Interview with Katie McCann by Emily Elphinstone
Following on from last year’s brilliant ‘Tales from Briar Hall’ in Theatre Upstairs, and the recent work in progress ‘Cirque de Reves’ as part of the Collaborations Festival;
Katie McCann returns with her latest play: ‘Hollow Ground’. I caught up with Katie for a quick coffee, to find out more about the new show.
Emily: So how are rehearsals going?
Katie: Great. It’s full on because they’re monologues that intersect, so it’s quite intense when you’re up there pouring out your soul onto the stage; but its fun being quite dark!
… Producing your work is always a very difficult thing, so I’m lucky to have a really good team around me; otherwise I would actually lose my mind! You spend all this time building stuff and putting things up then you have to rip it to shreds after two weeks, which is always a bit heartbreaking.
E: Did you have it written completely before you went into rehearsals, or are there still bits moving around?
K: No, we’ve stopped messing with it now, thank God! On the first day of rehearsal there were a few little tweaks: Things that sounded good in my head that didn’t necessarily sound right aloud; or little things you skip over in your own logic, because you know what you’re saying. It makes sense in your brain but it’s not quite as clear as you think it is! But it was tweaking as opposed to rewriting, which is always much nicer!
E: And how would you describe what the show’s about?
K: The show is about memory, and perceptions of memory. How two people who could be viewed as being almost identical, can go through the one event but experience it completely differently; and how people deal with the same thing in their own individual way. Some people internalise, others externalise, and the complexities of complexities of extreme emotion.
E: And did you write it with Rex (Ryan) in mind?
K: No, I wrote it without really thinking who anyone was, to be honest; and that’s the first time that I’ve done that. (‘Tales from) Briar Hall’ was written with Ste Murray in mind, which was very helpful because you can consult that person. In fairness that was a much longer process, so there was a sense of those characters developing side by side over a period of time. But these two came out together. They weren’t separate entities; they were two halves of a whole, but very opposite: kind of Ying and Yang.
It came about after I asked for a reading. I asked a friend who couldn’t do it, because I just wanted to hear it; then after the reading it was like: ‘Ok, we have our crew, and we have our director, so who could we actually get to be the boy?!’ It immediately felt like Rex would be brilliant.
E: Hollow Ground is quite different to some of the other stuff you’ve written. Was that a conscious decision?
K: To be honest, it started in a number of different styles. If I go back to the first draft, it’s not a monologue play at all, there were 3 characters … completely different! But it was still the same essence of the story. I didn’t really want to write two monologues, and I was struggling, and struggling, and fighting my gut on it; then I sat down and just started writing the way it ended, and it just flowed, and it was so much easier! So I was like ‘Oh right, better go with this!’
E: Theatre Upstairs builds seasons around a particular theme. What’s the latest starting point?
K: This season is ‘Tailored Tales’: all the stories are inspired (incredibly loosely) by other things. They’re not adaptations, but ‘Slender’ by Shane O’Regan, which is on at the moment, is inspired by the urban legend of The Slenderman; and then ‘The Swing’ by Aisling O’Byrne, was loosely inspired by Rear Window. Very loosely: It’s more like an idea, or a grain of inspiration taken from it.
My grain of inspiration was Hansel and Gretel; which when you see the play makes no sense at all, but it was purely because I was fascinated by the brother/sister relationship: You don’t really see that on stage very much. You see a lot of couples, two guys, two girls, but never brother/sister for some reason. And I don’t know why, I was just drawn to the idea of the brother and sister who go through this thing together. But it’s definitely not a modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel!
E: And how was it writing this and your Collaborations show (Cirque de Reves) at the same time?
K: It was, weirdly, a godsend. It was difficult as well, but this (Hollow Ground) is very real and very modern, and dealing with a lot of issues that I take very seriously and want to give a lot of respect to; then the Collaborations piece was very farcical, and funny, and silly; kind of like a muppet movie on steroids. So it was a weird comedy/tragedy in the simplest terms, writing the two of them side by side. They were so far removed, that they never bled into each other.
With the Collaborations piece, I’d been thinking about it since September, so it was already formed in my head. I never worried about it, because I always knew it would happen; but this was a bit more ‘dig deep and find it’, like an excavation. I always think writing is a bit like what Michaelangelo said about sculpting: that it’s trapped within, and you just have to chip away until you find it. But I really enjoyed writing the two together … try writing two at once! Get out the crazy from both sides of you!
E: And what else are you working on, or what do you have planned next?
K: Well I’d love to keep working on the Collaborations piece, just because it was always a bigger story in my head. What I had to do was decide ‘Do I tell the whole thing in 20 minutes, or do I write a full piece and just stop it 20 minutes in? So I decided to stop it 20 minutes in; but it was hard picking a point where to stop, because the story gets so much bigger after that point. It’s sort of hinted at, but never really said, that there’s a supernatural element; and magic and things like that come into play. That would be a lot of fun; like going back to something I really loved, and something I’m excited to keep going with. Collaborations made me hungry to go with it, so I’ll have to finish it at some point!