Limerick woman Joanne Ryan, a former teacher and journalist who fell into acting via a two-year stint in Ros na Rún, has been pursuing the comedy circuit as well as her lauded serious role in What Happened Bridgie Cleary.
This show explores a universal theme in the modern world, that this is the first time that women get to decide whether or not they will become mothers.
A recent survey shows that one fifth of Irish women never have children. We have no frame of reference for this, and Ryan shows us just how much of a person’s brain can be taken up by this question — to make a new life or not.
The play is populated by various voices; women Ryan has interviewed about their own experiences with motherhood.
“It seems that a woman’s fertility is public property”, says Ryan. “Once you make the decision to procreate, your body is no longer your own.
“It seems ok to ask a woman who may be past her child-bearing years if she regrets not having children, but does anyone ever ask them if they regret having them?” Ryan did ask, and the voices can be heard in a production that features animations, soundscapes, and moving sets.
When she turned the ticking-bomb age of 35, Ryan faced the baby conversation with her boyfriend Rob, whose voice is also heard on stage. Her father had recently passed away and it threw her own mortality into question.
“My Dad was a vibrant character and always talked about me being his legacy,” she says.
“It’s not something I’d really thought about before, always imagining that mine would be something more connected to creativity.”
Asked what she thinks of the idea that to make another human being is the ultimate creative process, she argues that while it is creative, it is also “quite passive”.
She is keen to point out that wanting babies isn’t gender-specific and that men she has had relationships with have wanted marriage and babies.
“It’s a fallacy that women want babies more than men. Women are blamed in some way for wanting children, but that’s just not true.”
In her quest for clarity around the baby question, Ryan visited fortune tellers and fertility experts.
Whether she is any the wiser will out in the show. “The social implications of choosing to not have children are many, from social to emotional: Who will take care of me when I’m old, all the way to medical and financial,” she says.
The supporting role in the show is her mother Gloria, whom she dotes on. “Mum really enjoyed the process. She loved it when people were laughing at her stories and jokes when we were rehearsing. It makes me really happy to have this collaboration.”
Eggsistentialism has been on a roller-coaster ride since its first inception, in Hatch LK, a theatre incubation scheme curated by the Limetree Theatre in Limerick.
“I applied for Arts Council funding and, because I was working with a raft of talented creatives, they said yes from the beginning. To be sitting in a room with these people who are working to bring my play to life is the most surreal thing.”
“Playing myself is a curious thing. While this is autobiographical, I’m also exploring Ireland’s sexual history. It seems to have struck a chord with many people already.”
Eggsistentialism opens in the Belltable, Limerick with previews on Sept 8 and performances from 9-10 Sept, and then at the Black Box in Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival, September 13-17.