Tuesday 24 October 2017

Crossing an ocean for love

The Atlantic did in fact prove to be little more than a pond when Anne Gill and Conor McCarthy decided to share their lives, says Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

When you hear that American Anne Gill and her Irish partner Conor McCarthy went to Trinity College at the same time, had mutual friends, and were both members of Trinity Players, you'd assume that they met somewhere around the College Green cobblestones. You'd be wrong though, because despite their social circles overlapping, and their attending some of the same parties, Anne and Conor actually met at a party in London, several years after they graduated.

Although she now lives in Dublin, Anne previously lived in New York and grew up in both LA and Connecticut. From a theatrical and arts-based family, she was studying drama and English at Wheaten College near Boston when she was given the choice of spending a year at Oxford, Trinity College, or St Andrews. Had she chosen the last one she could have potentially walked down the aisle last month to marry Prince William, we joke, but his loss, happily was Conor's gain.

There were two reasons for her choosing Trinity, the first of which was that she has a half-sister, Liz, living in Dublin. The second was that Trinity was the only one of the three colleges to permit one-year students to join its societies. She joined Players, where she mixed in similar circles to Conor. After graduating she moved to London to complete her masters degree.

Conor and his business partner Martin Duckenfield were in London because they had missed their flight to New Zealand to check out some potential acts for their annual Street Performance World Championship (SPWC) festival. Conor, from Dunboyne, Co Meath, had studied computer science at college. He and Mark established the SPWC festival a few years ago, and they travel the globe finding the best performance acts to put on at this perennially popular event.

With time on their hands in London, a friend invited them to a birthday party, and it was here that Conor met Anne.

"When someone mentioned that Anne Gill would be at the party, I thought: 'Finally, I get to meet her'," he says.

The two got chatting and Anne says that she found him very easy to talk to and great fun. Although there was an instant mutual attraction there, there was a snag. Anne didn't want anything to happen, because she was going travelling to India.

Undeterred, Conor kept in touch, sent her an anonymous Valentine's card (she guessed) and she paid a flying visit to Dublin, where they went on a date. Then while she was off travelling, they kept in touch via Skype and email, and when Anne returned to New York to pursue her acting career, Conor visited her there.

"I loved how easy it was and how much we laughed," says Anne. "Conor is a great listener and he was different from other boys I had dated

who had never really heard what I had to say. I thought he was funny and he thought I was funny, so we giggled a lot. We had enough in common that we felt we knew each other very quickly, even though we didn't. I was saying all along that I really liked him but didn't know how we would make the long-distance thing work."

Conor says that while this reaction "wasn't great", he was convinced that they could make the relationship work, if they gave it a chance. After all, being self-employed meant that he could visit New York frequently, and could do some work from there too.

"I was still pushing hard, because while I understood the roadblocks and bumps, I really wanted something to happen between us," he says. "It was genuinely exciting and we got on very well with one another."

The turning point was when Conor invited Anne to go to Japan with him, and while she was initially hesitant, everyone said that she was being ridiculous. They returned as a couple.

"I guess agreeing to go was an acknowledgement that there was something there," she reasons.

As the pair fell in love, they soon found that the time apart became grating. As Conor points out, you are constantly looking for little windows of time to be together, and can face big expanses of time apart.

Anne craved doing simple things with Conor, such as getting the Sunday papers and reading them in a cafe, and she even wished they could do the laundry together.

She was working off-Broadway at the time and produced a show that went to Edinburgh. Then funding started becoming less accessible and parts became fewer, which Anne says was partly because big movie stars such as Denzel Washington and Scarlett Johansson started doing Broadway plays. The lead Broadway actors were then shunted to off-Broadway productions, which filtered down to make less work available for the likes of Anne.

Then programmes such as Ugly Betty, on which Anne had got occasional work, closed down, which mean even fewer opportunities. Anne was left feeling frustrated in her career. She was also missing Conor, and decided last September to make the move and come to live with him in Dublin.

"There aren't many jobs for American actresses here, if any," she laughs. "But, you can put on your own shows, and there is some funding available here, compared to New York." She's looking forward to appearing in Durang, Durang, a production of Christopher Durang's plays with Brazen Tales, at the Matchbox Theatre in Thomas Read from Tuesday to June 26.

Conor and Anne say their relationship has gone from strength to strength since they started living together, although he is puzzled by her insistence on filling the house with fresh flowers.

And she says that she and Mark's girlfriend Sarah allow Conor and Mark to be as "crochety" and "awful" as they like in the weeks prior to the opening of the festival. As an added attraction this year, they are attempting to set a world record by having the greatest number of characters dressed as "Where's Wally" in one place (see www.whereswallyworldrecord.com)

"I think the festival is fantastic," says Anne, proudly. "It blows my mind that these two guys have created something that so many people love."

The Street Performance World Champion Festival will take place today in Fitzgerald Park in Cork and the People's Park in Portlaoise, and in Merrion Square in Dublin on June 18 and 19. www.spwc.ie

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