Story Starts With Theme

“There are so many ways of creating a story,” says actor and playwright Andrew Lynch, “and I don’t believe one way is better than another. I think it is important to know what works for you. For me, I love watching a film or piece of theatre that makes me think, ask questions and analyze characters long after I viewed it. In my opinion I believe that a strong underlying theme plays a big role in achieving that.”

Andrew Lynch co-wrote Death Row Cowboy with Mark McCabe and is coming off several runs acting in the lead role in the play in Dublin, Ireland. In the story, a young inmate, imprisoned for murder in Oklahoma, awaits his execution.

Andrew Lynch and Mark McCabe in "Death Row Cowboy"
Andrew Lynch and Mark McCabe in “Death Row Cowboy”

Lynch notes that he and Mark McCabe had worked together, as actors, on various projects on and off for about seven years. “In July of 2012,” he says, “we were working together on a project called ‘HomeFromHome,’ which was a series of short scenes in collaboration with The Abbey Theatre and The Sean O’Casey Theatre. We were involved in two of the ten scenes, so there was a lot of time to talk and catch up, and our conversations were dominated by our recent foray into writing. Mark had written and produced a short film and I had been writing and shooting scenes for show reel purposes.

“It was very clear that we shared the same principles and passions when it came to writing, and we were both open to the option of working on something in the future together.”

A Blank Page With Endless Possibilities

“Fast forward to January, 2013,” Lynch continues, “and Mark calls me to ask if I fancied meeting up to discuss the possibility of co-writing a play together. When we met, we both had an open mind and no agendas about where we were going or what we were going to write.

“It was exciting, as we basically had a blank page with endless possibilities. What we discussed at length were topics and themes that we found interesting. We started paying particular attention to the themes of loneliness, legacy and regrets.

“When we finally had our themes nailed down we said we would go away and come back a week later to talk about ideas for a show. We were amazed to discover when we met back up that on both our lists the top idea we had was Death Row and Prison, and the story just grew from there. It made the writing process a lot easier as we developed our characters and stories because we never digressed from our themes. But as for a writing style, what works for one person may not for another. It just so happens Mark and I share the same principles.”

A Brilliant Script Always Has Strong Characters

Andrew Lynch
Andrew Lynch

“As actors,” says Lynch, “I think it’s only natural that myself and Mark are fascinated by and take great pleasure in creating characters. A brilliant script always has strong characters. When James Gandolfini died it made me sad. I never met him or knew him but I felt connected to him because of The Sopranos. Tony Soprano was a result of great acting and writing. The writer creating a character with many layers and the actor giving an amazing performance and showing those layers.

“When we began writing we didn’t have any particular characters in mind, but because we knew our themes our characters came naturally. Our themes shaped our characters. They fit with our themes because that is the core of our story. Our themes are universal. We’d spend hours on each character, creating backstories and discussing personalities. We even created a backstory for our female lead’s dead husband (who the audience never even get to see).”

A Director’s Discretion

Leaving room in the script for the director’s discretion is important for Lynch. “If you have a script full of stage direction and cues,” he says, “well, the question has to be asked, are you looking for a director or an order taker. Collaboration is so important to our theatre company.

“When we initially met with the director, Gary Duggan, we made it clear from the beginning that we were open to the possibility of change and that nothing was set in stone, once it’s for the greater good of the production. There needs to be room for the director to make choices and decisions to have their stamp on the project. That principle does not only apply with directors. With Mark and I being the writers as well as actors, we were conscious of making it ‘The Andrew & Mark Show.’ We genuinely want everyone to treat it like their own, with passion and enthusiasm. Not afraid to offer opinion whilst working freely using the talents which brought them onto the project in the first place.”

The Motherfucker With the Hat

In several months Andrew Lynch will perform in Stephen Adley Guirgis’s sex farce, The Motherfucker With the Hat, which premiered on Broadway in 2011. “I was in an acting class one night,” Lynch says, “and there was a table filled with theatre scripts and we were asked to go up and pick a script and work on a scene with someone else. I instantly saw the title The Motherfucker With the Hat and I grabbed it. As soon as I read the first page I was hooked. That night on the bus home I had it read nearly twice over.

“It’s one of those scripts that has a bit of everything in it, so many emotions, it’s fantastic. I worked on the opening scene for over eight weeks in class. The idea was that we work on it, then perform it in a showcase end of term. I worked on the opening scene.

“To my surprise I found that fellow actors in the class preferred to watch my scene rather than get up and act out their own. People never got bored of it and I never got bored performing it. Showcase came and afterwards I had everyone who attended coming over telling me they were blown away by it and asking me what play was it from. Interesting enough, I met [fellow actor] Sinead O’Riordan for the first time that day. She congratulated me and said ‘I have to work with you some day.’ Who would have thought that it would actually be The Motherfucker With the Hat when we’d first get to work together.

With Darkness Comes Humor

Credit: The Lost Studio, Los Angeles
Credit: The Lost Studio, Los Angeles

“The reason why the play appealed to me is because it’s real and I could relate to it. There might be a lot of laughs in the play, but sometimes with darkness comes humor, and that reminds me a lot of where I am from. Growing up in Darndale [near Dublin] I knew people like Jackie. His wanting to turn his life around, his battle with addiction and his turbulent relationship with Veronica. I don’t necessarily think it’s important for an audience member to relate to the characters they see on stage. In fact I think for most of the audience the writing will be about people they don’t know and a world they don’t necessarily live in. But what they will get is an understanding that this is coming from a very real place. That as funny and dark as it may be, it’s honest and thought provoking.

“The stories that interest me most always have strong central characters, showing the grey areas in both humans and society. I like to be asking questions and thinking. I don’t like work that is preachy, whether I agree with ‘the preach’ or not. Opinions should be offered but never forced. There are two sides to every argument and I want to hear both. All my favorite films/TV/books/theatre and songs tick these boxes.”

More to Come

Lynch plans to continue his playwriting. “I started writing to open doors for me as an actor because at this stage I don’t think they are going to be opened for me. What I didn’t anticipate was the love I would grow to have for writing. I especially couldn’t fathom the positive response that has come from the reviews for Death Row Cowboy. I am very humbled.

“Myself and Mark are currently developing a new play which is set on the ‘world’s deadliest mountain’ K2. One in every four people who have attempted the summit,” he notes, “have died trying, and this startling statistic got us thinking. What makes people want to climb such a dangerous mountain? Is it just about the adrenaline rush? Is it escapism? Are they trying to fill a void or replace something in their lives in order to make them feel worth or give them some sort of value? Or is it ego and competition that drives them?

K2 Mountain
K2 Mountain in Northern Pakistan

“The point is, we discovered many reasons why someone would like to make such a dangerous climb. But behind those reasons are themes of ambition, contentment, drive and purpose. We wondered where our own creative drive and passion for what we do came from, why we chose to be actors and writers, and this helped us explore our themes.

“When we set up Three Peas Theatre Company our aim was to write and perform original, thematic, thought provoking, entertaining work that engages with a wide audience. Mark had co-founded a film production company with actor Eddie Jackson called Floor Unit Productions, and two months ago I was asked (along with fellow actor Shea Brennan) to become a member. I was extremely interested and I was keen to carry over the same ethos from Three Peas.

“Floor Unit had two previously produced short films, A House of Cards and Normal, and our first production as a group was a recently submitted proposal to RTE Storyland called Chief Usher. It’s a story about the consequences of a desolate man, Hubert Warner, who finds a gun. A man in his mid-fifties who has failed to take opportunities presented to him in his life and now has a jealousy toward ambitious, free living, and enthusiastic co-workers. Much like Death Row Cowboy, the main theme highlighted in this show is Loneliness.” Lynch comments that if all goes well and they are selected, IFTA winner Brendan Conroy will play the role of Hubert and it will be directed by Brendan’s son, Rúaidhrí Conroy.

If Lynch’s work to date is any indication, audiences for his next production will be saying: “as funny and dark as it may be, it’s honest and thought provoking.”


More on Andrew Lynch:

Death Row Cowboy Review

IMDb Bio


Comedies Dark Blue and Pitch Black

“The whole female subject matter, female sexuality in an Irish film is untried territory… but that’s exciting to me to do something new,” says actor and playwright Laoisa Sexton of her debut play For Love. The play was staged off-Broadway by the Irish Repertory Theater in 2013.

Laoisa Sexton
Laoisa Sexton. Photo credit:

Laoisa (pronounced Lee-sha) Sexton has written the screenplay for her stage play, and is now working to shoot it in Ireland. “I am working with the producer Paul Heller. He was the producer of Withnail and I, Harold and Maude, amongst others, and some of my favorite films. It is a big dream to get this achieved, and it’s been tough. A dark blue comedy, an unflinching look at three Irish working class women looking for love and sex in modern day Dublin is apparently a hard sell.”

Sexton’s play followed its New York run by touring six theaters in Ireland. “We hope to get another mount of the play in the next few months,” Sexton says, “as it was a huge hit. People come up to me still quoting lines from the play!”

From Acting to Storytelling

Moving from acting a role to creating a play comes naturally for Sexton. “I’m an actor and I think as an actor, and as a performer you know that you are a vehicle through which a writer tells stories. Your purpose is to help tell that story, that’s why you’re there, the only reason you’re there, that’s your purpose as an actor.

“Writing plays is just the next step for me as an actor. It’s certainly a way of getting to play characters that you want to play, too. Things you would not necessarily get cast in if it wasn’t your own. Writing helps make work. You create work for yourself and for others. That’s pretty amazing, ye know.

“Waiting around for the next job makes me anxious,” Sexton continues. “I’m only happy (well, let’s say focused, not lost) when I’m working… sad but true. It’s the way most actors are, but you must help yourself, create work, I have always done this in some way. I need to be working to stay a little bit sane.”

Performing is the Key

Sexton says of her playwriting, “Well, I’m an actress first, and writing is a relatively new discipline for me. I’m a voracious reader and I had written a few things before, but feel only now I’m getting to understand what it is or how it is to write a play. I really don’t know how anyone could be a playwright without being a performer.

“As a performer you are in the lucky position to be privy to so much, as you know what works on the stage, how you can affect an audience not just with language but also visually, delivery, through character, how you can manipulate your audience through character and behavior, so many things.

“It’s called a play for a reason, says Sexton. “Theater is elevated and should move, affect, lift in all kinds of ways. If something makes an audience happy, sad, angry, laugh, cry, uncomfortable, then to me the play has succeeded in some way.”

Laoisa Sexton in For Love
Laoisa Sexton in For Love. Photo credit: Show Business Weekly

First Come the Characters

“I don’t really set off to write a story, but I start with my characters, not necessarily themes. The themes come after, after I’ve mixed things up and had a bit of a Barney with myself.

“People are endlessly fascinating – what we do to each other, how we feel, hide, deal, love and hurt each other, what we are equipped for, how we do things without regard or consequence to other human beings. In a flash of an instant a person can make a decision that is hugely life changing, but somehow can do it so quickly without thinking it through.”

Avoiding Tired Settings

“I’m not really interested in writing plays that take place in living rooms or kitchens or in one place. I don’t need to see people boil kettles and answer the door to a nosey neighbor who is divulging information to drive a plot. I have seen that so many times. It’s the basis for all sitcom, isn’t it?  And seems so tired, so old fashioned, so done. And when I see that in a play I just think that writer is a bit lazy, unless they bring it to the next level.

“I like to push the idea of the stage in itself, and use certain conventions to bring you into different worlds, take you there… and to dance a little… dancing is important to me in my plays. Dancing in clubs, bedrooms, etc. It’s a way of dreaming… getting to your fantasy life… getting away from your real life… having another life. I guess it’s all about dreaming for me.”

Interacting With an Audience

“A play is different every night to a certain extent,” Sexton says, “mostly because of the energy of the audience and how they relate, react. Actors walk offstage every night talking about the audience, as audiences walk out of the theater talking about the actors and what they have experienced. It’s your job as an actor to make an audience listen to your story, to hit those notes that the director has guided you to, that you found in rehearsal. Sometimes it’s as simple as hit that word right and you have them (the audience). Simple is best, being clear.”

Comedies Dark Blue and Pitch Black

Sexton’s second play, The Last Days of Cleopatra, will be staged in New York in August of 2014. “It’s inspired by many things,” Sexton says, “and also my Mother’s death… sort of. It’s a pitch black comedy about love, sex, death, forgiveness, redemption and dancing. It’s about a Dublin family who don’t communicate. They are about to lose the one thing that’s holding them together.

the stage: The Last Days of Cleopatra
The Last Days of Cleopatra. Photo credit:

“There are huge challenges in getting a new play produced in New York, hey in any city,” Sexton continues. “There is no real structure set up to help Irish artists who live here. You’re kind of in no man’s land. We had to do an Indiegogo campaign to go on tour to Ireland with For Love, as we did not receive any funding for any government organization, and the funding arts organizations in the United States told me to go to Irish sources, and the Irish funding opportunities are only for plays leaving Ireland. So our mates kicked in twenty dollars here and there, ye know.

“But no one is giving anyone a hand out, ye know. It’s just the way the arts are. You have to find ways around things, support and allies to help you, believe that it will happen and put it out there, get all the duckies in a row and push forward. It’s a fight to do your own work, new work. You might get lucky, you will definitely get hurt, but if it’s something you need to do, you will find a way. That has been my experience.

Georganne Aldrich Heller is coproducing The Last Days of Cleopatra. She is a brilliant lady and I worked with her as an actress a few times. We did a great show together, Ladies & Gents (performed in the toilets in Central Park), and also produced with the Irish Arts Centre. It was a massive hit. She’s an amazing lady as she has such a love of new Irish plays and likes daring new work and champions new Irish work.

“Theater is a labor of love. Anyone who’s in it knows it. You can’t be in it for the money (unless doing a huge commercial Disneyesque production on Broadway, and even those can fail). I don’t think any real artists are in it for the money, or start out that way anyway. Money is great, and I know there are people out there who are doing it for cash or notoriety or to get women or whatever.”

A Night Out in a Frilly Dress

“But I think if you truly value your craft you can see that at the end of the day you will get those things in time maybe (if that’s what you’re after), but you need to work hard at what you do. Real artists, at least the ones I admire and look up to, are the ones that care and who are ruled by passion and the need to do something great and put something good out there, even if they fail. They don’t care about the red carpet or worldly possessions. All those things are great when you have worked hard, but at the end of the day that’s just a night out in a frilly dress. They are just little extras. But you just do what you need to do, to be.

“I like to try and push things all the time. This new play is a little stylized in terms of style, language, delivery. People will laugh and cry and hopefully dance. Dancing is good. This one was inspired by the Samuel Beckett quote, ‘Dance first, think later…it’s the natural order’.

“I think a play should be just that: chat about stuff, fight about stuff, feel, and then maybe dance a little.”

A True Wanderer

“I am kind of adept at dealing with change and chaos,” says Sexton. “I was adopted by Irish parents in Québec and moved to Ireland where I grew up all over. We moved around a lot (an understatement). I went to a ton of different schools all over Ireland and we were never really in one place for very long. We lived in the country and in cities. We never owned houses.

“Actually we lived in an abandoned hotel once, on the west coast of Ireland. It was very eerie I remember. I was only a child but it was like the film The Shining. My Da actually got the place exorcized as there was a ‘presence’ as he called it. Not that I was told this until I was grown up, but there was one room which was very cold, and you could definitely sense something was weird in certain corridors. We all felt it. Anyways that’s another play.

“I suppose I’m a very energetic person. Maybe that’s why. I’m not sure how it affects my storytelling but I like living different places. It’s definitely the best thing a person can do… travel. I could actually be on tour for long stretches of time and be okay with it.

The Last Days of Cleopatra
Laoisa Sexton in The Last Days of Cleopatra. Photo credit:

“I now live in New York, writing stories that take place in Ireland. They are not necessarily Irish stories, but take place there, as that is what I know. I like to write in a place, with a feeling of that place, with the music of that place, the accent of that place. To me it’s not so much an accent but the rhythm that instructs the piece and that is I suppose what I know, no matter where I am.”

Writing Away From Home

“Also maybe it’s true that you can look at a place better when you are away from it. I mean some of the best Irish writers wrote the best Irish books living in other places in Europe, and yet their concerns were life in Ireland or the stories were saturated in Irish life, like Ulysses. Indeed some of the best writers wrote the best stories in exile, not just Irish ones. I suppose you can kind of look at things better from a distance, or maybe not look but maybe see.

“I like to think I am writing a new play, not just an Irish play, cos a lot of the themes are universal, ye know, not just Irish.

“It’s funny, I am writing a new one about this alcoholic megalomaniac, and all the women in his life, the damage he causes. I showed a bit of it to someone and they said that it was very brittle and the character was unforgiving, but yet we look at old Irish plays like Juno and The Paycock. The Da Captain Boyle is often portrayed as a lovable rogue, but yet he is a lowly alcoholic and has betrayed his family. But when you do that in new plays, people get offended and tell you it’s cruel. But if someone is wearing a costume and it’s an old play with beautiful flowery language it’s okay.

A Rich Violent History

“I think it’s important to write about modern Ireland and my generation. Who we really are. We have a rich violent history, but we are not a country of red heads sitting around staring into the flames in a thatched cottage. There are so many stories to tell that are new and fresh and there is a huge new crop of Irish writers that are doing that.”

More on Laoisa Sexton:

The Last Days of Cleopatra on Facebook. The play premiers at Urban Stages August 20 to September 7. See the Facebook page for ticket information.

Sexton is also shooting a short film You Are Beautiful. See the Facebook page.

All photo credits: