From songwriter to French teacher to actor and, finally, writer, Damian Kearney’s path to showcasing ‘The Flamboyant Bird’ in this year’s Absolute Fringe Festival was not quite long and winding but certainly had a few sharp bends and detours along the way. The Flamboyant Bird, which Damian wrote and stars in, debuts at The Smoke Alley Theatre in Temple Bar on September 14th for a five night run. Writing.ie’s Kevin Massey sat down with Damian Kearney to discuss his upcoming show and plot his journey to this stage.
Damian Kearney is a face you may recognise from his turns inRaw, The Tudors and The Wind That Shakes the Barley but his first foray in the creative arts was in song-writing rather than acting. Damian told me “After studying at UCC I spent a full year making music with a good friend of mine in Cork who is a really top-class songwriter – Senan Quinlan – and he got me interested in song-writing, I’d say by example. The Flamboyant Bird has three original songs, and Senan’s partly to blame for that”.
This pursuit did not last long as Damian took to the books, qualifying as a French teacher. It was only after his completed his studies that he “stumbled into an amateur play and within weeks had decided to be an actor”. A place at RADA in London soon followed and Damian spent 12 years from 1996 to 2008 as a stage and screen actor. His goal was always to return to Ireland – and The Flamboyant Bird was his ticket to do so.
The Flamboyant Bird and his writing style owe their origins to Damian’s childhood in Cork. He revealed, “I began with where I grew up in Cork – even that took a few hours to identify as a good starting point. And I had always found it funny to try and get my grammar “wrong” on purpose, so that was one place I found I could easily think in a slightly original way. This led to my writing in a Chorus/Conscience character, Notboddy, who speaks a bit oddly. Helen Norton plays Notboddy in the show, with a huge sense of mischief. The backbone of the piece is a skewed re-remembering of an old suburban stomping ground, as told by a protagonist who has reason not to be entirely honest with himself.”
Damian started writing the play in 2006 on a dull October day in London, determined to find out whether there was any substance to his idea. His determination gave way to procrastination; on a trip to local shop he met playwright Howard Brenton, with whom he had recently worked. The chance meeting in the local shop evolved into a quick pint in the local pub. The distraction served as motivation to get focused on writing. “I kept thinking ‘I’ve done 3 pages and you (Brenton) wrote ‘Pravda’. So that was either an omen or a cruel joke … good enough to send me back to my desk though!”
For the next three years Damian worked steadily on his script in between roles and often during them. While the setting of ‘The Flamboyant Bird’ remains rooted in the Cork of his youth, the writing of it was a Pan-European endeavour that included London, Dublin, Paris, Lyon, Bucharest, Manchester, Barcelona, Madrid and Dungarvan. It was while on location in Madrid that the play got its first public exposure. Damian read his work to his fellow cast and was relieved to be met with positive responses. It gave him the confidence to return to Ireland with a purpose, getting ‘The Flamboyant Bird’ to stage.
But it has taken three years for Damian to fulfil this purpose. He submitted his work to various theatres in Ireland and the UK. Although they declined, the ‘No’ came with plenty of encouragement and praise for his writing. In 2009 Damian, performed an excerpt of the play at the Project Brand New Showcase in the Project Arts Centre. Project Brand New was co-organised by Rosie Goan who is now the director of Absolute Fringe, so she had the advantage of seeing ‘The Flamboyant Bird’ in action before Damian submitted it for consideration for Absolute Fringe 2011. They accepted the play and Damian’s choice in venue, The Smoke Alley Theatre in Temple Bar. Damian’s journey with ‘The Flamboyant Bird’ was nearing its destination.
With that in mind, what is next for Damian? Having the play as a purpose for the last five years served as great motivation. Here at writing.ie we heard from Nuala Ni Chonchuir about The After Novel Feeling, but what are Damian’s plans to avoid the After Play Feeling? He told me, “I’m currently a participant on the Abbey Theatre New Playwrights Programme, something which makes me very proud, but which also means I HAVE to have a complete 1st draft done for November 1st this year. That’s going to be done in the 4 weeks following the end of the Fringe. The polar opposite approach from last time! I have a basic idea that I’ve done some work on but haven’t written a word yet, so for the first time I’ll really have to lock myself in and just get it done. That’s as much ambition as I have time for at the moment I’m afraid, although I’d love to have a crack at a novel – I’m reading JG Farrell’s ‘Troubles’ at the moment which tends to make you want to have a crack at a novel ..”
Taking a more ambitious look to future projects, Damian would love the opportunity to work with Nicholas Hyntner at the National Theatre in London, Michael Grandage at the Donmar Warehouse and Robert Wilson because of his work with Tom Waits. He worked with Ken Loach on ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ and would jump at the chance to work with him again. He received immeasurable support from his wife, who also acts as marketing manager and credits Karl Shiels and Paul Walker of TheaterUpstairs@Plough for their support and facilitation of test readings. Damian is delighted to have his friend Charlie Bonner as director of ‘The Flamboyant Bird’, describing him as a natural director. Whatever the future holds for Damian Kearney, we suspect he will be one to watch over the coming years.