Playwright Rosary O’Neill Welcomes 2020 with Edgar Degas and Voodoo

Rosary O'Neill
Playwright Rosary Hartel O’Neill is both an author and a PhD-holding historian who is known for making history--and New Orleans--a focal point of her work.

Playwright Rosary Hartel O’Neill is both an author and a PhD-holding historian who is known for making history—especially that which is connected to her native New Orleans—a focal point of her work. Rosary is starting 2020 with great strides as her work is set to be presented internationally. “Degas in New Orleans”—which focuses on celebrated French painted Edgar Degas—is scheduled to be performed at the American Embassy in France. It will also be performed by a leading French company from New Orleans sister city Orleans, France. Following that, Rosary’s daughter (and frequent collaborator), Rory, will join her to present a lecture about a historical book they collaborated on titled “New Orleans Voodoo” which is a historical account of the city and the ancient religion.

According to the official press release, the Degas Performance at the French embassy is scheduled for Friday January 17, 2020 between 10:30 a.m. to 12pm at the House of Associative and Citizen Life, 22 rue Deparcieux, (corner rue Daguerre). The piece is being presented by the France-Louisiana Association.

The voodoo lecture will be held on Friday, January 17, from 7 p.m. to 8:30pm at the Marshall Center, Talleyrand Hotel 2, rue St Florentin, Paris I, metro Concorde.

Entrance is by invitation only and the play will be dramatized by the Matulu company and performed in the presence of author Rosary O’Neill.

Recently, Rosary granted an exclusive interview where she discussed these forthcoming events and more.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get the French embassy in Paris interested in hosting your play?

Rosary O’Neill (RO): Well, there is a long history on the French’s love and my love for Edgar Degas. In 2002, I wrote the play. Smith and Kraus in NYC named it one of the 5 best plays written by a woman in that year.

During my four Fulbrights to Paris, I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people and Degas supporters, including Philippe Adrien and Philippe Cergy. Philippe Cergy translated 3 different versions of this play (one with 6, 5, and 9 characters.) In 2014, Philippe Adrien produced the play at the Theatre de la Tempete

In 2016, Joseph Danan read the work and staged the 9-character play version with his graduate directing students from the Sorbonne– both at Columbia University’s Global Center and at the Sorbonne University. These events werepromoted and sponsored by France-Louisiana the leading French Louisiana Association.

In 2019, the exposition Degas at the Opera was coming to the D’Orsay Museum in, which is the leading museum for Impressionists and Modernists in Paris. And even more interest in Degas and this intriguing story and scandal about his American relatives was generated.

You know this love affair between New Orleans and Paris has been going on for some time. But there is also a love affair with Degas and nearby Germany. (Degas having beenone of the most prolific artists, nearly every museum having one of his works, he having created over 2000 pastels).In 2019, I was a featured Fulbright a lecturer at theUniversity of Bonn, and we staged scenes from Degas in New Orleans in English as part of the American Studies Lecture Series.

In 2019, the new president of France-Louisiana proposed a performance by New Orleans’ sister city: Orleans, France. Thrilled, I met with key artists the Matulu Theatre group here in the French Quarter in New Orleans.  They filmedme so I could participate with the November 2019 reading.

Then, thanks to Bruneau again the same reading with this marvelous group of 5 French actors will perform in Paris on January 18. They will stage the performance so well received in Orleans and bring Degas in New Orleans to the American Embassy as part of the 42nd Conference of the Association of France Louisiana.

Now, Rory O’Neill has made the play into a screenplay (Blind Love: Degas Paints New Orleans) and the screenplay already toasts Carol Bidault (MediaFusion) as producer.

MM: How many guests do you expect?

RO: We expect about 100 plus participants in the international conference and they will be invited to a private reception at the embassy.

MM: What is it about your own French ancestry that makes you proudest?

RO: Well, I always wanted to live in Paris and “Be French” I suppose. When I had my first Fulbright and lived with the Raby family, their daughter aged 5 told me over dinner I could be French if I just lived in Paris. Through the generosity of so many people who love Louisiana, I have been able to do just that many times, including 10 summers with the Rabys. I’ve been riding on the coat tails of Degas and other French artists I love. Writing plays about Sargent when he was at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and Samuel Beckett, Irishman turned Parisian.

Rosary O'Neill
Rosary O’Neill is excited to see her work performed in Paris, France.

I studied French from the age of four at the Convent du Sacre Coeur founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans. I studied French real hard and because my mother and sister had also loved and studied French. My mother’s favorite friend and “aunt” (who had accompanied her when she lived in Paris) coached me in French. I majored in French at Newcomb again studying hard and getting lots of honors. When I founded Southern Rep theatre decades ago, the French Consul in New Orleans supported me in getting exchanges with Paris. I received French students and artists for 15 years.  I love the way French sounds and I love the beauty that Degas and other French artists create, and most especially Degas’ love of the theatre and of beauty itself.

MM: How do French audiences react to your work concerning the topic of Voodoo?

RO: Well I haven’t done any of my Voodoo plays there (but they are all published in my anthology The Vampire Trilogy and the Celebrity plays). I received grants from the Theatre de la Tempete and Fulbrights to write Marie Laveau and Buried Alive, and The Reluctant Vampire. But none of these plays are translated. I can’t wait for that to happen.

MM: What’s it like to work with your daughter, Rory?

RO: Fantastic. She pushes me and is like a better version of me. Organizational genius, Rory O’Neill Schmitt, completely structured the Voodoo book and now she is spearheading and just completed the screenplay we have done on Degas, which is in the process of selling.

My other daughter, Rachelle O’Brien, who like Rory, is a producer on the TV series on New Orleans (Garden District) we are developing. The show is about the decadent determined and looking to find soul Upper class of New Orleans, kind of Downton Abey meets Faulkner. We shot a featurette film for the series recently. Rachelle will be with me and speak on music and Voodoo, having participated in Voodoo spiritual practices.

MM: What other international locations are you interested in traveling to in the future and what else is coming up in 2020?

RO: Oh my. I want to go back to Rome and research the Incorruptibles, the bodies of Saints like Saint Clare, who died 100s of years ago and hasn’t corrupted. Most of the Incorruptibles discovered (even Pope John the 23rd) are Italian. I also want to go back to Ireland, the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre Center which has been a source of and deeply inspired my writing. In 2020, I will return to New York to participate in work at the Actors Studio.