Featuring a range of exciting new voices, the #wakingthefeministswest New Play Series offers a selection of plays by six emerging women writers based in the West of Ireland. Part of the Galway Theatre Festival, the New Play Series highlights the vibrant wealth of literary and acting talent housed in and around Galway.
The six playwrights featured in the New Play Series are as diverse as the plays that they produced. Some, like Hannah Carleton, whose one-woman piece How To Achieve The Natural, No Makeup Look is a humorous and poignant coming-of-age story, are just starting their writing careers. Others, like Órfhlaith Foyle, are already established in other genres and branching out to the stage. Having published a novel and collections of short stories and poetry, Foyle describes drawing her inspiration ‘from looking at things that frighten me and using these fears to create something else.’ Her play, Dialogue of Dead Women, is a haunting and dramatic reflection on the violence visited on female bodies.
Pat Johnston, a retired history teacher from Ballinasloe, describes herself as ‘an unadulterated west of Ireland woman.’ Having written some journalistic pieces for magazines and newspapers as well as poetry, Pat decided to explore playwriting as a vehicle for teaching. ‘I wanted to bring history to the stage, to tell stories,’ she explains. ‘It should be easier to get people to spend 90 minutes in a theatre than days reading a book.’ Her play, A Little Lonely While, tells the story of Ada English, an Irish psychiatrist and revolutionary who worked in Ballinasloe.
While not all of the writers on the programme were raised in Galway, the city has a way of drawing in and inspiring artists. Maura McHugh, whose play The Love of Small Appliances explores how future technology may impact our domestic lives, describes how Galway won her over with ‘its sense of humour, laid-back lifestyle, and celebration of diverse art forms. It’s a city and county very much shaped by storytelling, but it also embraces the new, and the unusual.’ Similarly, Emer McMahon explains, ‘I’ve always had an interest in the west of Ireland, a feeling for it. I came here with my parents as a child—they loved hiking and the landscape of the west, and I definitely inherited that. I think there is a great musical quality to the way people speak everyday here, and also a strong sense of community and roots.’ McMahon’s poetic piece The House traces the relationship between a middle-aged woman and young man who are drawn together by their shared connection to a place and their similar experiences of isolation and loss.
NUI Galway also acts as a draw for new writers, with three of the playwrights either alumni or current students in the university’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance programme. ‘I’m from the midlands but moved to Galway to study and haven’t returned as of yet!’ says Nicola McArdle. In fact, it was her experiences at NUIG that inspired her to write. ‘I was an avid reader all my life but apart from keeping a diary sporadically I never wrote anything at all. It was only years later when I did a creative writing seminar as part of my English degree that playwriting caught my attention. I realised then that speaking through characters rather than writing lengthy pieces of prose was what I should have been doing all along!’ This ear for dialogue is evident in her play A Simple Request, a family drama about a mother and her daughters and the ties that bind them together.
#wakingthefeministswest is a year-long Galway-based season of plays and performances by Irish women, inspired by the #WakingTheFeminists movement. Led by NUI Galway students and supported by the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance, the programme’s mission is to stage the work of Irish women playwrights and theatre-makers as well as to provide strong roles for female performers. When asked about #WakingTheFeminists, responses were strong. ‘I feel inspired by the women and men involved in this movement,’ says Emer McMahon. ‘They are ready to stand up and be heard and be counted, and that challenges me to do the same.’
‘I’ve always considered myself a feminist, and I’ve been outspoken about it in my field of writing,’ explains Maura McHugh. ‘I’ve been hugely inspired by the shift in the Irish arts scene in such a short period of time and it seems that change—so long needed—is finally happening. I was thrilled to be selected for the New Play Series, because as soon as I heard about the call for work I knew that I wanted to write something for it. Not just to be a part of the reading, but to support an exciting creative movement in Irish culture.’
‘I have always seen myself as a writer first,’ says Órfhlaith Foyle, ‘then a writer who happens to be female, and because I believe in the importance of character, what I write and how I write ought not to have to be only explained or accepted as a natural result of me being a woman. It is the natural result of me being a human being as well. To me the #WakingTheFeminists movement is a just demand for women writers and creators to have their work acknowledged on that basis.’
The #wakingthefeministswest New Play Series is on Friday 6 May at 6 PM at the Town Hall Studio. Donations are accepted at the door; to reserve a seat email email@example.com| Image: courtesy of Galway Theatre Festival.