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We live in poor times. There is poverty of vision and imagination from our rulers, poverty of spirit in responding to those who have been traumatised and terrified by war, and the numbing despair of financial poverty that makes every day an effort.

When I was asked to choose one of my plays for a rehearsed reading at the Everyman Theatre, Cork, the one called BURNING DREAMS struck me as uneasily apposite.

Dublin, 1941. Tenements. Hunger. Sickness. An idealistic young doctor wants to help everyone. Who is the ‘most deserving’ – a refugee girl, a tenement dweller, or an angry Trades Unionist. But how can he possibly choose, when there is not enough to go round?

What is most tragic is that the pitiful crumbs they were fighting over in 1941 are still all that is on offer to the poorest and most deprived in our society right now, seventy years later.

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

The play will be staged on 22nd March in the snug bar at the Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork. It starts at 8pm. Tickets €9.

It would be wonderful to see you there.

 

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‘Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!’

To all of you with a drop of creative blood in their veins, writers, performers, community artists, actors, dancers, directors, singers, film-makers, visual artists – all of you who will be alive on December 10th to witness the dawn of a new democracy and to seize the day in a bloodless, peaceful revolution – I speak to you.
For years we have kept calm and carried on. We have paid our bills and their taxes, not to help us and our children, but to prop up a rotten system and keep our oppressors in the lavish lifestyles they think they are entitled to, as our elected representatives.
That gallant man who founded the Irish Labour Party, James Connolly, if he were alive today, where would he be now? At self-congratulatory banquets in Leinster House? Accepting another bonus, another pension? Driving past our placards in his official car (paid for with our money, of course), with panicky Gardai protecting him against the sight of us and our children being shoved aside as we ask only to be heard, to be treated with respect?
I don’t think so. I believe he would be with us, out on the streets, calling for justice – not in the narrow legal sense which our political masters decree is the only sense, but for the social, natural and humane justice we desperately seek, in a world that has lost its values. In an Ireland where law-abiding citizens have been forced to break a law that should never have been passed in the first place, (and passed with no proper debate), to charge us for our water, which their law now says is a marketable commodity, but which we know to be a right, without which we cannot live, is a crime.
James Connolly, the man who asked the question ‘Who owns the land?’ will be marching in solidarity and in spirit on December 10th, beside the Irish people for whose rights he fought and died.
What a shameful mockery of his vision today’s Labour Party has become, (a party I have always voted for, until now). A party many can no longer recognise as of the people or in any way for the people; a party who has in its shameful ranks a Senator, Lorraine Higgins, who describes this revolt by long-suffering, peaceful citizens as a ‘lawless utopia’. Her illiteracy, political and etymological, and the wilful ignorance she displays by that statement would be enough to make me despair, if people with her lack of vision and compassion were all we had to rely on.
I wish with a heart and a half that I could be in Dublin on 10th December. I am seriously ill, and physically unable to be there to sing our song of angry women and men, who will not be slaves again, together with the hundreds of thousands who are saying ‘Enough is enough’.
As a worker in the arts who has dedicated her life to giving a voice to those who are not listened to, may I urge all my professional colleagues, anyone who feels themself to be an artist of all and any kind to be there, to be part of the best theatre you will ever see in your lifetime?
Wear costume. Wear nothing!
Dance, sing and act your hearts out – make this revolution an artistic act of terrible beauty; make it yours. Don’t be audience, be actors.
Be there to witness the old betrayers of our trust faced with the inescapable truth; that they no longer represent anyone except themselves; that they serve only the interests of bankers, business and corporate greed.
Please be there, for me.

Frances Kay is a playwright and novelist who lived and worked in Ireland from 1990-2012. A serious health condition has resulted in her having to leave a country she dearly loves, but her pen and her passion are always at the disposal of the people, especially the children, of Ireland.
Her great-grandfather, Henry Kingston Kay, was Irish, and she is proud to know that Irish blood flows in her veins.

© Frances Kay 2014.

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Launching my book at events last week was an excellent excuse for a couple of mad musical parties. I met friends I have never seen before [online writers], family from far away, and friends I last saw when our kids were at primary school – now they’re grown up with children of their own.

I was exhilarated and surprised by the enthusiasm these essentially decent and nice people showed for my dark, depraved, at times, evil, work of fiction. As surprised as they were, I expect, to hear the extracts I read coming out of the mouth of a demure grandmotherly type person. A mad vicar saying ‘fuck’ is a small sample.

I calculate that everyone I know now has a copy. I’ve asked them, if they like it, to tell ten other people it’s worth reading, and to get their local libraries to order it.

Word of mouth is the best way of raising the profile. And with 2,000 books coming out every week, it sure needs raising!

So, if you happen to read and enjoy DOLLYWAGGLERS, please do the above.

Thanks.

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dear patient readers, yesterday I posted with breathless excitement about my new book. 250 words later and there is no mention of title, publisher or where to get it. This says it all about my weak spot – marketing.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dollywagglers-Frances-Kay/dp/1909845515/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0V386HV1M8TSQAEV2RX4     [not even sure if this will work]Image

And here’s the cover. It’s a dystopian story with black comedy and an unusual main character who is not a mere cipher observing the devastation caused by a flu pandemic in England. I hope, but realistically don’t expect, that it will be best seller.

My pragmatic brother asked me ‘Why don’t you write books that everyone wants to read?’ and this is a question that I can’t duck away from – it’s sensible and logical. But it lacks the vital heart element that is a quintessential part of writing, as I see it.

I write stuff that I like to read. Stuff that comes to me in daydreaming trances, ideas and characters that light the flame of passion. If I am a minority of one, perhaps eventually I will devise a formulaic work that will hit the commercial spot. But I can’t sit down with that cold intention. And I’m not at all sure I could do it.

How about you, reader? Are you passionate about certain genres and hate others? And if you are a writer? Do you have a fanbase? Or do you write purely to please yourself?

I’m heading to my launch this evening. I’ll report back on how it went. Thanks for visiting.

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My next book is published today.  The long wait between acceptance and publication feels to me very like being pregnant, except the gestation can be as long as ten years. Tomorrow it’s the launch – the christening, I suppose – where the baby’s head will be  well sprinkled with champagne and where I hope the world will gaze as fondly on my new offspring as I do myself.

Then there’s the sense of anti-climax, of what happens next? I fight the urge to check my Amazon rankings and imagine I can immerse myself in the next novel seamlessly.

I’m preparing myself for this book to slide painlessly beneath the waves, jostled and suffocated by the other 2,000 odd that will also appear this week. Some writers can market their books, get publicity, make sure their moment in the spotlight is as long as possible. One reason why I am too cowardly to self-publish is that I lack the stomach for the endless graft of selling myself.

If you were to ask me what I would like from you, my potential reader, it would be this. If you read it and enjoy it, tell your friends. Word of mouth is the best way to sell a book. Then ask your local library to stock it. That is all. I hope you will.

 

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I feel deeply, passionately and bitterly sad to hear of the death of Team Educational Theatre Company, announced last month by email and on their Facebook page. After a courageous and painful struggle with strangulation by public neglect, and fatal haemorrhaging of its financial base from cuts from the funding bodies, it can no longer survive in this time of market forces, when the arts, like every other ‘business’, now knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Neither the Arts Council nor the Department of Education, which for years had kicked this company between them like an old football, was willing to champion it. In times of recession, funding for children, and especially theatre for young people, is an easy cut to make. Who cares what children think? Do they have a vote? Are they on any boards? Do they have any money to influence people?

Team Theatre had survived for 33 years, through times of great national poverty, all through the 1980s, a little sibling of the Abbey Theatre, who gave it a home and a rehearsal space in Marlborough Place; no doubt the Abbey also felt relieved that the unspoken national obligation to provide excellent theatre for young people was being minded, leaving them free of the responsibility. And Team embraced this wholeheartedly, perhaps to the detriment of their public face, because on their tight budget they had nothing left for spin, public profile raising, or marketing themselves. In the twenty plus years I have lived in Ireland I have only once seen a full interview with the director of Team in this newspaper. All their time, their best energy, love, and talents were dedicated to their audiences, not just the performances of two brand new plays a year, but the devising of interactive workshops to run with the play, showing kids a participatory way in to drama as education, and the actors listened to what children had to say on issues like suicide, death, poverty, even the excitement of being a hive-dwelling co-operative of bumble bees. How anyone can think this is not important enough to continue beggars belief.

I speak from personal experience; one performance of one play changed my life. I was sixteen when I saw Joan Littlewood’s original Theatre Workshop version of ‘Oh, What A Lovely War’, and it left me stunned, inspired and excited. Theatre could be about things that really happened, theatre could be about and for ordinary people, theatre could come down from its pedestal and talk directly to members of the audience, improvising responses! I knew then that this was the kind of theatre I wanted to spend my life with. I hope that out of all Team’s young audiences over the years, some have gone away with a similar feeling of excitement – not necessarily to be involved with theatre, but to feel they had a voice and something to say, in whatever field they might choose.

Many fine Irish playwrights have written for Team, many young actors cut their teeth on the fresh and challenging responses of their audiences. When I worked for them and Martin Murphy, their director, in the 1990s, any idea I brought to the table had to be road tested by workshops in classes of the target age, so that no ivory tower thinking would be loftily handed down for the kids to admire – these kids gave every idea and its originators an honest and realistic appraisal. Team’s funding from the Education Department in those days depended on a slice for the special inclusion of disadvantaged schools, and the workshops in these were of particular interest to me, coming as I did from a background of working with poor, marginalised, disturbed kids. One workshop I attended was to sound out their reactions to a play set in the Emergency – did they have any family stories about the bombing of the North Strand? They did – but even more exciting than that was the spirit of friendly anarchy that suddenly took over the class as they realised we were not teachers there to keep order – one boy swiftly executed a cock and balls on the blackboard, and even though we’d watched him do it, swore blind ‘it wasn’t me’. The same class responded to the play, ‘Burning Dreams’ avidly, and joined in the workshops after the play with that freshness and enthusiasm that all playwrights and actors long to provoke in their audience.

I write for children not because it’s easier – it isn’t – or because no one else wants to – I am sure there are other playwrights out there who would love to, if there was a decent living to be made out of it – but because I have a lifelong commitment to the arts for young people, and because my best ideas are inspired by children.

The Ark is still here, and Graffiti Theatre in Cork, and Barnstorm. Two dedicated theatre companies and one arts centre to cover the entire republic. This is shameful, and that we have allowed ourselves to elect a government who sees nothing wrong in ignoring the other needs of children, for decent medical care, housing, education and loving attention, reflects the attitudes we have subscribed to, albeit by being mislead by politicians who promised us to carry out a mandate we elected them for, later changing it to another mandate we specifically asked not to have, and explaining this on air as ‘the kind of thing you do when you want to get elected’. Yes, you tell lies.

Theatre for children that does not tell lies – that is the business I am in.

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I’ve been digging into my memory lately to think of ‘dips’ – ways we used to choose someone to be ‘it’ in chasing games. London school playgrounds were unselfconsciously rich in culture – I used to know about twenty different dips. And if I was being chased and I needed some time out of the game, the cry of ‘Fainlights’ with simultaneous holding up both hands with crossed first and second fingers was universally respected.

Here are the words of a song from Scottish children, immortalised on film in the Scottish Screen Archive’s site.

Well I sent her for eggs, oh then, oh then
I sent her for eggs, oh then
Yes I sent her for eggs, and she fell and broke her legs
Oh the world must be coming tae an end, ach aye

Well I sent her for butter, oh then, oh then
I sent her for butter, oh then
Yes I sent her for butter, and she fell down in the gutter
Oh the world must be coming tae an end, ach aye

Well I sent her for bread, oh then, oh then
I sent her for bread, oh then
Yes I sent her for bread, and she dropit down dead
Oh the world must be coming tae an end, ach aye.

You can watch the film if you go to their website. http://ssa.nls.uk/film.cfm?fid=0799

But coming forward to the present, Bess, aged six, says the recognised shout for time out of a game of tag is ‘pause game’….

How about you? Did you play games with dips and fains? How about your kids now?

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