A Conversation with Nicola Murphy
Nicola Murphy graduated from The Academy’s New York campus in 2009. Beginning her onstage journey as an Irish dancer, Murphy has since found her way to directing many notable theatrical productions in New York, founding On The Quays, a New York-based international production company, and found her way back to The Academy through teaching.
I had the pleasure of chatting with her via Zoom last month. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Between acting, directing, and teaching, you’re quite busy. What is it that you’re up to at the moment?
At the moment, I just opened a play called Belfast Girls off-Broadway at Irish Repertory Theatre. I work at Irish Rep as an Artistic Associate. I’m responsible for heading up our new play development series and bringing in new work. We have a co-commission with Fishamble, a new play development company in Dublin, where we commission Black writers to write brand new pieces.
How does your production company, On The Quays, work into all this?
On The Quays is a company I have with four other people. We’ve been a bit quiet this year because we’re all working on other projects—we’re very project-based. For Pride [Month], we like to do something every year, and last year we did a film called Reemergence, which was five musical chapters journeying through different time periods from the 1920s to the pandemic, and last year’s summer was the summer where everyone was, literally, coming out again.
You’re inclined to tell politically relevant stories.
Definitely. I think it’s an artist's responsibility to know the times in which we’re living, and to do work that has meaning, even if that is just simply to entertain—I think there’s great value in that, too. I’ve always been focused on doing work that does a lot to promote strong female voices; my work with Irish Rep has especially been about that. With On The Quays, we do a lot of work that promotes the LGBTQ community. Something that’s meaningful and has something to say, I think that’s what art is meant to do—make people think.
Is that what brought you into acting, and art more generally, in the first place?
I started out as an Irish dancer, I competed, and that was my experience being on the stage, and then I would say when I was in secondary school and high school, I was really taken in by Shakespeare. I had an English teacher who was very supportive and really encouraged me. Then I did a performing arts course and then I went to The Academy… and so on and so forth.
The “so on and so forth” for you led to an MFA in Directing. Did you dive straight into that or spend some time acting after graduation?
When I graduated from The Academy, I did some things as an actress, and I still do act! I also directed a production of Hamlet back then that we brought to The Edinburgh Fringe [Festival]. That was a co-direction situation. I got a bit of a taste of it doing that, and I’ve always been a person who wants to be creating, not just acting. I went back for a year-and-a-half and got my MFA in Directing, and then I started teaching at The Academy in the middle of the pandemic.
You say creating instead of “just acting”…what does that mean to you?
I think what I mean by that is—and granted the industry has changed a lot for the better recently—but I think one of the things I found frustrating is that actors’ voices aren’t always heard in the same way. I believe as a director that actors are always my best collaborators. I guess I got a little bit frustrated with the limitations that I felt as a younger actor—I always wanted to be involved in the bigger picture. Sometimes I really miss just being an actor, because you can really focus on what you have to do, and on building a character, and there’s something really amazing about that, but I knew that I wanted to be more involved in the overall bigger picture of storytelling.
How might The Academy’s training have impacted the way you work today?
There’s such great value in the moment-to-moment work. Meisner, working for each moment, living truthfully in the given circumstances, which I think is just a really wonderful foundation. Combining that with the training I got for my Directing MFA was really interesting. There was this one time we were struggling with a scene, I was directing the grad students, and I said “let’s just do some repetition,” and they didn’t know how to do that—they had no idea what I was talking about! Once we did it the scene completely opened up. The Academy gave me a really strong foundation that I take with me everywhere I go.
In that spirit, where are you headed? What’s next for you?
I’m working with Irish Rep and that co-commission with Fishamble, which I mentioned a bit earlier, and we are pursuing writing a few new projects this summer and early next year. Hopefully, there will be another production next year! And this fall I should be back teaching at The Academy.
Where can people find you and get in touch with you?