In conversation with Nuala Mckeever, star of ‘In The Window’ where she gives us insight into her unique experience as a solo performer.
1. What is your backstage routine before a performance?
I like to have an hour on my own to put on make up and costume and “become” the main character, Margaret, in my play In The Window. I usually drink lots of water and do some voice warming up exercises, because talking for over an hour non-stop is tough on the throat!
2. What is the most rewarding experience for you during a solo performance, as opposed to performing in a multi-cast play?
I just LOVE the sense that when it’s just me on stage, I can go with whatever comes up in each performance. I never feel I’m alone, however, as I really see and feel that the four characters I play are all real people and distinctive people and I even sometimes am waiting for the “others” to come out and bow with me at the end of the show!
3. What genre of plays/theatre would find you in the audience?
I would love to see more Shakespeare and would love to see one of his plays in the Globe in London. At home I like all sorts! Local writers and performers doing comedy and visiting large productions doing new or classic works. I particularly like plays with women in them as I’m a little tired of seeing work that’s about men’s inability to articulate their feelings and the consequences of same. We seem to have had a run of those here recently! Maybe it’s something to do with being Irish!
4. Have you had any memorable fan/audience encounters?
Pretty much all my fan/audience encounters have been delightful! I never cease to be thrilled and grateful when people choose to pay money to spend time listening and watching something I’ve created. One night performing “In The Window” I blanked on a line. I said to the audience, “Well, I’ve always wondered what would happen if I forgot a line, so now I know!” I then had another go. Couldn’t remember it. Called out for the line from the Stage Manager. She shouted it out but I couldn’t hear it! Then I heard it but it still didn’t jog my memory because the line was, “Another one?” and that didn’t seem like an actual line. By now the audience was in stitches laughing at the sight of me trying to get it. Finally, I got it, did it and went immediately back into character and carried on as if nothing had happened. It felt sublime to bring a whole audience with me each step and to know they trusted me completely. It feels rather like unconditional love and that’s pretty intoxicating!
5. Is there any Indian food you are looking forward to trying?
I’m looking forward to all of it!! I’ve been a vegetarian for 35 years. I love Indian food and can’t wait to try the dishes in their home country. I particularly like paneer and puris and dhaal and rice!
6. How does the story of the play affect or influence you?
The idea for In The Window came to me one night when it was freezing cold and I was putting on socks to get into bed. It was January. Cold, dark, miserable, not much work on, pretty low time of year. A line popped into my head, “Oh god, I’d almost welcome a burglar, just for the company.”
It made me laugh and then I said, “I don’t mean it!” and checked the front door was double locked! But I jotted the line down in my wee notebook and the idea started to grow…. What would happen if someone was going to take their own life and someone broke into their house? Would the person say, “Take anything you want, I don’t need it.” Would the intruder be surprised and put-out that their “victim” wasn’t behaving like a victim? Would the intruder start arguing with the person that they ought not to kill themselves???
The play isn’t exactly that, but that’s what started the process. I’m very interested in why we behave as we do and particularly in the things that drive us. Our needs or desires. Some of these are very basic, like the need to belong to someone or some place. Also, there is a theme of suicide in the play, although the play is a comedy, it deals with dark subjects. Teenage suicide has increased enormously in Northern Ireland in the past ten years. there’s a story in the play that’s based entirely on what happened to a young guy I worked with briefly. I wanted to make his situation known, to give the audience a reminder that some people are dealing with very big issues, even though they look “normal” as we pass them in the street. Ultimately the play is very hopeful and uplifting. That is how I feel.
7. What are 5 things you’re looking forward to about your performance in India?
I’m intrigued about how the audience will react. Will they understand me?
I’m very excited to see India and its people.
Hoping there’s some aircon otherwise I’m gonna be HOT!!!! in my non-natural fibres costume every performance!
Curious about cultural differences in audiences – I’ve already experienced that in performing in Northern Ireland, then Scotland, then the United States.
Really looking forward to hearing what India people feel and think about the themes of the play… Family, belonging, love… All the biggies!
8. Do you have any advice for stage actors struggling getting their message and talent noticed?
I started writing one-woman plays because after years of having shows on tv, suddenly I found I couldn’t get anymore tv work. And I wanted to work so I decided to write a play and put it on and charge ticket money. The tickets paid the director/script editor, who agreed to do it on the basis of profit share. She got the profit first time out!
I never got grant aid to perform or write plays. So it’s hard to perform with a big cast if you haven’t got the money. My advice is to write what you want and then start performing it anywhere you can..
You can use puppets or found objects as opposed to real people, in order to act your piece. You can get others to take part on the basis of sharing any money you make. You can record clips and put them online and try to raise funding that way.
This is good advice for myself too! I should follow it! It’s so easy to get despondant when you need to earn a living. it can feel difficult to be creative when you’re slightly desperate, but if you can keep in communication with others, don’t sit in your head letting the negative thoughts go round and round, then there is ALWAYS an outlet. And don’t try to guess what people want to hear or see. Express what needs to come out of you, because that’s the only thing you can do authentically and an authentic voice will touch people. We always know when someone is authentic. That’s what moves us.