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O'Dowd, Ciara Publication Date 2016-05-11 Ite PDF

308 Pages·2017·2.83 MB·English
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Provided by the author(s) and NUI Galway in accordance with publisher policies. Please cite the published version when available. The on and off-stage roles of Abbey Theatre actresses of the Title 1930s Author(s) O'Dowd, Ciara Publication 2016-05-11 Date Item record http://hdl.handle.net/10379/5789 Downloaded 2023-02-14T01:33:17Z Some rights reserved. For more information, please see the item record link above. Ciara O’Dowd B.A. (Mod.) M.A. 09232113 Doctoral Scholar of The College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Celtic Studies at National University of Ireland, Galway. The On and Off-Stage Roles of Abbey Theatre Actresses of the 1930s Supervised by Prof. Adrian Frazier & Prof. Lionel Pilkington May 2016 Acknowledgments I am forever in debt to all the people who provided expertise, assistance and support as I completed this thesis. Professor Adrian Frazier made it all possible, and I would like to acknowledge his inspirational teaching and guidance. Thanks are due to all the staff of the English Department, particularly Professor Lionel Pilkington, Professor Sean Ryder and Dr. Marie-Louise Coolahan. Thanks to my fellow doctoral students and to Professor Patrick Lonergan; Dr. Charlotte McIvor; Professors Jill Dolan and Stacy Wolf of Princeton University; and, for her astute questions at my viva voce, to Dr. Aoife Monks. I was privileged to be a Doctoral Scholar of the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Celtic Studies. In my archival research, I was ably assisted by Barry Houlihan and all of the staff of the Hardiman Library Special Collections as well as Carrie Marsh of Claremont University in California. I have boundless gratitude for those who shared my passion and helped along the way: Christine Shields; Katharine Weber; Patrick Laffan; Maev Kennedy and Val Mulkerns; Mary McCullough; Alma Nowlan; Susan Slott; Helen Sheehy and Finola Finlay. For their patience, practical support and good humour, I thank my parents, Patrick and Deirdre, my brothers Killian and Oran and my sisters-in-law Marina and Hana. I’ve been blessed to have James, Hannah, Shane, Mark, Rose and Nell accept my eccentricities. Throughout this process, Thomas Conway held my hand and, when needed, held me up. There are no words to express the depth of my gratitude, only love. Table of Contents Introduction ............................................................................................ 1 Chapter 1: Research Methodologies, Archives and Truths ........................ 8 Chapter 2: Eileen Crowe (1898-1978) and May Craig (1889 – 1972) ........ 39 Chapter 3: Aideen O’Connor (1913 – 1950) ............................................ 94 Chapter 4: Frolie Mulhern (1907 – 1939) .............................................. 166 Chapter 5: Ria Mooney (1903 – 1973) .................................................. 179 Conclusion ........................................................................................... 263 Works Cited ......................................................................................... 270 Interviews Conducted .......................................................................... 286 Appendix 1: Archival Notes .................................................................. 287 Appendix 2: Interview with Pat Laffan ................................................. 301 Introduction Ciara O’Dowd Introduction Building on the work of Maggie B. Gale and John Stokes in The Cambridge Companion to the Actress, this doctoral thesis exposes ‘the construction of the actress’ in the particular context of the Irish Free State (1922 – 1937). (2) It examines the life stories of five women who performed together in the Abbey Theatre Company during the 1930s. These are life stories that intersect and interweave, that separate and come together. The five women, Eileen Crowe, May Craig, Aideen O’Connor, Frolie Mulhern and Ria Mooney, are connected by one thing: a devotion to Irish theatre. The ‘construction’ of an actress is multi-faceted, but has two key elements: (1) the training and development of her theatrical craft, and (2) the professionalization of the individual as a working performer with the consequent impact of this position on her place in society. The following chapters examine the careers of each of these women, detailing many of their performances at the Abbey Theatre and two particular tours of America by the Abbey Company (1934-35 and 1937-38), to expose these two elements. Chapter 1 traces the genealogy of theoretical research in this area, considers the methodologies available and sets out the intervention I seek to make in the field of theatre history. Chapter 2 focuses on the lives of Eileen Crowe and May Craig, considering their careers particularly in the context of their predecessors at the Abbey Theatre and the social context of the 1930s. Crowe’s career, I argue, is most usefully considered in the light of the Irish Free State and the female ideal it upheld for nationalist purposes. Chapters 3 and 4 consider the lives of Aideen O’Connor and Frolie Mulhern, who joined the company in the 1930s. Chapter 5 traces the life of Ria Mooney, the development of her artistic vision in New York, and argues that she was the first feminist director at the Abbey Theatre, whose contribution to Irish cultural life has been overlooked. For the editors of The Cambridge Companion, the dominant feature of ‘the actress’ is her ‘occasional invisibility coupled with her all-pervasive 1 Introduction Ciara O’Dowd significance’. (Gale and Stokes 2) While portraying ‘real’ women, she retains a unique status as an observer of their lives both on and off stage. She is, independent of the characters depicted, in a position to understand the risks and rewards involved in any act of self-presentation by women in society. This is significant in the context of 1930s Ireland, where women were particularly vulnerable to what Melissa Sihra terms ‘the monotheistic patriarchal meta-narrative’, i.e., the power of Church and State. (2) The theatrical lives explored here have been largely forgotten or ignored; yet I argue these women are legitimate subjects for an exploration of the formation of the professional actress in Ireland. In this dissertation, I draw on much archival material that has hitherto never been collated or used for scholarly purposes. In each case, I re-constitute archival traces and strive to capture a sense of the woman herself: her understanding of her craft, her personal challenges, her achievements and failures. The nature of the search, challenges and material unearthed is commented upon in each section and there is a concerted effort, as Susan Bennett urges, ‘to extend and disturb historiographical method beyond its usual evidence.’ (55) The length and density of each of the chapters reflects the volume of archival material about these women. These are partial biographies, based only on archival traces, and such traces vary from actress to actress. However, I argue that, presented together, these biographies facilitate the induction of patterns that allow a deeper understanding of strategies used by women to further their artistic careers.1 That is to say, where these women may not have consciously calculated their every career and life choice, the overall story of their lives as actresses was shaped by their decisions in tandem with external circumstances and influenced by prevailing ideologies. Collected together in this manner, these biographies provide evidence that Irish women who conformed to the dominant 1 In using the term ‘strategy’, I am relying on Joan Wallach Scott’s definition of the term, being one that enables us to think about how people make decisions in the face of changing economic circumstances. Scott also says, ‘In addition, we take strategy to be a shorthand for the application of (culturally specific) perceptions to the practical (subsistence) demands of daily life.’ (Scott and Tilly 7) 2 Introduction Ciara O’Dowd ideologies on and off the stage of the Abbey Theatre were rewarded with a level of success, longevity and professional respect in Ireland. Conversely, women who behaved in a manner viewed as in any way subversive of that ideology met with resistance that had the capacity to end their careers in this country and/or to deny them respect they deserved. The Concept of Role A key research question is: how do these particular actresses of the Irish National Theatre learn and play the myriad roles required of them— on and off the stage? Gale and Stokes suggest using ‘a double lens’ to consider ‘the loss and disguise of the self in dramatic performance’ while simultaneously holding in balance ‘the practical and ideological aspects’ of the career. (2) The agency of the actress, the ability to earn independently and to publicly represent other women, sits at odds with the requirement of the actress to conceal her individuality and subsume her own personality into an on-stage presence. Such agency also conflicted with the ideologies in Ireland that demanded particular behaviour of women. Stanislavski, actor and theoretician of the craft, alluded to a principle similar to this ‘double lens’. His translator Jean Benedetti states: The actor’s individuality, her own particular way of doing and saying things, was of paramount importance. At the same time all the actor’s gifts and talents had to be subordinated to the central theme of the play. (13) In researching this thesis, it became evident that such a ‘double lens’, as suggested by Gale and Stokes, is useful but not adequate. Something closer to a kaleidoscope is required, allowing as this would for shifting focus, background and foreground to switch places at various points, and a full appreciation of the myriad of elements at play at any one moment in the lives of these women. That said, the concept of ‘role’ was vital in all aspects and thus demands definition. Theatre and Stanislavski scholar Sharon Carnicke has explored the Stanislavskian definition of ‘role’ and how this can be applied in critical 3 Introduction Ciara O’Dowd theory. Carnicke suggests that by ‘role’ Stanislavski meant ‘the words that serve as a “score” for the actor’s performance, in the same way that notes provide a “score” for musicians.’ (4) A ‘role’ allows each actor to give a unique performance, while providing a structure and form that must be preserved. These paradoxical positions of the actor, repetition coupled with incessant variation and invisibility coupled with public notoriety, drove Stanislavski’s thinking. Like his mentor Mikhail Shchepkin, Stanislavski viewed character-creation as a process not of self-effacement but of self-transformation. He claimed that a third being was created in this process, a fusion of the character the author wrote and the actor’s own personality, ‘the actor/role’. (Benedetti 95) It is this ‘actor/role’ – the two positions together, distinct and overlapping – that this thesis centres upon. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘role’ as: ‘An actor’s part in a play, film, etc.’ (‘Role’) However, it has a secondary meaning invoking, the ‘function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation.’ (‘Role’) In sociological terms, a ‘role’ denotes particular behavioural patterns that are connected to social status. The word ‘role’ is in fact synonymous with ‘capacity’, ‘duty’, ‘responsibility’ and ‘place.’ In using the phrase ‘roles’ in my title, I am consciously invoking all of the meanings of this term – considering the place of these women in Irish society as well as in the theatre, considering their capacity as an Irish woman and as a performer. The rate of married Irish women in paid employment remained around the 6% mark from the establishment of Irish Free State up to the 1960s. (Hill Women 99) Thus, the married actresses (May Craig and Eileen Crowe) were already in a distinct minority in Ireland. Potential Role Models: Actresses at the Abbey Theatre prior to the 1930s The women of the Irish National Theatre Society and of Inghinidhe na hEireann are a useful starting point in seeking role models for the actresses of the 1930s. Inghinidhe na hEireann was a radical nationalist women’s organization, Daughters of Ireland, founded in 1900. In 1902, several nationalist organisations came together to perform two Irish plays: 4 Introduction Ciara O’Dowd George Russell’s Deirdre and Yeats’ Cathleen Ní Houlihan. (Trotter 74) Inghinidhe na hEireann members took on vital work as producers, financiers, ticket sellers and actors. These were a united body of women from across social classes, but as Mary Trotter has elucidated, ‘Feminism, nationalism and workers’ rights activity often pulled [these] women in contradictory directions.’ (73) Some of the playwrights and actors involved in the 1902 productions went on to form the Irish National Theatre Society (INTS) a year later. At that point, Inghinidhe na hEireann discontinued dramatic activity, although some women remained active in both groups. The women of Inghinidhe na hEireann began to blur the boundaries between the personal and the political realms that had been so distinct for women in Irish public life. But it remains that the female performers that emerged from this movement, most notably Maud Gonne, remained political and nationalist advocates first and foremost. Even where members of the group did become devoted to acting, they were always primarily identified with the political group. Historian R. F. Foster, in writing of how Gonne, Sara Allgood and others took drama classes organized by the Inghinidhe, concludes, ‘All of them saw their theatrical activities as an integral part of nationalist consciousness-raising.’ (Vivid Faces 81) As Trotter also describes, these women ‘performed not [as] “real” women but [as] idealised personae, developed from rhetoric of Irish femininity such as Hibernia and Dark Rosaleen.’ (78-79) Inghinidhe na hEireann initially presented ‘tableaux’, still images carefully posed to represent ideas or political moments. When they began rehearsing plays, Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh, the original Nora Burke in In The Shadow of the Glen, recalled how in rehearsals for the 1903 premiere Frank Fay told her: ‘Be the mouthpiece of Nora Burke, rather than Nora Burke.’ (qtd in Ritschel 90) In Fay’s teaching, these were not real or ordinary women, but rather were the mouthpiece for a particular type of Irish femininity. To perform typically male political acts, Gonne had to construct and present herself as an extraordinary woman. She did so with aplomb, but her class and economic privilege undoubtedly assisted. The stage remained for Gonne 5

performed together in the Abbey Theatre Company during the 1930s. of 'the actress' is her 'occasional invisibility coupled with her all-pervasive
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