Thursday, 17 October 2013

Tara Maria Lovett in conversation

Interviews from the Babble Journal 2013 by Maria Smith

In case you didn't get to see a copy of the Babble Journal, Maria has kindly allowed me to post the two interviews here. First playwright Tara Maria Lovett.

Tara Maria Lovett displays a refreshingly no nonsense approach to playwriting. Seated in the stonewalled sunshine of the Backyard Arts Centre in Moynehall, she searches for a cigarette lighter and speaks with a frank conviction about her work, style and methods.  
First off she stresses that the most important thing for aspiring writers is to dispel the pretentions that lurk around the Arts and to remember that the word ‘play’ in the dramatic sense “means just that - to play with ideas and find that liberating playfulness indulged in childhood and use this again as a source of creative energy.
Originally from Bray, County Wicklow Tara Lovett began writing plays at a young age. She wrote her first play, a four act entitled ‘The Granite Bird’, at twelve. “It just went on and on” she recalls – “it was a Ulysses for a twelve year old. I was into animals like most kids, dogs in particular and one fateful day after starting secondary school I met a lady out walking her dog. Her name was Eileen. She was a retired civil servant, fascinated by the fact that I was writing a play, and we casually began what would become a lifelong friendship. At twelve, I couldn’t type so she typed that first play for me using carbon paper and a large old typewriter as I sat watching her.” While that early play didn’t go anywhere the writing went on from there.
“My own family were not into theatre, it would have been frowned upon as ‘slightly dubious’. I had seen plays at school, so I understood the basic structures of drama more from observation than any heavy reading. There was a friend of my mothers, a lovely woman called Auntie Kay who was a theatre goer and loved the drama of theatre; she took me to see a production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus in the Gaiety Theatre and seeing that play changed my life. I never forgot it.”  
I wrote fiction from then on. Secondary school was drab. Teachers took an interest, saw potential but probably saw my work as too dark and possibly a little weird. Life began properly after leaving that school and repeating the leaving at a different one.” Despite choosing a career in veterinary, Tara continued to write. In 1997, after attending a week long writing course in Dingle given by Cavan author Michael Harding, she returned in earnest to writing drama. She regards meeting Harding that week as a real turning point. “I was writing fiction at the time. Over the course of the week we had to come up with the synopsis for a play and he was a superb tutor, hugely encouraging. He asked me why I was writing fiction when it was clear that I should be writing for theatre. It was the advice that I needed and I trusted his judgement.”
“That gave me confidence. I started writing plays and it all kicked off from there. I wrote some one act plays and won a couple of awards with those. I won The Fingal Scribe Award in Dublin and subsequently Focus Theatre via Deirdre O’Connell picked up that play The Shape. Deirdre effectively gave me my first start in professional theatre when she took two of my one act plays and put them on in The Focus Lunchtime Series and that got me that bit of extra notice.”
Smiling, she recalls being half terrified yet in her element sitting in the back of The Focus watching the directors working with her plays. It was a crucial learning experience for Lovett and it was not always all smiles. On one occasion a director asked for her opinion on a performance piece and she willingly gave it, only to be berated by a very full on O’Connell who saw writer intervention as unhelpful.
As those on the cutting edge of the Irish theatre scene began to take notice, the awards kept coming.  In June 2001 Lovett won the Oz Whitehead Award for another One Act play entitled Action Man and later in March 2002, she was awarded the Sean Dunne Literary Award for The Hen House (2002). She subsequently won the Eamon Keane Award for her first full length play The Piano Lesson at Listowel Writer's Week (2002). A young director from Trinity College took another full length play The Suck and put it on at The Project Arts Centre. Another full length play was performed at Dublin Castle and shortlisted for an Irish Times theatre award the same year. Druid were calling, as were London based agents, The Abbey Theatre held readings and she participated in their New Playwriting Development Programme.
Yet, she remains very humble about these early achievements and says she never really let it sink in. From listening to Lovett speak passionately about this exciting and seminal time you realise that personal fame or recognition was never a goal. It was always about the plays not the playwright. Not surprisingly when life and family matters intervened, she says she stepped out of the playground and back into the real world. For more than a decade writing plays took a back seat. Moving to Cavan, however, saw Lovett picking up the pen again. She was always attracted to rural Ireland, having never written a Dublin centred aesthetic or in a Dublin dialect. She now regards the move to Cavan as “a sort of spiritual homecoming.”
A critical thinker as well as a writer, Lovett believes that modern drama deals too much in the dialogue of psycho babble and people telling each other how they feel. Moments of silence are so important in Lovett’s work, she says she writes to achieve those moments of silence. For her, a play remains a very visual thing. “Images bring you the plot”, she says. “I see an image and I wonder what scenes or dialogue might flow from that.” For instance, a dead magpie and a mass rock formed the inspiration for her latest play The Mass Rock, which premiered to a packed Ramor Theatre in Virginia last July.  
“I try to write theatre that is not about tables and chairs or bars”, she says. “I write with the hope that when people go to the theatre they are going to see images that they are going to remember. I don’t write to shock but I want an audience to be moved. No one writes to make an audience feel safe. They shouldn’t be thinking about where they might be going for a drink after the performance or if they paid for parking, they should be engrossed, involved, and maybe uncomfortable.”
She believes that when writing, simplicity and tenacity are key as things dilute when you move from page to stage.
Lovett makes bold statements with compelling conviction as she explains her dramatic vision. She tells emerging writers at her workshops that they should be able to sum up a play in six lines. That “the less you have happening on stage the easier it is to engage your audience.” She is not a proponent of the Fourth Wall Convention and does not see the play as an imitation of reality. “The play is a dream or a metaphor.”
“Conflict in theatre is most interesting when you don’t use or over-use dialogue.”
“Your play may have a sub plot and multiple layers and dimensions but you are really only telling one story. You will water down the play if you try telling too many stories.” She believes that an audience must ultimately get what they want but not necessarily in the way that they expect it.
Finally, she advises that “the action of the play must go to the end of the world. You must follow through on all images, ideas etc. In theatre you simply must go all the way.”
Tara Maria Lovett’s new one act play The Change premiered at Babble Literary Festival in Cavan town August 17th, 2013.

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