October 23, 2013
One of the prevailing trends in Irish theatre over the past year has been the attempt to stage real life stories in a manor that is specific yet universal. Edwina Casey’s “I Dreamt Tom Stoppard’s E-mail Address” examined the rituals of grief in her theatricalising of Lydia Prior’s blog The Dead Dad Diaries, starring the writer herself; Shaun Dunne fought the brain drain in his beautiful, if occasionally hysterical, I am a Home Bird (It’s Very Hard); Neil Watkins and Veronica Dyas told haunting, lyrical tales of sexual awakening and abuse while THEATREclub crowd sourced the content for their ambitious 2010 project in an attempt to capture the thoughts of the nation throughout that seminal year. Stephanie Presisner is the latest to try her hand at the format with Our Father, a fictional imagining of what might have gone down had she lost her mother and was reunited with her father who left when she was a child. First staged in the Absolout Fringe Festival, it’s told through a mixture of rap, rhyme and spoken word.
“When you are dealing with a subject matter that is a little bit sentimental or hard to deal with talking about it in rhyme makes it easier because it doesn’t let you be affected,” says Presisner. “I had to put some sort of thing in place that would stop me from having a tiny violin.” While she admits that potential audiences can be put off by the style, those who saw past the form of the play were humbled by it. “I found the idea of it off putting,” says Director Tara Derrington about the style. “When I was told about the concept it just made me feel old. But I was proven so wrong. It’s not an attempt to mimic American black subculture, which is what the word conjured up for me, rather a powerful way of energising a narrative.”
Arthur Riordan, whose experimentation’s with rap could be witnessed in his two recent Rough Magic productions, Peer Gynt and Improbable Frequency, heavily influences the piece. “He played the father when we did a rehearsed reading with Tom Creed,” says Presisner. “I really like his work. I Facebook mailed him going ‘I wrote this, its in rhyme, you do that, you don’t know me but will you read this thing.’ And he was really supportive, looking over and helping with everything I sent him.”
She likens the fringe to the industry’s rag week. It left her with one all mighty hangover. “I underestimated how traumatizing it would be. I wrote this play in the back of the Joy of Chai, not expecting it to go where it went.” Her family didn’t know what she was up to until she had to perform it. “So there I am on RTE talking about my father and my family is back in Cork going skits.”
She had a bit of a breakdown. “I realized about half way through rehearsals what this play was REALLY about and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there. I was so confused, I didn’t know what was happening to me, I wasn’t sure if I was acting or what.”
The show was well received and Presisner was nominated for Best Actress. But her odd mood wasn’t helped by a clerical error, which meant she was overlooked in the Fishamble New Writing Award. “They didn’t read it. They came to me and apolagised and offered me plenty of stuff. But to be honest this show wasn’t about awards. Anyone who came to it could see that.”
First published in the Sunday Independent, 15th of April