(Sara Keating’s article appeared in The Irish Times, 6/9; Photo: Naomi Moonveld-Nkosi stars as Kyla in The Ark’s What Did I Miss? by Sean Dunne, which explores and shares children’s experience of lockdown. Photograph: Ste Murray.)
Shaun Dunne’s play, in its fourth, lockdown-shaped iteration, is about to stream from the Ark
“What do you call a memory that never happened?” 13-year-old Kyla asks an imaginary group of peers as she rehearses the speech she plans to give at a belated graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020, whose primary school career was cut short by the pandemic. As she starts secondary school and says goodbye to childhood, Kyla is grieving, not just for those formal markers of transition from one stage of life to another, but for the little personal markers of her self-identity: her ability as an organiser, her talent as a dance captain.
Kyla is the central character in Shaun Dunne’s new play What Did I Miss?, which was to be the centrepiece of the Dublin Theatre Festival’s family programme in 2020, an annual partnership with the Ark, a cultural centre for children. Like all arts organisations around the country, the global pandemic presented the Ark with a challenge: how to reach young audiences when coming together is problematic.
As the Ark’s director, Aideen Howard, explained, What Did I Miss? was “actually version three” of their contribution to the Dublin Theatre Festival programme for 2020.
“There was our first international programme,” Howard said from a social distance at her standing desk in a stark white office brightened with children’s artwork. “That had to be cancelled obviously because of travel restrictions and limits on indoor gatherings. Then we came up with an idea for an outdoor production that would comply with Covid restrictions, which we could tour to schoolyards, and Shaun wrote What Did I Miss?
“Then the guidelines changed, so we decided to redesign it as an indoor production, and that’s the scenario we are working with now. Of course, we also have to have a plan for what will happen if things change again, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that nothing too dramatic happens to stop audiences coming back into us.”