Monday, October 30, 2006

PLAYING THE ROLE OF GIRLEEN: A smart-talking, foul-mouthed, moonshine-dealer who shakes up the scenes of The Lonesome West

By Leslie Koppenhaver

I studied abroad at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland, from January to May 2006. I took six classes from January to March, my parents came and we spent a week traveling around Ireland, and then I spent the month of April traveling around Europe before coming back for exams in May.
Cork is located close to the southern coast of the Republic of Ireland, about a four hour bus ride from Galway on the western coast (The Lonesome West is set near Galway) and a similiar distance from Dublin on the eastern coast. My friends and I did a lot of traveling on the weekends and we took several days in May to visit Galway and the Aran Islands. Galway was beautiful -- lots of tiny pedestrian lanes lined with shops and paths along the river. In Galway more than anywhere else, I felt the presence of music. There seemed to be someone playing the fiddle or accordion on every corner at night!

The second part of our trip west was a ferry ride to the largest of the Aran Islands. We rode bikes around the entire island and walked around the ruins of forts still left there from earlier centuries. Since the Aran Islands are the western-most part of Ireland, they were the last places to be conquered by Britain, and there are communities where people still speak Gaelic as their primary language or simply Irish, as the Irish themselves called it.

There were a lot of things about my experience in Ireland that I'm trying to draw on for my role of Girleen in The Lonesome West. I was cast in a show in Cork called Shakers, which is where I made my closest Irish friendships. There were several scenes in the show when the three other actresses spoke in incredibly thick Cork accents. I spoke in a thick Southern accent as the American counterpart. the exaggeration of those accents made it easier for me as an American to pick out defining characteristics. I would hardly have been able to tell a British accent from an Irish one before I studied there, but after an informative session with my friend Paula, who explained the finer points of Donegal vs. Dublin vs. Galway vs. Cork, I'd say I could hold my own in a name-that-dialect contest.

I also talked to Paula on the phone after being cast to ask about more specific dialect questions. Some of the most defining things about Ireland for me were the feeling of history -- the gothic architecture of institutions and close spacing of all other buildings seemed to be from another century, the presence of music -- both in language and in song, and a tremendous pride and attachment to family.

Although I'm not Catholic myself, I did attend Mass on campus a couple times. UCC had Mass once a day in the Honan Chapel right next to the student center and I heard a lot about my Irish friends experiences in all-girl Catholic secondary schools. I also saw plenty of girls around St. Patrick's Street (the main drag/downtown) in matching sweaters, skirts, and tights -- usually blue or green. I've never had a school uniform before, but my observation of those girls proved that you can be wearing the same thing as your classmate and still give it your own rumpled flair.

I am intrigued by Girleen's combination of school-smarts and street-smarts. She's intelligent and ambitious, she can handle herself around older men, and although she's selling her father's potato moonshine, she knows she's destined for bigger and better things.
Buy Tickets to The Lonesome West here!