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Irish Dancer Maire Clerkin Brings Her Life to the Stage

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BY SARAH TEREZ-ROSENBLUM

When writer, performer and Irish dancer Maire Clerkin began writing about her upbringing, it became quickly apparent her memories “belonged on the stage more than the page.”

Always active in theater, Clerkin has toured the UK and Ireland with various theater pieces blending Irish dance and comedy, but “The Bad Arm- Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer,” is her first one-woman show. Born of “a resistance to being labeled Irish, English, Irish-wannabe, punk, respectable, troublemaker,” Clerkin’s dance/comedy hybrid makes its Chicago debut as part of Fringe Festival.

Our Town: You grew up Irish dancing, by choice?
Maire Clerkin: My mother was the dancing teacher in our North London parish hall and my siblings and I were dragged along before we were old enough to rebel. I was the one who stuck with it, even through teenage times when it was regarded as un-cool beyond belief.

OT: What’s your writing process like?
MC: Sporadic, mixed up, irregular, unclassifiable. I switch between theme and feeling, trying to avoid preachy message. I pare down to get the essence of a character. I might edit it to death, then get up and try it.

OT: You write about vulnerabilities. What about the topic makes interesting fodder?
MC: Part of getting older is realizing how vulnerable everyone is. I used to think it was just me. At school I was the class clown: getting laughs was a good way of covering up my insecurities. But it’s the insecurities that connect us. Audiences recognize themselves and are engaged. Theatre is where humanity is exhibited in its naked glory; and attempts to transcend weakness can be pathetic, hilarious or even heroic.

OT: Why is your one woman show unique?
MC: I can’t speak for others, but I suppose the Irish Dance bits probably set it apart. If the audience is expecting an uplifting tale of redemption, they’ll be disappointed. Dan O’Connor, my director, skillfully steered me away from a vanity piece.

OT: What’s interesting to you about the form?
MC: It’s exhilarating to be on my own and know that the whole thing rests on my shoulders. It’s also scary as hell and gives me sleepless nights. I used to work in an ensemble, but to quote Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘hell is other people’.

OT: You moved from Europe to the US, why LA?
MC: Because that’s where my then-boyfriend lived. I since had him assassinated, and then I stayed for the nice weather.

OT: What are you most looking forward to while in Chicago for Fringe Fest?
MC: The Irish Dance scene here is one of the longest established in the US, of a very high standard, and there is a great tradition of combining it with theatre (Trinity Dance Company, Michael Flatley, etc). I love the outdoor sculptures downtown, especially Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor. And walking along the lakefront with that stupendous skyline is terrific, so long as it’s not too cold. Last December I saw “The Addams Family,” which was directed by my friend Phelim McDermott. It’s theatre town and I love it.

Check fringe.org for details about “The Bad Arm-Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer” as well as to obtain a full festival schedule.

For more on Clerkin, visit www.maireclerkin.com

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