(Tanya Dean's article appeared in Irish Theatre Magazine, October 27.)

Reading between the headlines

New York's Origin Theatre Company has just produced Spinning the Timhttp://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=First+Irish+Festival&search_type=&aq=f# es, five new monologues by Irish women playwrights, as part of the 2009 First Irish Festival. Tanya Dean went along to the 59E59 Theatres, Off-Broadway, and talked to the writers about the commission.

“Five Irish women Playwrights, Five New York News Stories” read the tagline for Origin Theatre Company's Spinning the Times, with a New York Times quote –"Stunningly written monologues" – emblazoned on the promotional flier (although an observant eye will note that this quote actually referred to Origin's 2005 production of Mark O’Rowe’s Crestfall). As part of the 2009 1st Irish Festival, which ran over five weeks in twelve different New York venues, Origin Theatre Company ("Where European Theatre Lives") offered five Irish female playwrights a commission to write a short monologue based on a news story they found in the New York Times.

The festival's rubric of "Irish theatre" covers theatre exported by Irish companies, such as Fishamble's The Pride of Parnell Street, as well as theatre of Irish origin produced by American companies, such as Blood Guilty by The Bronx Company. So what does it mean to further sub-categorize work under the heading of Irish female playwright? (It seems to be a trend of late: witness the Abbey's The Fairer Sex series, which commissioned six new twenty-minute plays by women writers for rehearsed readings in June of this year.)

Playwright Belinda McKeon admitted to some mixed feelings about the general heading of "women playwrights". “I have to be honest here and say that I didn't know (or perhaps, through selective hearing, didn't hear), when taking the commission on in the very first instance, that the five monologues were going to be presented as five monologues by female playwrights – it was only later that this element of the show sank in for me. I'm never that keen on this kind of categorising, and I have to admit… I've never become more comfortable with it, with the sense of having these plays thought about first and foremost as plays by women, or plays somehow with a female perspective.

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