‘A BIT RAW’ Playwright Mick Donnellan has avoided using the pandemic as inspiration for any of his recently written material.
AS sport and hospitality look forward to a possible reopening during the summer, there is still no clear road back to normality for the arts.
While lockdown has provided optimum time for playwrights and directors to create new works, many have no idea when they will be allowed to put on a show.
Ballinrobe playwright and novelist Mick Donnellan says that while lockdown has brought its benefits for writers, the world of theatre and drama remains stuck in limbo.
“I felt at the beginning, although I’d lost so much work, that it was an absolutely brilliant opportunity to take all the time in the world to write all that you want to do,” Mick tells The Mayo News. “It was one of the few times that you were able to write and not necessarily have to worry about money. It was an amazing opportunity.”
Mick, who founded Truman Town Theatre Company back in 2011, put his time in lockdown to good use.
The Ballinrobe native is continuing to run his creative-writing classes online, which he delivers to adults in conjunction with Athlone IT. He also completed work on his fourth novel in January – The Naked Flame – which he plans to launch in-person at some stage in the future.
Currently based in Athlone, he received a grant from Westmeath County Council to write a play based on the story of Pádraig Nally, which is currently in rehearsal via Zoom.
However, with the country in depths of a long third lockdown, he says not being able to reopen theatres has made things difficult.
“If you’re writing a play or dealing with a theatre or director, you don’t know when this play is ever going to be shown or seen or accepted. It was really hard because you’re less motivated to invest time into something that may never see the light of day,” he says.
“Creatively I’ve achieved things that I wouldn’t have otherwise, but with regards to optimism about being an artist and looking at the future for the arts, it’s very bleak and difficult to see how it’s going to bounce back.”
Since graduating with a master’s degree in creative writing from NUI Galway in 2004, Mick has gone on to establish himself in the highly-competitive world of Irish theatre.
Plays of his, such as ‘Radio Luxembourg’, ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’, ‘Shortcut to Hallelujah’ and ‘Gun Metal Gray’, have toured the country to widespread acclaim.
With his own company, he has sold out local venues such as Castlebar’s Linenhall and Ballinrobe’s Valkenburg. His career has also brought him to places like Galway’s Town Hall Theatre, Listowel Writers’ Festival, Cork Arts Theatre, and Glór in Ennis.
In May, a monologue he penned about a lonely drunken garda was shortlisted in Scripts Ireland Theatre Festival, which won him the opportunity to attend workshops with the renowned playwright Eugene O’Brien and director Jim Culleton.
While Mick takes comfort from being able to write plays and novels anytime, he feels particularly sorry for the actors and actresses unable to showcase their talents to the world.
“I feel sorry for actors the most. You can sit in your car and write anywhere. I know a lot of actors that would’ve had five or six productions lined up last year, really well-paid productions.
“They were about to explode into the stratosphere and then just gone overnight. I’d like to see that come back,” he says.
“I think that we’re going to turn a corner very soon. Once we hit a critical mass of vaccinations we might just be able to open up and start living again. Once that happens everyone will want to live and just try to enjoy themselves.”
Will the pandemic become a theme in any of his future works?
“It’s a bit raw, I’ve avoided it myself. One of the pleasures of reading a book or going to a theatre or a film is that you’re getting away from the reality that you’re in,” Mick says.
“You’re all day listening the radio, the papers and everyone talking about Covid and then you say: ‘I’m going to lock myself in a dark room for two hours to see a play and it’s all about Covid’,” he remarks sarcastically.
“If you think back on 9/11 and the amount of plays and books that came out about terrorism. You think about Irish issues and referendums, whatever is frequently occurring often comes out in books and plays very soon, then that dies down. Then in ten or fifteen years’ time the real work comes through.”