James Ireland is a gender nonconforming playwright/theatremaker (they/them) based in London and Dublin. Their BA was in Theatre Studies and English Literature at Trinity College Dublin.
Recent writing for theatre includes Rajesh and Naresh (Theatre Deli, 2019), Show Me Your Wallets (Scene + Heard Festival Dublin, 2020), and Mother Catfish (work-in-progress reading, Arcola, 2019). Their full length plays Mercury and Fireplay were produced in the New Theatre Dublin in 2016 and 2015 respectively. Critical writing on theatre appears in publications ARC Magazine and Rant + Rave.
My practice is primarily that of a playwright/theatremaker, and I am developing my work towards a Practice as Research (PaR) or practice-led-research process - informed by the models of practitioners such as Nicholas Johnson and Robin Nelson.
My current research explores positions of Actionable Allyship and how to apply effective models to theatre. Critical assessment of practice and methodology around creating the play Rajesh and Naresh with theatre group ŠITE Productions forms the beginning of this research, alongside academic investigations into multinationalism and allyship practices in the Irish and British theatre industries.
The other wing of my investigations are into audience complicity in performance. How can an audience member’s complicity be interrogated by a performance - and how might these techniques or frameworks be employed to draw attention to culpability in the actions of a wider society? My current work-in-progress theatre pieces Show Me Your Wallets and We Didn’t Kill the Wolves (It was Cromwell) take different aspects of this question as their starting-points. Travis Alabanza’s arguments in BURGERZ - that conscious bystanders to oppression are deliberate participants; ANU’s provocations to the audience to intervene as they witness their site-specific historical productions; and Tim Crouch’s casting of innovative audience roles are key reference points for me as I continue to push my experiments and investigations further in this field.
Introduction Page 1
Introduction Pages 2 and 3 — Background images by James Ireland. Rajesh and Naresh, Theatre Deli, London, 2019.
My research draws upon models of allyship in sociology, such as from Anne Bishop’s and Shannon Radford’s works, as well as theatre-based models such as the Bush Theatre’s ‘Passing the Baton’ series. I focus on new writing and devising as tools to produce systemic change within a theatre industry in the medium-term, and aim to provide a practice-plan whereby a theatremaker from outside/adjacent to an underrepresented or marginalised community can use their privileges to best produce work that continues to centre those community’s members as systemic participation changes across time.
The playscript, Rajesh and Naresh, represents a practice-based approach to conceptualising, investigating, and first testing this methodology. Rajesh and Naresh focuses on an intersection of the Queer and British Asian and Indian communities, and was devised and produced with Arjun Singh and ŠITE Productions from a short text written by Arjun Singh. In applying this practice to the Queer British Asian and Indian context of Rajesh and Naresh, I have drawn on theatre practitioners and critical race theorists such as Una Chaudhuri, Jatinda Verma, and Jerri Daboo. The results of this investigation are detailed in a second part to the practitioner essay, and the revised methodology owes much to the ensemble members, their articulate theorising, and their solutions to the real-world conditions of applying theory in practice in ever-evolving contexts.
Developing the Play — Image 1 theatrical poster by Arjun Singh. Image 2 (composite images) by James Ireland and ŠITE Productions. Image 3 The Team.
In Performance — Image 4 by James Ireland. Image 5 by Maria Singh and graphics by Arjun Singh. Image 6 by Sophie Cairns.
Set just after India's landmark decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2018, Rajesh and Naresh is a romantic comedy for the modern age.
This script was created in workshops with the creative ensemble and members of the Queer British Asian community in London.
Produced by Arjun Singh, Sophie Cairns, and ŠITE Productions.
Performed by Brahmdeo Ramana and Madhav Vasantha
Written by James Ireland
Directed by Sophie Cairns
Set Design by Alex Berry
Costume by Kate Bauer
Devised by The Ensemble: Arjun Singh, Sophie Cairns, Brahmdeo Ramana, Madhav Vasantha, and James Ireland.
With thanks to our interview and research participants: AS, SR, VR, PD, NS, and NK.
Staged at Theatre Deli, London, December 2019.
Pages 2 and 3
Page 4 and works referenced — Background image by James Ireland. The Burren, Co. Clare, Ireland.
Audience complicity is the starting point for developing the work-in-progress theatre piece We Didn’t Kill the Wolves (It was Cromwell). The play interrogates audience complicity within a performance context - in this case with Britain’s erasure of its genocide and colonisation in Ireland. In this accompanying article, written for ARC Magazine, the approach taken in creating the work is detailed and the question is asked - how these might techniques or frameworks be employed to bridge the gap between culpability in a performance’s mechanisms, and culpability in the actions of a wider society?
The article is structured in three parts: an overview of the project's parameters, an exploration of potential techniques from contemporary theatre, and the initial creation of the play.
Full article published August 7 in ARC 2020: THE DIRTY ISSUE.
We Didn’t Kill the Wolves (It was Cromwell) developed with Act II Festival, London, by director Catherine V. Mclean, and ensemble members Mia Kitty Barbe-Wilson, Ceara Harper, Tom Hunter, Magnus Korsaeth, and Louis Vichard.
The development of this project was regrettably interrupted by Covid-19, and initial performance dates at the Arcola Theatre with the Act II Festival and at the School of Oriental and African Studies have been postponed. The current next step for this project is to trial its current form with a test audience. Specific attention will be paid to what degree the performance reframes or interrupts the narrative of the “cultural hero” around Cromwell for our test audience members. Then we will take that feedback forward into the next phase of development.
So: welcome to an underground religion worshipping Capitalism in a climate-crisised tomorrow. We worship Money! We worship Paying water charges!! But then… Giant insects enslave everyone!? Of course the Giant Insects haven’t actually enslaved everyone (they’ve simply outlawed capitalism) but our capitalist leaders feed the audience a very different narrative as they sit captive inside a bunker.
With Show Me Your Wallets I am aiming to offer an audience a journey through a number of different ways to be cast in theatre/performance spaces - with the ultimate goal of interrogating audience culpability in the future we're creating for this earth. There is plenty of audience interaction to investigate their positions as in-active bystanders (how many awful things can we get the audience to cheer for if we start off by making them think it’s a joke?), plenty of onstage participation in the lampooning of Capitalism by willing volunteers (we literally take their money), and a final movement that aims to drop the fun and games and re-centre the audience members as themselves - existing in a bizarre apocalyptic Anthropocene that they slowly recognise is the present.
This theatre piece grew from a piece developed during a course module on attention led by Brian Dillon, from pieces written for the RCA Pluralist magazine, and from a piece written for ŠITE Productions' Play In a Day event. It was further developed by ŠITE Productions and Smock Allies Scene + Heard Festival.
Performed by Orla Devlin and David Roper-Nolan
Directed by Seán Roper-Nolan
Written by James Ireland
Design by KathyAnn Murphy
Produced by James Ireland
Videography by Charli Matthews
Staged at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, February 2020, as part of Smock Allies Scene + Heard Festival.
Developed by Smock Allies Scene + Heard and ŠITE Productions.
Extracts of text previously appeared in and developed by Attention, an anthology produced by MA Writing students with the RCA, and RCA Pluralist Magazine.
Scene + Heard: as above
ŠITE Productions: Work-in-progress performed by Saida Ahmed and Madhav Vasantha; directed by Kate Bauer; produced by Sophie Cairns and ŠITE Productions.
Attention: Publication Editors - Yin Ying Kong, Rose Higham-Stainton, Bryony Bodimeade; Editors - Laura Robertson, Judith Hagan, Nina Hanz; Copy Editors - George Lynch, Esme Boggis, Fiona Glen.
RCA Pluralist Magazine: Publication Editors - Harriet Welch and Lucy Holt.