INTERVIEW: Miriam Needham gives us an update on ‘Snapshot’.
Awarded a Hawk’s Well Time at the Well residency in 2021, Miriam Needham has been using her time to bring ‘Snapshot’ to life. A play that looks back on the events of March and April 2020 where the country, and indeed the world was thrust into lockdown, the Lecoq-trained actor, writer and theatre-maker has found her initial idea blossoming into something more than just a memoir of those unforgettable events. We sat down with Miriam to get a snapshot of her work so far, what the residency has meant to her, and on how collaboration has brought out the best in her work. Words: Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Miriam, how are you ,and what have you been up recently?
I’m great, thanks. I’ve been learning about subtitling, which is what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks. A good chunk of my theatre-related work for the last year has been in front of a screen, but recently it has been learning how to use a computer programme to make video, which is strange and new to me!
The video you’re working on is for ‘A Little Snapshot’, which gives a preview of your new show.
Yeah! I should say that it’s Joe Hunt that’s doing the video and the sound for that, but because we’re working remotely with each other, the easiest way for us to work is to send over an example of something I need, rather than say, just email.
You must be excited to see it all coming together?
I am excited about it, and the thing that’s most exciting to me, aside from having it go out and the audience receive it, is I’m so glad about the other artists that are working on it. It’s just brilliant to have Joe Hunt working on it, and to have Nichola MacEvilly performing in it, and I’ve had John Carty giving dramaturgical support and then directing for the scenes that we filmed. That’s amazing to me; to start a project, and write a project and then have artists come in who are so skilled, and have so much more experience than I have, to work on it with you. That’s the thing that’s really exciting to me!
Do you find that working with others changes the scope of what you’re doing, as they bring their own ideas and experiences?
I do, yeah, and I find it helps it to grow. You’re making it with other people, and different artists feeding into the same thing and how it grows; that is amazing. I’m so glad to be working with John and Nichola and Joe on this because they’re artists I trust very, very much. A great thing about having real trust with people you work with is I’m also comfortable with saying; “no, I don’t agree with you on that”. You need to be able to be really honest if you’re going to be in collaboration with someone artistically.
It is your name on the show, after all!
Yes, and I do feel as well that they’ve really been helping me, and they’ve been supporting bringing my vision to life, rather than trying co change it or manipulate it in different ways. It’s been a thoroughly supportive environment to just drive this thing where I want it to go.
Give us a brief synopsis about what ‘Snapshot’ is all about.
Well ‘Snapshot’ is a play about two sisters who are living in the same house, and it’s set in the early days of the first lockdown – March / April 2020 – and the play focuses on their relationship, their dynamic, and their different ways of coping, and how they relate to each other. That’s the script I’ve written, and also, throughout their story, we hear extracts from interviews that I did with people in autumn 2020, and the extracts from the interviews give a kind of context and situate the play in a very specific place and time. So that’s what the play is, and that’s not what ‘A Little Snapshot’ is.
So what will ‘A Little Snapshot’ reveal?
A Little Snapshot is just a small selection of scenes from that play, and then also, more interview material, because I thought in an online show, there’s an opportunity to actually share more interview material than I will be sharing when the play goes to stage.
It must be quite amazing to see the play come to life, from the forty or so interviews you did to produce it.
Forty-four or forty-five! It is, it’s really exciting. It’s the most exciting thing to have an idea and for it to actually come to fruition, because I have ideas all the time and they don’t come about! It feels a bit strange and distant because everything is remote, but I don’t know, because I haven’t ventured into online showings or online theatre before. I’ll have to ask Nichola actually, because she’s done much more online theatre than I have! But yeah, it’s really exciting, and it’s also a bit surreal!
The pandemic has been such a huge event in our lifetime; was that the inspiration for you?
I’m not so sure. I think, when I look back to when I wanted to do this and I went about doing the research and development process, I think what I really wanted to do was just hear a plethora of different people’s experiences. There’s documentation in the media, and when I say that I mean news about what’s been happening, but what I really wanted to hear was individual people’s different experiences. I was interested in focusing locally as well, here in Sligo, and I honestly started off the project with a different aim; I did want to capture this moment in time in a capsule and make it into a play. In a way I have done that, but in the development process I ended up making a play that’s all about memory and how we remember.
So that has taken the play beyond just a record of the first lockdown?
Yes. The play itself focuses much more on the relationship between the two sisters; how they remember individually, and how they remember things together, from their own path, from their own childhood, and that’s actually how I ended up going with it. The reason I ended up being more interested in ‘remembering’ and how we remember things and events, especially global events, was because when I did the interviews, it was in autumn 2020, and so I was interviewing people about something from five months ago, and even then, they were looking back through a particular lens. It actually felt like a really long time ago, because time has gotten all weird, and I think now in May 2021, if I interviewed the same people and asked them the same questions about the first lockdown, I might get totally different answers, or a totally different lens.
Do you think it makes the show more relatable, on a human level?
Yeah, I also found that when I was sitting down trying to write a play about the pandemic, it just seemed like the worst idea ever! I tried to do that a few times, and generally, when I’m writing, I just write the wrong thing a couple of times and then eventually something comes out that I’m interested in following. So actually, I was trying to write a solo piece for a while, and I didn’t like it at all, and then the dialogue came out with two characters. I wrote the two-character piece while I was procrastinating from writing what I was meant to be, and then the two-character piece I found much more interesting, and that’s when I asked Nichola to be involved.
‘Snapshot’ forms part of your Time at the Well residency; what has the support at the Hawk’s Well meant to you?
It’s amazing. I can’t even explain what it is to have some kind of stability, because I’ve never had stability working in the arts ever. This is the first time in my life where I’ve been able to plan more than a few weeks in advance, to be honest. Having this kind of support, not only financially, but also creatively, and being able to talk to people in the Hawk’s Well and to be able to talk through ideas is just amazing. I still can’t believe it. I was ready to give up the arts a year and a half ago – I was gone!
Finally, what’s next for you?
Well, lots of outdoor things. I’m not sure how much I can say! I’ve some exciting outdoor events as part of my residency over the summer, as well as the reading of a new play towards the end of the summer. I’m also looking forward to actually bringing ‘Snapshot’ the full play to the stage, later this year.
'A Little Snapshot' is created with the support of the Arts Council and Creative Ireland.