Five questions with: Muireann Ahern, director of ‘They Called Her Vivaldi’

Theatre Lovett Presents: They Called Her Vivaldi

Hancher — Sunday, March 10 at 2 p.m.

Irish company Theatre Lovett brings ‘The Called Her Vivaldi’ to Hancher. — via

Sunday, March 10 will bring an exciting, one-day-only performance to Hancher Auditorium. Irish theater company Theatre Lovett will make their Iowa City stop, one of just seven on their North American tour, sharing their original production They Called Her Vivaldi, a playful narrative full of adventure and magic.

The play follows quiet musical prodigy Cecilia Maria, who is robbed of her magical, musical hat. The introspective musician must venture away from her comfortable home and into a loud and bustling city to get it back. Promising intense musicality and masterful stagecraft, They Called Her Vivaldi will bring the audience at Hancher a thrilling, comedic adventure story that is sure to reach audiences of all ages.

Tickets for the Hancher production are $25 for adults, $10 for youth and college students. The play runs approximately 60 minutes, with no intermission. The play is recommended for ages 7 and up. As part of a commitment to reaching young audiences, Theatre Lovett also created a teacher resource pack to accompany the show.

The show’s director, and co-artistic director of the company, Muireann Ahern spoke to Little Village via email, offering a closer look at Theatre Lovett, the talented performers taking the Hancher stage and how this performance interacts with its audiences.

As stated on your website, your company hopes to approach wide age groups in your audiences. How does this influence the voice and context of the shows you put on? Do you feel like this broadens the themes that you can draw on for the stories you tell?

We love to see actors bridging the divide between playing for young audiences and playing for adults. We want young audiences to experience actors at the top of their game performing for them. It is rare enough, however, to find actors who are at ease interacting with their audience and who are at ease with what children might offer them during performance. It concerns knowing when to engage and when not to, yet at all times with that lovely sense that every child’s offering is wholly yet subtly embraced.

Louis Lovett, I have to say, is the master of this interaction, and we have a real desire to upskill other actors in this area. He surfs his audience beautifully and his audiences are rarely left unheard or with their contribution left hanging in the air. This is a very skillful thing to be able to do effectively, and as a director, this is a very satisfying component of the shows I direct …

When an actor can include what comes from the audience without putting the brakes on the momentum of the piece — this is what can really set theater for children apart from the grown-up variety. In terms of the audiences, we like to play for our audience — young and old — all together in the one room at the same time … Maybe different things will resonate and land. We work hard to make theater for all ages. Part of the joy is the intergenerational audiences enjoying each other also.

The play’s previews play a lot with silence against cacophony. What particular strengths of your company do you think this plays on?

We are old school theatrical and like our productions to lean on stagecraft without the use of screens doing the job for us. To this end, we like to have heightened moments of theatricality balancing with absolute stillness and neutrality — allowing some moments to breathe. Often young audiences can be bombarded with bright colors, flashing lights — and are not trusted to be able to deal with the silence. They (as any audience) can engage with and need both.

This misplaced energy of high octane, unbridled energy bounding onto the stage in brightly colored clothing is a bit like giving children an immediate sugar rush: To be avoided at all costs. They Called Her Vivaldi plays with tempos — moments of pathos and moments of chaos (but measured and bridled we like to think).

‘They Called Her Vivaldi’ is only one of Theatre Lovett’s original offerings for audiences of all ages. — via

It appears on your website that the play is a complete product of the company. Can you speak at all to the creative collaboration within your group of artists?

Louis Lovett and I are joint artistic directors of the company, and we balance each other out I reckon, after many years of creating shows together. I am interested in the darker colors of the rainbow and Louis is a joyous performer, so we never tip over too far to one side or the other. We work with a close group of associate artists who share our ambition and spirit of play. We take our play very seriously.

Your company is based in Dublin, but does both national and international tours. Do you think location has any effect on your group’s storytelling? Did this contribute at all to the initial spark of this particular play?

We try to make our work have universal appeal. We always have an outward eye to what will travel and resonate, however some things do land differently in different places. We can’t always anticipate this of course, but at the end of the day, audiences are audiences the world over. We all need to create meaning through stories.

Can you share a little bit about the main character, who is been described as “particular,” “sensitive” and “musical” on your website? What might audiences see of themselves in her?

Our protagonist Cecilia Maria Haberdasher learns how to lose her footing without losing her way. She experiences loss at a young age, and this manifests in various ways. Again, we all need to create meaning through stories. It is part of what makes us human — there have been theater-like rituals in some of the oldest human societies.

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