Home Sweet Home

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What is home? You’ve heard that “home is where your heart is” or maybe where you’re born. Maybe it is where you grew up or where you live now. Some find home in other people or in a feeling. I’m not sure I know exactly what it is, but I know for sure that I’m now more at home than I have ever been.

I think part of that might be that I’ve landed. For the first time in my life I’m just here. Present. I recently had to submit for Garda vetting (that’s like a background check) and included in the application was a list of every address I’ve lived at since birth. I had to ask my mother for help, because though I remember the apartments, duplexes and homes and the situations around living in each place, I couldn’t recollect all of the addresses. In the end I counted 18 (and this may not include temporary accommodation here and there). On average that is 2.3 years per address, however my last apartment was 10 years and my first room in Dublin was 4 years, so there was a time where it was nearly a new address every year. My parents were great when I was younger to keep us in the same schools and with the same friends as we went from place to place, I know it wasn’t an easy feat. So I don’t think I ever looked at where I lived as potentially permanent. I always planned to move out at 18 and then I knew I was likely to move out of Grand Rapids after college and then I thought I’d come back to the States at some point for my career, but I didn’t expect it to be for more than 3 years.

This last move has been different. Though we are not yet in permanent accommodation, I am home. I’m not Irish, but this is where I have come, with my husband to join our friends and colleagues to build a theatre. Theatre is home. Ireland is home. Paul is home. It is interesting, in the same way committing to marriage is interesting – you gain so much by forsaking all others and saying with conviction I do. I do commit to building this dream, here in this place. You don’t know where life will lead, but you are firmly on a path and you can breathe.

One Fine Day

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Last summer I had the privilege of acting in “It’s a Fine Day,” a one act by Mayumi Lane as part of the HB Studios event The Central Park Plays. Jes Bedwinek and I played sisters laying our mother to rest in Central Park. It was such a pleasure to work with director Celine Rosenthal. Celine and Jes were at the same MA program together (for directing and acting respectively) and I so appreciated the relationship they have built – the shorthand and respect that comes from working together multiple times over a number of years. I’ve always believed in the strength of the company system. Of course it can work both ways, but the benefits I see are that your relationship off-stage enriches and deepens your relationships on-stage. You are able to communicate quickly and effectively. You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and are in a position to call one another out in love. And that is probably the biggest benefit – love. When you truly appreciate and have a real relationship with those you work with, the love comes through the work and is seen and experienced by the audience and everyone around you.

As a new chapter in my life is about to begin, I take with me the knowledge and joy that one fine day Paul and I will be standing in a theatre that we have built with the people we love, and that we will have a chance to see that love grow and develop relationships with artists and audiences alike. Love is a powerful force and meant to be shared!

good company

We Are Family

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This season is all about gifts and true meaning and spirit and love and food and new beginnings and family. Ah, that loaded word, “family.” What do I mean by family? Yes, there are the people we grew up with, the ones we are related to, but to me family is something more than that. It is a feeling and you don’t have to grow up with to recognize, you just know it when you feel it deep in your soul. To me, family is warmth, safety and acceptance, it is looking after one another, it is love. I have that feeling when AboutFACE meets in Alan’s kitchen for our Christmas drinks, I’m so thankful for that group of people.

McGowan-at-KinoLast summer Paul and I were lucky enough to be asked to be part of The McGowan Trilogy by Seamus Scanlon, a co-production between the cell in NY and Kino-Teatr in St. Leonard’s on Sea, UK. It was an adventure as the Kino was just opening their doors (a fabulous refurbished cinema that had been closed for 40 years) and though we had met Olga (Owner, Artistic Director and Programmer, Kino-Teatr) in Ireland the previous Christmas it was to be our first time in St. Leonards and our first time doing the show in front of a primarily British audience. It was truly an adventure.
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Kira (Artistic Director, the cell and director of the show), Mackenzie (Assistant GM, the cell) and Paul were joined by Nancy (Founding Artistic Director, the cell), Seamus and me; the rest of the cast and crew were brought on by Kino and off we all went creating theatre in a new space. Of course we had our ups and downs, but we had meals together when we could, we took a day trip to Brighton and we created our own little family on the English coast.

I’m not sure why it happens with plays, maybe it is the vulnerable, intimate work you do together or the fact that it is temporary, but during production a family is often created. I love that about this work, as you can imagine as a grace junky, I’m quite partial to that feeling of family where, though you will be challenged, you can count on being loved.

Inspiring NEW Plays

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This November the NEWvember New Plays Festival (which I co-produce) is celebrating its 5th year! Wow! In that time we’ve read thousands of plays and will be presenting our 30th new play reading this weekend (November 5-8). It is remarkable how much work goes into one weekend. Early in the year we go over the timeline, we review what happened the year before and what changes we can make. Then, come spring, we put out our call for submissions, we launch the submission form on the festival website and we assemble our reading team. The blind submissions come in and round one reading begins and four months or so on, lots of debating and a second round reading the shortlisted plays later, we have a line-up of new plays. By then we are full into per-production mode. Marketing, casting, coordinating artists and local housing, advertising, ticketing and we are full speed ahead until the festival is over on the Sunday. Of course we still have to apply for funding and close out the year’s festival before we move on to the next one. All in all we are talking 8-10 months of work for a four-day festival. And yet, we love it!

It is a whirlwind weekend full of artistic spirit. I’ve been inspired time and time again by the playwrights and the stories that they have chosen to tell, and feel truly lucky to be part of bringing them to a wider audience. Though it is impossible to narrow it down as there are so many great plays we’ve presented, here is a list of six NEWvember Plays from the past four festivals that have stuck with me…if you don’t know these playwrights, I suggest you take a look!

In no particular order:
1. A Bright Wind Over a Bent World by Meghan Kennedy
All the men in Lyle’s family have been struck by lightning, except for him. His father, Gene, has never let him forget it. As another storm approaches, Lyle will be forced to choose between his legacy and his last chance with the only woman he ever loved.
2. Comes a Faery by James McLindon
A little girl is left with a less-than-willing aunt, and visited by a cantankerous Irish fairy who may or may not have escaped from a favorite storybook. Has he come to keep the lonely child company…or to lead her down darker paths?
3. Keep Calm and Carry On by Melisa Annis
A married couple in Wales, struggling to come to terms with their son’s death during the Iraq War, encounter a whole new challenge when a mysterious stranger with a very special “delivery” comes knocking on their door.
4. Brutal Selfish Rattlesnake by Aaron Weissman
In 1880’s New Mexico, Tills Jasper just murdered town dead-beat George Grillit with the business end of a pick axe. Now George’s ghost is stalking his murderer with a doomsday guitar. And when a notorious silver prospector shows up at Tills’ door, he’ll have to fend off both the living and the dead to save his underground fortune.
5. Green River by Rachel White
Edith lives in a small, defunct Kentucky mining town. Charlie is a lonely drifter who senses her repressed ambition – and aims to draw it out.
6. How the Dog Runs by Dan O’Neil
A young couple intending to celebrate their engagement and meet her family, instead find themselves facing an imminent death at a lakeside cabin on the Fourth of July.

(Not to mention The Long Wet Grass by Seamus Scanlon which I have had the privilege of performing in full productions in New York and the UK!)

Join us at the Carpenter Shop Theater in Tivoli, NY Thursday, November 5 – Sunday, November 8!
 
NEW5 Postcard FrontRev

The Families We Choose

Photograph of AboutFACE Company Members
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Photograph of AboutFACE Company Members

My AboutFACE Family

Does anyone else crave family? I’m blessed to have been born into a pretty alright one, dysfunctional yes, but I have good relationships with my siblings and step-siblings and I love my parents. I feel loved and accepted (or at the very least tolerated) for who I am. I also married into another great family that I adore. And still I look to create family experiences wherever I go. I think for me there is an energy, a creative release, an amplification of strengths, an opening for you to be your best self when buoyed up by the grace and love of family. I mean that is the freedom, right? Being loved even when you don’t “deserve” it. When I feel that grace, when I’m in that atmosphere of love and peace, I can be closer to that person that I want to be, I can do my best and be generous to those around me. I can handle the messiness that comes with relationships as long as grace is in the air we breathe and the words we speak. This is especially true in my artistic family. Producing theatre is not an easy task. Inevitably things will go wrong, egos will flare, budgets will be constrained and artistic visions will conflict, but if you surround yourself with the right people, the ones who share your passion and have a sense of humor and know how to give each other the room to be themselves and to make mistakes and still be there on the other side, then you’ve found gold.

I definitely feel very lucky to be part of the AboutFACE Ireland family. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, of marriages and break-ups, of deaths and births, of fights and barbecues, but they are the people that I want by my side going into creative adventures. And these are some of the most exposing adventures of all because here you lay out who you are, you bare your soul. You share what really matters to you and sometimes you have to compromise and that can be hard because who wants to appear weak? The times when you disagree, when you are far from your best self, that is when the true test of grace, of real love, is shown. Can you be honest and exposed and accepted? Can you accept the failings of others without making them feel small? In this family you can! I’m thankful for each member of the AboutFACE family, they each bring something unique and different to the mix and as crazy as I can be, they still love me. I choo-choose you AboutFACE.

Why I Love British Theatre

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To be honest the reasons I love British Theatre are many and varied. From the standpoint of an actress, I like the professionalism: that at least from the outside it appears to be respected as a craft, that for the most part the actors don’t take themselves too seriously and that there is a high standard for work. As a human being, I love that so much of the writing (well, the writing I like) reflects on and illuminates social reality – it asks questions about where we are as a society and where we have been and is not afraid to challenge the audience. I find it utterly engaging. The times that I have been in London and taking in as many plays as I can, I have always felt inspired and in touch with my humanity.

During my first trip to England, a trip I was only delighted to be making at 19 years of age, I remember sitting in a West End theatre after a performance of Arcadia and I couldn’t move. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the set (that expansive blue sky), the intellectual discourse, and the level of acting. I don’t know if I understood everything, yet Tom Stoppard and Trevor Nunn wowed me. I had seen theatre before, but this was a whole new level and my love affair with British theatre began in earnest. I don’t believe that every piece of theatre needs to aim to change the world. I also don’t believe that theatre in its rawest form is purely entertainment. Story telling of any kind is about connection and about who we are and who we want to be. It is about my humanity and yours. The power of theatre to affect change, even the smallest glimmer of change in one person’s heart, continues to astound me. I am a better person because of theatre. I love British theatre because it is unafraid to hold a mirror up to each and every one of us. To expose us to the core. It helps us see each other with a bit more compassion and our society with a bit more anger. And maybe, just maybe, it makes us think a little harder the next time we are confronted with a choice to be or not to be the change we want to see in the world.

London Theatre Sparks My Heart

The Nugents in front of the National Theatre Sign
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My husband and I recently spent some time in England, ending our visit with three days in London, binging on theatre. Such a pleasure! The city has changed a lot since I was last there 12 or 13 years ago, especially the skyline on the Thames, but of course there are some things that never change. I was reminded of how and why I fell in love with acting in the first place. My perspective, of course, is skewed, but I love the common and truly accessible feel of theatre there. You feel like anyone could walk off the street to partake. The actors seem relatively down to earth, just doing their jobs. And on top of that the work is actually challenging and intellectually stimulating, it just makes you think – I love that! I know my experience is colored by the fact that we choose to see new work (this trip we visited the Donmar, Bush and National theatres), but in my heart I have always believed that the Brits just know how to do theatre the way I like it to be. A discussion starter and a prism that refracts your life in fresh light. It is no wonder I crossed the pond to do my actors training (I ended up at The Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland), to be closer to the theatre of my heart. Someday I hope to grace one of those London stages, but until then my heart commends the British stage!

The Nugents in front of the National Theatre Sign

This photo of my husband, Paul Nugent, and I outside the National Theatre was taken by the lovely Calvin Demba who we had just seen, minutes before, onstage in the RED LION by Patrick Marber. We were taking our requisite theatre selfies when a young man said “would you like me to take that for you?” and as I handed my phone to him I realized it was the lad we just saw on stage. We had a lovely chat – what a gent!