Suzanna Geraghty’s one-woman comedy drama Auditions Zoe’s Auditions beat off stiff competition at one of the biggest solo theatre festivals in the world, the United Solo, New York, to become Audience Favourite in 2011.
Since then Suzanna, who is from Dublin but has lived in the Big Apple for the past 17 years, has been touring with her comedy about a woman who works backstage at a theatre dreaming of acting success, but lacking the confidence to make it big, doing the laundry at the theatre and hiding in the shadows. To add to her misfortunes, Zoe has a very elderly acting agent who sends the benighted Zoe to highly inappropriate auditions, like for Riverdance or Spider Man or for something that involves being shot out of a cannon.
The New York Times said of Auditions Zoe’s Auditions that it was “charming” and called Geraghty “a gifted physical comedienne”.
“Nobody was more surprised by the success of the show than me,” says Suzanna, gently spoken on the other end of the line.
“I’m quite dyslexic and quite late on in school I was told that I had the writing and reading ability of an 11-year-old,” she laughs.
Geraghty left her native Dublin aged 17 with her suitcase, a list of the names of three acting schools and her mother’s final beseeching message of ‘For God’s sake, please don’t get pregnant!’ ringing in her ears as she boarded the plane. She turned up at one of the acting schools and charmed and talked her way around the usual admissions procedures - she had just travelled the whole way across the Atlantic after all. While she excelled at drama school, it would be years before she found the confidence to write her own one-woman show.
“For me taking the step to write always brought back the memory of a feeling of shame and inadequacy I had at school when you were called upon to read something.”
But one day something clicked and Geraghty, who confides that she lives just about five blocks from Bloomingdale’s (“in an apartment so tiny you have to sit down as soon as you enter”) seems to have struck comedy gold here.
So what is this show really about, I ask?
“About a girl called Zoe Brown who has this big burning dream to become an actress. But in reality she works backstage in a very low-budget off-Broadway production of A Christmas Carol.
“Once she falls asleep back stage and is visited by three ghosts who give her messages, very important pieces of advice: “Stop trying to impress people”; “All you should do is find the truth of the role within you”; “Be yourself because everybody else is taken” - a line from Oscar Wilde.
“The ghost of the future warns her that she must not put all of her self-worth into her acting and auditioning,” continues Geraghty. “She must find a sense of esteem and contentment from within herself that has nothing to do with what she does for a living.”
And what a beautiful message to disseminate in a world so obsessed by status anxieties and career trajectories.
Auditions Zoe’s Auditions, The Playhouse, Londonderry, February 22 at 8pm. Call 02871 268027 or www.derryplayhouse.co.uk.