Later this week Liz Weir and Ciaran Mullholland will debut their new piece, “All for the Dead Man’s Penny,” at the Festival at the Edge in Shropshire, England. They were commissioned by FatE to create an hour-long performance on the theme “Forever Young.”
I visited Liz in Cushendall in June and had the opportunity to hear the preview of “All for the Dead Man’s Penny.” Without giving too much away, I can say that it is a multi-layered, highly evocative and moving performance. Liz has woven a classic Irish wonder-tale with the story of a World War I soldier from the vantage point of a modern girl and her grandmother. Add to that the original music that Ciaran has written to complement each vein and tone of the story. It’s truly magical.
The Dead Man’s Penny was a bronze memorial plaque sent to the families of British men and women who perished in the First World War. Approximately five inches in diameter, the plaque featured Britannia and a lion. Around the edge are the words “HE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR.” The soldier’s name was engraved above the lion’s head.
Liz and Ciaran received the commission from FatE last fall and have been working on it for months. As part of the process, FatE requires a preview of the commission before an audience of listeners who provide written comments. This is to provide the performers with an earlier deadline to complete the piece, to perform it before a supportive audience, garner their input, and then to tweak and polish for the remaining weeks before the festival. If the festival organizers cannot be at the preview, the performers send them a video-recording plus the comments from the audience.
Liz hosted the preview at Ballyeamon Barn on Sunday, June 8th. She had a room full of listeners from the community, including the family of the woman whose story of a male relative (who earned the Dead Man’s Penny) inspired the piece. Also in attendance was the historian Liz relied on for her facts. Most of us had tears in our eyes when the performance came to an end. It was especially moving to witness the reaction of the soldier’s family and their appreciation of the beautiful way he was memorialized.
Liz asked me to lead the feedback session so that she could catch her breath after the performance. I first asked the attendees to write their comments on the forms provided by The Festival at the Edge. I then asked them to let Liz and Ciaran know what they liked about the performance. A lively, supportive dialogue then ensued between the listener’s and the artists. The audience – which included artists, musicians, scholars, and social activists – provided praise as well as excellent insights and suggestions.
Here are a few of their written comments:
- A thoroughly enjoyable, professional performance bringing much food for thought.
- Really enjoyable. Music and dialogue go together beautifully. Love the music as a backdrop. It carries you away.
- You have a gift of bringing magic and life to history and the present moment!
As none of the FatE organizers were able to attend, Liz and Ciaran made a video-recording of the preview that was sent off along with the comments.
I so wish that I was going to be at the Festival at the Edge this week to hear the performance in its final form. Those people who do get to attend are in for a huge treat.