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

Everywhere is Ireland

Last Saturday I was invited to take part in a project called (A)pollonia, that was taking place as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. It was organised by the clever people over at White Label and included debate on contemporary Polish theatre, readings from the (A)pollonia anthology and an event on Saturday evening in the Workman’s Club where Irish playwrights (and a poet) were asked to respond to some of the themes raised in the readings that took place on the Saturday afternoon.

I was really happy to be asked along, as I seldom get the opportunity to wear both theatre and poetry hats at the same time. It was daunting getting up to read something myself, as the other pieces, penned by John Morton, Hugh Travers, Louise Melinn, Mairin O’Grady, Emmet Kirwan and James Hickson were all beautifully performed by professional actors (including Genevieve Hulme Beaman, Emmet Kirwan, Camille Ross, Mags McAuliffe and John Cronin).

In terms of my own response, I was struck by a quote given at the beginning of the readings: “In the old days when the word still lived by divine laws, everyone in the world was Polish…”. This, along with the crowds I encountered at the Irish Water Protest March earlier in the day, got me thinking about what the world might be like if everyone was Irish, and consequently, everywhere Ireland. Here’s my short po(em)lemic in response to that notion:

Everywhere is Ireland

“In the old days when the word still lived by divine laws, everyone in the world was Polish…”

On the imaginary steppe

where imaginary Celts

coiled up their spirals

and trudged west

across a Europe

not yet Europe:

there is a leyline –

it marks their route,

stretches from Perm to Dunquin

and when any Irish foot

treads upon this path,

there is Ireland.

And across the Atlantic

where our ‘shared bloodline’

sings tinny renditions of Clannad,

along sea-bed cables

and bounces from satellites,

while imaginary Celts

complain about the laziness

of imaginary Hispanics,

there is Ireland too.

And of course, in Ireland

there is Ireland, squared,

reflected in the water

and in the glow from the phones

we all own because we live

well beyond our means.

It’s in the heartland,

flowing from the source:

a plaza in Moneygall

where Ireland came home

to meet Ireland,

shared a bad pint, left behind

a glorious motorway Supermacs.

Because wherever Ireland returns to,

there Ireland is.

And what is Ireland?

Ireland is a derelict school,

its basement a midden.

It is a broken needle, it is

a sensory garden built

by immigrants,

it is an exported abortion,

that leaves a part of itself

behind, in any other country

that will have it, because after all,

everywhere is Ireland,

and Ireland is everywhere.

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

One for the Playwrights…

Just a quick note which might be interesting for any non-Dublin based playwrights looking to develop their work or receive feedback (this also might be of interest to Dublin-based playwrights who find it difficult to commit to a six or eight week course!)

Alongside the group playwriting courses I run for Big smoke Writing Factory, I also offer an online course and a play reading service. 

The first is useful for those developing a work in progress, as we work together over a period of six to eight weeks, with me sending tutorials and the playwright sending work  to be critiqued in return. The second option is good for any of you who may have a play in a drawer that they need a second opinion on! Generally I read the play and deliver four to five pages of feedback within a two week period, before meeting with the playwright to discuss. I really enjoy this one-to-one work, and I know it’s helped a few playwrights get excited about a project all over again.

I’m accepting participants for the online course and the play reading service on a rolling basis. Links to some more info on both services here – and you can always contact me here if you’ve any questions.

Online Course: http://www.bigsmokewritingfactory.com/Online_Play.php

Play reading service: http://www.bigsmokewritingfactory.com/OtherServices.php

Define a new play…

I’ve just got my hands on a copy of this year’s Absolut Fringe Festival programme and have also been browsing the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival brochure online. Initially, I’m really excited, indulging in a lot of ‘oh so that’s what that three day developmental workshop/ public reading halfway through last year has turned into’ smugness, allowing myself to feel like I had both programmes predicted ages in advance (which of course I hadn’t – I’d just heard the rumours.)

This year’s Fringe Brochure…a mysterious tome full of colourful pictures

As the initial excitement and desire to go and see everything dissipates, I’m noticing a real dearth of anything that I could instantly identify as new writing in either festival. It’s always a little more difficult to discern with the Fringe brochure, which is always packed to the gills with devised/ experiential/ immersive/ promenade/ multimedia/ mutli-disciplinary shows. But generally a little scratching of the surface will reveal the playwright, lurking in the back of the publicity shot looking pale and underfed. Some of the most interesting new Irish playwrights have found their feet in the Fringe Festival over the past 18 years. Even if they go on to create more conventional work, it’s generally a great experience for them to broaden their horizons by working in such a collaborative way. And, actually, it’s a good experience for the audience to challenge their preconceptions of what new writing is and should be.

In general, I’m a fan of a well-made, literary play. This is a totally subjective term that I use to describe something written by one playwright, directed by one director and acted by a bunch of actors. It’s more traditional than devised work, but I shy away from the term ‘traditional’ as I think it can be used in a pejorative sense. There’s a tendency to see this kind of work as yesterday’s news. I think this is unfair; yes, the literary play has been around for millennia, but devised/ improvised/ confessional/ non-linear-narrative theatre has been around for a long time too. Remember structuralism? Post-structuralism? Post-modernism? None of these are new ideas, and neither is the idea of applying them to the arts. This is not a rant against experimental theatre – some of the best work I’ve seen over the past few years has played with form (Anu’s Worlds End Lane, Corn Exchange’s Freefall). But one of these plays had a writer very much at the helm (Freefall) and the other was strongly informed by historical narratives.

In this year’s Theatre Festival, there are a number of interesting writer-driven works, but relatively little of what I would specifically consider new writing. There are a couple of plays, but there are also adaptations, dramatisations and deconstructions which can be considered new work – but are they new writing? What role do they allow the playwright? The theatre world seems to be in the process of re-evaluating the role of the writer, kicking them out of their garret rooms and into the theatre collective. It’s an interesting process and makes a case for theatre as one of the most dynamic of literary art-forms, constantly evolving in order to offer an experience which can still be argued to be the equal of, if not superior to, other media forms. My question is, is new ground being broken here? Is the avant garde still, well, avant? Or will people tire of abstraction and the lack of narrative and begin to crave a good, solid story again? I’d like to see the two traditions overlap a little more to allow for both the universal appeal of a good strong plot and the immediacy of devised or verbatim work. Maybe that’s where the future lies…or maybe it’s been done already…