There have not been any posts since my book review because, at this point in the process, I have switched gears from “learning about the artform” to “learning about the topic.” As part of this early dive into research, I’m reading Thomas Coffey’s Agony at Easter, which is a day-by-day, hour-by-hour account of the events of the Easter Uprising in Dublin in April 1916. A more full review will come once I’m finished with it, but I will say that I’m very impressed both with the amount of information present in the text, as well as how it’s written. At times, it reads less like a historical account and more like a novel; Coffey states in the foreward that “[t]he events and conversations [in the book] are related exactly the way careful research indicates they happened. The precise wording of quotations has been used wherever it could be established, and even when the precise words were unascertainable, the sense and tone of each conversation was preserved.”
In fact, this careful attention to detail might be a little too informational: as I’m reading through the book and taking notes on what I might or might not include in the musical, I’m getting the feeling that I might have to readjust how I approach writing this thing. There’s so much that is important to the story that, at this point, I’m not sure what I would have to cut.
As my plans stand now, the general arc of the story was going to be Act I being all of the stuff that happened before the actual uprising — an overview of the events that would lead to the Irish people wanting to rebel against the British, followed by the events leading up to the Uprising, including planning, arguments, recruitment, and the tensions that rise from the high amount of stress that comes from figuring out how to fight against an entire British military system. Act I was going to end with the night before the actual occupation of the General Post Office, with Act II being all about the events of Easter Week.
But I’m starting to rethink this plan. Maybe Act I ends with the end of Day One of the occupation of the GPO? If you’re “supposed” to take an act break on emotional uncertainty and tension, based on this book alone, the Volunteers are pretty confident in themselves after Day One. They fought back against the British Lancers (a cavalry unit meant to break up the occupation almost immediately after it started), they raised the new Irish flag, they’ve occupied several strategic locations throughout Dublin, and they’re getting new soldiers every moment (most of them arriving late due to various reasons). “My God, we might actually do this!” they cry! Act Break, with Act II being all about how they eventually get their ass kicked by the British Army, and many of the leaders are executed. Curtain.
But it’s not just the structure of the musical that I’m rethinking; there’s information that I’m learning that I just never suspected in my basic understanding of the Uprising that I briefly learned about on my trip to Ireland last year. For example: Did you know that the GPO occupation was not well-received by the general public? Patrick Pearse and his militia were openly mocked when they took over the GPO. Usually when you hear stories of revolution, they just kind of gloss over any public outcry against it, as if everyone was on the same page. And I’m debating whether I include much, if any, public resistance in the final product, because I think it tells a truer story than trying to deify these men and these events.
A note that I made about how to incorporate this comes after a song idea: Pearse and potentially others sing the official proclamation that Ireland is an independent nation, and as this major event reaches it’s climax, have someone as a citizen (potentially even someone in the audience), shout “feck off!” at the stage. It’s an idea that I will fight hard to keep in the show, but I ultimately have no idea if it will actually stay in.
Speaking of Patrick Pearse, there are also a lot of people involved in the Uprising. My main character list as it stands now include Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, and Joseph Plunkett, as they are the Commandant Generals of the Volunteers that occupy the GPO. They are in charge, so it makes sense to focus on them. But there are also so many other characters involved, each with their own stakes and their own beefs with everyone else, that if I wanted to go with emotional tension, I’d have to include all of them, which is virtually impossible. There are seven main conspirators when it comes to these events — Pearse, Connolly, Plunkett, as well as Michael Collins, Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDermott, and Thomas MacDonagh. With them, there are several other leaders within the Irish Brotherhood (where many Volunteers came from), including Michael O’Rahilly, Desmond Fitzgerald, and Bulmer Hobson.
Ten people. And that’s not including other soldiers, British soldiers, the women’s faction of Cumann na mBan, townspeople, etc. So many characters, and I know I’m going to have to cut and condense some, but in this preliminary research stage, I’m not sure who that would be at this point.
I know, as I’m gathering information, that I shouldn’t have these answers yet; in fact, I probably shouldn’t even be thinking of these questions in the first place. But this immediate discernment has also led to several song ideas, including six from the Monday events alone. Naturally, some of those ideas will be cut as I start writing, but it’s kind of fun to be doing this sort of planning.
Per the timeline that I created for myself, I’m in research and information gathering mode until the end of January. By the end of February, I should have my acts and scenes outlined, as well as my characters identified and sketched out so that I can dig into writing the book by March.