This year the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting Judges decided upon a winner anonymously on Monday 23rd October. The winner and Judges Awards will be announced at the Award Ceremony (livestreamed from 4pm Nov 13th) In the run up to the ceremony we’re profiling all the shortlisted writers and their plays.
when after all it was you and me (or the genocide play) – Kevin Doyle
An American, a Russian, a Frenchman, and a British Man walk into a restaurant. Everything is marvellous until a commotion breaks across the room. As the waiters investigate, the situation spirals out of control. Violence breaks out at one table, and then at another. But which major nation will intervene in time? And will we still have time to eat dessert? A relentless and unflinching distillation of international relations that challenges our humanity.
Kevin Doyle (IE/US) is a writer and director working in theatre and film between the European Union and North America, living in Dublin. Previous works include W.M.D. just the low points (Vooruit), Behind The Bullseye (Ontological Theater), The Position (Ice Factory Festival), not from canada (Monty Kultuurfaktorij), Les annees amputees (Nuages en Pantaon, Québec), Compression of a Casualty (Golden Thread, San Francisco), Konzum Consume (KNAP, Zagreb), and Styrofoam (Feed The Herd, New York). His writing has been supported by the Asian Cultural Council, CEC ArtsLink, Puffin Foundation, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, Svenska Instituet (SE), and fellowships at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Edward Albee Foundation, Fundación Valparaiso (ES), the Saari Residence (FI), and Arc (CH). Doyle was Artist-in-Residence at The Watermill Center and writes for diggit magazine (NL).
Last year he spent three months in Dhaka, Bangladesh to research a new play about garment workers who survived the 2012 Tazreen Factory Fire. He once lived on a farm in North Cornwall, as runner-up for the Wooda Arts Award, and has been trying to get back to the United Kingdom ever since.
What inspired you to write this play?
One of my clearest memories as an adolescent was watching the film The Killing Fields with my father. It affected me a great deal. I cannot explain why. As a teenager, I recall a similar reaction to watching the film Schindler’s List. I cannot explain why.
When I was growing up during the early-to-mid 1990s, the local newspaper that was delivered to my family’s home just happened to have assigned several reporters to cover the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide. The newspaper won several awards for their daily, sustained, and often graphic coverage. In each instance, our local newspaper was one of the first news organizations to break stories related to the genocides that were taking place in Bosnia and Rwanda. Each day, as I ate my cereal before going to school, these were the news stories I gravitated to. I could not understand why the same images and reports were happening now – in the 1990s, when there were other clear precedents from previous decades. I could not understand why we, the international community, were allowing it to happen. In hindsight, there was something about the daily repetition of these news reports and these images that struck me as surreal. The ineptitude of the international community also struck me as eerily similar in each situation. I could never figure out why.
One day on television during the late-1990s, while visiting a friend’s house, I passed through the living room where my friend’s parents were watching a BBC FOUR documentary about the Polish composer Henryk Górecki and his work “Symphony No. 3 (The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs).” I heard the strings and saw the footage that was spliced over the music — from Auschwitz, from Srebrenica, from Rwanda — and I was frozen in my tracks. I did not go out with my friend and instead stayed with his parents to watch the entire broadcast.
I was not a playwright then. But I was writing poetry. Or what I thought was poetry. I do know it was pretty bad.
For some reason, the image of waiters on roller skates in a restaurant came to me. The waiters wore the blue colors of U.N. Peacekeepers. The waiters were attending to different permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. I went home and wrote a description of that stage picture, with a few opening lines.
That image haunted me for about 15 years. It never left me.
During 2014, I finally began to write the play — after reading a book called A Problem From Hell by the Irish-American diplomat Samantha Power — after encountering the genocide photographs of the Guatemalan photographer, Daniel Hernández-Salazar — and after watching events from Iraq and Syria unfold during the previous years. Without those three sources of inspiration, I do not believe I could have started the play, or even finish it.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey as an playwright?
During my secondary school, Sister Nora Doody called on me during class to read the part of Jerry from The Zoo Story by Edward Albee. I was terrified and very introverted and shy. By the end of the play, I was kind of enjoying it.
I never thought about theatre again until maybe five years later, when I took a Modern British & American Drama elective while at university. I encountered works by Beckett, Mamet, Shepard, Stoppard, and Churchill. I did not know theatre could be this, could do this. There were other playwrights in the text book with strange names like Durrenmatt, Mrozek, Genet, Ionesco. My mind was blown. That was it for me. I promptly dropped out of university the following semester and just worked three different jobs that provided me with the chance to read every European playwright I could get my hands on.
I did this for three years.
When I felt like I had read enough — I began to write.
I did that for several years and wrote several plays.
Nothing was ever produced.
Encountering the work of the French playwright, Michel Vinaver, was a final breakthrough for me. His dramatic structure and theories on playwriting opened new terrain for me, especially his play 11 september 2001. I’ve had a dialogue and correspondence with Vinaver now for 15 years. His support and feedback is one of the main reasons I’ve kept writing. I think you can see the results of this dialogue in the play.
How do you feel about being shortlisted?
I am stunned. I cannot believe it.
However, I am also grateful because the play’s subject matter is urgently relevant, especially when looking at the international community’s repeated failures in their foreign policy responses to instances of genocide going on currently in the world today. The same repetitious mistakes are being made again and again. I think this play attacks the failure embedded in that repetition. I hope it’s being shortlisted will start a conversation in a way that journalism or documentary cannot.
What do you think about anonymity of the Bruntwood Prize?
I love it. I think more institutions and development programs should try it. I am honored that the play’s content, subject matter, structure, and dramaturgy holds up before judges in an anonymous competition. To know your work was read in this manner, and has generated such interest and support is one of the greatest honors I have ever received in my life.