Catherine McKernan Doris: Trust Her! She’s a Writer

Four female actors set around a dining table on set
The cast of 'Ebough to Wake the Dead' by Catherine McKernan Doris IMAGE: Supplied

Townsville-based playwright Catherine McKernan Doris will expose the shenanigans that occur within a theatre group, when her latest show premieres this week.

Catherine found theatre at an early age in County Tyrone, Ireland, watching her father in his amateur theatre group. Catherine fondly recalls helping him learn his lines, and, with enough pestering, tagging along to his rehearsals. Later, Catherine found herself performing in the local Craic theatre, as well as dabbling in choreography and producing.

Trying her hand at writing

It wasn’t until 2014, when her son invited her to a playwrighting workshop that Catherine began writing.

“I was going basically to keep him company, but then he couldn’t make it, so I was sitting there not knowing anybody and being very nervous,” says Catherine.

“By the end of that weekend we had to have written a 10-minute play. It was my very first play and I have gone from strength to strength since then. I didn’t know at the time that I could do it, but now I do!”

The resulting play, Enough to Wake the Dead  was selected for performance at the Short + Sweet Festival held in Sydney.

“Over the course of two years, I wrote a full-length version of Enough to Wake the Dead that was staged in Townsville last year (2021) as part of the North Australian Festival of the Arts (NAFA),” said Catherine.

“It was also stage in Ireland last November.”

Catherine McKernan Doris

Pulling back the curtain on actors

Catherine’s latest offering, Trust Me! I’m an Actor is inspired by her own experiences in amateur theatre circles. Townsville Little Theatre will present the show with Catherine’s son, Michael Doris, directing.  

Catherine said she has borrowed some memorable antics from her own time in the theatre for the script.

“We were doing The Sound of Music and – as was typical of Irish men when the all-Ireland football final was on – this guy arrived back late from the final,” Catherine recalls.

“He was playing the role of the butler, and he raced on stage with someone else’s trousers on which were only half-way up his legs! We were all desperately trying to say our lines without bursting out in laughter at this guy with trousers at half-mast flapping around his shins. It was very funny!”

Like the actors bringing her words to life on stage, Catherine is no stranger to opening night jitters.

 “Oh my god I get them every night! Every performance!” she exclaims.

“The thing for me is those are my words and when it is something out of your control, you don’t know what the director or the performers are going to do with it.

“If they make a mess, it’s like ‘her play was rubbish’. You must be trusting.

“The nerves usually stop when I hear that first laugh, or first reaction from the audience.”

Townsville’s theatre community needs support

After 24 years living in Australia, Catherine is passionate about Townsville’s performing arts community

“As far as I am concerned one of the best pieces of theatre, I have ever seen anywhere in the world was right here in Townsville,” says Catherine.

 “It was Frankenstein by Theatre iNQ. I have never seen anything like it, it was incredible!”

One criticism though is the lack of an affordable venue.

“The beauty of Townsville is the community engages and supports the theatre groups. We recognise our talent. We get a chance to have our work produced here,” she says

“We need a theatre that we can use that does not cost an arm a leg. Townsville City Council needs to get behind all the theatre groups in Townsville, and provide them with somewhere that they can put their own shows on with their own staff.

“The productions here are well attended, there is a love for it and a need for it. We need a cost-effective venue that all community and theatre groups can use and enjoy. Not just for the writers and performers but for those who want to get into the technical side of theatre.”

Catherine is currently working on a prequel to Enough to Wake the Dead and an historical fiction novel.

Trust Me! I’m an Actor runs at PIMPAC 28 September – 1 October 2022.  

This article was supported by the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). RADF is a partnership between the Queensland Government and the Townsville City Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.

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