We came to be with a random selection of friends and Thespians, community theatre inter generational alums, all known quantities of talented good eggs who contributed more than the sum of their parts, their commitment to the whole. Each and every one, through the years has understood the nature of true collaboration.
As we embark on our new work Margaret Maher and the Celtification of Emily Dickinson, I remember The Dundalk Theatre Festival of 2004 and my excitement being able to perform with my American colleagues in my home county, County Louth. The stakes were high for a neophyte composer and a troop whose own Celtification was underway. Most of them knew nothing of Irish music or the history of our characters, the eponymous Wilde Irish Women.
In a series of rehearsals, costumed by the brilliant Ann Steinhauser, the characters of Grace O’ Malley, Maude Gonne, Sarah Curran and Veronica Guerin became our versions of themselves, the very real departed ones. Ann doubled as the saucy Molly Malone. She kept a believable school of fish in her bra - well faux wriggling ones - to the delight of the audience. Her aim often hit the mark, a few flew up into the gods and landed on an unsuspecting bosom or two.
Molly Malone was reborn.
We had full houses and standing ovations.
We barely knew what we were doing but we did it anyway. We struck gold when the retired film director, Michael Haley, after a distinguished career working for 25 years with Mike Nichols joined our troupe in a wig and a fabulous frock designed by Ann. The underlying girth reducing corset designed by the Oscar winner Costumière Ann Roth. The character of Lady Jane Wilde, a gender bending nod to Oscar, became the talk show host of the 19th century salon. She welcomed into her 1 Merion Square, Dublin salon, her guests The Wilde Irish Women.
A brand was born.
Our first American, Emily Dickinson is now posthumously, an unsuspecting Wilde Irish Woman. By leaping from facts to artistic license, she is one of us. Front and center is the real Celt of the piece Margaret Maher, who worked at The Dickinson Homestead for 30 years.
She leapt out of the pages of Aife Murray’s book Maid as Muse. I felt an immediate empathy for her, a smart undereducated Irish Immigrant who held her own in an anti Irish Puritan upper class household. She could have faded into the never remembered world of so many Irish domestic servants. As most of us from Ireland do -I’m sure sure she missed Ireland terribly- even in an age of instant communication we are never too far away from Emerald longings and would hop on a plane and go “ home “ to Ireland any night of the week. Margaret had no such luxury. She said- I am as strange here as if I came yesterday. She stands out as exceptional, her contribution to her own legacy and that of Emily are interwoven. We are honored to explore her story through music, her Irish origins, the poems of Emily and my own music and lyrics. I was surprised to receive the Margaret Maher award from the Amherst Irish Association.
Halfway through the pandemic I had finished the writing, the work of the music and script. Unknown to them and to me I would be linked to Margaret Maher in this unique way.
Our short term ambition is to mount the show here in Greenfield to start with in the Fall of 2020. I am exploring the possibility of where and how we can perform it in Ireland.
If I am effective in channeling Margaret, I hope we can honor her legacy and industrious work for Emily and The Dickinson’s , by taking the show on the road to Ireland. I have my heart set on Killusty, Co Tipperary where Margaret was born. Then we will head Northwards to County Louth in the Spring of 2023. Who knows where else, the reclusive poet is more famous than Margaret Maher, but her faithful “maid as muse” deserves more than an hour in the sun.