Interview with Kevin Olohan – Cassowary – Theatre Upstairs
We had the chance to ask Kevin Olohan some questions about his new play, which opens today at Theatre Upstairs. You can see the results below.
The Fireside Bard – in association with Theatre Upstairs – CASSOWARY – A Satiric Folk Tale
Written & Told by Kevin C. Olohan
Directed by Aindrias de Staic
RUNNING DATES – 13 NOV – 24 NOV
How do you go about getting a play on at Theatre Upstairs?
Back in 2015, I was invited to join the cast of Lee Coffey’s Peruvian Voodoo, which was put on in Theatre Upstairs. That show is still one of my favourite experiences on a play. It was an absolute joy to rehearse and perform, and I formed long term relationships from it, both professionally and personally. Since that time I had wanted to write a show of my own for the theatre. I love it as a space, and I’ve loved the work that has been produced there. And whenever I would see Karl Shiels (The Artistic Director) he would always be very encouraging of this desire. So once I’d written a rough first draft of Cassowary, I messaged Karl, and told him that if he’d have me, I had a show for Theatre Upstairs. We met up, he heard me out, and I read him that very, very rough draft of the script. He didn’t throw me out of the theatre then and there, I wrote a few more drafts, and here we are!
When did you first come up with the idea for this play?
The journey from idea to stage has been nearly two years. I was on tour around Australia in early 2017 with a show called World of Musicals. I felt there was a show to be written about my experiences there, but it wasn’t until I was about to return to Ireland, and I went on a “Reef and Rainforest’ trip in Cairns in Northern Queensland, that I found my story. I had become fascinated by the differences, but also the similarities between Ireland and Australia, and the bird life of both, is how I’ve expressed that in Cassowary. A Cassowary is the world’s most dangerous bird, and lives in the Australian rainforest. I thought that if someone was terrified of birds, then this bird was the personification of that fear, and the foundations for the show were born.
The play is about a folk singer. Do you have any particular insight or interest in this world?
The show is based on my own experiences growing up in Wicklow Town in a family of musicians. My dad runs a music shop in Wicklow, my mum is a music teacher and musical director, and my older brother is a musician too. It’s not at all as “Von Trappy” as it sounds, but it did mean music, and the playing of it, was always a major part of my life growing up. I was always really into Bob Dylan when I was younger, which gave me an identity when I felt I had none. I was never really into Irish folk until I got a bit older, and got over myself. I “came home,’ to borrow a phrase from my director Aindrias! Bob Dylan and the Clancy Brothers were great friends when they were both starting out in New York in the early sixties, and a big crux of Cassowary is based on that friendship. The marrying of the two folk worlds or the American, and the Irish.
Have you ever performed a one man show before? Have you any concerns about holding an audience’s attention for so long?
I wrote and performed a one man show called Casey Hanrahan: Happy in Misery for the Smock Alley – Scene and Heard Festival in 2016. This was a 25 minute “work in progress’ presentation, but I learned a lot from it. I learned how lonely it can be on stage on your own, even with an audience in front of you! However, in terms of Cassowary, the show has been written as an intimate storytelling experience. The audience is very much present and engaged with. I feel that should keep the show interesting throughout, as well as abate my potential loneliness!
The main character in this play is afraid of birds. What are you afraid of?
While I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of birds, I have always been uncomfortable around them. Roman O’Talún (The character I play in the show) is very much an intensified version of myself. Or certainly a version of myself from a few years ago. I used to be absolutely terrified of Jellyfish, and open water. (Which was always ironic having grown up by the sea in Wicklow.) But that was pretty much cured by going to Australia, where everything that can kill you lives. I’d certainly never be afraid to swim in Ireland again!