Cork Arts Theatre | Sep 2nd - 7th, 2013
Hot on the heels of widespread critical acclaim, ORion Productions in association with Blue Moon Theatre Company present another chance to see the remarkable Irish Premiere of The Woolgatherer by Emmy Award Winning author, William Mastrosimone.
The play has received five star reviews and was hailed as "triumphant theatre" by the Sunday Times and as “mesmerizing… captivating and poignantly honest," by Entertainment.ie.
Cork born, lead actress and producer, Sinéad O' Riordan, is delighted with the response that the play has generated so far. "It was my first time ever producing a play so I was a little nervous about the reception," says Sinéad, "so to have the Sunday Times describe my performance as 'knockout' and to also say that my production was one of those inspiring instances in which small theatre rivals the big players for quality and excitement, well that was quite a thing! I
From the opening night of The Woolgatherer's two week performance in The New Theatre in Temple Bar in Dublin, in April, the show became a sensation, resulting in sell out shows, delighted audiences and disappointed punters who waited in vain to pick up a ticket on standby.
"Having the audience respond so favorably to the show meant a lot to me," adds Sinéad. "At the end of the day, the audience is the most important part of any play. Without an audience you're just some idiot standing on a stage talking to yourself!"
One wonders how she brings such a neurotic character as Rose, one of the two protagonist and her character in The Woolgatherer, to life on the stage, night after night. "It can be a bit tiring, I suppose," admits Sinéad, "but the truth is, I love the play and I love the character and, despite wondering, at times, if I was on the right track, the audience and critical reaction was so positive that it made it all worth while. I'm really looking forward to bringing the play home to Cork and then onto The Town Hall Theatre in Galway where it played previously to a sold out audience in the studio space. Feedback was so positive that management took the unusual decision to invite it back to feature on the main stage.
So after all the success, playing on the main stage in The Town Hall Theatre must be like water off a duck's back, right? "Not at all! It's actually quite daunting, to go from a small theatre with a seating capacity of 60 to one that sits nearly 400 is terrifying," says Sinéad . "And that's only from an actor's point of view. I'm also the producer so, not only do I have to worry about performing in front of a much larger audience, I also have to worry about getting an audience in to actually see the show! I don't know which is more terrifying; the prospect of making an idiot of myself in front of a large audience or the prospect of coming out on stage and, because I didn't do a good enough job with the PR and marketing, feeling like an idiot because the theatre is empty!"
Sinéad founded ORion Productions in 2013 after she secured the rights to the play. She immediately set about establishing a team and, when Blue Moon Theatre Company came on board, things really started to roll.David Byrne Artistic Director of Blue Moon stepped in as director."I look at staging plays as an entrepreneurial adventure," explains Sinéad. "If you find a wonderful little play, I think it's important to stage it, if circumstances allow you to. Too often people get caught up in the dreaded search for 'funding'. You can often end up chasing your tail. Putting on a play is a difficult enough proposition without driving yourself to distraction looking for funding from the public purse. That's not to suggest that this has been plain sailing all the way; I virtually put all of my savings into this play. And ORion and Blue Moon are very small little fish in a very large pond so it was rewarding to see the play making waves. At least I know I didn't waste my money!". Sinead admits she could not have done this alone. So much praise is due for the wonderful Michael Hough , her co-star in this show, Becky Gardiner her rock, assistant producer and Set/lighting designer, David Byrne, Director and Donna Patrice - Assistant Director.
The play raises some very topical yet still 'taboo-ish' subjects. "When I first read the play, the character Rose really resonated with me," says Sinéad. "I believe her character and, indeed, the entire play mirrors wider societal themes."
"Rose suffers from mental health issues, for example," explains Sinéad. "While the play doesn't specify exactly what she suffers from, it makes reference to her being institutionalized when she was younger; it mentions an abusive father and it mentions an incident which traumatized her."
Despite these problems or, perhaps, because of them, the audience empathizes with Rose and, literally, wills her to find happiness. "We have had audience members leave the theatre crying and, similarly, people left the theatre laughing, because, despite the issues and topics raised the play is, at its heart, a dark comedy. It's a play that really travels the full gamut of emotion. Some people seem, at the start of the play, afraid to laugh because of the issues that are raised. So you get sputtered laughs but, once they get into it, you find people laughing at the most inappropriate of things and that's exactly as it should be; the script calls for it!"
There is, however, a more serious side to Sinéad. "Because of what my character is going through in the play, I felt compelled to host a mental health awareness night where we donated the proceeds to Headstrong and, I'm delighted to say, we raised €960. It's nice to be able to give a little bit back."
Such generosity was very well received, Dr. Tony Bates, Founding Director of Headstrong said, “We really appreciated ORion and Blue Moon holding an awareness night on behalf of Headstrong. Their generosity of spirit in contributing all proceeds of that night to help Headstrong is very moving in these straightened economic times. This play explores mental health in a hopeful and humane way and anything which develops our understanding of this subject in a creative way is important.”
Despite the, sometimes, heavy overtures the play is, ultimately, a comedy, albeit of a rather dark persuasion. So with critical and audience acclaim what's next for Sinéad? "I not quite sure," she answers with a smile. "For now I'm just concentrating on the PR and marketing for the rest of the tour.After Cork comes Galway, then onto Belfast, Derry,Donegal and back to Dublin. I'm also in the midst of planning our next production called 'Breathless' which is a collaboration between ORion Productions, Danu Theatre Company and Jack Of All Productions.This will stage in Smock Alley .Written by John MacKenna, it is a wonderful piece about Missing Women in Ireland. Again something that is very real and poignant."
The theatre community of Ireland isn't waiting, though, it has already made up its mind and has been almost unanimous in its praise for the production and the brave actress and producer .