Carrie Barrett was first introduced to the Festival on a trip our Director made to Limerick, to speak on behalf of Creative Organisations of Liverpool.
During a Limerick artist’s group meeting, Carrie -a domestic violence support officer- made a big impression, when the Moyross Drama Community performed some short, self-written pieces from a recent production. After swapping stories, plays, ideas and contacts, Carrie presented as part of the #LIF2019 In:Visible Women programme and we have remained collaborators ever since. This year, Carrie returns to Liverpool, as an artist in her own right and artist-in-residence, experiencing the Festival from within and learning more about Liverpool. Ahead of that visit, Carrie tells us how hunger drove her to find her creative self and, in doing so, rekindle her sense of identity.
When I think of hunger, I recall an empty feeling in the pit of my belly. An aching desire for more… for better… to move beyond where I was: an 18-year-old young woman who just finished second-level education, living in a working-class community in Limerick. The place I grew up in; played hopscotch and rounders in; had my first kiss and met my boyfriend [now husband] in; was now overshadowed by drugs, family feuds and high unemployment. Homes that once had window boxes filled with flowers and open doors were boarded up and covered in graffiti, with words like ‘RATS’, ‘PIGS’,’ F*CK the SHADES’ slathered across them. I felt trapped and hopeless; ‘less than’ and ashamed of where I lived and -somehow- who I was.
I craved to get out of there; hungered for a better life. Third-level education wasn’t an option. I needed to earn money, so spent hours looking for work; sending off applications and CVs, but heard nothing back for months.
I decided to put a different address on the applications; that of my aunt (who lived in a more affluent area of the city). Within a week I got a job in a computer factory! A few months later I moved into an apartment with my boyfriend.
My hunger for success and for financial security increased. I was filled with hope and possibility; determined to build a life so my future children would have the privilege of growing up in a safe environment.
Fast forward twenty years: I was married; had an honours degree in Community and Family Studies; a thriving career; a beautiful home and two precious children. I had everything I ever desired… yet, I still felt unfulfilled; hungry for something more. As I sat at my fossil-stone table, sipping a Nespresso, I contemplated my journey.
Upon reflection, I realised that my need for success -and my unwavering desire for safety- was fulfilled. I’d achieved my goals (qualifications, property, expensive possessions), but I still felt empty. I realised I was driven by fear of ‘lack’; a yearning to increase my value and prove my worth to myself and to society. I got caught up in the superficial world of image and social status and had I lost myself in the process.
To find myself I needed to reconnect with that 18-year-old me… To remember that -despite her environment and her hunger for more- she loved to dance, play, write, perform, create. She had a huge social conscience and didn’t just want better for herself, she wanted more for everyone else, too. I felt that pang again; a craving for fulfilment, for nourishment… but this time, it was of the soul. I felt the loss of what my younger self could have been if survival and safety were not her primary need.
As faith would have it, a few weeks later, an opportunity to be part of a new drama initiative in my community of origin arose. I jumped at the chance. It meant returning to the place I grew up, every Wednesday night, to play and create. I reconnected with people and place; tapping into talents and skills that were unutilised for two decades. It was an outlet that was just for me, outside of the daily stresses of work, parenting, housekeeping, friendships and family… A space where I could show up, simply as myself, and ‘be’.
Allowing myself that space to reconnect with all parts of myself filled me with joy. I was able to merge my passions, fears and desire for change and channel them into art in a way that was easy, fun and liberating. During our class’s we wrote scripts, explored, laughed and made absolute ejits of ourselves in a safe place with safe people.
My appetite was whet; I wanted more.
I wrote a monologue about domestic abuse, based on the work I was doing in a local women and children’s refuge. It was raw and real and hit the audience hard. The positive feedback I received gave me confidence to apply to the National Theatre of Ireland’s new community arts intuitive called Abbey Theatre 5×5 project. I was the first programme participant, where I developed more monologue’s (some of which were performed in the 2019 Liverpool Irish Festival). That experience solidified for me that this is what I want to do. I felt at home among the creatives, the audiences, the people; having the craic and participating in the pain and joy of stories shared.
I returned to Ireland more determined to further my passions, quench my thirst and feed my mind.
I wrote a play called BINGO! , which has since been published as part of an anthology of Limerick Playwrights, Four Limerick Plays. I’m a performance poet and have recently received a Poetry Ireland bursary to support my work. I’m a community artist, using writing and poetry as a medium to empower, create change and give voice to those who are now where I once was.
Today I reflect once again. I remember how I used to feel a twinge of jealousy and resentment towards those who had easy access to third-level education. To those whose parents bought them their first car and gifted them down-payment for their first home or paid their rent. To those who could pursue careers in the arts without worrying about the basic needs of food and safety; without literally going to bed hungry if work wasn’t guaranteed. I always heard the term, ‘starving artist’; I was bad enough back then without adding h’anger into the mix! A career in arts wasn’t for me, it was for others: the privileged.
Sometimes I still feel that way when I’m in those places and spaces. Being greeted with the ‘La Bise’ (double cheek kiss) makes me feel awkward. The ‘how have you been, darling?’ and ‘what have you been working on?’ makes me squirm inside because it’s not who I am. I’ve just found myself again. I don’t want to get lost in a world of pretentiousness.
I know who I am; I’m a 42-year-old woman who is mostly made up of that young woman I tried to run from. Now I believe I, too, am privileged. I’m proud of who I am; where I come from and the route I took. I bring fresh eyes to theatre and performance and an underrepresented voice. I’ve developed many transferrable skills from my professional training, which is strongly rooted in social justice and change making. I know it’s who we are that matters, not what we have or where we live, with a belief that everyone’s voice matters. I believe in theatre and art for all. I’m fulfilled. That burning hunger that once was inside me, is now a warm comforting glow. I feel full, but there’s always room for dessert, right!?