The invisible boundaries of Dublin 8 fascinate Maud Hendricks and Bernie O’Reilly.
As they see it, how a community functions, its social mix, class divisions and contradictions are worth putting on the stage.
The pair met while studying acting in Trinity College. Later, they both found themselves living in Dublin 8, and, in an attempt to explore and understand the area, formed the Outlandish Theatre Platform in 2010.
They string together live performance, video performance and sound installations, working with professionals and those who’ve never performed before.
Their work “comes not from a sense of complaint but from a sense of open inquiry and observation”, says Hendricks.
Lines of Inquiry
Hendricks describes herself and O’Reilly as hybrids: Hendricks is from the Netherlands and O’Reilly is half British.
It was this, says Hendricks, that lead them away from the more traditional path of Ireland’s actors – audition after audition. They wanted to break out.
In 2010, after the duo had debuted their show The Living Room based on the folk story of Bluebeard the pirate, they started to look around themselves for other curious stories to pursue.
“We were very interested in looking at our area and how fast it’s developing. I’ve three children now, so I was looking at Dublin 8 from a family, experiential point of view,” says Hendricks.
“That perspective brought up a lot of questions about how it all functions, nearly naive, but things you’d noticed, wonder about and wanted to do something about,” she said.
Hendrick’s first subject of inquiry was the dwindling council estate St Theresa’s Gardens. Her son went to the local creche there, and she began to notice the divisions within her community.
She decided to engage with the residents, working together on a theatrical film, Come into the Gardens, that documents the last residents and the gradual emptying of the estate.
Then, in 2014, Between Land and Water – a collaboration with five Muslim women living nearby – explored the canal landscape in a sound-and-film installation at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
“Some were very orthodox, some were very liberal,” says Hendricks. “That whole project was a sort of puzzle as to how to make something with a group of people who are very restricted in what they can do performatively.”
Their collaborations go something like this: there is idea development, research, community liaison and workshops, then production. Each Dublin 8 resident who becomes involved is involved throughout a work’s evolution.
“In terms of audience, we do very specifically state and work really hard towards bringing together an audience who wouldn’t necessarily be in a theatre together,” says O’Reilly. “Being in the Coombe has been extraordinary because you’re actually at the heart of a really diverse part of Dublin.”
In 2016, Hendricks and O’Reilly were offered the use of the Coombe Maternity Hospital’s Rita Kelly Theatre. They’re now into year two of their three-year residency. They don’t work strictly off scripts, and each performance is different.
In 2015, they premiered EX-hib-IT-US, a “mini urban opera”, in collaboration with professional and non-professional performers.
Collaborator Morgan Cooke, who penned the music for EX-hib-IT-US, says the play was born out of Hendricks’ engagement with the residents of St Theresa’s Gardens.
For Cooke, it was an altogether different type of theatre. “We developed the ideas [from St Theresa’s Gardens] into what would become an opera,” he says. “It came from a place that was very real, but it went into somewhere very absurd, which is what I love.”
Cooke says that it was a pace-change for him. “Working with Maud, I’ve seen people from a social class I would not normally hang out with,” he says.
“So I worked with them, and I’ve bonded with them and worked with them in a space, somewhere Maud and Bernie have created where everybody’s very free and very comfortable and happy to be there. I think it would take a very delicate hand to keep that openness alive.”
Last year, YOUtopia, a theatrical response to the housing crisis, took place in the Abbey Theatre. “When we were in the Abbey, we worked very closely with the Simon Community to actively bring 250 people, I think 70 percent of whom had never entered the Abbey Theatre before,” says O’Reilly. “That’s part of our mission statement, to engage more with those audiences.”
Looking forward, though, they would love to see a community-led arts hub in Dublin 8.
Towards A Home
Dublin 8, with all its different stripes, needs a permanent arts centre that offers something a bit different, says Hendricks. “We feel that, between Axis Ballymun, which we love, and the Project [Arts Centre] there’s nothing in between,” she says.
“Our area is so diverse and there’s so much going on, there’s no artistic place to go. But what you do have is an amazing community spirit,” she said.
It might help create a less divided community. “We’ve worked with those communities and tried to bind different communities together, but they’re still seen as territorial places. This is my territory and this is where I pee. Piss off, it’s not yours” says Hendricks. “The idea of an arts hub would be to extend beyond that.”
Labour Councillor and Deputy Mayor Rebecca Moynihan says that there are plenty of artists and creative people around Dublin 8, but that many seem to be working independently of each other.
“It’s important that we’d have a space in the outer city for people to know where they can go,” she says. “Having people telling their story, working together, collaborating with each other, I think it’s really important.”
Dublin 8 is fractured between the older community, and different immigrant communities, and young Irish professionals, says Moynihan. As long as everybody is involved, an arts centre could work.
While most of Outlandish Theatre’s work has involved Dublin 8 residents in some shape or form, Hendricks and O’Reilly are conscious of not simply nicking an idea and running with it themselves. They want a collaborator’s input until the end.
“We’re trying not to grab their information and run off with it,” says Hendricks. “Very often, they’ll decide they’re really keen on making something but not to take part in the performance and that’s absolutely fine. We don’t push that.”
One such collaborator was a Syrian woman living in Dublin 8, who’d recently acquired Irish citizenship.
Hendricks and O’Reilly interviewed her over 15 hours, and they based their 2016 play Megalomaniac off these conversations. It premiered last year as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival.
The play told the story of Noor – as she is called in the production – and explores the war in Syria, the madness of suicide bombings, the disappearance of her relatives back home, and what it means now for her to find a new home in Dublin 8.
In the end, Noor chose not to take part in the performance. Instead, Hendricks and O’ Reilly invited Palestinian artist Iman Aoun from the ASHTAR Theatre to perform her role.
“It was about finding peace and finding safety in that very human way and that trail of investigation really led to a deeper understanding of the huge frustration that lives amongst people who’ve been dislocated,” says Hendricks. “It was really trailing back for her in her case.”
Clearly there’s a degree of anthropological study in the theatre’s subject matter. “It becomes an investigation, a true investigation I think,” says Hendricks. “And the relationship between collaborators is too sensitive and too precious. You have to stay open.”
Megalomaniac was the first part in what the duo term their Mother Ireland Trilogy. With their residency in the Coombe Hospital now in full swing, O’Reilly says that in 2017 they aim to collaborate more with the staff of the hospital.
Next up, floated for autumn, is TRADers. It is at an early stage so they can’t give much away. But they are pursuing a few different lines of inquiry – around the housing crisis and diversity and integration in Dublin 8.
Says Hendricks: “It’s bringing all those elements together but in a new, absurdist way.”