Spark Assembly are a female led company, they performed their play in development ‘In The Dollhouse’ at the Health Scratch night. Here they give us some info in this interview about who they are and their vision.
How did Spark Assembly come to creation ?
Kate: Spark Assembly is Ursula Campbell, Katherine Reilly and myself, Kate O’Rourke. Back in December 2015 I was invited to be part of a reading of ‘In the Dollhouse’, by the actor Katherine Reilly. It turned out that a friend of mine, Ursula, couldn’t make it and had recommended me. Once I read the script, I knew it was undiscovered gold: The relationships between the characters felt real and believable, the dialogue flowed and the story of these five women really resonated with me. AND it passed The Bechdel Test – fist punch! #BechdelTest So I talked to Katherine about moving forward with the play, and actually ended up recommending Ursula to her again as a Director. Over the early months of 2016, our conversations turned into plans which became actions, and we three became Spark Assembly.
What is your ethos ?
Kate: We believe in Creation through Collaboration.
Our mission statement is:
“We are committed to producing compelling, relevant and diverse work for stage and screen with a particular emphasis on creation through collaboration. A team of actors, writers and directors we empower artists to embrace truth and playfulness by exploring and developing pieces with an inclusive narrative.
We are currently in development with a female led piece, but after this we will endeavour our work to be 50/50 in terms of gender and diversity.
Tell us about ‘In The Dollhouse
Katherine: ‘In the Dollhouse’ started life as a short 10 minute 2-hander play ‘Stir Crazy’, which I performed in as part of a showcase of new writing. We worked closely with the writer Deborah and this collaboration inspired her to develop it into a full length play. We had a reading of the first draft of it which everyone was excited by, however everyone involved went on to other projects and it didn’t progress any further at that time. Around a year ago I picked it up again and was struck by how strongly the characters and relationships were and with such a lack of female led drama how relevant the piece felt. I gathered a group of actors together and all of them felt it was piece that really resonated and could go somewhere. With the founding of Spark Assembly, with Ursula and Kate’s passion and energy, we’ve been working on developing it further as Spark Assembly’s debut project.
Your new play ‘In The Dollhouse’ was performed recently at Actor Awareness scratch and at the Dioroma Arts Studios with a rehearsed reading, what has your feedback done to move forward with your piece.
Katherine: The Actors Awareness scratch night was an amazing opportunity to focus on the intensity of the strong relationships in the piece. The compressed nature of choosing short segments from the longer piece heightened these relationships. One of our goals and much of the feedback we received was that people wanted to know more about the characters and see more of their story! Which was a great starting point.
Getting to share longer excerpts in a different way at our reading at Diorama Arts studios allowed us to continue to develop the relationships but also highlighted which elements of the story and relationships we need to focus on in research and development.
The feedback from both performances has been incredibly helpful. Some has chimed with our own thoughts and instincts on moving the piece forward but has also thrown up bigger questions on structure and story which we are really excited to explore more as we continue to develop it
How do you think women are represented in theatre?
Kate: Hmmm tricky, as I feel things are changing at the moment, but not as quickly or widely as I’d love to see happen. We’re still too often ‘The Wife’, ‘The Whore’ etc, used as tools to move the play along or for the protagonist to aim for. Too seldom are women the driving force or given a decent proportion of lines and character development. Plays like ‘People, Places and Things’ are a rarity in theatre, but in fairness to the industry, I do think it’s slowly evolving as audiences demand more. As an Irish actor I’ve watched the #wakingthefeminists movement in Ireland with admiration and tried to support and promote it as best I can. It came about because The Abbey theatre, Ireland’s National theatre, launched it’s 1916 centenary programme where one out of the ten plays was written by a woman – three out of the ten directed by women. In the days that followed, a discussion exploded on Facebook and Twitter, initiated and led by Lian Bell, under a hashtag coined by director Maeve Stone. In the following weeks, there was an outpouring of testimonies from both women and men working in Irish theatre, highlighting the disenfranchisement and chronic under-representation of the work of women artists – not just at the Abbey but throughout the Irish theatre sector. And this is not the only movement out there about Equality in Theatre. There are plenty of young, old and ‘in the middle’ theatremakers like us out there trying to right the balance in terms of gender, class and race inequality in the industry. Hopefully we can build upon the work of women like Lian Bell, Vicky Featherstone, Sonia Friedman, Paulette Randall, Lyndsey Turner, Caroline Byrne, Indhu Rubasingham and Emma Rice who are making such strides ahead right now. The times they are a-changin.
You have been following Actor Awareness, firstly thanks and secondly how do you think our cause stands in the industry at present?
Kate: I’ve been following Actor Awareness since it started really. Tom Stocks was talking about things on Twitter and Facebook that really resonated with me. I’m a working class actor. I could barely afford to audition for Drama Schools, and if I got in I wouldn’t have been able to afford the fees at all. Because acting is seen as a glamorous profession, the general public aren’t always aware of what goes on the industry- the large amounts of money you’re expected to pay before you even make a penny yourself i.e Headshots, Showreels, Workshops, Agents Fees, subscriptions etc. So there is a real need for more ‘awareness’ about what goes on.
What are Spark Assembly’s future plans?
Kate: We are continuing to develop the script of In the Dollhouse, working with the writer Deborah Espect and hoping to workshop and R&D with a group of actors soon. We’ve just had a highly successful reading for an invited Industry audience this month which has given us a lot of food for thought, we are researching funding opportunities, and meeting with Producers, theatre-makers and writers about future projects in the coming two years. Autumn is looking to be an exciting and eventful time for us. Fingers crossed!
What do you like about new writing and scratch nights?
Kate: Excitement, fresh talent and new opportunities. New writing in 2016 is an incredibly exciting thing to witness- it’s culturally aware- gender, class and race representation is becoming more proportionate and this is especially evident in Fringe theatre. Scratch nights provide such an important purpose- getting up and presenting your work to your peers and receiving much needed feedback. We were so fortunate to be chosen for your Health night scratch, and we got so much encouragement and support, which makes all the difference to a young company.
Actor Awareness have been campaigning on drama school fees, what is your opinion on drama school audition fees?
Kate: I believe no actor should have to pay to audition for anything, drama school or otherwise. I understand the schools’ justification of their fees and how they came about, but they are still too expensive and vary from institution to institution. #whythefee is a very timely campaign as it becomes more and more evident how disadvantaged working class actors are in the industry.
Follow Spark Assembly’s journey on Twitter and Facebook.