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Splendid Isolation with Deirdre Kinahan

Deirdre Kinahan Playwright

Welcome to our new series, Splendid Isolation, where we interview various artists and performers looking at how they are surviving (or thriving!) during the COVID-19 crisis and how their artform has been affected. Each artist in the series has had a show/performance rescheduled at the Linenhall as a result of the current lockdown so we're chasing them down to see how they're staying productive while in isolation.

This week we're chatting with playwright Deirdre Kinahan, as her play Halcyon Days has been rescheduled for the second time (the first due to Storm Lorenzo), at the Linenhall. We're due to welcome them back in Sept 2020 so we're hoping for third time lucky! 

Right, time for the Q&A!

Tell us a little bit about your artistic practice and how you started out.

I am a playwright.  I started writing 21 years ago when a group of women I knew who had worked in prostitution for years asked me to write a play about their lives.  They were amazing women who I met through the Ruhama Women’s Project and they wanted a piece of art which would reflect their differing stories and educate the world as to the truth of their lives.  I was an actress at the time with my own fledgling theatre company and I never thought of myself as a writer.  The women insisted however because they knew me and trusted me.  I wrote a play called Bé Carna (Women of the Flesh), it was five interlocking monologues.   It was really well received and went on tour.  I suppose it convinced me that I could be a writer.   I don’t know how many plays I have written in the last 21 years, over thirty I’d say, short, long, radio, theatre.  I collaborate with artists and theatres all over the world and I absolutely love what I do.   Theatre totally shaped me as a human being. I have always loved the energy of it, the questioning nature, the empathy….how it can bring you into worlds you might never have known.

What is your daily working routine?

It is gloriously varied.  I’m always working on a series of projects with different artists or organisations so whilst I have a little writing shack at the bottom of my garden, I’m not necessarily in it every day.   A lot of writing is done in your head, as you walk or drive or swim….then I come back to my desk and return to the world of the play.   I am often in Dublin/London/New York for meetings or rehearsals…indeed I travel a lot building on relationships with theatres and working with various artists.   

I give a play total focus for a period of weeks, write, then put it away for a few weeks.  Turn to the next project, give that total focus, submit the draft to the theatre company and then return fresh to the original project.   A play can be written in a few months or a few years, it depends on the commission, on my collaborators.  I usually write between four and six drafts of a play before it goes into rehearsal.  I am very involved in the original production then the play goes off out into the world and I get an invitation from producers in the U.S, Europe or the UK telling me they would like to produce it.  I love to travel to see those productions if possible.  I learn a lot about my plays when other minds bring their talent to them.

I like to have a few ideas in the back of my mind so that if an opportunity knocks….I can jump in.

Work is varied, dynamic, constant and I am always inspired by those around me.

As a self employed artist there is also a lot of administration.  Emails.  Pitches. Grant applications.

I go to the theatre all the time too and read scripts constantly.  I love other writers work and learn a great deal from their brilliance.

Tell us about what you are working on right now.

I have four projects in swing right now and two new commissions coming down the line for next year.

This year I am writing a little postcard for the Abbey Project – Dear Ireland, it is a ten minute play.

I have a new play with Fishamble due to premiere in October 2020 called Embargo.  It commemorates events during the War of Indpendence.

I have a new play with Landmark Productions due to premiere in November 2020 called The Saviour.

I have a long term musical theatre project inspired by the life of Ettie Steinberg, and Irish woman murdered at Auschwitz.  This is a collaboration with artists in New York supported by Meath county council and the Irish Arts Centre in NYC

There are two new plays I have agreed commissions for.  Those contracts are on the way.

In what way/s, if any, have the recent Covid-19 isolation measures affected or changed artistic practice?

Travel has ceased obviously and all artistic conversations happen online.  There is also no guarantee that the two premieres due later this year will actually happen and that has a knock on effect on publication of the plays. 

I can still write away of course though this new quieter way of life brings a certain lethargy.  I miss the interaction with my fellow artists, I really miss the theatre and I miss my friends.   Plays come from interaction with the world so this isolation narrows…

Having said that when I fall into the world of something I am writing I kind of forget all about Covid 19.  Also new work has emerged through it.  Meath County Council have asked me to record a series of readings, the Abbey asked me to write for their Dear Ireland Project, artistic friends and I are trying to figure out new ways of creating….theatre is all about energy though….it is live and dynamic and the audience is a huge part of it so working online feels like a poor second place.  I’ll be happy when stage curtains get a good shaking and theatre doors swing open again.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to explore their creativity and know where to start?

Just start.  Write.  Draw. Sing. Paint. Dance. 

You will surprise yourself.  Don’t second guess yourself and trust your gut. 

If it interests you it will probably interest us.   Art is not about the artist, when you take yourself out of it….it might just fly.

Check out Deirdre's recent reading of In the Middle of the Fields performed on St Patrick's Day 2020. 

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