When Róise Goan was asked to produce original theatre for this year’s Earagail Arts Festival, she had several concepts she wanted to address.
The Dublin Fringe Festival director was interested in challenging the myth that audiences experience theatre in one particular way, and she wanted to produce a piece about the world we live in now, as opposed to far-away, fictional experiences.
“It’s about experiencing the world in a new way,” Róise said.
Róise came to the work through an accomplished career in theatre. She was appointed director of the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2008 and a board member of The Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre, in 2011. Before her Dublin Fringe appointment, she was the company director of Randolf SD in Dublin and a freelance producer with a number of Irish theatre companies and festivals.
Róise said when she began thinking of someone to create a Donegal work for the 25th annual Earagail Arts Festival, she thought of the Donegal artists she knew who were currently working away from home in the art centres of London, Dublin and New York.
“Caitríona is one of those artists,” said Róise.
The result is “Destination Doughnut”, an innovative piece of theatre that will take place in and around Inishowen this weekend, largely on a Swilly Bus.
The newly commissioned work is directed by Caitríona McLaughlin of Carndonagh, who collaborated with artist James Cunningham and musician Alan Williams.
Róise considered the remarkable landscape of Inishowen, and recognised the peninsula as a place that has also suffered from the great tragedy of road deaths. She saw the piece as an opportunity to bring together a place of great beauty and a place of great tragedy, “and offer people an opportunity to experience it in a different way”. “We knew we wanted to do something in Inishowen and knew we didn’t want to do a straightforward, sitting-in-a-room piece of theatre, because it didn’t feel very of the place,” Caitríona said. “One thing Róise was interested in was the roads, and it just seemed to me that the best way to think about the roads is to be on them.
“I suppose, in a way, that’s really how it happened,” the director said, adding, “I’m really interested in how you draw an audience’s attention to something without spelling it out for them.”
Caitríona said she thought it was more interesting when an artist does not tell an audience what she or he thinks.
“If it works, most of the story will be put together in the minds of the audience and how the respond to each of the different moments and how they respond to the experience of being on a bus journey,” Caitríona said.
“Destination Doughnut” has been described as “a sensitive and beautifully crafted journey around the Inishowen peninsula that takes you to the heart of our relationship with the roads of Donegal.”
The piece, “is not a difficult or scary thing to experience,” Róise said. “It’s going to be very enjoyable and very rich.”
She called it, “kind of like a mystery bus tour around Inishowen. It’s something that’s becoming more normal in other places, but I think in Donegal the experience of theatre is still you sit down in a room and watch something happening in front of you.”
Not this time. In “Destination Doughnut” the audience get on the bus at the Diamond in Carndonagh, and the journey unfolds as they travel around and through the peninsula’s villages before returning to Carndonagh. There will be an interval, but the piece develops during that period as well.
The audience will not be asked to say or do anything, but the piece will be an experience in participation for those who come to it, Róise said.
“It’s about bringing people along roads they might be familiar with, or maybe not familiar with, and letting them experience it in a different way,” Róise said. “It’s safe to say it is going to be, I think, a very rich and beautiful experience for the people who come along.”
Paul Brown, director of Earagail Arts, had asked Róise to introduce original theatre as part of this year’s festival. He said “Destination Doughnut” is important to Earagail Arts because it is a Donegal piece with themes that affect Donegal people.
“This has been developed specifically for this year,” Paul said. “This is a piece people will be talking about.”
Caitriona, who directed the recent Millennium Forum production of Frank McGuinness’s “Factory Girls”, brought a special understanding to the work, Róise said. “I think her heritage, her roots here really informed her experience,” Róise said. “She brings something very special to bear on this piece. Her innate understanding of local culture makes this something really special.” Róise herself has close ties to Donegal through her parents, singer Maighréad Ní Dhomhnaill and Cathal Goan, former director-general of RTÉ. And Caitríona said Róise was “passionate about bringing the highest quality contemporary theatre to rural Ireland”.
Caoitríona, who regularly works in London and New York, said it has been very nice to work at home. She said that during work on this current piece, “Some of the locals that have asked to get involved have been very generous with their time and their space.”
“Destination Doughnut” will be presented on Saturday, June 22nd and Sunday, June 23rd, at three different times each night.
“I would say it’s a rare opportunity for people to experience Inishowen in this way,” Caitríona said. She acknowledged that the Donegal International Rally is also on this weekend, and called the theatre piece “an alternative way of spending the weekend on the road”.
“There hasn’t been anything like this before and I don’t know when there will be something like this again,” Róise said. “Take a chance on an adventure and book a ticket.”