For this month’s blog, three members of the Jungle Door team share their experiences at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Edinburgh Fringe Storytime by Sabrina Kelleher
Edinburgh Fringe Vlog by Rena Bryson
Edinburgh Fringe blog by Hazel Doolan
It’s been a month since Edinburgh and I’m still processing it. When speaking to anyone, my words have been ‘It’s an experience’ and or ‘It’s like the Galway International Arts Festival on steroids.
At times being a producer got in the way of being in the moment, taking in surroundings and at times giving my best performance. Especially day one and two. That being said, it was certainly a learning experience with wonderful memories, great works to be seen and people who were absolute gems.
What stayed with me was the regained confidence as an actor (once the first two days were done), as a person and the gratitude for the people who were with me. Whether it be playing games, flyering covered in ivy or in a wedding dress on the Royal Mile and exploring the breathtaking Edinburgh, I couldn’t have imagined doing all that with anyone else.
Anyone going I’d advise you see as many things as you can, enjoy it, and pop into the cat cafe!
The title kind of says it all, Queer Theatre changed my life. I used writing and creating Queer theatre as a vehicle for self-discovery, learning and reflection. But mostly as yet another excuse for placing myself in the centre of Queer culture as a “great ally”. This is a realisation I now have in hindsight, not something I was consciously doing. But it all began with Jungle Door, a play I began writing when I first moved to Galway, before Eva’s Echo existed.
I was 23, fresh out of college, working a horrible retail job, and couldn’t find accommodation (Yes the Galway Housing crisis has been this bad for this long!). So naturally, I was evaluating everything about my life, about myself and so the characters of Jungle Door were created. Louise, clutched on to the simpler college days while secretly struggling as part of the hidden homeless. While the newly engaged Michelle connects with her ex Louise, as she revaluates what she wants for the future.
With each production, the characters developed and changed. Michelle’s relationship with her own sexuality began to be explored deeper, as she feels unaccepted by both Queer community and heteronormative society. Being too straight for the gays and too gay for the straights. This is where it all got a bit too real.
So I’m going to out myself here, literally. But although I play Louise I have always related and connected with the character Michelle. It was really important to me to include a Queer character that is hyper-feminine. As when I was young even though I was attracted to girls I convinced myself I could not be because I was so feminine. At this point in time, I don’t think the concept of bisexuality had reached rural Ireland and my only understanding of lesbians was women who were hyper-masculine. And when the concept of bisexuality did reach us in my teen years it was consistently through a male gaze. If Katy Perry kissed a girl and she liked it, then surely this is just something everyone does? Although in hindsight this culture of girls getting with each other for male approval was horribly damaging, at the time it was an excellent cover story.
But it wasn’t all pop songs and casual bi-erasure, at this time there was a deep shame and fear around being gay. Gay used to be used as slang for something you didn’t like. “Why would you listen to that band? They’re gay.” I had several romantic interactions with girls, but these were away from male eyes. Meaning there was no excuse to hide behind. And the fear of being found out was heart-stopping, especially because as a teen I didn’t have an attraction to boys. Apologies to any long-lost exes who come across this, at least it might explain a lot! Despite all of this I was still deeply in denial.
When I got to college I slowly became slightly more open, many of my friends would make comments. All of which I would laugh off, but feel briefly accepted by. For the first time, I had friends who were out and proud, I admired that a lot more than I’m sure they knew. Eventually, I began coming out without coming out, in safe spaces. I would describe sexuality as a spectrum, and say I didn’t believe in labels. Which was true because labels scared the shit out of me. I was also somewhat still under that Katy Perry ideology that every woman likes kissing girls, so we’re all a little gay? I realise now this is not true, but I was moving on to slightly healthier coping mechanisms. And even kissing women in public settings, without the excuse of a gross male audience. Despite all of this I was still deeply in denial.
What validated this denial was discovering an attraction to men. Something that I’m ashamed to say gave me a huge sense of relief. I’m totally aware of the privilege of being a feminine bi-sexual cis woman. I was more aware than ever at that moment, and that still makes me feel gross. But I feel it’s important to address that while bi-erasure is an issue, the privilege of appearing heteronormative is a thing. These are all of the wonderful issues I attempt to dissect in Jungle Door, rather than as I probably should, with a therapist.
This brings us to adult me, creating Queer Theatre, and still carrying the stance that sexuality is a spectrum and I don’t like labels. My coming out at this time was delayed for a new reason. I had found the love of my life, and he really is the best. I was certain by this point that this is the relationship I’ll be in forever (I was right, we’re getting married next year) and it’s with a straight man, so what’s the point in coming out? I felt as though I’d be taking up a spot, a spot I wasn’t gay enough to deserve.
It took a lot of time, literally years, to overcome this final hurdle. And what helped me do that was Queer theatre. I realised that people did care about Michelle’s story, about her struggles and that people could identify with it. It’s also made me realise how important Queer Theatre is, especially for those contemplating their sexuality.
I’m hoping that Jungle Door can inspire audiences to learn and empathise, as well as help Queer audiences see themselves in art. In art that is not solely about the character’s sexuality, but explores the lives of authentic Queer characters.
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The Latte journey has been anything but linear, we initially performed a rehearsed reading of a shorter version of the play during Culture Night 2019. Following an enthusiastic reception from a full house, we swiftly made plans to revisit the play. The talented Sarah Fahy was on board and agreed to complete a full-length script. We planned to produce the new full-length version of Latte in the summer of 2020. But… you can guess how that went. However, this gave both the playwright and director time to thoroughly examine the text and make changes. During this time director, Hazel Doolan decided that Latte would be more suited to a site-specific performance than a traditional stage production. We’ll never know what the 2020 version of Latte would have been like, but I truly feel that the time, patience, and momentum gained from the wait benefited the creative process and therefore the final production.
I loved playing Sophia in 2019 and really wanted to explore what made the character tick! I was very drawn to the complexities under her reserved surface. She is a very different character than I am usually cast as, I’m usually drawn to louder, wilder characters. I wanted to play Sophia not only to push myself outside my comfort zone but because I deeply empathized with her story. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away so I won’t go into detail, but Sophia’s story is one shared with Jillian, although they are strangers to one another they share the same hurt.
I’ve absolutely loved working with the gifted Moira Mahony, she has been so open with her creativity. She shares her thoughts freely but is also totally responsive to others’ imaginings of the characters and their world. She brought a strong passion to the text analysis, this carried joy and fun into the investigation, which was greatly appreciated during a long day in the rehearsal room. I found out during rehearsals she played Sophia in the original Latte by The Seumas O’Kelly Players in 2017. So she has seen the show grow and expand over the years. She also has the unique insight of being in both Sophia and Jillian’s shoes. Although I am sure the characters have also evolved over the years, being there for the first seed will carry with you an understanding of the play’s message and energy.
It’s been a very unique rehearsal process due to the structure of the play. Although there is a cast of seven I do not interact with many of the other characters. My story is mainly contained to my table so I primarily act opposite Moira. The energy in the room the first day we all rehearsed together really brought the play to life. I had felt confident about portraying my character and her story but didn’t feel truly connected to the world of the play until that day. Each cast member has really given the play 110% and has been a joy inside and outside of the rehearsal room. The creative team has been equally brilliant and open to questions. Whether I’m asking Hazel Stanley about what type of engagement ring Sophia should have or Sarah Fahy about a line, they have always been patient and passionate.
Hazel Doolan was back in the director’s chair after a long break for this production. She had directed the rehearsed reading back in 2019 and had continued to work with Sarah on the text. Throughout lockdown, she was reading drafts and offering feedback. She had a deep connection and love for the text before we even got to the audition stage. Hazel’s approach was very actor-led, instead of stating “move this way” she would instead ask “how does your character move?” By giving us the freedom to explore and play with our characters she created an organic and authentic performance. I really enjoyed this process as Sophia was such an interesting character to dissect and each week we added more and more layers. I feel this process really worked for Latte specifically as the play is driven by its textured dialogue. A deep understanding of the characters was essential and impacted every aspect of the performance.
I’m so excited to share the wonderful world of Latte with a live audience on Saturday! The site-specific nature of the play will add a whole new element to the performance. The audience and performers share the cafe as customers, creating an interesting relationship between us. I can’t wait to see what effect that has on the play. This is the true magic of theatre, the performance is alive and ever changeable!
Monday 17th of January 2022, will mark a day in the history books for Eva’s Echo Theatre Company. After a generous vegetarian breakfast from the Hyde Bar, we made our way towards Druid Lane with anticipation, excitement, nerves, and wonder.
So the Druid Fuel artists all meet that morning for a coffee and introduction. This was where we met Luke Casserly, Martina Carey, and Edwin Mullane artists from far and wide with one thing in common, to create meaningful art. If meeting like-minded individuals wasn’t enough, we were then taken to explore and witness where the design magic happens. Yes, we explored the wonder that is the Druid’s costume and set store. We saw many iconic pieces of costume and set from Druid Shakespeare’s Richard III to Becket’s Waiting for Godot. Delicate cutlery and vintage furniture were at every turn. We may also have had fun with prop swords!
A week later, Eva’s Echo began its residency! The first two days for me involved getting to the root of why I create art and reigniting my love for it. As a producer, it’s very easy to slip into what is produced, when it is staged, how the work is done, and scheduling the year ahead. Sometimes you get sucked into a world of spreadsheets, calendars, emails, and applications. Before you know it, another year is gone and you’re asking yourself ‘What did I do/create?’ Last year was different cause we finally got ‘Uniform’ on stage, don’t get me wrong it’s amazing seeing the shows produced but I was always an actor first. From there, we decided to partake in ‘The Artist Way’ programme which involves writing morning pages, weekly artist dates, and weekly tasks. It’s only been two weeks since we started this and I have to say I’m absolutely loving it.
Day two also of course entailed building a foundation for ‘Stardom’. From our talk with playwright Michael West the previous week, we were inspired to bring the portrayal of media back to a form of theatre through imagination and absurdity. This was a breakthrough for us rather than opting for projections, apps, and other digital media integration (Disclaimer, digital theatre, and art forms are great but we frankly had enough of it). So taking all this, we created a mood board depicting the plots, characters, inspiration for the story, and themes. From there, Rena began writing.
Day four, I came back and we read through the draft while Rena made final changes for the feedback session that evening. We were joined by Druid theatre manager Síomha Nee, designer Hazel Stanley, playwright and former Druid Fuel artist Annie Keegan, actor Mícheál O’Fearraigh and theatre practitioner Elizabeth Flaherty. The session most definitely proved to be valuable leaving us with much to think about and various ideas on how to move the plot forward. I said it before but a big thank you to Druid for access of the the space the last few days, the resources, support and we hope to present what I’m sure will be an amazing showcase.
One of the things I love most about theatre is that it is alive and ever-changing. Unlike a movie each time you see your favorite scene in a play it will be slightly different. There is only one play that Eva’s Echo has come back to several times and that is Jungle Door, but each time the play has developed and grown along with the team. When I first began writing the script I was 23 and I finished it as part of my MA at 24. I was writing about characters in their late twenty struggling with society’s and their own expectations of what an adult life should look like. This time approaching the text I was the same age as the characters.
My relationship with the characters
When originally writing the text I could relate much more to Louise, struggling to find employment and afford to live in Galway, yearning for the simpler college life. I had just graduated the previous summer. In 2021 I could easily identify with Michelle, a bisexual woman marrying a man, concerned with losing her youthful appearance. I was able to contribute my experience of how much goes into planning a wedding while in the rehearsal room as I’m planning my own wedding. Having been on this journey with the characters and growing with them over the years is a truly unique experience.
Rewriting the text
Rewriting the text is a really rewarding and exciting experience and it has been for every version of Jungle Door. Although I’m the one who physically types the words onto the digital page the process is very collaborative. As a team, we read through the text (Hazel and I read each other’s parts) and then had a lengthy 3-hour discussion about what worked and what didn’t. Some aspects that we loved in previous versions simply didn’t feel authentic to these versions of the characters. It was very important to the entire team that this version of the play was approached as a new project. The characters had grown as we had over the last two years since the last production. As a creative team, this process was also really important as it gave everyone a sense of ownership over the text, we were telling this story together.
There were many edits made to the text, some to update it (eg. filler rather than botox) others were changes to the plot to align with the characters as they are now. Originally it was Louise who attempted to kiss Michelle and the ending was framed as a very sad moment for Louise. The atmosphere of scenes changed too, as the climax of the play the canal scene was originally very dramatic and dark, it now had a much lighter energy. There was also additional dialogue added to highlight the core issue in their relationship, that Michelle wasn’t accepted by their friend group in college. As this friend group consisted entirely of the LGBT+ society and Michelle was dismissed as curious, due to her bisexuality and very feminine appearance/interests. This had always been a present subtext but in this version, we felt it needed to be said. As it also gives more weight to Louise’s desire to go back in time, to a community that fully accepted her.
Working with the text
Another fantastic aspect of this process is that the text remains alive throughout rehearsals. If a line didn’t feel authentic or practical changes needed to be made they were. A consistent edit in the room was removing a lot of stage directions, a practice I think I will continue. It gave more anatomy to us as creatives. For example: if a stage direction stated they laugh but the scene now feels heavy with the newly developed characters it could be cut.
I feel very fortunate to have had such an amazing team around me that all cared as passionately about the text as I did. There was just the right amount of talented cooks in the kitchen to make this collaborative process work. I hope to have the pleasure of working with them all again soon.