Saturday, 30 April 2016

We Wait In Dramaturgical Hope: Brian Mullin @ 503

We Wait In Joyful Hope
Theatre503, The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road, London SW11 3BW
Tuesday 17th May – Saturday 11th June 2016
Brian Mullin’s debut drama is a frank and wry portrait of modern feminism, friendship and one extraordinary woman, determined to take on the world. We Wait In Joyful Hope is a funny and touching exploration of religion and capitalism in contemporary America.

Sister Bernie D’Amato is a force to be reckoned with. After thirty years running a women's centre in a New Jersey slum she's won battles with priests, police and even gang leaders. But now she's facing her biggest threat yet. With property developers buying up the neighbourhood, and only an ageing ex-nun and a 16-year-old X-Factor wannabe to help, Bernie’s mission to save the centre is becoming ever more of a challenge.
Staged during the biggest displacement crisis of our time, We Wait In Joyful Hope powerfully illustrates the importance of community and having a place to call ‘home’.

Brian Mullin was brought up in Boston by his aunt, a former Catholic nun who founded one of the first shelters for homeless women in New York City. He comments, I wanted to pay tribute to the strong women who hold communities together and, in my experience, few women are stronger, more dedicated – and more unsung – than nuns. When I was inspired to write the play, I ended up going back to the US where I interviewed a number of nuns, now in their 70s, about their lives and work. Sister Bernie is a product of this research – tough, rebellious and, sometimes, impossible to deal with. But, even as everything around her seems to be changing, she keeps fighting for the causes she's always believed in.

Sister Bernie D’Amato will be played by Maggie McCarthy whose theatre credits include Doctors Dilemma, Children of The Sun and Absence of War for the National Theatre. She will be joined by Deirdra Morris (The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Southwark Playhouse), The Trojan Woman (Empty Space) and The Women (Old Vic)) as Joanne; James Tucker (One Arm (Southwark Playhouse), Pocket Dream (Propeller) and The Life of Galileo (Royal Shakespeare Company)) as Grady; and Anita-Joy Uwajeh (Othello (Edinburgh Festival), Titus Andronicus (Greenwich Theatre), Ivanov (Boris Schukin Theatre Institute)) as Felicia.

Brian was selected from over 800 applicants to join the 503Five Writer-in-Residence scheme which offers mentorship, advice and support to emerging playwrights.

I believe that the inspiration for the script came from one of your relatives: what inspired you to take up this story?

I would never have decided to write about nuns if it hadn't been for my aunt Gerry, who was a Franciscan sister in the 1960s and 70s.  It was a time of change for nuns and the whole Church - together with other young sisters, she left the cloistered environment of the convent, took over a tenement building in New York City, and converted it into a community where homeless women and the nuns lived side by side.  The story of We Wait in Joyful Hope is fiction -- Sister Bernie is not my aunt! -- but the inspiration for it comes from her and the other extraordinary women of her generation.

Religion isn't a hot topic so often in contemporary theatre: what is it that made you decide to make it part of the conflict in your script?

According to conventional wisdom, theatre-makers and theatre-goers tend to be secular liberals, and stories of faith may not be the first thing they're drawn to.  Sister Bernie, the main character of my play, might upend some notions of what a "religious" person is like -- she's an activist, more concerned with changing the world than with imposing doctrine on others.  Having met amazing nuns who work for social justice, often with little recognition, I don't think that's uncommon.  You may never have met a radical nun, but I hope you can relate to the story of someone who's had big dreams and now must decide whether she's achieved everything she hoped to.

What made you decide that theatre was a good place to tell this story?

This play is traditionally constructed - it all takes place in Elizabeth House, where Sister Bernie lives and works with poor women.  Theatre, when it's done well, can create a charged sense of energy in a space, so that the room itself almost becomes a character.  Our wonderful designer Kat Heath is paying attention to every little detail of the set, so that Bernie's environment speaks volumes about the decades of life she's led.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

There's lots of humour - Bernie is an unconventional nun, who talks back to priests, dresses in t-shirts, and sometimes rolls a joint.  Once you get through the shock of that unexpected portrayal, though, I hope the play makes you think about society, politics, and sisterhood of all kinds.  Though Bernie's shelter faces a threat from the forces of gentrification, I believe the plot is ultimately a hopeful one.  I want people to feel moved by it more than anything else!

Did you use any strategies that will enable this experience?

Well, 90% of a good production is in the casting.  Our director Lisa Cagnacci has assembled the most skillful actors to bring these characters to life.  In rehearsals, I am already enjoying the rapport between Maggie McCarthy and Deirdra Morris, who play Bernie and Joanne.  They are able to bring humor, toughness and all sorts of contradictory feelings to these two old friends.  I'm very happy to showcase older actresses in the leading roles, too!

What do you think of Aristotle?

What a question!  I know the Poetics pretty well, and often use its principles of dramatic construction when I'm teaching playwriting to first-time students.  Not all of my plays follow an Aristotelian construction of time, place, character, resolution etc. but this one surely does!  There's just so much history behind the actions we see on stage, I had to follow Aristotle's rules to create a sense of crisis and turning point. 

I imagine writers sit in their rooms and type all, drinking coffee: what is it really like when you write a script? Does the experience change on different projects?

I drink coffee before writing, but never during it!  And I try not to do it in my room, I need to feel that writing is my job and getting out of the house helps with that.  I have favorite spots around London which have desks and wifi to work at (but I'm not telling where in case someone wants to steal them).  When I'm working on a play, I tend to get up early and start writing as soon as I can for 4-6 hours; I don't think I've ever written anything good after about 3:00pm.  That's a pretty consistent practice I've developed over time.

If I say 'dramaturgy', what comes to  mind?

In addition to writing my own scripts, I actually work frequently as a dramaturg.  I teach playwriting to students and use the principle of dramaturgical analysis to help them devlop their plays into the best possible shape.  I'm also the official Dramaturg of a devising company called Babakas,, which create multi-disciplinary theatre through a collaborative process.  The Dramaturg's job is to help shape and collate the material so that it all comes into some satisfying structure!  It's a bit like being an architect.

Director Lisa Cagnacci comments, after a very competitive selection process we ended up with five fantastic playwrights on attachment with us for the last 18 months and we've really enjoyed working with them. We commit to producing one of the five plays written during the attachment and on this occasion Brian Mullin's We Wait In Joyful Hope has been chosen. I'm very excited to be directing such a beautifully written and finely detailed portrait of a very radical and complicated woman. Most people's ideas of nuns have been defined by Sister Act or The Sound of Music, whereas this play offers a more nuanced perspective on an extraordinary group of women.

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