. Oh, and Aoife, Louise, Máirín and producer Aisling O’Brien have assembled a brilliant cast and creative team as well. Watch this space for more updates on the show and put it at the top of your Fringe must-see list.

From left to right: Margaret McAuliffe, Barry John O’Connor, Jill Harding, Charlie Bonner, Rebecca Grimes