Irish Theatre – An Eastern European perspective

Alicja Ayres, gives her thoughts on taking to the Peacock stage at Ireland’s national theatre.

Between you and me, being an Eastern European actress in Ireland can be a very challenging task if your aspirations go beyond playing prostitutes and cleaners! Especially in the professional film industry, it seems like there is no room for an Eastern European journalist, student, teacher, artist or any professional really. That was pretty hilarious at the beginning, but after a while it started to be really frustrating. And as much as I don’t mind playing either, it makes my blood boil when I only get approached and invited for auditions when they need an Eastern European girl to play “a stunningly beautiful escort” (will I be stunning enough for them even?) or a cleaner who can’t speak a proper English (will I be able to forget the years I have spent studying and polishing my English, and regress my language skills to using the most basic vocabulary in a thick accent?). Oh, the joys of the mainstream culture. It’s an occupational hazard for all the actors, I guess!

However, there is also the independent industry, which tends to be much more liberal and bold in its stories and casting choices (much less paid though too) and the theatre, which usually has no limitations and actually thrives on challenging the mainstream culture’s stereotypes! So you can imagine the thrill I got after landing the role of Ioana in Shibari. I fell in love with her the moment I started reading the first scene of the play. Her clever responses to the stereotypical remarks about her nationality, and her somewhat exaggerated reaction to people treating her like a temporary guest in their country made me fall in love with her at the first sight. How many times I have been through situations like that myself! What I loved the most about this role though, is the fact that her life is not defined by her nationality; but by her personality, by her past, by her inner struggles and her dreams, by her passion… in short, she is a human being with a life that could be lived by anyone. An extra thing is that she is Romanian, which gives her the ability to look at Ireland and the Irish people from an outside perspective.

I think the Irish film and theatre industry are at an exciting stage at the moment, when they can just embrace its vibrant immigrant community and make it a part of their world now. I have so many Polish, Romanian and Croatian and Lithuanian friends living here in Ireland who work as teachers, photographers, musicians, actors, architects, biotechnologists, artists, managers, beauticians, designers, writers, you name it! Mind you, not a single one of them works as a cleaner or a prostitute… well, not that I know of. I am looking forward to seeing more and more of us being portrayed in the Irish film and theatre as we really are – human beings with a lot of exciting stories happening to us every day in life, the same stories that could happen to an Irish person. The only difference being that English is our second language, not the first. Thank you Gary Duggan and Tom Creed for blazing a trail with Shibari!

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