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Q&A with Conor Burke – Everything is Grand, and I’m Completely Okay – Smock Alley

Q&A with Conor Burke – Everything is Grand, and I’m Completely Okay – Smock Alley

Everything is Grand, and I’m Completely Okay – Smock Alley – 8 – 16 Aug

WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY Conor Burke
DIRECTED BY Lesley Conroy
LIGHTING + SOUND DESIGN BY Aidan Cooney
PRODUCED BY Lisa Nally

We had the chance to put some questions to Conor Burke, the writer and sole performer in ‘Everything is Grand, and I’m Completely Okay’ ahead of its opening tonight. You can see the results below…

What was the inspiration for this play?

In some way or another, most of my plays address issues surrounding identity and growing up so it’s always been something that I’ve been interested in exploring. I’ve long been obsessed with coming-of-age stories, and I think that that’s probably where it stems from. I have very distinct memories of watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower on repeat in 2012 with anyone that would watch it with me. In fact, one of my favourite things to do at the time
was to introduce someone to that story.

There’s always been something very cathartic about coming-of-age stories to me: there seems to be a narrative that once you go through adolescence you arrive into adulthood knowing exactly who you are. In my experience though, you’re presented with a lot more questions than answers. For me, being in your twenties as an Irish person is a trepidatious and hilarious scenario to find yourself in.

I wrote the play in the height of lockdown. Like a lot of people, I had time to unpack and explore. The protagonist, Malachy, came naturally to me. I could very distinctly see his character clearly: everything else followed.

This is a one-man show. Is it a monologue or do you play a range of characters?

The play is mainly an exploration of the unique difficulties and complications that come with being young and Irish in 2022. It’s for this reason that most of the story is told through the character of Malachy, who recently became inspired to “think outside the box” by his two supervisors at work. As someone who takes his job incredibly seriously, Malachy takes their advice to heart and decides to give a talk at an employee conference run by the company that
he works for, Clean Collections. He decides that the topic he’s most passionate about talking about is 25 things he’s learned in his 25 years of life. Along the way, we get to briefly meet other characters that surround him. These include his brother Fiachra, and his best friend Pauline. In the space of the 60-minute show, I perform as 6 characters, it’s been a great laugh for me, and it’s so much fun to rehearse.

This play is produced by a new theatre company – Eruption Collective. Can you tell me a little about the company and what you hope to achieve?

Absolutely. I have been writing and producing plays since the age of 19, and I have spent many years developing my own practice. I’ve worked hard on figuring out what kind of theatre I enjoy, and the stories that I love telling. For years, setting up a theatre company was something I was always eager to do. However, I didn’t want to do so until I had more of an understanding of who I was as an artist.

As a collective, we are committed to creating joyful and engaging theatrical experiences that tell the stories of today. We’re passionate about theatre and believe that everyone has a story to tell- we are committed to working with creatives of all kinds, from all backgrounds, and presenting work that we trust has something to add to the public zeitgeist. The stories we tell are always contemporary and feature very simple narratives about relatively ordinary people.

It’s theatre that will hopefully serve as a warm hug to those that need it most, and the collective is non-hierarchical in its structure. Developing and expanding on this company is something that is a big priority for me, and I am very excited to see where it takes me.

This is actually your fifth play. Do you think you’re learning something from each one you write?

I think that’s a very interesting question because like most things, the more you write plays, the more you learn. Conversely though, the more you write, the more questions you have about it. There’s always something to discover about it, which makes it a very exciting artform for me.

Are you ever tempted to re-write your previous work, or do you consider them finished?

I never really consider them finished, but it does get to a point in which, for logistical reasons, I just move on. I think that otherwise, I’d completely crack up. Every single creative ever involved with any of my plays brings something different to the table- so my written word isn’t a religious text for me. In a lot of ways, I merely see the text as a blueprint. The rest is influenced by the actor’s performance, the director’s opinions, the mood created by the lighting designer working on the piece, etc. For me, theatre is a collaborative artform and although the playwright plays a very important role in the creation of new work, their effort only ever works with the help of others.

What are you working on now? Are there any new works in the pipeline?

Yes – along with Everything is Grand, and I’m Completely Okay, I’m currently working on The Terms and Conditions of Me and My Ma. It tells the story of mother and son Luke & Geraldine, who are both stuck at a dead end in their lives. Luke is in his early twenties and has no clue what he should do with himself, and the play opens on the night that Geraldine lost her job at a deli counter. I’ve long been interested in exploring the unique dynamics between Irish mothers and their sons, and it’s been very exciting for me to unpack. The play began its life as a thirty-minute piece in the Scene & Heard Festival in 2019, but I’ve completely rewritten it. It’s opening at The Moat Theatre in Naas on the first of November.

I have also just completed my Master’s Degree at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, and I graduate in December. I am currently one of the Irish Theatre Institutes’ Six in the Attic artists, and I feel fortunate to be given the space, time, and development to cook up some new ideas over the course of the next year.

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