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   Date: 9/8/11 Bookmark and Share

Theater as Mirror on Ourselves

Q & A with playwright Deirdre Kinahan

Irish playwright Deirdre Kinahan often creates plays that explore trauma and life-altering emotional events. She favors characters that are seemingly ordinary, but who encounter and navigate extraordinary situations, often dealing with violence and abuse.

Kinahan's play Moment will be produced by Smith theatre in February 2012. Meanwhile, Kinahan will visit campus next week, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, to give a lecture, "Trauma and Tea Cakes: Surviving Social Breakdown," at 4:30 p.m. in Seelye 106.

Gate: What advantages does theater offer over other art forms in exploring trauma?

Deirdre Kinahan: Theatre is a very safe place to explore trauma. Theatre to me is like a mirror where we can look at our most base and most beautiful instincts as human beings. As a society we can embrace every aspect of ourselves through the acting out, the story. Theatre, unlike other art forms, is a live, dynamic and inclusive art; it simply does not exist without an audience because that audience totally informs the performance through their empathy, their emotion and their reaction to what is put before them. In theatre, the artist and audience enter a shared space, a complicity, and together they watch a story unfold. Both artist and audience enter into the emotion and psychological impact of that story; literally stepping into the shoes of another person, another universe  and therefore challenge  presumptions, challenge prejudice and reach a new understanding.

Gate: How did you discover your preference for playwriting as a form of artistic expression?

DK: My mother brought me to the theatre when I was about 8 years old and I was hooked. She brought me to everything, from the classics in small basement amateur theatres in Dublin to the Abbey and the startling new Irish plays being performed at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre. I began acting myself around the same time and continued to do so until having children. I simply think in terms of theatre. I love going to plays, I love reading plays, I love talking plays…I just think it is a magical art form so a story, a character, a theme or a notion always enters my head theatrically.  I then live with it for a long time before ever putting pen to paper. 

Gate: Family relations often play an important part in your plays. Can you describe the dynamics of your family, and how your family experience enters into your works?

DK: Bizarrely, for a woman who writes a lot about dysfunction, I come from a very stable, happy, middle-of-the-road Irish family. My Mam and Dad also come from good strong families…families that knew a lot of love. I suppose the strength of that base always gave me great confidence and surety in terms of my own emotional understanding and therefore allowed me to enter into the maelstrom of other people’s experience. As I said, I started out with a strong passion for acting, so I wear my heart of my sleeve, I cry at sad films, mortify my children by crying at school concerts, etc. I just enter into the emotion of other people’s lives and allow myself to feel what they feel, or more importantly, imagine what they must feel. I’ve always watched people. I am what you would call in Ireland a "Gawker." My jaw is often open and my eyes glued to people. I can’t help it; I see a couple or a family and watch the interaction, watch what is unspoken and start to frame a scenario and  a history for them.    

Gate: Smith is, among many things, about empowering women. Some of your plays also address the empowerment of women, through their survival and revelation. From your perspective, what makes Smith an apropos place for your upcoming presentation and the production of your play, Moment?

DK: I was totally thrilled to be invited to Smith. I read a little about the school's history and think it an incredibly progressive and important institution. My plays are essentially about people, male and female, very ordinary people trying to make sense of their lives. Life is precious and life is beautiful, the greatest joy to my mind can be found in the simplest things: a good pint of Guinness, a good dinner, laughter or the sight of the sea. But sometimes life can turn on us and we can get lost in a maelstrom of grief or violence or anxiety. My plays try to examine that; try to understand how as people we can lose our way; how we can become victims, become perpetrators because nothing is black and white, none of us are perfect, we are all capable of great generosity and great cruelty, circumstance will push our buttons but an emotional understanding can help us break through and survive.
In terms of women, I certainly started out in theatre with the conviction that the woman’s perspective was sadly missing. Historically, most of our great playwrights are men, because women rarely worked in theatre, or wrote for theatre or got produced. It is therefore a male view of the world that dominates and a male experience that is most often presented. I still believe it is vitally important to redress that. It is important to present plays by women and plays about women. I suppose it’s about truth, really; equality and empowerment can only take place if we present the entire truth of human experience.

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