At Dublin Fringe Festival 2017, in the intimate surroundings of Bewley’s Café Theatre, Kate Stanley Brennan debuted ‘WALK FOR ME’. It was her first outing as a theatre writer, but the multi- disciplinary artist had been involved in the world of acting for many years.
Under the pseudonym MissKate, the Dubliner also wrote and performed music, but put that part of her creative life on hold when theatre took over. There was always a longing to return to music, which was key reason ‘WALK FOR ME’ was born.
The production follows Mary Jane from Dublin who goes down the rabbit hole of New York’s underground club scene while on a J1. She becomes embroiled in a world of sex, drugs and music and meets some less than savoury characters along the way. We caught up with Kate to discuss the play and working with multiple members of her family (including regular District designer Johnny Brennan, aka Bobofunk).
You mentioned before that the character and story became more removed from yourself as you wrote it. Did that give you more freedom?
Yeah, for sure. If I had written ‘WALK FOR ME’ as a purely autobiographical piece I would have been confined by fear of exposure and potentially less forthcoming. It is still a deeply personal story, framed by my own experiences, but I’ve drawn on other life stories I’ve collected along the way in order to make this relatable to lots of people – particularly young girls, although it’s definitely a story that’s important for boys to see too.
How different is preparing as an actor for a play like ‘The Plough And The Stars’ in comparison to this?
Quite different! Only in that with ‘Plough’ I just had to concentrate on my character Nora and going on each night and inhibiting her. You are also confident in the genius that is Sean O’Casey. With ‘WALK FOR ME’, however, it’s my own thing, so naturally I am on the eternal hamster wheel of emotions ranging from supreme confidence to crippling self-loathing. I’m also wearing several hats, so there’s a lot more to think and worry about – the writing, performance, design and production. Luckily, I have the fab Cian O’Brien in Project Arts Centre doing that part for me this time around. I have an incredible team that I wouldn’t have been able to do without: my sister Sarah directing, brother Johnny designing projections and doing some of the tracks, Adam Fogarty (MathMan) producing the music and Handsome Paddy on the turntables. I feel truly blessed to have all these amazing creative people around me.
Are there similarities in preparation?
Well, when it comes to performance time I try to block out all the other stuff and approach my prep for the the show the same as I would any other play I do. I don’t really have a rigorous preparation routine, I’ve done all that in rehearsal. I very much rely on my instincts. I just go on stage and try to be truthful in whatever role I play. I believe no matter what you do, regardless of what style of music or role your playing, or whatever your doing, as long as it comes from a place of truth it will be successful and people will engage with it. Audiences are perceptive and if they get a bang of bullshit, you’re fucked. You’ve lost them.
Your roles are at either end of Irish history; with ‘Plough’ being the birth of Modern Ireland, and ‘WALK FOR ME’ being a thoroughly modern portrayal of contemporary sexuality. Is it nice as a performer to be involved in such diverse roles?
Of course, that’s what I love about what I do. I’ve always loved change and reinventing myself in my own life, so it makes sense that I went into a profession where I get to transform all the time. But I’ll always try to find something in the character I play that I can relate to. There’s always a little bit of me in each one. It’s interesting to see similarities in a lot of the female characters though, even in something so different to ‘WALK FOR ME’ as ‘Plough’. The “sex” scene with Nora and Jack is so superbly observed and could have been written today. People don’t change, just the world around them.
You’ve said before that ‘WALK FOR ME’ is “a story of self discovery; of finding self worth, finding your voice in the world and realising what’s really important in life”, is that something you resonate with working in the creative industries? Have you found the answer to this?
Working in the creative world is a journey with many hills and valleys. An addiction, at times an affliction, but ultimately, if you’re lucky, incredibly rewarding. You are so vulnerable and exposed when you put your own stuff out there to be judged by the masses, and so you are constantly analysing yourself and others who inspire you to try and find your own true authentic voice. Which can take time, it’s not easy! I’m still trying to find my voice with songwriting and singing. I’ve never been 100 percent happy with anything I’ve released so far and that’s what I’m striving for – to create something that I truly love. And if other people like it, that’s a bonus, but even if they hate it I won’t care ‘cause I’ll know that I love it. Hopefully I’ll get there someday!
I think I’ll be discovering things about myself ‘til the day I die, but I definitely have found the answer to what’s important in life, and for me that’s family and friends. Everything else is secondary.
You mentioned that you’ll be rekindling the collaborative relationships with MathMan and Bobofunk?
I wouldn’t work anyone else on this project. I met MathMan back when The Animators were still going and I was gigging with my band. I wanted to work with him back then. He sent me a load of tracks and I just fell in love with his production style and knew he was going to be big and do great things. I wrote a load of songs and wanted to make an EP, but theatre swept me away out of Ireland and it never happened. Which was probably for the best as now we have finally done this EP that we are releasing in January, a soundtrack to ‘WALK FOR ME’. Both of our styles have probably matured.
He just gets better and better each year and has such a wide range of influences and styles, I knew he would be perfect for this show. Which is probably mad to him ‘cause he intended a lot of these tracks for an MC to rap over!But some of it is so atmospheric and dark that it completely suits a theatrical format, and then other tracks are absolute bangers! So as you can imagine I was over the moon when he agreed to do it.
He also hooked me up with Diffusion Lab where I recorded, mixed and mastered the EP and I’m buzzin’ with the result. Marcin in there is a magician!
And as for Bobofunk, he’s been my ultimate since the day he was born! [Laughs] He’ll kill me for saying that. But in all seriousness he and I have very similar music taste, so I knew he would be perfect to do the NY underground house and runway tracks as he would get the scene I’m talking about. It has a very specific sound. On top of that, he’s designing the slickest projections to accompany the songs that are a huge step up from the last show. As you guys in District know, he’s an awesome graphic designer, but the technology he’s using now for motion graphics is much more sophisticated and the space upstairs in Project Arts Centre is perfect to showcase his visual feast.
How does your approach to songwriting change when your working with artists like that?
It varies. Some tracks are already made and I will pick ones I like and write melodies and lyrics over them, and some the other way ‘round. I’ll send him an idea and he will create a track around it. It’s also different to making music with someone normally, because this is for a theatre show so the songs are a bit more dramatic. Which is fun ‘cause you can kind of go a bit ‘guilty pleasure’ on them. But that being said, I wanted to make sure all the songs in the show were as close to MissKate tunes as possible and not “musical numbers”. That hopefully is what makes the show different, it’s a cross between a play and a gig.
You’ve a background in music and even spent a year exploring NYC’s club scene. What did you learn from your time there and how does the NY club scene differ to Dublin’s?
New York was where I discovered I could write a song. I always loved music, but never imagined I’d be good enough to write anything, and when I got to NYC and got sucked into the fantastical world of the underground gay scene I felt free to express myself, without any judgment. Nobody gave a shit about what you wore, who you fucked or what you did. They just congratulated you for doing your thing and being different. There was also the added freedom of nobody knowing my history or anything about me or my family of actors. There was no pressure to behave in a certain way. I got an education in all things house music and so I started singing and writing house lyrics. Then I came back a year later to audition for a big theatre show and I was back in theatre land, which I love also, but all the fear of judgment came back and it took me seven years before I made my debut single. I never stopped writing songs all those seven years though, so I have a bank of material now. It just took me a while to get here, but I did it eventually!
As you mention, Bobofunk just so happens to be your brother and your sister Sarah directed the first production. What’s it like working with a sibling so closely on a project?
[Laughs] Aside from a few sibling meltdowns born out of over-familiarity, I adored working with both of them and there’s no way I could have done what I’ve done without them on board, they’ve gone above and beyond. My other sister Holly has done the poster, so literally all of us pitched in. I feel extremely lucky to have such talented sibs, and we’re all mates which makes it even better. Hopefully we still will be when it’s all finished!
‘WALK FOR ME’ runs in Project Arts Centre from January 16-26.