Thursday 12 December 2019

Bondings: Love behind the scenes for newly-wed actors

Newly-wed actors 
Ionia Ni Chroinin and John Rogers fell for each other's charms both
on- and off-stage

Not An Act: Her sister cast him as a psychopath in her play, but Galway girl Ionia Ni Chroinin was the woman John Rogers from Leitrim completely lost his heart to. Photo: Dave Conachy
Not An Act: Her sister cast him as a psychopath in her play, but Galway girl Ionia Ni Chroinin was the woman John Rogers from Leitrim completely lost his heart to. Photo: Dave Conachy

Actor John Rogers says he doesn't mind that Mairead Ni Chroinin thought he would be the perfect person to play a psychopath in a play she was directing. Then again, he has reason to be grateful to her, because if she hadn't cast him in the dark and sexual psychological thriller After The End, which ran at the Galway Theatre Festival in 2008, he may not have met her sister Ionia, who ended up becoming his wife.

"John had fantastic energy and was very dynamic on stage," recalls Ionia, 30. "We got on well straight away, loved spending time together and wanted to hang out all the time."

Nothing happened between them, as John was in a relationship at the time, but after it broke up, he decided to ask Ionia out. She hesitated, because they had been so intimate in the play that she didn't know if the chemistry was real, or purely related to the play.

"I fell head over heels in love early on, but I know it's a cliche to fall in love with your pretty co-star," admits John, 36. "I felt the same when the play ended, so I knew my feelings were real. The heart does its own thing and I had no doubts in my head. I wanted this woman and if I want something, I go for it. There was no subtlety in my approach, initially."

After a year of friendship, Ionia agreed to start dating John, and soon grew mad about her Leitrim lad. "John has charisma," she says. "He is very attractive and has so much self-confidence. I thought he was a wonderful, kind person, and I liked that I could be myself when I was with him."

Ionia and John were married last August in Brigit's Garden in Galway. Being a very individual couple, they had an outdoor ceremony, in which readings and a piece of music were given at different points in the various gardens. Ionia wore a white 1940s-influenced dress, and guests included her parents Maura and Daibhi, and sisters Mairead and Sorcha. Maura is American, and she named Ionia after a Greek actress friend.

Her parents met at college in Dublin, and they now both work in NUI, Galway, where her father, Professor Daibhi O'Croinin, is a professor of history.

John says that Ionia is stunning, but she had no notion of this when they first met. "She used to hide herself back then," he says, incredulously. "Ionia is so incredibly smart and genuine and she has an amazing heart. I love a woman who is smarter than me, which is not very hard. The more I got to know her, the more I thought she was made of magic."

A self-confessed studious, high-achiever, Ionia went to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow to study drama, and then won a place at repertory theatre company Dundee Rep. She worked in Scotland continuously for a couple of years, and moved back to Galway in 2006. She and her equally creative sister Mairead decided to put on a production at a local fringe arts festival, and toured it to Edinburgh the next year. It did really well, and that was when their theatre company, Moonfish, was born. Ionia is increasingly devoting more of her time to it, and has been doing theatre, some television, and voiceovers.

The company works as an ensemble, so there are no directors, but Mairead looks after much of the technical side because they use a lot of live music and projection in their productions. They are currently engaged with an adaptation of Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea, produced by Kate Costello, which is running this week at Galway Arts Festival.

John grew up in Mohill, Co Leitrim, and is the third-youngest of Jim and the late Mary's seven children. His dad was a fireman and worked in hardware, and his parents also ran a successful clothes store, Rogers' Drapery. It was closed when Mary died in a car accident, when John was only six.

"Losing my mother was obviously a big blow to the family, as we ranged in age from 17 to two, but my dad did an amazing job looking after us," he says. "I think we all turned out OK. I have a great family and am very lucky and blessed, as they keep my feet on the ground."

After his Leaving Cert, John went to Sligo to study engineering in college, and joined a drama society there, where he got great training. He became involved in the amateur theatre scene in Sligo, and acted in the play Frank Pig Says Hello at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2005, while he was supposed to be studying for an engineering exam.

"I thought I was going to fail and would have to drop out of college, but this little voice just said, 'This is what you are meant to be doing,' he says. "I decided to go to Galway in 2006 to do an MA in drama and theatre, even though I was only a couple of subjects shy of my degree. I knew engineering wasn't for me and it was becoming a painful struggle."

John's acting career took off and is going very well. He will present his own 24-hour non-stop show, Artist, Scientist, Priest, at the forthcoming Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival, and is very excited about the production. It will be quite novel, as the audience can dip in and out or stay for the whole thing.

Ionia and John haven't really worked together since that first, fateful, play, and consider themselves fortunate that they are both employed as actors. "We are lucky that we can pay the bills and put food on the table without either of us having to take on jobs outside of what we want to do," says Ionia. "If you put your mind to it and do what you love, you can make a living. You will fight harder to make it work when it's your vision and it's what you love doing, as John and I both do."

Moonfish Theatre Company is presenting the world premiere of Star of the Sea at An Taibhdhearc until July 19, as part of Galway International Arts Festival 2014. Bookings on www.antaibhdhearc.com or www.
giaf.ie. John Rogers stages his second one-man show at this year's Tiger Dublin Fringe in September (further details at www.fringefest.com from July 29)

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