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How Sarah has turned the spotlight on her own playwriting

Up and coming actress and playwright Sarah Gordon, from Greenisland, will unveil her self-penned drama, A Sinkhole in Guatemala, tonight as part of the Belfast Inernational Arts Festival. She tells Stephanie Bell how her late grandmother influenced the story

Published 21/10/2016

Centre stage: Sarah Gordon
Centre stage: Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon can't quite believe that her very first play is about to debut in her home city and that she herself will be taking centre stage.

The 27-year-old from Greenisland has only ever wanted to be a writer since she was a child so it's a dream come true that her first piece of work has been included in this year's Belfast International Arts Festival.

The breakthrough artist has been working as a freelance light technician for the past few years as she waited for her chance to break through in theatre.

The opportunity to hone her skills as a writer finally came when she landed a place on the Prime Cut Productions' Reveal Programme, which supports and mentors artists in the development of new work.

Her play, written as part of the programme, debuts in Belfast tonight with another performance tomorrow at the Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road, but has already been performed to rave reviews at the Tiger Fringe Festival in Dublin

Thrilled to be making her mark with her first foray into writing there was another surprise in store for the budding young playwright.

Bursting with ideas for future works, Sarah harbours no desire to perform on stage but has taken on the role of one of the two characters in her play.

Much to her amazement she was shortlisted for an Irish Times Best Performer Award for her Dublin stage debut.

She says: "That was a bit of a shock but a really nice one. I'm not an actor and I don't want to be an actor.

"It suited the play that I, as the playwright, should perform that role and it was fun.

"It was great just to get that nod for your first piece of work, it's very encouraging and it makes you feel very supported and that you have a bit of momentum behind you."

She admits performing away from home was nerve-wracking: "It was really scary taking the play to Dublin. It is not really my home town and I felt a bit out of my depth but my friends travelled down which was great.

"I feel very fortunate to be having my first piece performed in my home town. I just feel like I have really lucked out."

Sarah studied Fine Arts at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin.

She then spent a couple of years travelling, completing residencies in Canada, Mexico and Texas, and an internship with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

On returning home to Belfast she entered the world of theatre initially via a route she hadn't planned on.

She laughs as she recalls: "When I got back to Belfast the Lyric was advertising for a lighting technician.

"I thought I could operate a spotlight and for me it is about getting your foot in the door and one job leads to another. Now I work as a freelance lighting technician in theatre and film in Northern Ireland."

Last year she got her big break when she secured a place on the Prime Cut Productions' Reveal Programme.

Prime Cut Productions is the Theatre Company in residence at The MAC, and is one of Ireland's leading independent theatre producers.

Sarah was one of three artists supported through the 2016 programme offering her an opportunity to develop new work. As part of this she travelled abroad to see international work and participated in workshops with world class theatre-makers here, too.

He play takes its name from the 2010 Guatemala City sinkhole disaster when an area measuring 65 ft by 300 ft deep collapsed in the city swallowing a three-storey factory.

She explains: "It's about a sinkhole opening somewhere near you and, much like a sinkhole, you don't know where it will take you. Things appear and disappear into it. It is a play for anyone who has ever forgotten what they came upstairs for or opened the fridge to look for their car keys.

"It was inspired a bit by my late grandmother who looked after me a lot when I was younger. It explores loss and is also a play about how we tell stories, looking at the background to theatre and film production, revealing the mechanics of the show."

There are only two people in the play, one of whom one is Sarah, who adds: "I have two really brilliant actors Patrick O'Reilly and Tara Lynne O'Neill playing the other character on each night. They are totally different and amazing and bring their own individuality to it."

Unusually the actors only get the script the night before the performance and have it with them on stage. "This is all part of really showing the audience how the play is done," she says.

"On the other hand I, as the playwright, know it inside out which, again, is all part of showing how a production is put together. There is a nice paradox there too in that they are veteran actors who have honed their craft over years and I'm not an actor at all."

The Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival runs until October 29. Sarah's play A Sinkhole in Guatemala is at the Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road tonight and tomorrow at 7pm. Tickets cost from £4. Visit belfastiinternationalartsfestival.com

Belfast Telegraph

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