Student Spotlight: Zoey Bond at Druid
Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of reflections from students who are part of UMS’s 21st Century Student Internship program. As part of the paid internship program, students spend several weeks with a company that’s on the UMS season. U-M student Zoey Bond was paired with Druid Theatre Company. The company will perform in Ann Arbor March 9-11, 2017.
When UMS asked if I would be interested in interning with Druid Theatre Company’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane in Dublin, I was beyond ecstatic. I was, at the time, in London spending the semester training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). The opportunity to further my relationship with European theater-making was not one I was going to miss.
We rehearsed at the Leinster Sports Complex just off the Bowling Green. Funny place for a theater rehearsal, right? But the space was nice with lots of natural light. Left: Read-thru, day one. Right: A quick glimpse of some local Dubliners playing on the bowling green!
Before entering any new chapter, I try to note my expectations and emotions. Well, I was certainly anxious to get started, somewhere between jittery enthusiasm and complete bundle of nerves. My expectations, however, were clear: I expected to see a full rehearsal process and to learn from some of Ireland’s greatest theatrical talent. Both of these predictions proved to be accurate, but the most valuable skills I took away were those I could never have imagined at the outset.
These are some “Dublin Doors,” the first colorful part of Dublin that greeted me. All the homes in Dublin have quirky and fun colorful doors, which I loved because it added so much character. I even found some maize and blue ones.
The history of the production The Beauty Queen of Leenane is deep and unique, which added to the experience. The Beauty Queen of Leenane was originally produced in 1996, and this production marks the twentieth anniversary of the original. Additionally, Garry Hynes, the original director who, with the original production (Broadway transfer in 1998), was the first female to win a Tony Award for the best direction of a play, is directing the 2016-17 production. Furthermore, Marie Mullen, who won the Tony that same year for best actress in a leading role as the title role, is back. This time she’s to play the role of the mother, Mag. Much of the original design team is working on this year’s production as well. I was really looking forward to watching everyone reunite to re-examine this incredible play, twenty years later, with the fresh eyes of three new cast members as well.
Here, Greg Clarke (sound) and James F. Ingalls (lights) watch a run of the show. Marie Mullen (MAG) stands in her rehearsal dressing gown. All three were part of the original production. Ingalls is also American, so it was nice to chat with a fellow yank!
The four actors involved in the production are all brilliant artists. Their transformation from day one’s table read to the final run in the rehearsal space was inspiring. They created dynamic characters—deeply layered—and they filled each rehearsal with passion, investment, and care. Additionally, their wonderfully accomplished director Garry Hynes proved to be the artistic guide actors crave. The opportunity to simply observe a rehearsal process was invaluable.
Director Garry Hynes works with Marie and Aisling. These photos show Bryan Burroughs, who was brought in for movement work, as he helps Marie stage the big reveal. I won’t tell you what happens!
The company was very generous in allowing me to see every single part of the rehearsal process. I was able to watch the actors as they navigated the dark truths of humanity within the play, while balancing these dark truths with moments of complete humor. During certain scenes, the team was in full agreement. More interestingly though were the times when the team disagreed.
These moments taught me most because these disagreements revealed many finer character and play details. Often actors shared their perspective on a given beat, and what followed was a much broader discussion about the truths of the world of the play. Through observing and participating in these conversations, I learned to more intensely analyze scripts and characters, but I also learned how to behave in a professional rehearsal room.
Here I am with three out of the four members of the cast! Marty Rea had to leave before we took the photo. I had so much fun getting to know these marvelous actors.
Watching these artists explore a textual masterpiece for eight hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks, would have absolutely been enough. I, however, also had Dublin.
Maneuvering though Dublin proved to be an exciting adjustment. One mundane but noteworthy variation from my American life was having to navigate the hot water situation. In my apartment building, there was a box that regulated hot water, and I had to turn it on two hours before I wanted hot water (to allow it to be heated). I will say this: I will never take immediate/automatic hot water for granted again. Ever.
This is the magical box that controls the hot water. I learned to befriend it very quickly.
Another great challenge was understanding what people were saying. There is no one “Irish accent,” as the country is just as verbally diverse as America. Picture travelling from rural Texas, to Brooklyn, to Minnesota, to Southern California, to Louisiana; of course, none of these residents speak with the same “American accent.” My first week was spent nodding and smiling as I pretended to understand. (As an actor, I found the challenge exciting!)
My first rainy Saturday in Dublin was the first time I realized that I was really alone. I woke up without rehearsal to go to, no friends to walk around with, and not a plan for my day. At first, this was very hard for me. I stared out the window at the gray wet street, and realized: either I could sit in my apartment alone wishing I had friends to explore with, or I could take advantage of being in a foreign country and really immerse myself. That day I took myself to my first play in Dublin, Pygmalion, and started a pattern of choosing new adventures, and of becoming comfortable with being on my own.
This is the set for Pygmalion, the first play I saw in Dublin!
I explored Dublin as well as the surrounding Irish countryside, immersing in the rich Irish culture to my fullest ability. I visited and hiked around a monastery called Glendalough, pronounced [glen-duh-lock], strolled around the grounds of Kilkenny Castle, climbed the cliffs in a seaside village named Howth, saw some fantastic theater, wonderful museums, and of course, toured the Guinness Storehouse. Did you know the Guinness Storehouse is THE most visited tourist site in all of Europe? It sees more visitors than the Coliseum in Rome, Buckingham Palace in London, and even the Louvre in Paris.
These are pictures I took while hiking around Glendalough and Kilkenny Castle. The countryside really is that green. Absolutely beautiful, and peaceful, filled with lots of families picnicking, and others camping for the weekend.
As my time progressed, I found being alone more and more difficult, but this loneliness did make me value my time in the rehearsal room. It certainly increased my appreciation for the opportunity and contributed to my development as an artist and human being.
Left: This is the Long Hall in the Old Library at Trinity College. It reminded me of our Law Library at Michigan. It was beyond impressive. This picture barely captures the height of the ceilings and the millions of old, old books housed here.
Right: This is the seaside village called Howth, though technically it is still considered part of Dublin. Here I got to walk along the seaside cliffs for a few hours, smell the ocean, and have some delicious fish! A much needed city escape.
I do think that learning to be alone is as important as the artistic knowledge I gained from my time in Dublin. At school, particularly in the theater department, people with large personalities abound. We have class together, we rehearse together, and we live with one another. As with my artistic experience, I have already transferred this knowledge into my daily life.
Here I am interviewing Aisling O’Sullivan, one of Dublin’s greatest talents! Her acting is absolutely brilliant and I feel so fortunate to have watched her work for a month. Additionally, I so appreciate the conversations I had with her, which were filled with practical advice for my future career.
See Druid Theatre Company in Ann Arbor on March 9-11, 2017.
Artist Interview: Actress Aisling O’Sullivan of The Beauty Queen of Leenane
Editor’s Note: University of Michigan student Zoey Bond spent several weeks with Druid Theatre Company as part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internship program. The Company returns to Ann Arbor with a new production of Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane on March 9-11, 2017. The interview below is with Aisling O’Sullivan, the Irish actress who plays the beauty queen of Leenane.
Photo: The Beauty Queen of Leenane’s Aisling O’Sullivan (left) and Marie Mullen (right). Photo by Matthew Thompson.
Zoey Bond: You’ve worked on playwright Martin McDonagh’s text before, what draws you to his writing?
Aisling O’Sullivan: It’s his characters, the dilemmas, and the wit, I suppose. It’s more than just the writing. It’s the delight I get from performing in the plays, which is so much fun to do and challenging. They are deep. They’ve got all of the colors.
ZB: As you know, this new production casts Marie Mullen in the role of the scheming mother. She won a Tony Award for the role of the daughter in the 1996 Broadway production. Last week you started wearing Marie’s boots in rehearsal, so you were quite literally stepping into her shoes. What has this part of the process been like?
AO: I found it very difficult. In the past, if I’ve seen a performance, and then I have to do my performance, I think I can do better. I don’t feel I can better than Marie. I saw her originally, and she is just extraordinary and really painfully beautiful. It would have been one of Marie’s defining performances. I’ve known her for a long time, so stepping into her shoes, I’m trying to embrace it and go, “Okay, so I’m privileged to be asked by the same director who thinks there is something I can do that might equal Marie. I’ll give it a shot.” I’m going to do something totally different, or I’ll just do what she did. I’m just trying to embrace the memory of her, and the joy that I got from it. So stepping into her shoes helps me symbolically with all of that. And her shoes are nice.
ZB: So then, the follow-up question is: After seeing the original production, has it been hard for you to create your own version?
AO: Yes. It’s difficult because of the way Martin’s work has to be rehearsed. You don’t get to do the scene over and over from start to finish without stopping. I have no idea who is developing in me until we start running the show. And then I’ll start getting the sense of who this person is. At the moment, it’s very much stop, start, stop, start, which is not conducive for me anyway. I tend to work through moods and energy shifts. I’m not getting the sense of that, which is not a problem. I’m very curious as to who’s going to appear.
ZB: What excites you about audiences seeing this today, 20 years later? What continues to be relevant?
A: Well, I think I love the universality of his darkness in relationships. I love that he puts it out there. It’s impossible not to recognize yourself in these desperate, almost psychopathic relationships.
For me, the play would be about owning your own power, or that if anyone ever encroaches on that space, you have to fight very hard to protect it. You’re in big trouble if anyone masters you — and I’m speaking here about the mother-daughter relationship. You’re in big trouble because you have no power. You’ve lost your own. And dark things can happen from that kind of powerlessness.
ZB: How do you think American audiences will respond to seeing this Irish play?
AO: I don’t know. I performed in front of an audience in America for the first time last year. And it was a very strange and scary experience for me because I’have spent 20 years performing to mostly English and Irish audiences. I can read them. If you get to know a species of audience, you can read them and you know how to play them. But with the American audiences, I had no idea of your taste and your comedy. It was a very interesting experience for me because it was unique. It was a totally different culture. I’m very interested in learning more about that. About how you respond, what’s your funny bone? What things move you?
ZB: In the play, do you have a particular scene, or a moment, or a line that you feel resonates the most with you?
AO: Not yet, but I love the humility, and honesty, and gentleness in a lot of these characters. They drop in these little, gentle sentences, and I think they are gorgeous moments for me to hear, as a performer in it, anyway. That it isn’t just razor-sharp.
ZB: How do you find the love in such a dark play? Do you think it is there?
AO: Definitely. It’s a funny thing that deep love can exist with masses of irritation. I irritate people too, I know that. As you get older, it’s less of a big deal. I’d be horrified to think I was capable of irritating anyone or boring anyone when I was younger, but now I’ve accepted that about myself. I think it’s all over the place.
ZB: Do you have a certain routine that you use to prepare for every role, or does it differ for each production?
AO: I don’t, but I’ll tell you what happened. I have been very instinctive until fairly recently, in that I would come completely open and unprepared to the first day of rehearsal. That was the way I worked and great things could come because I hadn’t made any decisions. Well, I worked on my first Shakespeare with this company last year. I was playing a fairly major part, and I’d never spoken a word of Shakespeare in my life.
I turned up one day, one big Bambi in the forest and the tiger Shakespeare stepped out of the trees. I was pretty much on stage for five hours speaking pure poetry and not understanding it. That was a baptism of fire, and since then, I try to come as prepared as I can be, in terms of learning the lines. I don’t have them off, but I know where they’re going, and then I come into the rehearsal space having done a bit of work. I think that makes me feel much more like an artist.
People who have gone to drama school are horrified listening to me going, “What? No preparation at all?” [Laughs]
ZB: So, there is a fine line between coming prepared and knowing enough, but not knowing too much, so that you can still discover.
AO: Yes. I think if you come in with some ideas, your mind has worked enough on it that you can change course. But if you come in with no ideas, you’re just going to accept the ideas that come to you. I think the crucial bit for me is to love the character. Even if you’re playing a psycho, to find something that you love.
ZB: That’s a good lead into my next question. With which parts of Maureen do you feel you identify?
AO: I identify with the weakness in her, the self-doubt, the way she tries to protect herself in her relationships. I see so much of me, and so much humanity, in her. That’s what is so brilliant about the play. Martin McDonagh was so young when he wrote it, and he just hit the seam of something about human beings that doesn’t often get shown.
Druid Theatre Company returns to Ann Arbor with a new production of Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane on March 9-11, 2017.