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Theater Director Karen Vuranch Brings Historic Pirate to Life

By Lydia McGee
On February 1, 2018

 

Directress Vuranch portrays infamous pirate Grace O'Malley.
Photo Courtesy of Caleb Zopp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

On Jan. 25, Concord University Theater Director Karen Vuranch continued her tradition of presenting living history performances, this time embodying one of Ireland’s most infamous pirates, Grace O’Malley. Students, faculty, and staff gathered to listen to the 40-minute dialogue. After the dialogue, Vuranch broke character to answer questions about O’Malley’s life. 

Born around the year 1530, Grace O’Malley’s passionate and demanding personality and quick mind perfectly prepared her for her seafaring future, according to historian Anne Chambers, Grace O’Malley scholar. She was the daughter of an Irish chieftain from whom she gained some of the skills necessary for her to later command an army of 200 men and become an exceptional mariner. 
 
According to Chambers, when O’Malley was a young girl, she wanted to sail with her father to Spain. Thinking that not only was the girl not ready, but also that such an activity was not suited for women, her father refused. Rebellious O’Malley then cut her hair to a boy’s length. This embarrassed her father into taking her along. 
 
Grace was married off to a violent heir of the O’Flaherty fleet and had three children. She eventually took control over the fleet. Her husband died in a bloody battle which Grace proceeded to win. When even her sons turned on her to prevent her from claiming her portion of her husband’s estate, she organized an army of 200 men to hold down her headquarters and continue plundering. She led a staggeringly successful piratical career, warding off even the English. A documented meeting with her and Queen Elizabeth I indicates that not only was she incredibly resourceful, but also well-educated, for they spoke in Latin.  
 
“I love performing Grace O'Malley because she is so bold and there are great stories from her life that I have to tell,” says Vuranch. “I also love this character because of my own Irish heritage and the history she represents.”
 
“I think this style of performance is unique,” she states. “It brings history to life in a very special way. The dialogue with the audience creates a participatory experience and audience members feel immersed in the story.”
 
While Vuranch has done living history performances in the J. Frank Marsh library before, they have also been an integral part of her career to date. “I have been fortunate in my career to have so many wonderful experiences. I have performed in England and Wales and China and in 35 U.S. states.  It is so rewarding when people come up to you after a show and tell you how much they learned or that I made an impression on them. Even more remarkable is when I am approached after time has passed and told that my performance is something they remember.” 
 
“I hope [attendees] learn about Irish history and the indomitable Grace O'Malley. But, I also hope that they learn how all knowledge is interconnected and realize that what happened in Ireland hundreds of years ago still has relevance today.  I also hope that they realize that there are many different kinds of theatrical performances and to open up their minds to new possibilities.” 
 
The theme for theater productions this semester is Ireland and Irish heritage. This spring, theater students will take trips abroad to London and Dublin in May. This trip will offer courses in both Shakespeare and Irish drama. This semester’s production will also be an Irish one. 
 
For more information about these trips, living history performances at Concord, or upcoming shows, contact Ms. Karen Vuranch at kvuranch@concord.edu

 

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