Bringing The Power of Wow back home
‘As I return to Dublin Fringe with my new show, I’m nervous. It’s a bit like bringing a new partner home to the parents’
Performance artist Anthony Keigher: “I am still a boy from the farm”.
I didn’t leave Ireland because there were no jobs. I left Ireland because I needed to get the hell out. Emigration is a word I never use. Escape. For me, leaving home was a bit like an escape. Escaping a fire. Everything was burning down around me in terms of how I had viewed myself in my homeland. I didn’t feel accepted, I felt rejected. I felt I couldn’t get it together. The intimacy of the space was becoming overwhelming.
This is all pretty self-indulgent stuff, of course. As creatives, we already hold a very privileged space in society. But to be honest about it, I felt I couldn’t fit into the community anymore. So I escaped.
I left for university in London, where I learned my trade. I was enabling myself to spread my wings. To turn to my gaze outward. When I arrived in London, the anonymity was breathtaking. No one knew you. You had to get over yourself. And for anyone who knows me, you’ll know that this was no mean feat for me.
Ireland is a small, comfortable space, where taking the lead in your field is a goal you can achieve. In London, no one cares, and I loved that.
For someone who works in performance, and needs the validation of audiences and the belief that your work is the work, you’d think this would be counterproductive. But actually, it freed me.
Knowing you are nothing to someone is a grounding force. It means you stay real, you keep working, you aim to strike hard with audiences you are lucky enough to wrangle.
But inevitably (and willingly) my work will always be tied to Ireland.
I make work with Ireland in mind. I want my work to be for my community. And I hail from many communities. The gay community. The art community. The Roscommon community. I endeavour to bring these communities together through my work. The rural, the fabulous, the creative; always oscillating around themselves, banging and clashing and making explosions.
You can always take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. Even when I am bejazzled on stage, in pounds and pounds of glitter, I am still a boy from the farm. And that excites me. If only the international audience knew my skills at turning the turf and piling the hay.
And above all, I am obsessed with being from Roscommon. I am obsessed with how Roscommon has become a toxic brand at home and abroad. It is a loaded symbol. When I meet my fellow emigrants and they grimace at where I grew up, I feel hurt. Why should I feel ashamed? Shouldn’t we all stick together?
I am intrigued by the notion that Roscommon has been rejected from the nation, as the many Irish emigrants have similarly felt rejected, whether it be from job prospects or the need to escape to something bigger. It’s a tale as old as time.
Now, as I return to Dublin Fringe with my new show, I’m nervous. It’s a bit like bringing a new partner home to the parents. Will they like them? Will they take me into the back kitchen and say ‘what the hell are you thinking?’. When we were in London it was so much easier, no one was looking.
I’ve been living in London for four years now. And it has flown by. There have been drawn out times where I have hated it here, last summer being the low point –Brexit and everything around it. As an emigrant, I felt hurt. There was a depression in London. A depression came over me and my friends and we now look to Ireland as the bastion of liberal, free-thinking ideals, which is why it’s so exciting to bring the work back to Ireland.
The work is naturally now influenced by my time in London. It’s Irish in its focus and international in its execution. We engage with performers from all over the world.
The Power of Wow, which we are bringing to the Dublin Fringe Festival, is a prime example of that. Funded by Roscommon Co Council, supported by London creative hub Limewharf (where I am an artist-in-residence) and made in collaboration with British performance maker Tiffany Murphy, the show is a great example of cross pollination between cultures and creative organisations.
I’m privileged to be supported by my native home and my new home, both in equal measure. It feels like a match made in heaven and true example of art without borders.
Anthony Keigher (aka Xnthony) performs his new show The Power of Wow at Bewley’s Café Theatre at Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, September 19th-23rd as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2017. See fringefest.com