Episode 34 - Jo Egan

EPISODE SUMMARY ‘Telling Troubles stories can help deal with the past’ Telling stories about the past – about the Troubles – can help families and society move on, says playwright Jo Egan. She dramatised the events that killed six children during the Troubles in‘The Crack in Everything’, which was produced by Derry’s Playhouse Theatre as part of a European Union Peace project. She was also responsible for ‘Crimea Square’, a community theatre play about the history of the Shankill Road. “People want to be heard,” says Jo. “They want their stories recognised. And I think we need to recognise and hear the stories.” Listen on to hear the full interview with Paul.

FULL EPISODE NOTES

‘Telling Troubles stories can help deal with the past’
 
Telling stories about the past – about the Troubles – can help families and society move on, says playwright Jo Egan.  She dramatised the events that killed six children during the Troubles in‘The Crack in Everything’, which was produced by Derry’s Playhouse Theatre as part of a European Union Peace project.  She was also responsible for ‘Crimea Square’, a community theatre play about the history of the Shankill Road.
 
“People want to be heard,” says Jo. “They want their stories recognised. And I think we need to recognise and hear the stories.”
 
Some families had never told Troubles events to younger generations.  The staged dramatisations enabled younger family members to learn about past traumatic events in their families.  These productions involve people telling their own stories on stage and in their own words, helped by research from Jo.
 
“I had all the traditional fears that I wasn't going to be able to write the play that reflected what the people wanted,” says Jo. “And that fear drives you as an artist.”
 
One of the challenges was that the narrative of people’s experience had become distorted and needed to be placed in a clearer context for the audience to understand.  “It did feel as if their capacity to tell a story coherently had been fragmented, had been blown apart.  People go to tell you a story, and it's traumatic storytelling, they spiral off into different things and can't quite pull it together. They can't quite grab it.... it felt to me at the end of it, when we were performing the stories, that I was giving them back a coherent story that they hadn't been able to put together.”
 
She adds: “I needed a coherent story where [the audience] could clearly see the wrongs, the rights, the injustices of the story and hear what had happened.... [that] was a joyful aspect of it. I could see that there was a kind of happiness to have got this cogent story.... But there's always different perspectives that have crept in. It was not quite the play you thought you were going to deliver.”
 
While dramatisations and storytelling can be helpful for understanding and considering past events, it is also essential that support services are available to people dealing with trauma.  “It's fine to have counselling and psychotherapy,” says Jo.  “I think the correct type of treatment for post-traumatic stress is very, very important. I don't personally believe that we have enough counsellors who can do that.”
 
One of the features of post-Troubles Northern Ireland is the many books written by survivors about events.  “And that perhaps is a way for people to try and make sense and also to try to reduce the emotional impact of their experiences,” says Jo.
 
Jo Egan was interviewed for the second in a series of three special podcasts featuring writers of historic events in the Troubles, asking them how these stories affected them and what their experiences might mean for how we deal with the Troubles legacy.
 
‘The Crack in Everything’ was produced by the Playhouse Theatre, in partnership with the Holywell Trust, the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Foundation and Queen’s University as part of the Peacebuilding Academy, financed by the European Union’s Peace IV programme.  Performances took place in Derry and Belfast at the end of last year.  The programme of a range of peacebuilding performances continues into 2020.
 
The latest podcast interview is available here. The podcasts are also available on iTunes and Spotify.
 
Holywell Trust receives support for the Forward Together Podcast through the Media Grant Scheme and Core Funding Programme of Community Relations Council.
 
 
This podcast is funded through the Community Relations Council for Northern Ireland's Media Award Fund and the Reconciliation Fund of the Department for Foreign Affairs. Holywell Trust receives core support from Community Relations Council for Northern Ireland. CRC Disclaimer - This project has received support from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council which aims to promote a pluralist society characterised by equity, respect for diversity, and recognition of interdependence. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Community Relations Council. (c) Holywell Trust 2019