Adventures in Playwriting
This past weekend, I was thrilled to attend the Waterford News & Star Green Room Awards where my play “Memoirs of a Ghost” was nominated in a number of categories, including Best New Play. As I prepared to attend the awards, I started thinking about the long and winding road the play had taken to reach that point.
“Memoirs of a Ghost” started life quite a few years ago when I read about a woman called Lee Miller. Miller started out as a model and muse for Man Ray, Picasso, and the Surrealists in 1930s Paris. She later became a photographer herself and was the first “embedded” female photographer in World War Two. After the war, she moved to the English countryside, put away her camera, and spent the next 30 years cooking and drinking. Her son had no idea what she had done in her earlier life until after her death when he discovered all her photographs.
I was fascinated by her story and began to write a play based on her life. In March 2018, I was given the opportunity to workshop the play and perform it as a work-in-progress in A Little Room, Waterford – a space dedicated exclusively to theatre development. Then, in July 2018, the play was performed again as part of the ModWordsFest, a boutique literary festival that takes place in Waterford every July, run by Anna Jordan, the founder of Modwords. This time, “Memoirs” took to the stage of the storied Theatre Royal building along with a group of other short plays.
At this stage, “Memoirs” was about 25 minutes long, but I could see the potential in a full-length show. I expanded the script and – with the help of a grant from the Waterford Arts Office – the full-length version of “Memoirs” – and indeed, my first full-length play – debuted in Garter Lane Arts Centre in Waterford for two nights in October 2019. Starring Nicola Spendlove as Lee Miller and Megan Kelly as Emelia Black – the girl to whom she tells her life story – the play received a great reaction from the audiences on both nights. A few months later, it was nominated for the Green Room Awards.
We knew going into the awards that it was an uphill struggle: one of the categories we were nominated in had such heavyweight names as Pat Kinevane and Jim Nolan (whose play “The Red Iron” had just recently finished a three week sell-out run). But – as cliched as it sounds – we were genuinely just happy to be nominated. To have thought a few years before when I sat down to write “Memoirs of a Ghost” that it would end up being nominated for Best New Play alongside Pat Kinevene and Jim Nolan would have seemed ridiculous.
And, in the end, while we didn’t win, we were genuinely happy just to be there. At times, the arts community in Ireland can seem like the poor relation. So, events like the Green Room Awards – and bursaries such as the one mentioned above – give not only financial support but much-needed recognition and affirmation for artists around the country. Long may they continue!
Derek Flynn runs Writing.ie's SongBook blog, and is an Irish writer and musician. He has a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. He’s been published in a number of publications, including The Irish Times, and his fiction was featured in 'Surge', an anthology of new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press with the aim of showcasing “the very best of the next generation of Irish authors”. Online he can be found at his writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – and on Twitter as @derekf03