The Most Amazing GSA Student You Never Heard About

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020 at 9:20 am | News & Events

Written by Associate Director, Eric Weitz

Although Associate Director now, I wasn’t even in Ireland in 1986 when the Gaiety School of Acting was founded. I was out in Los Angeles working as stunt double for Jean-Claude Van Damme, whose career was just getting started, when I was summoned by fate to these shores. 

Anyway, as I prepared to leave the school on the 12th of March 2020, I took one last tour of the GSA library for work-from-home reading material. I found a play called, I Can’t Go On, Ah Go On!, by a certain Mrs Doyle (who seems not to have a first name but writes quite convincingly about tea). Next to it was a collection of scripts from the nineteenth century, when it was briefly the fashion for people to devise plays in which they could co-star with their pets (along with cats, dogs and birds, it includes a short, unfinished piece for man and crocodile). 

I then noticed some old programmes wedged between these two books: The programmes were from our student productions during those early years, before I arrived on the scene. In looking through the programmes last week, I noticed that one of them had some newspaper clippings stuffed inside, and that is how I came upon this extraordinary GSA graduate. 

The student’s name was Lola Sprofi, exotic-sounding to be sure—in fact it is not clear where exactly she was born, although she did most of her growing up in Ireland. Apparently, Lola showed strong promise as an actor from the time she could get an extra twelve biscuits from her minder by being able to throw herself onto the bed in dramatic distress amidst torrents of verifiable tears. It seems that no one would want to play with her on the playground — they would much rather watch as she set about embodying a full world of imaginary creatures by herself. Lola really knocked them out in Speech and Drama at the Feis Maitiú in the early Eighties. She presented a one-woman adaptation (well, at the time it was a one-girl adaptation) of O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars, in which she played all the parts, apparently with impeccable accents, patriotic nuance and thematic insight. Word of Lola’s performance, in fact, spread quickly far and wide, to the extent that she received a special BAFTA and was elected instantaneously to Aosdána (both youngest member and only performer ever admitted).   

In any case, she was accepted to the GSA’s first graduating class, solely on hearsay. Other applicants were not nearly as fortunate: Dustin the Turkey has never forgiven us for not accepting him. (We subsequently came to love him, so we do sometimes make mistakes.)

In Lola’s time at the GSA she dazzled all who saw her perform. Not a harder working student ever there was, with the broadest knowledge of Irish and world theatre. She was sometimes unable to pay her rent, having spent so much money on plays, eventually donating her library to her primary school (which I won’t name for fear neighboring schools will be jealous). 

It was in the graduation play, the programme I had originally stumbled upon, that Lola truly outdid herself. Written by the well-known French-Irish playwright, Desirée McSweeney, All There Is was a sprawling panorama of western civilisation over the preceding two millennia, depicting over seven hundred characters, with songs, dances and realistic battle scenes. The show was directed by a reserved young man from Co. Cork with a fire in his belly (later found to stem from lactose intolerance), named Patrick Sutton, who has never left the place. An eyewitness report says that on the night of the performance, during the pre-show warm up the fifteen other students were overcome with paralysing stage fright, such that they could do nothing but retire to front-row seats in order to watch Lola perform the entire show by herself. This, of course, amounted to her having to deliver an emotionally exhausting, physically demanding and biologically impossible performance, which led to Gardaí having to be brought in to break up the standing ovation after seven hours.

And then all mention of Lola seems to disappear. It was as if someone made all this up and didn’t feel like thinking of a way to continue her story into the present.