Next in a series of interviews: Sinéad O’Loughlin talks about setting up Rampant with her best friend Katie Holmes (not Mrs. Cruise), the assault on feminism that led to their ABSOLUT Fringe debut Amy, I want to make you hard, and stealing Brokentalkers' production crew.
First, let’s address the title of the show. “Amy, I Want to Make You Hard”.
Basically, I’ve been wanting to do a piece on female identity for ages but I wasn’t exactly sure how or what. I read a piece in a newspaper where they were asking women whether they called themselves ‘feminists’ or not. I think it was around the time when it had been forty years since Irish women got the vote, so they were talking about how far women had come. They were talking to women in the public eye and everybody seemed to be distancing themselves from the word like it was really troublesome and unpopular. None of them would blatantly say: “yes, I would”. They were all like: “I wouldn’t really term myself this, that or the other”. But one woman went as far as to say she wouldn’t call herself a ‘feminist’ because it had bad connotations but she’d call herself a ‘soft feminist’. I just thought that was hilarious because what does it mean? It was like she was trying to make some appealable version of it. It was just really funny.
Rampant is yourself and Katie Holmes. So for people who don’t know, you have directed projects with Smashing Times, you’ve been production assistant on Brokentalkers’ The Blue Boy ...
Well, Katie and I have been friends since we were fifteen and we’re both from Wicklow. I moved away to Canada and when I came back I knew I wanted to work in theatre. I applied for the M.A. in Drama and Theatre Studies and coincidentally Katie got into a M.A. in NUIG at the same time, which was great because we had grown a little bit apart while I was away just because I didn’t see her. She was doing her M.A. in Arts Policy and Practice and she produced my play in college in the [Jerome Hynes] One Acts Festival and that went really well. And then she said she would like to produce my plays again but then when we left I think Katie was thinking of going into the creative side of things. So we said we’d work together on the next project.
And in the meantime I did an internship with Brokentalkers. It started off as research and then I did stage management for their piece in development. I had worked with Smashing Times beforehand and they had hired me to write and direct a show with a community group as well. The first thing that Rampant did was we worked with a migrant rights centre. I wrote and directed a piece and Katie assisted on it with the Domestic Workers Action Group in the Project. It was called Acting Out For Hope And Change. They wanted to do a drama piece about their experiences of exploitation. That went really well. At that point we had applied for the Fringe and got in. This is our first co-written thing, I suppose. It’s our first devised piece.
Katie’s background then: she’s predominantly worked in arts admin and she’s done a lot of work in literature. She’s worked at Poetry Ireland. She’s been big into poetry ever since I’ve known her. When we set up the company we were kind of thinking that we wouldn’t necessarily be theatre, that we might look into literature events and look into collaborative things. We’ll see where we go after this. We did want to try and be Wicklow-based; it’s kind of impossible in terms of work. It would be nice to be able to practice from Wicklow. Even just rehearsal space and stuff is so crazy here. That said, where you are is always dictated by work. C’est la vie.
Is that Wicklow in your promotional images?
Looks like there’s a lot of sheep in Wicklow.
Yeah (laughs). Back when we had meetings with the [ABSOLUT Fringe] PR and Marketing people, I went in feeling very Mad Men and was going to make my marketing pitch. The one thing Katie and I have in common is that we both come from a rural background. And when I was talking to the marketing guy I had these different ideas for images, and one of them was a recreation of images from the National Archives, one of which was a group of women in the Sixties walking across O’Connell Street. He loved it but the only problem I had with it was: we’re not from the city. So I said that I’d prefer to do our images in the countryside. We grew up there and that’s very much there from our stories.
We’re in good shape. I feel good about it. We’ve got a really good producer now and a lighting designer. The set designer Lucy [Andrews], I met her through Brokentalkers. She has really good ideas. We’re most excited about what we can do with the set because we had a fundraiser – we don’t have a lot of money – but what we have we’ll put into the set.
I can’t overlook your association with Brokentalkers, who are really well known for ingenious stagecraft. Has there been any influences there?
I don’t know yet. I think it’s just more that you get to meet people and see them work. Like, if I was ever to do anything with video I’d ask Kilian Waters because he’s an amazing video designer. Or sound, I’d ask Jack [Crawley]. And then I was thinking: if I did anything that incorporated everything I’d have pretty much robbed Brokentalkers’ crew. (laughs) I like the way they work. They work really collaboratively. If I had to say I’ve been influenced by them in some way it would be the way they welcome suggestions in the rehearsal room from everybody. It’s all transparent.
In trying to think of what I should expect when I see Amy, I go back to a show you did which a lot of people probably didn’t see called Loves Me. This was a show that Katie produced and it was devised by yourself, Maeve Gormley and Shane McDermott, and it was this sweet but brutal and funny piece in which performers onstage drank away their romantic misgivings with a bottle of Buckfast.
I often do think about that piece. I’d love to do it further. I really liked it, and I’d love to work with Shane and Maeve again.
Does Amy share that same adult edge?
I think so. But that’s the balance we’re trying to find at the moment. In order to start making Amy we decided to frame it with our friendship. We share a lot of memories but we have very different memories of the same thing. We thought that was interesting. But at the same time we were trying to put in these moments, these purposefully devised moments based on stories or ideas that came to us from listening to people and reading stuff in the news and stuff like that. But it’s proven kind of hard at the moment to keep a balance between both because people are charmed by our story and it can be a bit jarring to have something more harsh in as well.
Are you going to invite Amy, whoever she is?
People have said “who’s Amy? Are you going to invite Amy?”. But to be honest it’s not about her. I don’t want to buy into the whole idea of being hard or bitchy about other women. Because it is not a lie to say that there are bad connotations to feminism. What we’re trying to do in our own way is say: “it’s kind of f*cking ridiculous”. That statement that influenced the title, it was as if she was trying to take it a step further and make it sound pretty or what she thought would be appealable, that if she said she was a ‘soft feminist’. It’s like saying “I’m just a little bit anti-racist”, I don’t know. The focus wouldn’t be Amy, it’s like all the Amys out there.
Would you consider yourself a ‘hard feminist’?
Not really sure what a hard feminist is. I’d consider myself a feminist, I don’t know about hard feminist. Feminism is hard anyway. You know, because it’s not soft. This conversation’s gone abstract.
Amy, I want to make you hard runs Sept 20-24 in the Back Loft