The Festival is renowned the world over for its eclectic programme embracing an array of musical genres, as well as the spectrum of classic and new age jazz that draws tens of thousands to the event each year – so it’s no surprise that this year it’s branching out even further into the realm of theatre.
Award winning local author and playwright Dave Duggan will next week premiere a compelling production written specially for the Jazz Festival – Chezzie’s Chance – a theatrical piece with Jazz at its heart, starring local actors Orla Mullan and Conor O’Kane.
The play is inspired by the writer’s own love of the music and the festival itself which provides the dramatic setting for the protagonist’s adventures. Speaking ahead of its opening next week, Dave explained that it had been a long-standing ambition to bring his passions for music and theatre together.
“I always go to the festival and I really enjoy it – it’s one of the highlights of the year and we go as a family to the shows and to the pubs,” he reveals. “It’s just a great thing in its own right and one of the big successes of the civic events programme.
“For the past five or six years I thought that in my professional practice as a theatre maker I would love to connect to that experience. Most of my work comes out of stuff that happens in my life, things that interest me – such as having young people leaving for work and college.
“And there’s a final element connecting the two. There’s a literary critic called Terry Eagleton who’s written a book called The Meaning of Life. His manifestation of a free life is a jazz combo because everyone gets to have a solo – but it only works if everyone has the chance to have a solo. There’s no prescribed score – you just have to make it up.
“I had a strong desire to work a dramatic story and music together into a light but resonant comedy. So I started having conversations with Jonathan Burgess and he started sketching out conversations with the Council and the Arts Council.
“Then I spoke to the jazz musician Linley Hamilton and he was interested, so it all started to fall into place. So while there’s a singularity about making a piece of theatre art, the end production is the result of a great partnership between myself, Blue Eagle, Derry City and Strabane District Council and the Arts Council.”
Dave is known for pushing the boundaries when it comes to his stage settings, using reality as a dramatic tool, with performances in some rather unusual and challenging locations including McLaughlin’s Hardware store and the Derry and Strabane Courthouses.
“I think non-theatre locations bring a kind of extra-dimensional theatricality, along the Shakespeare line of ‘all the world’s a stage’,” he explains. “I don’t deliberately seek out places. “Just some work sets itself in particular locations, and can also be put on a stage. My theatre work has taken place in a hardware shop, in courthouses, in a shopping centre, in a marquee, in the bombed out Russian Cultural Centre in Kabul, as well as on stages across Ireland.”
The music itself has an important role, both in establishing the context of the play and breathing life into the characters. “I read books on jazz history and listened to jazz performances on record and on-line, as I began writing dialogues for Chezzie and Donna,” Dave reveals.
“A key trio with Chet Baker on trumpet alongside guitar and bass players sounded right for the play – but I also had an eye on production budgets, obviously.
“So I contacted ace trumpeter Linley Hamilton and he pointed me in further directions. I wanted the two characters to sing, so finding songs also added to the sound. I came up with a play-list that amplifies, counter-points and colours the dialogues. Music also has a vital role in bringing the characters to life – Donna the mother has the blues, Chezzie is all swing and all go with some Frank Sinatra numbers.
“The choice of music reflects their personalities and the domestic relationship between mother and son.”
The production features two local actors Conor O’Kane who is based in Feeny, and Orla Mullan who is from Limavady.
“I’m delighted to be working with local actors,” Dave stresses. “It’s a tough industry – we’re a small city on the NW of Europe which means we often have to export some of our best talent and that’s the reality of it.
“But where we can support our local talent it’s fantastic to have them come home and spend time with family and get involved in local projects.”
As the Jazz Festival’s first foray into theatre Dave is confident that the production sits well in the eclectic five day programme of music.
“The perfect location for premiering is here,” he insists. “Anywhere there’s music or theatre – or both – offers a perfect backdrop. Chezzie and Donna’s story is the universal story of the young leaving the nest amidst all the parental hopes and fears.
“It’s just a ‘good time’ show, with resonance for how we live today. I hope the jazz crowd take delight in the characters of Chezzie and Donna and their feisty relationship.
“Delight in the music played by Linley Hamilton and his trio. Yes – delight. And also, some kind of heartening, to take the chances life brings, at every stage.”
You can catch Chezzie’s Chance by acclaimed writer Dave Duggan, produced by Jonathan Burgess, at the Millennium Forum on Friday May 4th at 7.30 pm and Sunday May 6th at 3 pm.
Tickets priced £10 (£7 Concess.) are now on sale at www.millenniumforum.co.uk
The City of Derry Jazz festival is organised and funded by Derry City and Strabane District Council with support from Diageo and Tourism Northern Ireland.
For more information on all the events taking place throughout the City of Derry Jazz Festival go to cityofderryjazzfestival.com