A play by a local writer, which resurrects the largely forgotten story of a Tyrone feminist and figure of the Irish Literary Revival, is set to hit the New York stage
‘Alice Milligan – A Girl Of Genius’ by Susannah McKenna from Donaghmore, will be staged in New York next month as part of the Cuala New York City Irish Cultural Festival.
The play, which will also be performed as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in May, was commissioned by the Aisling Ghear Theatre Company.
Upon return from New York at the end of May, the play is set to tour throughout Ireland relating the story of the remarkable Milligan, a journalist, political activist, feminist, human rights campaigner, and theatre pioneer of the late 19th Century.
Susannah, a former pupil of St Joseph’s Grammar School, said she was ‘absolutely ecstatic’ about the New York performance, and hopes the extended tour will allow audiences to rediscover Milligan’s neglected genius.
“New York is my favourite city and has always had much influence on my own interests and writing”, she said.
“I am completely humbled by having the opportunity to begin the tour of the play there and cannot wait to learn from the response it will receive from such a variety of audiences. Cuala New York City’s Irish Cultural Festival is an unbelievably innovative and exciting festival for my play to be a part of and I am extremely flattered to be chosen as one of the Irish writers to continue building awareness of important Irish figures and stories that are central to our history and literature.”
Susannah, a Masters graduate from Queen’ University of Belfast Creative Writing Department, explained why she had chosen to write about Milligan, who was an ardent nationalist and born in Gortmore, near Omagh.
“Alice devoted herself to writing and working for Ireland, the country that she loved so dearly, and it was her passionate, fiery and intelligent character that completely enthralled me.
“She was completely unique for her time and wrote truly for the love of Ireland, unlike as she described Yeats, “for fame”. Because of this her story has remained relatively untold, so it was my honour to be commissioned by Aisling Ghear Theatre Company, in order to tell the story of her amazing life and appreciate her abundance of talent.”
Since her studies Susannah has worked on various projects. In May 2014, she successfully applied for a place on the Firework’s Young Writer’s Programme with Tinderbox Theatre Company where she wrote her first play “The Wanderer From Drumagurn”, which was performed on 29th September 2014 in the Brian Friel Theatre, Belfast.
This was this experience that sparked her deep love for the theatre, she said.
“It was the day of our first rehearsals for my play ‘The Wanderer from Drumagurn’ when the actors begin to bring my work to life, that I suddenly realised how right it felt to be doing what I was doing, and how it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
“I do like to write screenplays and have worked on several short films that have been most enjoyable, but it is the true raw quality of theatre that keeps me hooked on writing plays.”
Since then she has worked closely with Tinderbox on youth workshops and continued to write a play “It’s Time” based on issues that young people wanted to address.
It was performed at several venues across Northern Ireland, in both Tyrone and Derry in June 2015. Since “It’s Time” I Susannah has continued to work on different projects, including a role as Art Director on a recent short film.
Susannah said she hoped that the New York exposure will help her forge a career in her chosen profession as a playwright.