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TNC Archive 2015
Interview

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Olwen
Fouere
riverrun

'riverrun' is Olwen Fouéré’s adaptation and performance of the voice of the river ‘Life’ in James Joyce’s 'Finnegans Wake'. In creating this, Fouéré’s work began by listening for the voice of Alp (Anna Livia Plurabelle) in her guise as the river 'life', whose never-ending course through 'Finnegans Wake' emits a powerful transformative energy as she dissolves into the great ocean of time. Fouéré didn’t actually read the entire book; instead she dipped in and out, probing the voice of the river.

Fouéré is one of Ireland's leading theatre makers and takes a unique approach to Joyce's extraordinary sound-dance, in collaboration with an exciting creative team. 

Hello Olwen, thank you for talking to The New Current , how's everything going? 

Everything is going well, thank you. I am happy that our riverrun is continuing to flow.

 

You had a pretty unbelievable 2014 with riverrun, did you expect the type of reaction you got from audiences and the press? 

It was very rewarding to see our audiences and the press respond with such openness and generosity. 

 

Finnegans Wake is notoriously challenging material for anyone. 

That said, I knew from the first moment  of revelation - with the idea of speaking through the voice of the river - that I had found some kind of key into the material, that it would be a powerful experience and that it would go beyond its literary manifestation.  It was like being offered a gift or finding a doorway into a consciousness that was already out there. I knew, and my collaborating team knew, that we had created something wild and extraordinary which, in many ways, had nothing to do with us. We just tried to find ways of allowing the work to take its own shape.

So it is exhilarating to discover that the vast majority our audiences enjoy surfing those rapids with us into the unknown.

 

2015 will see riverrun go to Dublin, Adelaide Festival and then the Sydney Theatre Company, what does it mean for you to be able to continue to share this stunning production with new audiences?

I am always very happy and excited to encounter new audiences, especially with the challenges presented by this work for both them and me. 

It is a hugely demanding piece for me as a performer and my only real fear is in maintaining the strength and ability to take that high dive. After that, the work is all about keeping the channels very open between the audience and myself. I am also thrilled to return to the Sydney Theatre Company with this work because the idea for riverrun was actually born on the 16 June 2011 while I was there on tour performing another show with the Abbey Theatre.

 

What was it about James Joyce's Finnegans Wake that inspired your adaptation?

I had randomly dipped into Finnegans Wake often over the years, thinking the language alone would be great material for performance. However, it was the idea of using the voice of the river that inspired the adaptation. 

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"Theatre became my way of understanding and attempting a communication with the world."

Tell me a little bit about riverrun, how did the play come about?

As I've mentioned, I was in Sydney, and the Irish Consulate asked to me to perform a public reading for their Bloomsday celebrations on 16 June. 

I agreed to read an excerpt from Ulysses if they let me also read an excerpt from Finnegans Wake. 

So I read the last couple of pages of both books. (There are some parallels between Molly Bloom's famous soliloquy in the last pages of Ulysses and the river Liffey's farewell monologue, as she follows her course into the sea in the last pages of Finnegans Wake). 

When I was reading the river's stream of last words, especially her wonderful cries like "Imlamaya" and "Avelaval" and "Ho Hang! Hang Ho! And the clash of our cries till we spring to be free. Auravoles...." to name but a few, I felt something happening in the room and a shiver went up my spine. That's how it began. The next morning I had already chosen the title and was meeting a Joyce scholar to ask for advice. Following that I began the two year process of adaptation, selecting passages, words and phrases, compiling the text that became the text of riverrun. During that time, I elicited the advice of many other artists with occasional workshops, public readings and work-in-progress showings, all culminating in working with the team who created the final work with me. Namely, the sound designer/composer Alma Kelliher, the costume designer Monica Frawley, the lighting designer Stephen Dodd, our co-director Kellie Hughes and producer Jen Coppinger. We then had three weeks of intensive rehearsals leading up to our world premiere at the Galway International Arts Festival in July 2013, who joined us as co-producers along with Cusack Projects Ltd. On the technical side we have the sound engineer Benny Lynch who now operates and live-mixes the sound score in the same way that Alma did up until Edinburgh. So the team and its dynamics continue to evolve as time goes on.

Was it challenging to be adapting and performing in a production?

Yes. So I had originally intended to ask someone else to direct it but realised I had to take on the responsibility of the overall concept, especially given the nature of the material and the choices I had already made.

However, I think it is very difficult to self-direct once you are on stage and in the theatre. I was extremely fortunate to find Kellie Hughes who has a great background in physical theatre and offers me the feedback and advice I need on my performance and on general staging choices. She also runs the technical rehearsals and the get-in to every venue. I jump off stage whenever I can to see what is happening but I have absolute trust in her to judge things for my eyes and ears as well. 

 

What did it feel like to perform riverrun for the first time?

Exhilarating and terrifying. By the end, it was like reaching the other side after swimming the Atlantic. It was during the hot summer of 2013 in Galway, in the historic Druid Theatre just a few feet from where the great Corrib River joins the Atlantic, and my entire body was dripping with sweat, as was the audience. I was thirsty. Water figured greatly.

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Looking back would there be anything you would have done differently?

No. It is what it is.

 

Have you always wanted to create theatre?

That's a difficult question. I really knew nothing about the theatre until my mid-twenties. 

I was not exposed to any theatre in my childhood as I grew up in a very remote part of the west coast of Ireland.

We had radio but no television and visits to the cinema or theatre only happened when we went to a city. I guess the answer is that I have always known about the power of nature and the power of the human imagination in forging our reality. Theatre became my way of understanding and attempting a communication with the world. It is also, for me, an act of resistance against the prescribed reality we live in.

 

Do you have a favourite theatre quote?

I don't think I have a favourite theatre quote at the moment other than something I heard a member of Anne Bogart's SITI company saying to his co-actors just before he went on stage : "Cover me! I'm going in!". 

We have something like that before every performance of riverrun, in the very last moment before the audience comes in and we all are in our places, we say "Bon Voyage! See you on the other side..."

 

And finally what do you hope people will take away from your riverrun?

I hope people leave the theatre wanting to celebrate this thing we call Life, with a passion in their being to embrace the unknown.

It is, after all, the river Life (Liffey) speaking....' Soft morning, city! Lsp! I am leafy speafing. Lpf!..."

I hope too that they will celebrate what James Joyce is offering to the world in his most controversial work of literature .

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