This past week, I interviewed Finegan Kruckemeyer and Louis Lovett, the team behind The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badly to learn more about the collaboration that gave life to this wonderful show.
Blake: To begin, I’m curious to know how you met and decided to work together?
Louis: I’d heard a great deal about Finegan from the show’s producer, my wife Muireann Ahern, and having seen and read his work I eventually met him in Dublin. We met in a pub and it was a classic Keystone cop moment with coming in one door as I went out the other looking for him. The nonsense of it all boded very well for our future collaboration.
Finegan: I first met Muireann at the Imaginate Festival in Edinburgh. She saw a play of mine, then we watched another piece of theater side by side and finally we talked about the notion of a new work—and the man who would bring it to life. Her descriptions of Louis and his range, and her obvious respect for young audiences and the caliber of theatre they deserve drew me in from the start. Soon after I got writing, and some months later found myself on a plane bound for Ireland for my first meeting with the full creative team.
B: Where did the idea for this story come from?
F: Theatre Lovett gave me a real sense of permission to explore whatever I wanted, and I embraced this absolutely. To begin, I invented a narrator who greets the audience and describes a list of ingredients that will turn up in the story. Once I'd written this very random list, I was then faced with creating a story that might hold them all. It was a brain-meltingly fun way of working—and one I will never undertake again as it almost killed me. So the resulting story of Peggy O'Hegarty carrying a human-sized problem on her child-sized shoulders was borne from that list and nothing else.
B: What was the development process like for each of you? Did the fact that you live on different continents cause any issues in collaborating?
F: Our far-away-from-each-other-ness actually proved to be artistically fruitful. First I wrote in isolation, with only the characters and the world to answer my questions—this meant they developed their own sense of logic and rules. Then we all came together for two weeks, and every creative (composer and director and performer alike) had full permission to suggest anything they felt and to test the bones of the play.
L: With Finegan in Dublin for those two weeks of development, there was no issue about distance. Early in the process, I was ready to jump up on the floor in front of our creative team and tell the story of Peggy and the packing and the blizzard and the boat. We spent time playing with the story and the world that Finegan had created, throwing things up in the air and seeing how it all might land.
F: Louis’ embodiment of the story revealed so much that by fortnight's end the script felt complete. When I saw it again, from a seat in the audience, it was so much richer than words on a page could ever be.
B: Louis, what is it like to have a play written specifically for you?
L: It’s wonderful, darling! The creation of this whole work was a truly collaborative experience. Having the creative team around in those very early days was a dream. Composer and sound designer Carl Kennedy worked at the speed of light as we threw ideas at each other. As is often the case, mistakes and misunderstandings were where some of the really juicy ideas came from. You just have to be ready and willing to change direction at the drop of a hat.
B: Fin, as a playwright with over 60 commissions under your belt, what is it like to write a play for a specific actor?
F: It's scary, when you don't yet know the actor. And it's a joy when you finally meet, and discover him to be wonderful. But ultimately every show is written with no one singular production in mind, but rather for any number of retellings. I want every creative team to feel they have full permission to share the story as they wish (so long as all the words stay, and are in the same order) and it's for that reason I avoid rehearsal rooms and just turn up for opening nights. The words are theirs to wrestle with and all you can do is have faith—and with a team like Theatre Lovett, that's easy.
B: What is your favorite thing about performing or writing for young audiences?
L: Why, it’s the young audience, of course! I like to surf my audience and their energy—giving and taking. Not just blah de blah de blah from the guy on the stage. I call it the Friendly Wrestle. I meet the audience, they meet me. We size each other up and then we take it from there. We might not know where we’re going so it’s nice if they can at least trust the driver.
F: I appreciate the balance between imaginative permission and structural expectation. When people make work for children, they often talk about a child's willingness to go on fantastical journeys. But what can be forgotten is that there's an opposite side to this—they appreciate the fantastical, yes, but once you establish the rules of a world (no matter how ludicrous the rules), then they must be adhered to. Break the conventions you've promised a child audience and you'll lose them, and not in a polite way. Rather, they will be sighing loudly and telling their mum they're bored—what a wonderfully scary level of risk for an artist.
B: What’s next for each of you?
F: More writing of different scripts for different companies, in some fun and far-flung parts of the world; trying to imagine how some plays might become books; working in my garden (it's late autumn on my side of the planet now and the leaves are falling fast); and planning my next trip back to your beautiful city.
L: After New York, I will have spent seven weeks in the USA. So it’s back home to burrow through the letters and postcards inside our front door, and then, after brushing my hair and my teeth, it’s down to the lovely county of Kildare in Ireland to take a traveling show to schools in a mobile library! We’ll spend two whole weeks discovering loads of books with children from all over the county in a really big, book-filled bus.