Carys D. Coburn’s writing with MALAPROP has won acclaim for its distinctive blend of nerdiness and tenderness. They received the 2017 Verity Bargate Award for Citysong. It, like all their solo writing, has a marked sense of audience place – the question ‘who is this piece for?’ precedes ‘what is it?’
What did you do with your Project award?
We staged Absent The Wrong, a play
I developed with ten performers, dealing with the history of adoption and
(so-called) care institutions in Ireland. The play emerged from conversations
with those ten participants – not all of whom could stay on until full
production, meaning the ensemble for the premiere was 50% people who'd been
involved from the very start and 50% equally wonderful artists who came onboard
later. Alongside the dialogue with performer collaborators I was consulting
with adoption rights activists, academic researchers, and institutional
survivors. Some of their words found their way into the show, in cases where
their words could be illuminating for an audience without being personally
exposing. I felt it was important for the show to be, at least in part, a
document of the process of exchange that gave rise to it.
The project award allowed us to stage it unapologetically, as the great big
multi-vocal decade-spanning three-act play that it is. (We even had a live
What was the biggest challenge you faced when working on your project?
The show's central thought was also the big
logistical challenge. Injustices keep piling up if they're not faced. Inaction
becomes the (bad) excuse for further inaction – it's hard to make things better
from here so we won't even try, as if it's somehow magically going to become
easier later on.
I was writing the first draft of Absent The
Wrong when the Mother and Baby Homes Report was published. Adoptees
and activists I admire very much experienced that document as a profound
betrayal. I now think of the play I ended up writing as a time-capsule of that
moment, that specific heartbreak before more arrived. It didn't even take long
– the Birth Information and Tracing Bill with all of its problems the activists
warned of, the Mother and Baby Home redress scheme with all its time limits and
conditions on who can consider themselves harmed. (If any of this is news to
you, look up the work done by Clann or the Adoption Rights Alliance.)
It's beyond the scope of any one play
to detail every betrayal or slight that adoptees have been subjected to by
religious orders or the state. But at the same time, to document any one
betrayal as though it represents some nadir or terminus is to fall short of the
truth. The repetition, the delay, the denial, is part of the suffering. So that
was the problem of form that was also an ethical problem: how do you keep both
those perspectives in focus at once? How do you make one betrayal stand in for
a pattern of betrayal? How do you know if you've done your due diligence on a
story that is, almost definitionally, fragmented, inconclusive,
What has receiving a Project award meant to you as an artist/for your
It's allowed me to experiment on a scale – size of ensemble, scope of
the play – that many playwrights spend a long time waiting to access. I know
lots of writers whose ambitions are years ahead of their opportunities, writing
plays in their twenties that won't see the stage until they're in their
thirties. Decades even. I don't know many writers whose opportunities are ahead
of their ambitions. I don't feel I'm there, but I feel I'm closer than most
because of the support I've had.
How would you describe your creative process?
Ideal or actual? Because the actual processes to
date for all my shows have been very different out of necessity. Most of the time
you're making it work any way you can with whatever time you have.
But here are some features I've learned to try and insist on: read a lot in all
directions for a few months; bring some loose ideas to some people I trust;
based on their responses start to chart a path through the research; write a
speculative draft exploring what it might be; read the speculative draft with
trusted collaborators, and at this point some of the most useful feedback you
can get is that your brave bold beautiful language conceit or staging flourish
won't work or is universally hated (better to find out now than in tech week);
tear the speculative draft to pieces based on whatever feedback you got, and
you're probably well on your way to having the play you want.
is the best piece of advice you received as an emerging artist?
I really don't know! There was so much of it. The
only useful thing a writer can do during tech is go buy the coffees?
What or who has
influenced your practice the most?
My longtime collaborators – I never know what a project is until I
know what it should be, and I never know what it should be until I know who I'm
making it for and who I'm making it with.
I owe a lot to my time working on Brokentalkers' The Blue Boy.
That show put me on the path I've been on since my first professional
I don't aspire to my mother's artistic voice, which is entirely hers, but I do
aspire to her clarity of purpose. Veronica doesn't mix up means and ends.
Veronica knows that you impress people so they'll let you make the work, you
don't make the work to impress people.
When we were looking for producing partners I started describing Absent The
Wrong as a passion project in both divergent senses of passion: it's a show
about what hurts the most, done with love. All the writing I'm proudest of fits
that description, and that quality of complexity is something I learned to
chase by watching Veronica work. It was lovely to have her, my adoptee mother,
direct my show about adoptees. It meant it all felt very well-starred.