by Isadora Epstein
Aine O’Hara is a participant in Stand with Us, the artist development programme hosted by Massive Owl, artists in residence at Live Collision. At Project Arts Centre, I ask Aine a couple of questions about her one hour Exchange with Massive Owl.
Can you describe one visual moment, nearly a photograph from your Exchange?
I was standing in Fringe Lab in a flowery yellow dress and in each hand I was holding probably six books and you could see the tension. It was really hard to hold them up and I was holding my hands up in the air and it was really difficult. This was the start of my exchange. Before I started talking I was standing there holding the books and being visibly strained.
What had you asked for your Exchange to be?
I had asked to perform a small work in progress for them and get some feedback because I work a lot on my own so, it’s difficult because you don’t get critique or opinions and sometimes you get lost in it. I was looking for some critique on the subject matter and their opinion as well of the piece.
What piece are you currently working on?
I am working on this piece called An Múínteoir. Its about my Dad kind of. The history of it is about the physical abuse in primary schools by lay teachers in Ireland when my Dad was young which was in the sixties. I became concerned about this because the man who would have been his teacher still lives in our village and I see him a lot, and I started getting annoyed about this. My dad talks about what happened to him in kind of— not in a depressing way, but a kind of joking way, like “Remember the time he did this…”
I would have heard a lot of stories from my dad growing up about things that happened to him in school, like physical abuse and I was concerned because you don’t hear about physical abuse from lay teachers. You hear about religious institutions and the sexual abuse that happened but this kind by lay teachers, this kind of abuse is kind of ignored. These people were never charged they just stay in our society.
For example of man who would have abused my father taught in my school when I was a kid. Why don’t people talk about this in public? I want to make people aware of what happened. The piece I did for Massive Owl was the slightly story telling, slightly re-enacting of what my Dad had told me had happened.
Was there a time during the Exchange when you were more kind of passive, listening and observing the folks of Massive Owl?
We were talking about objects. the books as a prop. Sam and Danny were talking about a piece they did with an elastic band. They worked for weeks and weeks all the different things with this one object.
And they were really talking about how to use the books as a prop and how to investigate what the books mean and what a prop means in a performance and telling me about their own experience using the elastic in that piece. In rehearsals they used the elastic band in hundreds of different ways but in the piece they used it in two specific ways. How getting to know your material and getting to know the props really well helps you shape the piece
They all come from different backgrounds, they all have unique views. Sam was really visual, all books, books, books! Danny was really honing in on the language and the performative style. Jenny was really interested in how I used the Irish language in the piece. Obviously the language has a different resonance to them because they don’t know Irish. She was interested into what she could take from that. When I was performing as the teacher speaking in Irish she was saying it was really clear what he was saying and you didn’t need to know the words. You got the feeling of the kids getting given out to.
What did you expect from the Exchange?
I was open because I had looked into their work and it was really devised. They hadn’t done a lot of personal stuff so I was interested to see their view on it, from people who don’t normally start from a personal place.
They were really helpful in terms of my performance style. They described fully my performance style, they told me: you did storytelling, you did re-enactment, you did performance closer to acting. That was really helpful because I was like, that is what I was doing! But it’s hard to be aware of all that yourself.
They were giving me ways I could use these different styles. I work a lot with interactions with the audience and they gave me different ways that I could interact with the audience using different styles.
Did you have any aha moments?
The thing with the books. They said to me it would be really interesting if audience members put the books on my hands. I was like, “Yes it would be!”. Because it would like they would be abusing me, but I’m letting them and I asking them to. I would have never have thought of that, I would not of thought of that by myself.
With the books, it’s imagining that I was 10 like they were. If it is really difficult for me now, how would it be like for them? What they were thinking when they were doing this? What will happen if I drop them? I better not drop them, will I get slapped if I drop them? How hard they were trying to keep this action stable.
What are you proud of in your own work?
I suppose I am really proud of moments of interaction with audience members. Moments when you really connect, like I did this piece around January called ‘The Birthday Party.’ I basically threw a birthday party but it was a performance about mental health. About my grandmother how she never had her own birthday party. I was throwing a party for my grandmother even though she was dead and we had cake at that and as I gave them a slice of cake I talked to them for a moment
I asked them questions I thought were important to mental health right now. I asked them: If you had a mental health issue and you were sick from work would you tell your boss the truth or would you make up a physical illness? I got a lot of interesting truthful answers from the audience and its those moments that are really special. Giving them something and they are giving you something.