Although I've mentioned the four writers involved in Turning Point by name and written about their plays, I feel some background on each would be helpful.
John Austin Connolly was born in Dublin, where he currently lives and writes. He holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and an MA in Scriptwriting. In 2004 his children's play, Who Killed Granny? was given a staged reading at the Kilkenny Arts Festival. In 2006 two works were short-listed for the Fishamble Theatre Company Temple Bar Diversions Festival.
In 2007 his play, The Boys from Siam, won the inaugural Yale Drama Series Award, and David Horn prize, selected by Edward Albee. This was given a staged reading by The Yale Repertory Theatre, and published by Yale University Press in 2008.
In 2008 and 2009 Crochet and The Body were short-listed for the Francis MacManus short story competition, and broadcast by RTE Radio 1. In 2009 his play, Dylan, Thomasina and Me, won the PJ O’Connor National RTE Radio 1 Drama Award. He has completed his new stage play, Altered Selves.
Steve Daunt cut his dramatic teeth in Trinity College Dublin while studying English. He was an active member of Dublin University Players where he acted and directed. He has written small scale scripts for the last 10 years including contributing to Disability Cabaret in the early 2000s. How Very Normal is an affectionate meditation on friendship. Steve currently works as a Researcher for Newstalk106-108.
Stephen Kennedy is partially sighted. He is originally from Drogheda, but he has lived and worked in Dublin for the last ten years. Stephen has had his poetry published in literary magazines like The Stinging Fly and Riposte, and his short fiction has appeared in Books Ireland.
In 2008 Stephen had a long poem – entitled ‘Do You Know What Really Annoys The Arse Off Me?’ – published in the New Irish Writing section of the Sunday Tribune. This poem went on to be shortlisted in the prestigious Hennessey XO Poetry Awards.
In 2004 Stephen had a radio play – entitled The Loony News – shortlisted for RTE Radio’s PJ O’Connor Awards. In 2008 Stephen wrote, directed and produced three short plays in a show called Sex! Three Short Plays (with very little to do with sex). This show had a successful run at the New Theatre in Temple Bar.
In 2008 Stephen also set up Nighthawks at the Cobalt with some friends. This is a very popular monthly arts club that combines different kinds of music, comedy, poetry, prose, short film and short theatre. A new collection of short plays by Stephen were recently presented in the New Theatre.
Rosaleen McDonagh is a Traveller woman with a disability. She is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin. Her primary degree is in Theological and Biblical Studies. She has two Masters Degrees, one in the area of Ethnic & Racial Studies and the second in Creative Writing.
She was one of the founders of The Independent Living Movement in Ireland. She worked in Pavee Point Traveller Centre for eight years as manager of the Violence Against Women Program. Rosaleen has extensive experience of working at a policy level in the NGO sector covering areas of Traveller Women's and Disabled Women’s Human Rights.
Currently Rosaleen is involved with Minceirs Whiden, a Traveller-only forum. She has run for the Senate twice. Rosaleen is an associated writer with Project Arts Centre, Dublin and has had two plays produced, Baby Doll and Stuck. She is working on a new theatre piece, Arrangements which will be produced by the Project in 2010 / 2011.
Yesterday evening was the presentation of the four Turning Points; readings at Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lanburgh Theatre.
Consequently, it was an especially long day and even longer night of post show debate and merriment. At the outset it was decided that as ‘Turning Point ‘ was primarily a project about the creation of new writing for theatre.
We decided that Arts & Disability Ireland and Fishamble would focus their efforts on bringing the four disabled playwrights to Washington rather than a complete cast of Irish actors.
This meant that Fishambles’ Director Jim Culleton had one and a half days to rehearse with eight US based actors in advance of the readings. The actors Chris Dinolfo, Brian Hemmingsen, Chris Imbrosciano, Nanna Ingvarsson, Jason Lott, Austin Porter, Alexandria Wailes and Christopher Wolfe were very enthusiastic from the start of rehearsals and were keen to explore the many Irish cultural reference points within the scripts.
Consequently, the first full day of rehearsals which took place at the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts last Saturday were read-throughs interspersed with many questions and wide ranging debates. Jim was assisted by Orla Flannagan Fishamble’s Production Manager, Gavin Kostick, myself and each of the writers who attended the rehearsal of their script. On Monday afternoon we reconvened at the Lansburgh. While Arts & Disability Ireland and Fishamble did not specifically ask the writers to write on disability, that is in fact what happened. However, four very different plays were selected.
Steve Daunt’s play ‘How Very Normal’ explored the childhood memories of one disabled and non-disabled friend who meet after 16 years for an evening at the opera and to share a post show bottle of wine. John Austin Connolly’s play ‘Ellipsis’ takes the audience into an intimate conversation between a husband and wife who are reflecting on the recent suicide of their son. Stephen Kennedy’s play ‘Should've Gone to Lourdes’ is a comical coming of age story for a young disabled wheelchair user and his non-disabled brother who are visiting a brothel in Amsterdam.
And Rosaleen McDonagh’s play ‘Rings’ is a series of interchanging monologues: a father and daughter reflect of their experience of disability, deafness, the role of women and being a Traveller.
Padraig Naughton has Sunday Brunch with Ireland’s Ambassador to Washington in Celebration of ‘Turning Point’
To mark the participation of ‘Turning Point’ in the 2010 VSA Festival we spent Sunday afternoon at the Irish Ambassadors residence. Ambassador Michael Collins and his wife Marie treated us to a most sumptuous brunch in the beautiful surroundings of their home.
Guests included former Ambassador to Ireland and founder of VSA Jean Kennedy Smith and members of her family, the writers, actors, as well as representatives from Arts & Disability Ireland, Fishamble, and VSA. While a relaxed and informal occasion the brunch was a wonderful acknowledgement of ‘Turning Point’ by the Irish Embassy .
On a personal level I felt proud that our country abroad has taken such an interest in our project. Having been involved in arts and disability in Ireland since the early 1990’s, I’ve often felt over the years we’ve been working in isolation without significant mainstream recognition.
In working with Fishamble on ‘Turning Point’ Arts & Disability Ireland has endeavoured to bring together our expertise in developing new writing for theatre and arts and disability.
For the four writers the presentation of their plays at the Lansburgh Theatre affords them the opportunity to have their work interpreted by US actors and seen by a Washington audience. The fact that the 2010 VSA Festival is a city wide week long event across some 15 venues, illustrates to what an extent VSA have on this occasion created a festival not only for the VSA family of national and international affiliates but for the citizens of DC too.
So while the Festival has placed all its activities within venues that are fully accessible to disabled artists, performers and audiences the bigger achievement is the opportunity for non-disabled people to share in our creativity.
Pádraig Naughton introduces the Arts & Disability Ireland collaboration with Fishamble for the VSA Festival in Washington DC
When DAO editor Colin Hambrook asked me to write a blog of my trip to Washington DC and my impressions of the 2010 VSA International Festival, I immediately said, yes. In fact it was at a VSA festival in Brussels back in 1994 that I first met Colin.
Then I was a young visual artist who had the previous year graduated from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin with a degree in Craft Design Ceramics. I was in Brussels as part of an Irish delegation. Two pieces of my tactile sculpture were being exhibited at the National Museum in Brussels.
The sculptures were part of an exhibition which toured Ireland in 1993/94 called Celebrating Difference. Now I find myself at another VSA festival. On this occasion I am the Director of Arts & Disability Ireland (an affiliate of VSA) and Colin is in Brighton corresponding with me by email, giving warm words of encouragement on posting to my blog for DAO readers.
At this years festival Arts & Disability Ireland are working with Fishamble: The New Play Company to co-produce a series of four readings of new writing for theatre by Irish disabled writers. This project started well over a year and a half ago with an invitation from Ambassador Kennedy Smith to present Irish writing on disability at the 2010 VSA Festival.
Since then Arts & Disability Ireland have been working together with Fishamble to develop the project. In December 2009 we hosted a writing workshop with Gavin Kostick, Literary Manager with Fisahmble and a presentation by internationally known disabled writer/director Kaite O’Reilly.
We also announced at this event, that Arts & Disability Ireland and Fishamble were seeking submissions from Irish disabled writers on the theme of change. Other parameters were that these be short plays with a duration of approximately 10mins and a maximum of 2 characters. ‘Turning Point’ was born. To that call we received 11 pieces from 8 writers.
At the beginning of February 2010 we selected the work of 4 writers - John Austin Connolly, Steve Daunt, Stephen Kennedy and Rosaleen McDonagh. Over the next two months Gavin worked with the writers to develop their scripts. In March we premiered the plays at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin. They were Directed by Jim Culleton of Fishamble and this evening 7th June we present the staged readings at the VSA Festival.
My aim over the coming week is to tell of our experience of bringing ‘Turning Point to the 2010 VSA Festival, introduce some of the many other performances, exhibitions and debates that are happening as well as share my thoughts and impressions of spending time in Washington DC.
ADI are co-producing 4 staged readings of new writing for theatre by Irish disabled practitioners - with Fishamble, who are one of Ireland's most dynamic theatre companies, dedicated to the discovery, development and production of new dramatic works for the Irish and international stage.
My aim in this blog, is to reflect on ADI's involvement in the Festival as well as share my impressions of a week that will see over 2,000 people from 54 countries gather in Washington to experience performances, exhibitions, screenings and debates across the city.