Emma O’Grady is a busy woman. The actor, writer, lighting technician and production manager, who was on the production crew of Galway International Arts Festival, is about to revive her one-woman show, What Good is Looking Well When You’re Rotten on the Inside? for a national tour that will include a performance at the City’s Town Hall Theatre next Friday, August 17, and Tuam’s Mall Theatre on Friday, August 31.
On the day we meet, she’s bringing her production skills to bear on the West Cork Fit-up Festival, an event which brings some of Ireland’s actors and theatre companies to West Cork and its islands, performing shows in minimalist settings. She loves it.
Emma’s enthusiasm for her work and her lively personality are infectious as she discusses the revival of her show, based on a grandfather, who could best be described as taciturn.
When Emma first performed this piece, based on the final month of Paddy O’Grady’s life, at the 2017 Galway Theatre Festival, it was attended by Paddy’s extended family and as they all gathered afterwards to share their memories, it became the wake he never had when he died. Paddy’s children and grandchildren had seen another side to this man, one that gave them a greater understanding of why he had been so distant.
Emma’s grandparents Paddy and Brigid (Birdie) O’Grady lived with Emma’s parents and family in Mountrath, Co Laois, when she was young. While Birdie was warm and extrovert, Paddy, a civil servant and retired manager of Cork Airport, didn’t engage much with his grandchildren.
Shortly before he died, when Emma was 12, Paddy got a sudden urge to talk – but not to his family, which she still regrets. Using a cassette tape recorder, he recorded hours of absurdist stories and thoughts on life. Emma recalls listening outside his room as he did so, wishing he could have told them to her. The 12-year-old loved stories and loved performing and appeared in her first play shortly after his death. But he didn’t engage.
Paddy’s tapes were stored away, until Emma, by now an adult, found them.
Out of this personal treasure trove, she created a show about emotional inheritance and grief for wasted creativity.
It was one of several shows she feels compelled to make and has resonated with audiences both in Galway and at the 2017 Dublin Fringe Festival.
“Every time I did it, people would come up to me after and say ‘my father was a musician or a singer or a poet and he was always writing down things in the kitchen and never showing them’.
“They all had a parent or grandparent who didn’t have the opportunity to express themselves creatively,” she continues. “And ‘he was very well-read’ was something you heard a lot. By me giving permission to my dead grandfather to speak, it’s given permission for a whole generation . . . if that doesn’t sound too wanky!”
While this show is emotional, clearly Emma isn’t given to sentimentality!
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
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