College: Brooklyn College
Awards: George J. Mitchell Scholarship to the Lir, Ireland's National Academy of Dramatic Art, 2015
Clytemnestra in Ireland
What if the Oresteia - the ancient Greek plays about the triumph of jury-based justice over murder and revenge - took place in Ireland?
Keelie Sheridan (Brooklyn College, MFA, Acting '13) intends to reimagine that prize-winning trilogy (Dionysia Festival, 458 B.C.) during her George J. Mitchell Scholarship to The Lir, Ireland's National Academy of Dramatic Art, and Trinity College, Dublin, where she will work on a second MFA - this time in directing - in 2016-17.
The highly competitive scholarship, sponsored by the U.S.-Ireland Alliance, covers postgraduate study in Ireland or Northern Ireland. The 12 Mitchell winners for 2016, selected from 270 applicants, were announced in November 2014.
Sheridan has helped support her family for half her life. Since age 14, she has worked at farm stands, babysitting and McDonalds and, in Brooklyn, as a commercial photographer, teacher and adaptive arts specialist for school-age and adult clients with developmental disabilities. She was chosen Miss Brooklyn in 2009 and Miss NYC in 2010 and competed both years for Miss New York State in the Miss America competition. She also has landed a fairly steady stream of acting work.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Sheridan fell in love with Irish step dancing at age 7. By 10, she was touring Ireland, Canada and the United States as a principal dancer with the Wild Irish Acres School of Irish Dance. In January 2014, she backpacked "the whole coast" of Ireland. Dublin, she says, with "such a historic tradition of storytelling … is open to new theater," particularly its vibrant indie theater community.
Her family lived in about 20 houses before she was 18, when she moved to Brooklyn after some years in the Adirondacks. Her college career also was peripatetic, including SUNY Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Borough of Manhattan Community College and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts; six years after earning her high school diploma, she got her B.A. in acting from Empire State College in 2010.
But for her master's, "It came down to Brooklyn or Rutgers, and Brooklyn felt like home," she says. "It was clear how much individual attention students received and how rigorous the program was. They crammed three years of work into two. My thesis was about the process of preparing for an acting role at the Whitman Theater. I played Loretta in ‘Featuring Loretta,' a one-act play by George F. Walker. It's a great character, a woman who finds herself in a tough situation."
So why is Sheridan focusing on the Oresteia? She's long been fascinated with Clytemnestra. She kills her husband, King Agamemnon, who had had sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, to get favorable winds to sail off to wage the Trojan War and rescue the kidnapped Helen (of Troy), who was his brother's wife and Clytemnestra's half sister. Later, Clytemnestra's son, Orestes, kills her to avenge his father.
Sheridan says Clytemnestra "is much maligned and portrayed as a broadly painted villain, but the history is that she had a life and family in her native land before Agamemnon, the conqueror, killed her family. Clytemnestra had her own language and customs, which were inaccessible to her husband who speaks the language of the conqueror. This is similar to the history of the Irish. I'm interested in language and identity, and the Irish language is in perilous condition."
She also seeks "intersections between art forms, such as integrating photography into live performance and site-specific works. I like shaking up the audience-performer relationships and giving a performance without a wall between the stage and the audience."