Thursday 18 July 2019

'Home is where your loved ones are and you feel comfortable'

Residents' houses and apartments across a Dublin suburb will be transformed into 'theatres' for a night in a unique piece of community art. Caomhan Keane reports

Duke Special has written songs based on the life of Samir Oucherfi
Duke Special has written songs based on the life of Samir Oucherfi

'If the mountain won't come to Mohammed,' is a proverb the Draoícht Arts Centre in Dublin 15 is taking very seriously these days. They have a type of 'home invasion' planned all across the postcode this weekend.

In an effort to reach a wider audience in the local community, the Blanchardstown arts centre are creating 30 pop-up theatres out of apartments, houses, care homes and rehabilitation centres, where 30 residents have been paired with 47 artists. The artists have been tasked with creating an original 20-minute work, inspired by the life of the resident they're matched with.

Lesley O’Hanlon (left), Farouq Raheem and Natalya O’Flaherty, participants in Draíocht’s Home Theatre Ireland Project. Photo: Andres Poveda
Lesley O’Hanlon (left), Farouq Raheem and Natalya O’Flaherty, participants in Draíocht’s Home Theatre Ireland Project. Photo: Andres Poveda

The 'hosts' met their artists for two days in late September, getting to know one another. They spent the time mostly hanging out, shopping, going for walks or just chatting.

Playwright Dylan Coburn Gray enjoyed a Nigerian meat pie with his host Haleemat (46) even though he is a vegetarian. Deirdre Kinahan admired 64-year-old Maureen Penrose's collection of toy VWs that reminded her of her days as a hippy. And musician and storyteller Little John Nee played with 10-year-old Oscar in the park, trading playtime war stories.

The artists then had two days to put the piece together and last Saturday a rehearsed reading was held where the hosts heard the results for the first time. Dress rehearsals are taking place in the host homes today, with three productions of each show taking place tomorrow night in front of audiences as small as five and as large as 20.

"It sounded incredible," says Duke Special, one of the artists involved. "It's bringing theatre to the people, instead of people to the theatre. In the last 10 years, I've written about other people's lives, using old photographs, [Berthold] Brecht lyrics and Michael Longley poems. But the randomness of this, being paired with a stranger on Monday and having to have turned their life into art by Friday was a challenge."

He has developed a suite of songs that will be performed in the Coolmine Therapeutic Community about the life of Samir Oucherfi (29), who is finishing the residential portion of the programme and is about to start the non-residential day programme. "It's still a home, a home that just happens to have 30 other guys living in it. It's an incredible experience seeing the community they created and the care that they take of each other."

"I have produced my own music in the past, but my addiction got in the way over most of the last decade," says Samir. "This opportunity has given me a chance to be involved with music and art again and I'm really grateful for that."

The actress Sorcha Fox was paired with Rachel Galvin (37) from Cork, who's in recovery for addiction to crack cocaine and heroin. She'll perform the show for Rachel and the other women in the programme in Ashleigh House, the female wing of Coolmine. It's the only programme like it in the country, where mothers can be part of recovery with their kids.

I ask Rachel why she is being so open at a time when she would be forgiven for focusing on herself. "To give people hope that there is help out there. Addiction leaves you helpless and lonely. I had a very good upbringing. I owned my own business and my own home. But I ended up with a cup in front of me on the streets of Cork. When I saw the show The Rehab on TV3 it gave me hope and if telling my story can help someone through their own nightmare then it will have been worth it."

Working with Sorcha has helped her make sense of her own story as well, talking through the details of her life has helped her see things more clearly. Her family and friends are coming up to see the performances tomorrow, including her son. "They saw how I was at the time, themselves. But this will give them a chance to see what happened to me from my point of view."

Some 110, 532 people live in Dublin 15, 19pc are new communities and it has a high population of people under the age of 15. "We wanted this project to go across all kinds of divides - socio-economic, gender, cultural backgrounds," says Draiocht's artistic director Emer McGowan. "Our hosts are Irish, South African, Turkish, Serbian, Czech and Indian. They are as young as ten and still young in their mid-80s."

Nigerian by birth but living in Ongar since he was 6, Farouq Raheem (20) and his father were homeless for about a year in 2017, which is part of the reason his show is taking place in a Foroige Centre. "Our home is too new. We didn't want too many people coming in as it may annoy the neighbours.

"But the piece is called Home Theatre and Foroige would have been home a lot of the time for me. My two main youth workers were here, whenever I needed them. So I wanted to celebrate that."

Farouq's story is of someone looking for somewhere to belong, a sense that comes first from family, but which over time splinters over multiple countries as it becomes impossible for them to stay together. Then his sense of belonging comes from his friends, sport and his ability to make others' laugh.

"Home is where your loved ones are and you feel comfortable and happy. There was a phase in my life where I used to refer to home as the basketball court and I would leave my house to go home, cause I was at peace. Because home is definitely more than just a physical building."

He was paired with Natalya O Flaherty, an 18-year old poet, and he feels their closeness in age helped him be comfortable telling her the details of his life story.

"I was happy she was one of the young artists as it was easier to click since we have similar interests. The way she spoke about theatre has made me a lot more interested in it and I think the project as a whole is a terrific way of getting people paying attention to what it is Draoicht does. I'll be keeping a much closer eye on their social media accounts from now on. "

"This project has a structure where they can welcome their neighbours into their homes and reveal a little about themselves," says McGowan. "As well as inviting family and friends, some are using it as an opportunity to reach out to neighbours they might not know."

Spoken word artist Felispeaks has written a piece about the two Presentation sisters of Fortlawn Drive, which draws on the safe place they created in their house. "Fortlawn Drive has had huge social problems over the years," says Sister Anne O Sullivan, who has lived their since 2002, "and she's trying to express that, the pain, the grief, all the lost sons, but also how the house is a welcoming place where people can come with their troubles."

While she has attended plenty of shows over the years in Draoicht, working on the project has reminded Sr Anne what a great resource it is. "We work a lot at building a community here, going for walks along the canal or trips to the seaside. But we haven't used the arts centre as much as we should, so this project will hopefully alert to the whole area to this resource on their doorstep."

  • 24 plays will transfer to Draíocht's Main Stage for public performances as part of Dublin Theatre Festival from October 10-13. See

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