TESS MC MANUS is a highly excitable and virtually unstoppable Irish lass, and one of my fav’rit up and coming actors in Ottawa. I’ve seen her in shows like QUEEN FOR A DAY, SUBNORMALITY, COMPANY, and loved her work every time . She has a new show premiering at the Ottawa Fringe Festival this June, DONKEY DERBY, all about a young girl set to participate in a particularly mad and Irish cultural event. Kindly folk that she is, Tess sat down with me and gave me the scoop on her new show.
Visitorium – What is a Donkey Derby?
Tess McManus – A Donkey Derby is an Irish cultural tradition in which people are nominated to participate against their wishes by the townsfolk (to ride a donkey), and they get on top of this stubborn animal, and…you can’t make donkeys do anything they don’t want to do? So they will stop racing, or launch people off into shite, or eat the grass. And at the end of the tournament you get a Golden Turnip, which is normally just a yellow, unripe turnip.
V – What…what is the reason for this?
TM – It’s just to bring everyone together, because there’s a lot of political conflict in Ireland? So what a Donkey Derby serves is sort-of a combining of all different kinds of people, whether they’re short, tall, fat or thin, from the North or the South, orange or green, Protestant or Catholic…they’re all just there for the fun of it. It’s watching lunatics race contrary animals, and it’s hilarious for everyone (except for the people doing it).
V – This is your first one-woman show?
TM – It’s the first play that I’ve ever written, and the first time I’ve acted as the only person in a show, so…yes.
V – And how exciting is that..?
TM – It’s quite daunting. I knew that this would be a pretty ambitious project, because…never before had I written a play, never before had I performed alone or produced a show on my own, or toured across Canada as an actor. And then for some reason I decided that if I’m going to try any of this stuff it all has to be at once, and it all has to be right now. So it’s an ambitious project. But I hope it will work out!
V – This seems like a very Irish play. How important are your Irish roots and heritage to your theatre work?
TM – I tend to, in every sort of daily situation, relate things back to Ireland. ‘Back in Letterkenny, we did this!’, or ‘back in Ireland…’ Everything that I do is sort of a little story connected to Ireland to begin with. And if I was going to write a play about anything, especially my first play, I would want it to really combine my personal experiences from county Donegal, as well as the cultural traditions and the language and the people that I love, and my home. I think it’s very important for playwrights to really make their story personal…and I did that.
V – Are you excited to be working with (director) Dave Dawson again?
TM – I think this is our 6th or 7th show that we’ve worked on together in some capacity. Whether it’s acting together in PETER PAN, me being the stage manager to his direction for THE LAST GODDAMNED PERFORMANCE PIECE and PLAYING FOR ADVANTAGE, being an actress to his director in COMPANY and things like that, and being the costume designer to some of his shows…we’ve worked a lot. We have very different processes, but that’s what makes it so fun, to collaborate with someone who works completely different than you do. So yeah, I was very happy that we were able to come together and work on this project and make it our 7th or 8th show together.
V – Where else is this show going?
TM – It’s going to Ottawa, Winnipeg…I will be in Saskatoon but I’ll be stage managing, and trying to set up an outdoor, maybe even free show of Donkey Derby out there. And Edmonton. So Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton.
DONKEY DERBY plays at the Ottawa Fringe Festival in the Arts Court Courthouse (next door to the library) from June 14th to 24th. Check the Festival Website for showtimes, map and prices. Then tune back in tomorrow for the final entry in my Fringe-terview series, if I can ever manage to make out what Tony and Cory are saying on the recording. Stop talking over each other, you lovable scamps!