Deirdre kinanhan playwright

Tiny plays to explore 1916, JFK

Deirdre Kinahan. PHOTO: BARRY CRONIN

By Orla O’Sullivan

A host of original dramas — most of them less than four minutes long — are among the ways the Irish Arts Center will commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

Highlights for IAC16 were announced last week and include the first collaboration between the New York center with and the Kennedy Center in D.C.: Tiny Plays for Ireland and America.

The Kennedy Center has just issued a call for submissions by U.S. residents of original plays of 500 words or fewer examining President John F. Kennedy’s living legacy.

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The work of the six winners will be presented on May 26, along with 20 similarly tiny plays from Ireland brought over by the Dublin theatre group that conceived the idea. Back in 2011, Fishamble: The New Plays Company invited people to submit tiny plays that explored contemporary life in Ireland. Fishamble received an astounding 1,700 entries from people of all ages from all over Ireland. (Fifty were staged as well as being published in a book.)

Jim Culleton, the artistic director of Fishamble, who directed, will also direct the latest iteration for the IAC.

What makes these plays a good way to mark the first 100 years of Irish independence, the Echo asked Culleton (taking license with the fact that independence from Britain wasn’t granted until several years after the Rising)? He said, “The plays reflect the concerns and hopes and dreams of Irish people now, so provide a snapshot of contemporary life in Ireland.”

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Jim Culleton. PHOTO: PATRICK REDMOND[/caption]

And how many minutes does a 500-word play typically run? “Each play lasts for about three to four minutes of stage time,” Culleton said, adding, “Like a sonnet or a haiku, though, a lot can be said in a short amount of time!”

Playwright Deirdre Kinahan expresses her thoughts on 1916 in a standard length play that will run in the IAC in late March/early April. The play, however, is likely to be anything but standard, given Kinahan’s track record. She was last at the IAC in 2013 with “Halcyon Days” a wonderful story of friendship between two nursing-home residents and, previously there with “Bog Boys.”

The latest, “Wild Sky” was commissioned by Meath County Council. The Dublin-born Kinahan, speaking to the Echo from her home in Meath, said she did a lot of research before writing the play and was struck both by how the Rising was fueled by “small sporting and cultural organizations around the country” and by socialist and feminist ideals, not just nationalism—even if they did not unfold as envisioned in the independent Ireland. She said, “1916 was the dream and the Free State killed it.”

The story is told through two, young men both in love with the same woman, but she’s no allegory, no Kathleen Ni Houlihan. “Oh, God no, she’s a 19-year-old ball of flesh!” said Kinahan.

“Probably the most difficult thing about writing about 1916 was to write something that wouldn’t sound like a history lesson,” she added, explaining that’s why she wrote a personal story as a way to draw people in to epic themes.

With this big anniversary looming, there’s a lot of discussion in Ireland about what the nation should be. “It feels almost like a rebirth,” Kinahan said. Post Celtic Tiger, she said people are asking, “Do we want to go back to designer toasters or build a different society?”

Her play will open in February in Rosnaree, the Slane, Co. Meath, home of Maude Gonne’s great granddaughter, before coming to New York.

Besides these spring dramas, dates have not been set for many of the IAC16 events, which include many concerts. In addition to the annual Appalachian celebration, Irish Christmas and workshop/jam Masters in Collaboration, there’s a new contemporary opera from Donnacha Dennehy, “The Last Hotel,” plus other gatherings that weave storytelling with musical performances. Salman Rushdie and Laurie Anderson are expected at Muldoon’s Picnic, for example.

Those interested in submitting a tiny play to the Kennedy Center have until Feb. 19. There will be one winner for each of six age categories, starting with middleschoolers. Each will get $500, travel expenses, and a staging of their play at the Kennedy Center and at the IAC. More information on the competition is at www.kennedy-center.org/ireland100. Further details of IAC16 will become available at www.irishartscenter.org.