April 6, 2018 through April 29, 2018
Fishtank Theatre is partnering with the Charlotte Street Foundation to present the regional premiere of Belfast Girls, a play by Jaki McCarrick at La Esquina in April 2018. A free, First Friday Open House and artist talk will take place on Friday, April 6, 2018 and 17 live, public performances will take place from April 7 through 29, 2018.
The production is directed by CSF Fellow Heidi Van and features a cast consisting of Rasheedat Badejo, Annie Kalahurka, Erdin Schultz-Bever, Lindsay Lillig, and Kaitlin Gould. The writer, Jaki McCarrick, won the 2010 Papatango Prize for New Writing for her play Leopoldville. Belfast Girls was developed at the National Theatre Studio, and was shortlisted for the 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the 2014 BBC Tony Doyle Award.
Saturday, April 7th, 2018 at 8PM
Sunday, April 8th, 2018 at 3PM
Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 at 8PM
Thursday, April 12th, 2018 at 8PM
Friday, April 13th, 2018 at 8PM
Saturday, April 14th, 2018 at 8PM
Sunday, April 15th, 2018 at 3PM
Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 at 8PM
Thursday, April 19th, 2018 at 8PM
Friday, April 20th, 2018 at 8PM
Saturday, April 21st, 2018 at 8PM
Sunday, April 22nd, 2018 at 3PM
Wednesday, April 25th, 2018 at 8PM
Thursday, April 26th, 2018 at 8PM
Friday, April 27th, 2018 at 8PM
Saturday, April 28th, 2018 at 8PM
Sunday, April 29th at 3PM
About the Story
As Ireland crumbled with hunger, the British colonial administration in Australia needed labour to cultivate untended land, which would be razed unless workers could be supplied. Seeking hard working women, they appealed to the teeming Belfast workhouses, inducing applicants with comfortable passage across the sea and guaranteed work in the sunshine.
In contrast to the barren villages of famine-era Ireland, industrial Belfast experienced a frantic, pressured activity as people queued up seeking shipbuilding and linen work. But even as textiles and grain were exported, the amount of workers outweighed the amount of labour.
Women in workhouses would be given token jobs like dying muslin to keep them from falling idle. But as more people arrived, workhouse conditions deteriorated further. ‘A lot of the work was made up work,’ says McCarrick. ‘And if they could get in, you’d have prostitutes in and out of the workhouses.’
So to qualify for Earl Grey’s scheme, an attractive escape route from the workhouses, women had to be aged 15-20 and have no living parents. They had to secure a certificate of good character from a local official or priest. But the rules were broken and the scheme was abused: ‘A lot of women would lie to get on the ship, and perform sexual favours to get their good reference. Which they did, plenty of them did.’
The story of the Irish orphan girls in Australia has been explored by academics and researchers including Trevor McClaughlin, author of the book Barefoot and Pregnant? Irish famine orphans in Australia. When McCarrick delved into the material she found detailed documents and registers for the women who left. But she also found evidence of a deliberate move by officials to purge the workhouses of prostitutes.
The quest of manifest destiny and seeking greener pastures is still a relevant narrative in contemporary society where class struggle still exists, resources are scant, and the sex trade industry is thriving. The struggle of the Irish girls of the 1850s are not far from struggles of American girls and women today.
The Fishtank, founded in 2009, presents contemporary experimental live theatre that challenges the way theatre meets its audience. Material performed by the Fishtank is fresh, its content progressive and its writers and performers committed to the aesthetic of risk-taking.
Working with set designer, Mark Exline, Belfast Girls will be staged aboard a multi-level ghost ship, resembling a skeleton, and the skin and bones of the population a government let starve.
La Esquina white box walls provide a projection surface for the voyage from Ireland to Australia where the set will be completed by images of the night sky, circling birds, the sea horizon, and, finally, the destination.