Camille O’Sullivan (Photo: Nir Arieli)
Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19, the remaining run of Camille O’Sullivan’s show at New York City’s new Irish Arts Center has been canceled. We share her creative perspectives as a testament to the resiliency of the arts and hope that readers have the opportunity to see her perform in 2022.
By Billy McEntee
The title of legendary Irish singer Camille O’Sullivan’s new show is both provocative and timely: Where Are We Now? may be something artists and audiences are asking themselves each day, with every new sunrise bringing new answers, or perhaps more questions.
No matter where or how we find ourselves — anxious, excited, worrying, joyful — O’Sullivan’s performance, which features covers of songs by Radiohead, David Bowie, and an eclectic mix of otherworldly musicians, captures the frenzy of our current moment and provides perhaps the only balm we need: storytelling, music, and connection. Here, the singer discusses where she finds herself right now.
The Broadway Blog: You’ve performed at Irish Arts Center before; what does it mean to return to perform there at this moment?
I said to them, they’re so lucky to have an old historical tenement building full of heart and soul, and this new space continues that tradition. I used to be an architect, and the chances of capturing that feeling in a modern way are remarkable. These walls talk. I’ve had so many wonderful nights in that old venue, and you could touch the ceiling with your hand, it was this beautiful living room in the city. Now, even the ceiling height is really high, it’s the size of what the stage was, so even though it’s been multiplied, it has that same feeling. The way the floor meets the audience, you feel really close to them.
That connection, present in the old venue, is still there. In the old space, you’d open the door and someone would be at the bar, or someone would be Irish dancing, and that’s continued. People are in love with the venue and theatre before they even get in the building. They’ve done an incredible job and have captured the heart and soul of what they had in the old one. I feel very proud to be here; they’re gonna have every person back in Ireland trying to get on this stage.
The title of this piece, Where Are We Now?, is so special. Can you talk a little about its genesis?
It’s so funny, the piece is called Where Are We Now? but it could also be called Where Are We This Minute?. Now our lives change so quickly. It’s live, it’s real, so certainly when I sing that number [David Bowie’s “Where Are We Now?”] every night I am kind of thinking to myself of the song in relation to where we are now in the universe, and where we are now with my life, and where we are now with the audience.
I sang that song after Bowie and Cohen had died, and so that song just resonates when I sing it; it’s about this madness now, and it also salutes those artists, and how the world has changed in Ireland and England and America, in so many different ways, never mind where we are with COVID. On top of that, you’re in a room full of people — and it’s that feeling, it’s Christmas, I want to hug everyone I see. It’s kinda the nicest gift you can give is singing that kind of connection to them.
Can you treat us to a little info about what audiences can expect at the concerts?
The unexpected, I think! Storytelling, madness, vulnerability, darkness and light, joyfulness. When I fell in love with these songs, it was choosing songs that go on a journey. People have likened it to a magic carpet ride or a roller coaster because each song shows a different part of the self: showing the beauty and hope of being together and also the chaos of the world. It’s theatrical too, it’s a mix of rock and theater.
It’s such a beautiful offering during this confusing time, and how magical that it’s also around the holidays.
Yes, there’s this thing of sending love and Christmas wishes. We pay homage to what’s happening in the world, but it’s also a time of joy and love. And the audience responds! I’d be reserved in many ways off stage, and who I am on stage is perhaps who I’d want to be off stage. Those songs let me be me, and the audiences really do respond, more so in America than in England. It’s a joy, on that stage I feel like a kid.
For more information about the Irish Arts Center, visit irishartscenter.org.