ABSOLUT Fringe | Interview with Talking Shop Ensemble and Shaun Dunne
In 2011 Theatre Company Talking Shop Ensemble and writer Shaun Dunne implored the young people of Ireland to stay put and make things better in “I’m a Homebird (It’s very hard)”. This year, as part of ABSOLUT Fringe, they look to the older generation, those who may have missed the boat on emigration but can’t rely on their dying trades to keep their heads above water. Drawing on real life experiences “Death of the Tradesmen” looks beyond the banks to the real people, their relationships and the youth that may not know just how lucky they are. Lauren O'Toole spoke with producer and choreographer Lisa Walsh, writer and performer Shaun Dunne and actress Lauren Larkin about their experiences in preparing for the forthcoming production, the pros and cons of drawing on real life to create theatre and how they believe there is always hope.
How does this show differ from other “recession” theatre?
Shaun Dunne: I suppose it differs from other recession theatre because we never use the word recession ONCE..which I think is good because we all hate that word and it’s annoying. Instead what we are really exploring is a generation of people, which is our mothers and our fathers and the people who they grew up with in Dublin. We don’t necessarily go into the ins and outs of the property crash but we deal with where they came from and where they are and how they’re dealing with where they are. The fact that he is unemployed, or the reasons for that, are not drilled on about, it’s more about the day to day of being unemployed.
So an actor friend of mine said to me way back in 2008 at the beginning of the downturn, “Oh I’m an actor, I’m constantly in a recession”, however Shaun and Lauren, you two have an autobiographical approach to the death of the tradesmen. Can you tell us a little about that?
Shaun: Well Lauren and I are the children of tradesmen, I’m the son of a carpet fitter and Lauren is the daughter of a tiler. From the get go we’ve always talked about the fact that our fathers are unemployed, we’ve always jammed about the fact of how similar conversations are despite the fact that we’re in different households. So yes this show is very autobiographical, it’s very much about our families, our ma and da. We created two characters that are references from Arthur Miller’s 'Death of a Salesman', Willy and Linda. We created our own Willy and Linda for a contemporary Dublin audience - the material isn’t researched through any secondary source, it’s all primary information from our households.
You’ve obviously used Arthur Miller here and in Talking Shop’s highly successful “I’m a Homebird” you referenced “Philadelphia, Here I Come!”. Is this use of intertextuality something that is an important motif or anchor for Talking Shop Ensemble?
Lisa Walsh: I think its just something that came about this time. We obviously layer different source material and are influenced by our theatre education. The use of other texts isn’t something that necessarily has to be an ingredient, but it has come to be a source in our forum.
Shaun: I suppose, for me, the reason that this particular play has come to be used in the show is because I studied it in school. I remember being 17 and thinking about me da and then of the role of the man as the provider and the caregiver and it really struck me. I also love the correspondence in this way between texts in both “Homebird” and now “Death of the Tradesmen” because no art lives in a vacuum and you have to be aware of the conversations that have happened before. I love the way that “Death of a Salesmen” spoke to a whole generation of men in America, and we can only hope that our show would speak in the same way to this generation of people in Dublin.
So do you feel that there is hope for these characters?
Lauren Larkin: I think there is because although it is day to day and it’s a cycle, we are identifying the issue [of unemployment] and the very act of putting on this production and laying it out on the table is hopeful.
Shaun: I think work that in any way deals with our current circumstances should always strive towards being hopeful. But I also think, in terms of like my dad, the financial situation may be bleak but it’s interesting to watch him go to Spanish classes or learn how to use a computer. Yes times are hard, but maybe there are other avenues that can be explored.
So who do you expect to see in the audience?
Shaun: Well we did a work in development earlier in the year and there was a married couple sitting in the front row and it was brilliant watching their reaction watching us playing a married couple.
Lisa: In terms of audience target you’re dealing with the mother and the father and the daughter and the son, so it is of interest to two generations. You’re really seeing a relationship unfold on stage which is something new for Talking Shop and Shaun.
Shaun: We have our usual documentary base but from this base you see the arc of a relationship and their story develop. People who don’t go to theatre much and may not get that style of documentary theatre will have another more traditional angle to hold onto.
So this is the third show that Talking Shop Ensemble and Shaun Dunne have teamed up on; why do you feel the collaboration works?
Lisa: Because, essentially, we believe in the work that is being made.
Shaun: And we’re very passionate about the conversations that we want to have. And also what’s important is that we tend to share the work very well – for example this is the first time that I am not performing with Lisa but she’s producing the show. And the fact that we can skill share across the four of us is brilliant – I might write the press release, they may do the marketing, it’s very much an ensemble.
Lisa: Which is everything we ever wanted it to be.
So in the process of developing last year’s Fringe show “Do you Read Me?” Shaun, you realised that you could see dead people, has anyone had any interesting revelations this time around?
Shaun: I’ve had revelations involving the treatment of my parents. We’ve had fights, stupid fights surrounding the fact that he’s unemployed and its only by starting to talk about it and stepping into their shoes you realise why someone may lose their temper or someone else might be an obsessive clean freak.
Lisa: And to quote a line from the show you realise “how lucky you are!”
Shaun: And through this process you do realise the opportunities that you have compared to them. Although we spend our lives saying “I know how lucky I am, I know it” its only now through doing the show do you understand the magnitude of it.
Lauren: I’ve learned about empathy, absolute empathy. Before this show I never truly understood the depth of their circumstances.
Shaun and Lauren, what do you think your parents will actually make of the show? Will they see themselves in the characters?
Lauren: Well I’m planning on telling my parents that everything is ripped from Shaun’s family and Shaun’s planning on doing the same.
Lisa: Don’t put that in the interview because then they’ll know our trick!
Lauren: They’ll have no choice but to see themselves in the characters but I think though, at the end of the day they’ll be proud and happy that we’re making work out of them.
So, how would you describe the show in three words?
"Death of the Tradesmen" runs September 8th - 12th and September 14th & 15th in the Cube at Project Arts Centre as part of ABSOLUT Fringe 2012. Tickets available online, via phone on 1850 374 643, or from the ABSOLUT Fringe box office at Filmbase, Curved St., Temple Bar.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Monday 27th August 2012 | Theatre
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