Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fringe Talk: Nyree Yergainharsian

The countdown to ABSOLUT Fringe 2011 is on, and in anticipation of its arrival you can find a new interview with a featured artist posted here each day.

Today it is Nyree Yergainharsian, member of 21st century theatre pioneers The Company and one of the country’s most charming performers, now running solo in search of her place in the world in Where Do I Start? (I reviewed an earlier incarnation of it –beware of spoilers! – here). I caught Nyree on the lunch hour of her nine-to-nine day where she was eating the most impressive sandwich I had ever seen.  

I hear you conducted a social study recently. You stood out on the street with a sign saying “Free Irish/Armenian Hugs”. In conclusion, are Irish people fond of Irish/Armenian hugs?

They seem to be, and after one or two hugs and a couple of people looking very confused at the sign: the sign went out the window, people only saw free hugs and saw me hugging people, and people were running for free hugs, and everyone was smiling; it was amazing. And lots of people were getting involved. People were taking the sign off me and pretending it was theirs, and people were hugging them. It was hilarious.

Maybe you could talk about your acting career thus far?

I studied in Trinity in the B.A.S. as an actor and then I worked for about a year as an actor in Dublin. And then I moved to London and I studied an M.A. in Performance Making in Goldsmiths University. That was a huge jump away from traditional theatre into devised performance-making in a much more ‘live art’ kind of way. It wasn’t aimed specifically for theatre people; there were very few theatre people in my class actually. There were people studying video design, they were studying psychology, writers, loads of really random things. And people just wanted to make whatever their discipline was, whatever their art was, into a performance. Myself and one other girl were actors originally and had decided that there was something else going on, something more to what we had been taught originally. I studied there for about a year and I created this final project which was the beginnings of Where Do I Start?.

I kind of jumped into the deep end on this whole solo idea. I think it was because my teacher was like: “you seem like more of a collaborative artist”. The challenge had been set. A solo project was really alien and really new to me. I decided to try and keep the subject and the content and the concept of the performance itself as close to myself as I could so that I’d have at least some understanding of what’s going on, and that is where it proved even more difficult because I didn’t (laughs). That’s the beginning of Where Do I Start?.

I love going back and forth between traditional work and experimenting with new stuff with The Company - we’re doing a new thing in the Dublin Theatre Festival as well – and then after that I’m going to work in the Abbey over Christmas. Trying to be in this ‘best of both worlds’ situation because I really love both sides of the coin, and I want to be able to keep going on both sides of the coin as well.

I think I read back in February when you were doing the show as part of THEATREclub’s ‘THE THEATRE MACHINE TURNS YOU ON, VOL. II’ that you had José [Miguel Jiménez] and Annie Ryan in to have a look at the show.

Yeah, and Grace Dyas as well.

That’s some really top-class talent. What kind of ideas did they have about it?

I was working with Annie yesterday. I haven’t seen Grace yet because she’s been planning and making her epic Twenty Ten. José’s busy with his Jumping Off The Earth and [Rough Magic] SEEDS and everything. So it’s a really hectic time but everybody’s been really supportive. I’ve been working with Jocelyn Clarke, who has been my dramaturg and has really helped me with loads of things that I didn’t know about in terms of writing structures. Because I’m not really a writer, I just have to become a writer for the purpose of this. And that’s been a difficult thing to do. I knew what I wanted to achieve but it’s not the easiest thing to put that all together by yourself without having done it before. So, Jocelyn’s great. We talk everyday and discuss how it’s developing and how things are changing and what other people say. Like, I had Lynette Moran come in the other day and I had Ciarán O’Melia, who is my designer. I had Róisín McGann in, who’s doing my press for me as well. Just people ‘in the know’ and are outside eyes and are really interested. It’s great!

So, I was with Annie Ryan yesterday having an amazing time. There’s this small two, three minute section where I talk about how my parents met which turns into this Annie Ryan-esque Commedia moment. I burst out of the whole thing for a minute and it just turns into this mad little epic in itself. We spent a couple of hours yesterday working on it. I even more admire her and her work now. It’s tiring and exciting and brilliant. So, I’m working on that today and that’s why I need to eat like seventeen sandwiches in order to keep my energy up (laughs).

I saw Where Do I Start? back in February, and maybe it says more about my schooling than anything else, but I didn’t know about the Armenian genocide after the First World War.

I think that’s not anything personal to you.

Really, do you find that?

I think before my Dad came to Ireland I don’t think anyone here had ever met or heard of Armenia before. I wasn’t there at the time obviously but that’s what they told me. I think that it’s been a slow progression and there’s still a really small community here, and there’s a couple of other half Irish half Armenians really dispersed around Ireland. There’s never been a solid sense of a community in one solid place for a continuous amount of time. But that’s picking up more and more these days. People are always really confused and don’t know where it is. It’s just a very different place and I just don’t think many people in Ireland have heard of it before. It’s not their fault. I’m sure there are loads of places I don’t know about.

Where can we expect to see you next? You already mentioned Politik and the Abbey project. Is that The Government Inspector

Yeah. I’m just playing a small part in the ensemble work. But Politik is the next thing we’re working on and we lost one of our members because Rob [McDermott] is gone!

I heard! Where’s he gone?

He’s gone to do a Masters so I can’t give out to him because I did the same thing (laughs). He’s gone to Italy to the sun, to study physical theatre and Commedia basically. He’s gone now and he won’t be part of Politik, which is going to really creep us out. It’s like we’ve lost a limb. The five of us are the five of us and nothing happens without the five of us so now we’ve been forced into a situation where we have to find this new group of just us. It will be fine but there’s definitely going to be this huge gap. But I think it’s a really exciting project and I hope we’re going to get loads of good stuff from it. We always open up something that we don’t know anything about, which is now the political system, the Irish political system, why young people do or do not vote, what they are and are not voting for. But mostly political systems and how those are things that control and affect us, that we contribute to, and how that relationship works. 

How many hugs did you get?

Thirty, forty maybe. At least.

Where Do I Start? runs Sept 8-17 in the Project Arts Centre. 

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