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The Play’s The Thing: New York Success for Seamus Scanlon

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Stage & Screen

After the success of The McGowan Trilogy run in New York at the cell as part of The First Irish Theater Festival Seamus Scanlon is currently on a writing residency fellowship in France at the famous La Muse Writer’s Retreat (close to Carcassonne, easily accessible with our favourite low cost airline) where he is editing his new novel Black Coelacanths and doing post production editing of The McGowan Trilogy. We’ve been chasing him to get the inside story on his award winning plays, and here it is!

The McGowan Trilogy consists of Dancing at Lunacy, The Long Wet Grass and Boys Swam Before Me in that sequence. Running time was 1 hour 50 minutes with a 15 minute interval between first and second plays and a four minute scene change between second and third. The Trilogy had full houses every night with positive audience feedback and it won, fittingly, a trilogy of  awards for Best Actress (Anna Olson Nugent), Best Director (Kira Simring) and Best Design (the cell).

long_wet_grass 300To boost awareness in a city that has a plethora of choices every night the production team did radio interviews, flooded social media and effected various newspaper and online profiles. They also had three talkback sessions after the play with moderators Dr. Danielle Zach (Center for Worker Education, City College), Dr. Steven Simring (Columbia University) and Dr. Sarah Covington (Queens College).

The McGowan Trilogy was also published by Arlen House to coincide with the production in New York and sold at the theatre. In addition to the play scripts the book includes forewords by principal actor Paul Nugent (Victor), Kira Simring (Director), Nancy Manocherian (the founding artistic director) and Dr. Steven Simring a forensic psychiatrist of Columbia University. It also contains a new short story by Scanlon so it is true value for money!

Scanlon, who is based in New York, explained how he came to writing plays: “Anyone who has had their play read by actors, or even better, produced in a theater knows that feeling of pure joy and adrenaline that is hard to surpass. Actors make even mediocre material sound great so that is another plus!

My first exposure to theater was a part in an Irish play (I have forgotten the title) in the Taibhdhearc – I was part of the Irish tinker musician troupe and waited outside the building for our entrance. Sometimes drunken local Galwegians tagged on to the end of the line as we played Ewan MacColl’s The Travelling People.

I then played (abysmally) an IRA gunman (I was around 12) opposite Maeliosa Stafford where I missed my cue and forgot my lines (it was in Irish which didn’t help plus the weight of the shotgun as I tried to keep it leveled hurt my spindly arms plus Maeliosa was such a great actor (later Druid co-founder) that I knew I was not going to be an actor). Victor – the central character of The McGowan Trilogy is an IRA man so I may have been trying to make amends for my dismal performance in Galway all those years back. I am always trying to make amends for things retrospectively which I know is futile.

My next exposure to theater was memorable. And traumatic. I saw a terrifying version of Hatchet by Heno Magee in the Jes Hall in Sea Road in Galway. I was sitting in the front row with my younger brother Sean. I was traumatized but electrified. My brother studied psychiatry later in college and I think this was down to seeing Hatchet. I remember coming out of the Jes Hall and knowing I had seen something profound and it never left me. As an aside I have a reference to the Jes’s most famous past pupil Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) in The Long Wet Grass.”

the_mcgowan_trilogy_cover256x400I wondered what Scanlon’s influences have been: “I feel I was subconsciously influenced by Magee’s unflinching portrayal of urban violence in Dublin’s 1960s and by exposure to street violence in Galway and by living in Belfast for five years. Ireland is permeated with a history of violence and by the ambiguity that it has towards political/paramilitary violence from 1916 to 1920 (generally hailed) and from 1969 to 2005 (generally castigated).

All my plays to date feature violence – in addition to the trilogy this includes I Am Harm, The Real Thing, My Three O’Clock and Black is Black (all featuring Victor) and the standalone play Treblinka. I am worse than Shakespeare that way. (And obviously not as good as him in most ways.)

I was very lucky that The McGowan Trilogy plays were appreciated by Nancy Manocherian and Kira Simring at the cell. It meant I didn’t have to find a company to produce it. The cell theater’s main role is about incubating new work and taking risks on different voices. And my material qualifies on both fronts.”

New York is full of great playwrights so competition is keen. Some plays get readings or staged readings and some win competitions and many disappear and a few make it to professional productions. Scanlon told us, “I was lucky to have the cell. Other great sources of help were literary salons of Artists Without Walls (AWoW) and The Irish American Writers and Artists (IAWA). The INKubator group in Jersey City (facilitated by actress Elena Zazanis) was a constant support. Scripts were read by actors every month and the group provided feedback. It had added attraction of Paul and Anna Nugent and Cindy Boyle (May McGowan in Boys). The first time I saw Paul I said to myself ‘He is Victor M. McGowan – I hope he can act.’ And he could. He is total professional and a gentleman and ‘mensa material’ and was amazing in the three plays. The NEWvember new play festival in Tivoli New York was also a great boost for feedback, editing, support and direction.

Despite their success, Scanlon is currently editing The McGowan Trilogy, as he explained,  “Rewriting plays is essential part of the process including before, during (frowned upon!) and after a production. I did rewrites (some minor) almost everyday of four week rehearsals and up to and after the previews. These are based on my own observations and feedback from the actors, the director, the stagehands and the pizza delivery guy. I am not territorial about the script. I listen to everything and dismiss some of it but it is all critical to the process.” He continues, “The only guaranteed path to having plays produced is hard work and dedication and devotion and submitting to play reading groups and play competitions. If you have to you will hire a theater space and hire a director and look for funding and sponsors and publicize it and sell tickets (hopefully). It is a tough road. You will falter. You will do it because you have to.

Plus I have to do it to make amends.”

The Victor prop for Victor M. McGowan in Dancing At Lunacy, sourced by Samantha Keogh http://www.samanthakeogh.com/  photo: Seamus Scanlon
The Victor prop for Victor M. McGowan in Dancing At Lunacy photo: Seamus Scanlon

(c) Seamus Scanlon & Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin

The McGowan Trilogy is available postage free from Kenny’s Galway and these bookshops in Galway: Charlie Byrne’s, Dubray Books and at the National University of Ireland Galway campus. The Drama Bookshop in New York also stocks it and it will be distributed in the US via Syracuse University Press.


Cast and Crew of The McGowan Trilogy Sep 11 to Oct 5, 2014

The McGowan Trilogy: A Serial in Three Acts, was incubated by The Cell Theater Company, Ltd., and first performed at the cell, A Twenty First Century Salon, NYC, NY on 11 September 2014.


Paul Nugent* – Victor M. McGowan, Cindy Boyle* – May McGowan, Philip Callen* –Pender, Matt Golden* – Ahern, Conor Mclntyre – Barman, Anna Nugent* – Woman


*These actors appeared courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association. An Equity Approved Showcase.



Nancy Manocherian – Founding Artistic Director, Kira Simring – Director, Séamus Scanlon – Playwright, Brian Reager – Assistant Director, Siena Zoe Allen – Costume Designer, Dylan Fusillo – Sound Designer, Gertjan Houben – Scenic/Lighting Designer, Samantha Keogh – Dramaturgy/Prop Designer, Jed Peterson – Fight Choreographer, Garlia Cornelia Jones-Ly – Director of Social Media @ the cell, Sulei Ly – General Manager



Mackenzie Meeks – Production Manager, Rachel Kitto – Stage Manager, Anne Ciarlone – Assistant Stage Manager


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