Ahead of their debut at the Dublin Fringe Festival, Tara Hanneffy chats to Katie O’Byrne, one third of Rule of Three Collective, about their upcoming show ‘Free EU Roaming’, and making waves on the international stage.
An Irish woman, a German woman and a British woman walk into a hostel – the premise to Rule of Three Collective’s new show, ‘Free EU Roaming’. Katie O’Byrne smiles when I check with her that the show has nothing to do with your data: “It’s not about phone bills, no!” The show takes a lot of inspiration from the real life experience of the trio, consisting of Katie O’Byrne, Caroline Galvis and Sinéad Brady, who all met while undertaking a Masters in Theatre Making at the Institute of Arts Barcelona. “Caro’s from Germany, Sinéad’s from Coventry and I’m from Dublin. Throughout the year we got talking, outside of class time, just casually started talking about national identity and stuff and decided we wanted to explore that a bit through theatre. That’s how we formed the collective.” Significantly, the girls were studying in Barcelona when the Catalan region became embroiled in a fight over a banned independence referendum in October 2017. “We were actually studying while that was happening, so obviously that’s influenced us a lot.” This historical backdrop, combined with their collective musings on national identity, led to the creation of ‘Free EU Roaming’, which will debut at the Dublin Fringe Festival in September 2018.
They start exploring their relationship to their national identities through the past and the present and then looking forward towards how they’re going to take their national identities into the future
Three women, of different nationalities, are trapped in a hostel while conflict rages outside. “You see a bit of what’s happening outside, and basically they’re stuck in a room together. They start exploring their relationship to their national identities through the past and the present and then looking forward towards how they’re going to take their national identities into the future,” Katie explains. Due to the show being born out of their own experiences in Spain, and the fact that they each play a character of their own nationality, it is inevitable that the characters reflect the trio’s personalities in the piece. “Definitely,” Katie agrees. “We each identify with our characters a lot, or they’re based on people we know. They’re kind of an amalgamation of loads of people, and also stereotypes. We sent a survey out to our mates and family, to basically find out what their stereotypes and prejudices were, and so the characters are nearly based on that as well, which is interesting.”
This is a show that takes on board both personal and collective experiences. Rule of Three Collective have said that they “make theatre that reclaims and reshapes our collective history and national identities”, and ‘Free EU Roaming’ is a show that aims to do this. “We interviewed a lot of family members, looking at what national identity was to them in the past. We looked a lot at common history; things like world wars, fights for independence, because obviously that’s related to the Catalonian fight [for independence] as well.” “For instance, Caro and her relationship to her country is very different to my relationship to my country and my past. We feel very differently about those pasts [German and Irish respectively] so it’s about looking at our collective histories and how we want to go forward and take the good bits, and how we reconcile the bits that we’re not so comfortable with.”
The piece is no longer done in one definite style, but has evolved to an “amalgamation of loads of different things!”
The group are debuting their show at a time when people all over the world are questioning the concept of national identity, and when issues like Brexit dominate the news on a daily basis. Katie believes that their show is a platform through which they can explore these ideas. “There’s actually a scene that relates to Brexit, so we’re discussing those themes directly and how they’re affecting the characters and we hope that by doing so, we’re creating a discourse that’s looking at those topics.” The characters’ experiences of the Catalonian conflict leads them to ponder “how they feel about what’s happening in their home country.” The girls hope to open up a space where people can begin to reflect on their own concepts of national identity: “by discussing issues through those characters, who are kind of archetypes, of those national identities. We’re hoping to kind of, maybe not comment, but explore so that the audience are thinking about these ideas.”
As a piece of theatre, ‘Free EU Roaming’ draws on the individual talents of each of the girls, as well as availing of the knowledge they acquired from studying together in Barcelona. “We were lucky because we had that year where we were training together, so we have a vocabulary from the classes. But then you have Sinéad, for example, who is primarily a writer. She’s an actor as well, but she’s done a lot of spoken word, so we have her influences there.” The piece is no longer done in one definite style, but has evolved to an “amalgamation of loads of different things!” Katie’s own background is mostly physical theatre. The group have also taken on board other people to assist with the show who bring their own unique talents, but also work in collaboration with the group. “We’ve got Rosa Bowden in directing who is amazing, I’ve worked with her before through UCD’s Dramsoc, and so she and I would have a common way of looking at the physical aspects as well. So it’s kind of taking bits of everyone’s experience and trying to weave them in some sort of way so we’re teaching each other as we go along as well, which is nice.”
The group led a successful crowd-funding campaign to help bring the show to fruition, and they are very grateful for all the support they’ve received, financial or otherwise. “It’s nice to know that there are people who are interested in what we’re doing,” Katie reflects. “We keep in contact with our funders and let them know what we’re doing and a lot of them are interested in coming to see the show. There are people flying over from Germany and the UK because of Caro and Sinéad’s backgrounds, and we have people flying over from Barcelona as well, so that support is really lovely. The Dublin theatre community and UCD have been very supportive of us, and the Fringe team are unbelievable, they’re just so welcoming. For new artists it’s wonderful to have that support, because it’s scary, putting on a show of that scale!” This support from the Dublin Fringe team is part of the reason the girls have chosen to debut their show at the festival this year. Katie has previously been in two shows in the festival and speaks very highly of it: “I love the festival and it’s a great festival for new work. I think it’s a really great place to debut a new show.” Rule of Three hope that their international experience will aid them in bringing something new to the festival. “We’ve seen so much of European theatre, and I think those unique perspectives on not only national identity, but on theatre, and how theatre is made across Europe, I think that’s something new that we bring. Also we’re young and fresh and enthusiastic as well!”
In the future, they “would love to continue to make work in Dublin, and we are obviously also exploring the idea of maybe touring to Berlin, or Coventry, so we’re looking at those routes at the moment as well.”
Rule of Three are looking forward to the festival, “because the Dublin theatre scene is so vibrant at the moment, and there’s so much more space for new work and young work, to move up quite quickly,” Katie tells me. In the future, they “would love to continue to make work in Dublin, and we are obviously also exploring the idea of maybe touring to Berlin, or Coventry, so we’re looking at those routes at the moment as well. But we would love to share it maybe with a bit more of Ireland, if we can. ”Their focus at the moment is on building some momentum online, through their Facebook and Instagram profiles, before their impending debut on the Irish stage with ‘Free EU Roaming’. The show will no doubt cement their status as up and coming artists on both the Irish and international stages.
‘Free EU Roaming’ runs from 8th-13th September at Smock Alley Theatre Boy’s School. Details can be found on fringefest.com or ruleofthreecollective.com.