‘I don’t believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me.’ – Tennessee Williams.
To think that even Tennessee Williams suffered through ‘tortures of self-doubting’ certainly gives every theatre-maker reason to breathe a sigh of relief! I have begun with this quote given that no other has as aptly summarised my experience in theatre, one in which doubt has unquestionably been the order of the day. On the 9th of June 2010 I sat down to begin the first paper of my Leaving Certificate: English Paper 1. In the composition section there was, amongst a selection of possible choices, a question which asked for a reflection on my personal experience of the dramatic arts. After a few moments of blind panic about whether or not I had any or enough experience in this area, I bit the bullet. I spoke about being brought to the theatre as a child, I was lucky that my parents brought me to anything that tickled their fancy, regardless of whether it was marketed at young audiences or not. This was opportune in that I was exposed to a myriad of different styles of theatre, from the avant-garde to traditional pantomimes to puppet shows. In my essay I spoke about these productions, as well as my hope to join the Mary Immaculate Dramatic Arts Society (MIDAS) if I managed to acquire enough “points” to get into my chosen course: a B.A. in the Liberal Arts at the aforementioned college. Low and behold, I did get in but when I had the chance to join MIDAS I wilted, I just couldn’t work up the courage to join. I went to their productions that year, worked at my confidence and, at the beginning of my second year, I auditioned, gaining a role in my fellow Belltable:Connect member, Tara Doolan’s production of Simon Grey’s Butley. Have you ever seen Shakespeare in Love? You know the man playing the apothecary, the man with one of the less demanding roles who frets continuously about his few lines, so much so that he becomes completely overwhelmed? Well, that’s how I equate my short lived acting career: as the production’s resident “Doubting Thomas”. Despite this, I had developed “the bug” and over the past few years I have hurled myself into any and all productions that have come my way: but, luckily for the audiences, always back stage!
This has been my over-arching experience of theatre: doubt. Every time I have worked on a production, be it as production manager, stage hand or props master, I have been struck down with an acute case of “Imposter Syndrome”. This insecurity held me back initially, that was until I found a text that I just had to bring to the stage, the text that I credit with leading me to directing: Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs. I needed to work on this piece and, as I quickly learned, the only way forward was for me to direct it! Through harnessing our own unique brand of moxie we pulled it off, although, characteristically, I called “fluke” and dived straight into another production in order to prove to myself and others that I could do it. My own ‘tortures of self-doubting’ propel me forward, they make me work so much harder. It’s fair to admit that the knockbacks have been many and often; as many of my friends have gone on to emigrate in search of work and/or have settled down into more traditional jobs as teachers or in retail etc, I have tried to remain unswayed: persistence is key after all! Whenever riddled by chronic doubt I try coming back to what I believe to be the essence of theatre: storytelling. I am, at heart, an empath and a story teller. There are so many pieces that I want to bring to the stage: a multiplicity of stories by writers such as Caryl Churchill, Paul Zindler, Diana Son (amongst many others) as well as those by burgeoning artists, work that alights upon themes that include gender, sexuality, family and nationality. Of late I have come to the conclusion that the plays I should endeavour to bring to the stage are those that both terrify & excite: I want to feed on the doubt that tries to consume me, thereby transfiguring it into creative impetus.
Theatre is full of overpowering personalities and enormous egos; everyone vying for the exact same, painfully few, opportunities. It’s one of the smallest industries in the country and is, therefore, highly competitive: a feature that deepens the doubt and insecurity I and many of my peers feel on a continual basis. Belltable:Connect has flown in the face of this trope, in lieu of the Directorial “Hunger Games” I had expected, it is more akin to a group counselling session wherein we share our individual doubts and discuss our daily conundrums. This has proved invaluable to me; our monthly conversations have allayed several doubts I have had in addition to having taught me that there is no ‘correct’ strategy when it comes to directing. Our group consists of a mixed bag of abilities and styles: there are some who come from musical backgrounds and some who utilise dance in their work; there are those with a passion for technical innovation and/or the avant-garde; there are directors who adapt established texts while at the same time there are those who devise new work. For me, the best aspect of Belltable:Connect has been the ‘Connect’ itself. Talking to the other participants has led me to the realisation that at the end of the day we are a multitude, all feeling our way through this crazy industry, all caught up in the same dance.