“A real lesson in producing a programme, particularly for children” Lyn Gardner, The Guardian
Whether writing or designing, I have always been inspired by an attention to detail in production: the subversion of things we take for granted – the double-take.
My work on Theatre Lovett’s show programmes is dominated by this interest: taking something throw-away and turning the tables on it, subverting the audience’s expectation in terms of the aesthetic and the content.
This is particularly rewarding when working with the rich tapestries woven for young audiences by Theatre Lovett.
Working initially with company directors Muireann Ahern-Lovett and Louis Lovett, I then sit down with the script and, with the production design aesthetic in mind, I imagine each world to its fullest. From this I write a full text before designing it into a programme-sized publication.
Taking a sideways glance at what is happening on stage, the articles, fake ads, and interviews riff and expand upon the play’s imagined universe. I try to pack in as much content as possible, filling each page to the last, offering as many moments of recognition and reminder as possible for the young audiences.
I try to give a sly voice to voiceless and minor characters, while poking gentle fun at the format of show programmes – and at Theatre Lovett’s leading star (sorry, Louis!).
Originally called The Trumpeter, the series for Theatre Lovett began with an edition for The House That Jack Filled by Finegan Kruckemeyer. The story of an old hotel, Louis played every one of its vast cast of characters. The programme included an interview with Harrison the Housecat, Mr Truro’s Spectacular Guide to Playing the Spoons, a recipe for Crepes Suzette by mischievous twins Charlotte and Brian and a series of unusual hotel facts (including the mysterious story of the train on Track 61 and New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel).
The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly (also by Finegan Kruckemeyer) has been performed at theatres and festivals all over the world. Its Peggy O’Hegarty comes from a family of packers, and the programme was thus pitched as a special edition packing manual. It included Peggy’s Packing Particulars, a series of facts about packing, Louis Lovett on Packing a Play, instructions for how to play a game called Packed Like Sardines and, lastly, sadly, an obituary for Hildegaard the mouse.
The latest was for A Feast of Bones. Originally produced for Dublin Theatre Festival in 2013, the edition was updated for its run at On the Edge Festival Birmingham and Baboró Galway in 2016. A Feast of Bones was set in a restaurant called Le Monde Bouleversé in the wake of World War I, and so its programme became a menu.
“In its mix of wit and wisdom, Theatre Lovett’s show programme series is a beauty, capturing the humour, logical absurdity and intelligent detailing of Kate’s writing”Louis Lovett and Muireann Ahern, Theatre Lovett
#WakingtheFeminists was a grassroots campaign calling for equality for women across the Irish theatre sector that ran from November 2015 to November 2016. It was comprised of women and men who spoke out for equality for women in the theatre in Ireland. They were writers, directors, managers, actors, designers, choreographers, technicians, programmers, producers, artists and audience members.
I created a Waking the Feminists identity for the initial public meeting on the Abbey Stage in 2015. And from that I designed a number of badge designs, a tote bag and a mug, and these were sold at the public meetings in order to raise awareness of the campaign. This FEM-IN-IST bag remains my own favourite!
Peat began life as Elk, an exploration of the Great Irish Elk. On the east coast, right on the edge of Ireland, there is a place known as The Elk Graveyard. Here hundreds and hundreds of ancient elk skeletons were dug from the bog. Megaloceros Giganteus. Giant Irish Deer. The last megafauna on an island of, well, non–megafauna.
Twelve feet tall from tip of toe to top of antler, it disappeared about 10,500 years ago, the reasons uncertain: it became too big; its antlers grew too heavy; it was over-hunted; its food sources disappeared as the world grew colder. The Great Irish Elk lived across Europe and Asia, its continental cousins drifting eastward, sunward, in search of a better life. As the Ice Age descended, the ones who lived on this island were the first to disappear. Trapped, with nowhere to go as the snow stopped melting.
In June, I spent a week at The Ark developing the text with director Maisie Lee and performers Nyree Yergainharsian and Lloyd Cooney. We shared our findings with The Ark’s Children’s Council at the end of the week and, the following month, we presented a work-in-progress showing at On the Edge World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences in Birmingham to an audiences of artists, producers and presenters. Sharing our ideas and listening to the feedback of audiences young and experienced has been invaluable.
As development progresses, the elk itself started to take a back seat, as bigger ideas began to emerge – ideas of preservation, migration, extinction, life, death and mortality. The text which is now emerging is something of a slant on Hamlet’s gravediggers for young audiences – a metaphysical conversation rooted in the world and perspective of two 12 year olds.
Ukranian-born Nudie Cohn and his Rodeo Tailors made American country stars embrace embellishment in the 1940s, and the love affair still burns strong in Nashville. A music of outsiders, country is about exile and emigration, frontier ballads of outlaws and open plains, heartbreak, loneliness, loss. Country stars wear their hearts on their sleeves, and their stories along their lapels. Cacti, lassos, lone horses, tumbleweed, covered wagons, dry horizons, bare crucifixes – Nudie stitched the icons of their lonely lives into their breast pockets.
So what should an Irish cowboy wear?
Finding its feet in the late 1960s, the Country–and–Irish tradition of music fuses Irish folk with American country, all speeded up to a quick-step rhythm suitable for dancing – ballads of colonial exile sang with a cowboy twang while people jive. The Montague Hotel was a hitching-post on its touring circuit, a regular haunt for the stars of the Country–and–Irish music scene which was hugely popular in the midlands, a key venue through the 70s, 80s and 90s.
The bands traditionally wore matching jackets, but not in the elaborate Rodeo Tailor style.
I find it hard to separate The Montague from Country–and–Irish, and have been thinking about it in this sense – about how the 40-year history of a country is weirdly contained within its walls, the story of who we are, where we’ve been, where we’re going. What if a band was to wear its sense of history, it’s sense of place, its sense of itself on its sleeve? What would these jackets look like? Bog cotton rather than cactus flowers, green plains rather than dusty plateaus? Old wounds becoming scars becoming appliqué embellishments, hardened into a smile by a rhinestone outline?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But, as I sit here tonight, imagining the characters of a band like this, I’m imagining how they might dress.
These past 10 days, I’ve been knee-deep in research for Troika Fiscal Disobedience Consultancy, a new show by Spanish artist Núria Güell which opened in the gallery at Project Arts Centre last night.
Throughout 2016, the centenary of the 1916 Rising, Project are engaging with acts and idea of ‘rebellion’. Núria Güell uses installation, writing, performance and video for political and social activism, believing that art holds the power to rethink ourselves as a society. Preoccupied by the ever widening gap between rich and poor, some of her projects have included publishing a book that explains how to expropriate money from a bank, entering into a marriage of convenience in order to give legal status to an individual, and creating a company in order to hire a construction worker to demolish doors to enable squatting. For this solo exhibition here in Dublin, she has collaborated with Catalan activist Enric Duran to establish an agency that borrows from the tactics of corporate tax liability systems – in order to advise grass roots social projects on how to practice tax avoidance.
The exhibition screens several films (including Katerina Kitidi and Aris Chatzistefanou’s Debtocracy and Ruaridh Arrow’s How to Start a Revolution). The opposite end of the gallery becomes an ‘office’ for the consultancy, a desk inviting visitors to explore the company website, the wall above it brandished with its logo. I worked on a design for the business cards. Both the desk and business card features a bunch of yellow tulips – a nod to the Tulip Mania which swept the Netherlands in the 17th century, considered the first speculative bubble.
To give a social and historical context for the action of the consultancy, I collaborated with Núria and curator Tessa Giblin to research eight cases of fiscal and civil disobedience. The short texts I wrote and designed became the surface of a coffee table in the consultancy’s ‘waiting area’. The cases came from the distant past right up to the present: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at the front of the bus; 18 million citizens of the United Kingdom refuse to pay their Poll Tax; Gandhi leads tens of thousands of followers to disregard the British salt monopoly and harvest their own salt; Charles Stewart Parnell encourages struggling tenants to shun their landlords.
From the dumping of tea into the sea by 200 patriots during the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to a group of independent retailers in a small Welsh town going “offshore” in 2015, I found the research fascinating – uncovering and telling the stories of acts of civil disobedience that have denied unjust laws collectively, publicly, peacefully – realising that Núria Güell and Troika Fiscal Disobedience Consultancy is but the latest in a proud and vibrant history.
The exhibition is one of Frieze Magazine‘s Dublin highlights, and continues until 19 March 2016.