Behind the pirate life: an interview with student playwright Emy McGuire
Emy McGuire in costume as Anne Bonny. (Courtesy of Emy McGuire.)

Behind the pirate life: an interview with student playwright Emy McGuire

History knows Anne Bonny as a girl from Ireland who decided to take on the pirate life. The Legend of Anne Bonny is an original play centered around the titular pirate and her journey from housewife to swashbuckler. 

The Catalyst spoke with thesis student Emy McGuire, who was central to the production, which took place from Nov. 2 to Nov. 5 in Hamilton Classroom (HCL) 8. McGuire served as the playwright, producer, fight director and played the lead character, Anne. 

When asked how she got the idea for the show, McGuire enthusiastically answered, “I came up with the idea in high school and I came to New College to put it on. It is the reason I came to this school. You can mold your education to whatever you want it to be. I had heard that it would be good for students who are very self-motivated and knew what they wanted to do. I definitely knew what I wanted to do exactly.”

To get this idea from her mind to reality, McGuire had a long way to go. “I didn’t write it until January–this last January,” she recalled. “So during ISP, I wrote the whole thing along with my brother and my partner, who are both musicians and helped me with the melodies. My partner made all the arrangements for the tracks.” 

McGuire touched on her new experience of being a fight director. “I’ve been a director many times before. Only once at New College, but many times back in my home town. I’ve worked professionally as a director. But fight directing is something that I learned at New College from Dr. Diego Villada, who just left. He used to be one of the three Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) faculty members here.”

Diego Villada’s profile on the New College website. (Courtesy of NCF website.)

She continued to praise Villada, looking back on the relationship she was able to build with a mentor. “He let me use his swords. He let me be in charge of all the safety stuff, which was really hard. He flew down from his new school in Maryland and was there Friday night.” Villada is now an assistant professor of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a public honors college similar to New College.

The conversation then turned to characters in the show, specifically the character of Mar’s gender identity. “I think that depending on the actor and where the actor wants to go with it, Mar can definitely be trans. Mars can definitely be nonbinary. I wanted Mar’s character to explore a part of piracy that is talked about a lot but never given a specific word. Piracy is inherently deviant from society, so of course you would have a draw with the queer community. I wanted Mar to encompass that experience.” 

One thing McGuire was excited to expand upon was the use of color throughout the show. “I’m so glad you asked! My whole thing with the colors is usually the good guys are blue and the bad guys are red, right? But Anne has to be red–she just has to be. Historically, she was a redhead and it’s such a pirate-y thing to have a red coat. And it’s such a military thing to have a blue coat.” 

But there’s more to Barnett’s blue than the military status he achieves in the story after going from pirate to pirate hunter. They are representative of the ocean and of obscurity of things that the ocean destroys. Barnett is a manifestation of the main character’s fears. That’s why in [the song] ‘Underwater,’ he comes in and he sings about all of them drowning. In ‘Underwater,’ all the drowned are swirling around and doing their dance thing. He says each of the main characters’ biggest fears. For Jack, it’s that he’s losing Anne. For Anne, it’s that she will never be more than Mrs. Bonny. For Mar, it’s that Anne is going to be the reason that she’s dragged down. So, the blue of the show represents you’re underwater, like you’re dying. You’re being swept away.” 

She finished by touching on the colors of the other main characters, saying, “Mar is green because she’s the only one who has two feet on the ground. She’s the only one who is solid and controlled. The other three are like ‘ahh.’ And Jack is purple because he’s like royalty; he’s like a peacock. And that’s why we did the color thing.”

Broadening the discussion, McGuire spoke about the themes of the show and what she hoped the audience gained from it. “The main theme is like, “What is it worth to be remembered?” Is it worth paying the price of your life? Is it worth paying the price of love? All of those things. That’s why Anne and Barnett–even though Jack is the main bad guy, he’s like the secret villain–Anne and Barnett are the foils of each other. They mirror each other because they are both confronted with the choice. Is it worth being a pirate, being a legend?”

After some more contemplation, McGuire concluded “The quality of your life should outweigh the quantity of your life.”

As a soon-to-be graduate, it was almost mandatory to ask McGuire about her plans for the future. “The day after the show closed, I sat down and started editing the script. I started adding in some more pieces of the songs, I cut things. The cast members were adding in jokes and I was like ‘that’s brilliant,’ so I was adding those in the script. It’s my dream to get this produced in other places. To take it as far as it can go. 

“I really care about this story,” She continued. “I think now that I see that other people do too. It’s given me a lot of hope to not just accept that I’m not gonna just leave college and get a job because that would be the Barnett thing to do. You know? I wanna do the Anne thing, which is try to make a story happen or die trying.” 

She laughed when asked when the soundtrack would be released and confirmed that if she decides to put the audio recordings on Spotify, she’ll be sure to announce it on her Instagram story. 

To end the interview, McGuire wanted to encourage aspiring playwrights, but also warn them of the pushback they may face. “I had to fight for my project. Other students fought and didn’t end up getting their shows up. 

“So, I would say it’s so much more important to have the support of your classmates. The support I’ve had from the students here, from Sophia Quickell who directed the show, from the cast, from the crew. The technicians, from my partner who helped me write it. From my brother. All those people, that’s what made the show. 

“It comes back to Anne and Barnett. Are you going to play it safe? You can. You can do that and you can be happy and you can still be successful,” McGuire concluded. “But if you want to do something that’s really risky, it’s like a war. And in my case, I won. But it doesn’t mean that I didn’t get really badly damaged along the way. I would encourage people to do it. It’s worth it. Even though it’s heartbreaking.”

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