Star liberated after escape from 'bitch and bimbo' roles
Despite being blindfolded and pinned to a wooden board, performing 'Not I' was freeing for Lisa Dwan, writes Claire Mc Cormack
AS a child, actress Lisa Dwan struggled to fit in. Instead of playing house or kicking ball along the banks of the River Shannon, she was practising her pirouette.
She was just three.
Dance provided Lisa with a space where she could express herself. But it wasn't until she strapped her head into a harness, pinned her body to a wooden board and perfected Samuel Beckett's iconic Not I monologue in a blistering eight minutes and 45 seconds, that the award-winning actress truly felt free.
"I tie my head to a banister to learn how to speak at the speed of thought without moving my body. My body needs to be very rigid with all the power just coming out of my lips, my mouth is all the audience can see," she said.
"It's extremely stressful and extremely traumatic but it's also very liberating, it's an extraordinary gift of a role," said Dwan.
But, after 11 years of performing the masterpiece to packed-out theatres in London, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Dublin, Australia, Germany and many more, the 38-year-old beauty has decided to retire from the role that has brought her huge international acclaim.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent from her Hollywood base, Dwan, from Coosan, Athlone, says she originally set out to be a prima ballerina until injury to both her knees finished her fledgling ballet career,
She won a prestigious scholarship to study dance at the Dorothy Stevens School of Ballet in Leeds when she was 14, but within a year injury forced the extremely driven teenager back to the midlands.
"I thought about going back and finishing school but it didn't really appeal to me. I became a bit depressed because I wasn't where my heart was, I didn't feel I was doing something that felt right for me," she said.
The youngest of four, who describes herself as "the black sheep of the family" (her siblings are all academics), auditioned for the Galway Youth Theatre. The offers rolled in and she never looked back.
However, she soon discovered that studying acting and being an actor were two different realities.
"You're very spoilt when you are studying, you're reaching the Greeks and Shakespeare and you think this is what I'm born to do. Then the reality hits that those parts aren't really for women. It took me a good 10 years to figure out how I can create some autonomy instead of just waiting for a more challenging job than the bitch, the bimbo or the psycho," she said.
"I found it hard to find my place. Why do I have this multi-faceted, big personality yet I have to squeeze it into tiny, flimsy roles and pretend I'm not bright, not strong, not nuanced," she said.
Dwan says the problem is not just in the entertainment industry - it's in society. She says body anxiety is a form of suppression. "There is pressure on women who have had a child to lose the belly fat, to look amazing in a bikini, our idea of beauty is so skewed. Now there is the whole thing with botox... I'm at parties in LA and I just want to run out and buy sandwiches for every woman there. It's repression and we need to wake up to it."
After a stint of television acting, including roles in Fair City and US TV series Mystic Knights, Dwan landed a role where that would finally satisfy her passion - Samuel Beckett's Not I. "As a woman to play a role like that where you get to put down the high heels and blonde hair and obsessions over our bodies, is extraordinary," she said.
"I'm blackened out, blindfolded and I can't see or hear but I feel completely empowered," she said, adding that her toughest critics keep her motivated. "I'm constantly analysing every performance."
However, the physical demands have caught up on her. She will say goodbye to the role this month in the US. "It's going to be hard to walk away, it's the only role where I thought, yes, I fit here," she said.
After the curtain falls, Dwan will be into rehearsals with Hollywood actor Matthew Broderick for a new show. She'll also feature in a BBC documentary, another Beckett play and publish a book later this year.