Writing can be a lonely business. One of the joys of my work is when I dramaturg another playwright’s script, or mentor them through a particular project or phase of development in their career.
For many months I have been working with Rosaleen McDonagh as she writes ‘Protégé’. It’s been a fascinating process working closely on a complex script, interweaving Traveller aesthetics with disability culture. During the past two days it has been my great pleasure to be in Dublin working with Rosaleen and Fishamable Theatre Company on what I feel could be an important play.
I’ve worked with Rosaleen before, as dramaturg on her forthcoming play ‘Mainstream’ and I included an extract from her play ‘Baby Doll’ in ‘Face On: Disability Arts In Ireland and Beyond’ which I edited for ADI/Create. Rosaleen is a force to be reckoned with in a city and country that has very little disability arts and culture – that is, work led and made by disabled artists which is invariably, but not exclusively, political, reflecting the experience of living in a disabling world. Ireland followed a different model to the civil rights movement that the UK and American disability cultures grew out of. It is owing to Rosaleen’s engagement with disability culture and her knowledge of Traveller culture that makes her work so fascinating and unique.
Working alongside Jim Culleton, the artistic director of Fishamble Theatre Company, we have been communicating and giving feedback via email – a skill in itself owing to the difficulties of interpreting ‘tone’ and discussing minutiae online. How refreshing, then, to finally gather in one place and explore the words on the page in ‘meat space’ rather than cyber.
Jim gathered a terrific group of actors to work on the script – Mary Murray, Don Whycherly, John Connors and Cathy Belton – and joined by Fishamble’s producer Marketa Dowling and literary officer, Gavin Kostick, we began reading the script. Hearing a script read aloud is aways an astonishing moment for a playwright, regardless of experience. It can be emotionally overwhelming, alienating, and surprising. The actors created an immediate and powerful dynamic, shifting effortlessly between roles, presentation modes, theatrical conventions and styles. An intense and lively discussion followed, where the gathered company explored with Rosaleen the many options open to her in revision.
Apart from working on the script, Rosaleen has been experimenting with form and developing her dance skills, creating a movement piece with Fergus Byrne.
The dance piece explores the more challenging and often disturbing relationship between the medical profession and the atypical body, and the power relationships and abuse which can arise within institutionalisation. This shares themes in ‘Protege’ but both Jim and I felt that, further developed, it could be a stand alone piece in its own right.
Working with Rosaleen, Jim, Fergus and Fishamble, I’m reminded again of the exceptional dynamic of generosity, trust and respect which is required to make this kind of developmental work. The material is unfinished, in progress, and not yet robust, so if not handled carefully, there could be casualties. After a brilliant, engaged, enthralling two days we parted with kisses and laughter, our heads in a spin from the breadth of the material explored. It was not just Rosaleen with much to think about.