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Belltable:Connect 10 blog – Joanne Ryan

Read Joanne Ryan’s reflective blog detailing her experiences as part of Belltable:Connect 10.

I love the first phase of researching a new project. Without any pressure of production dates or deadlines, and often with just a guiding question in hand, it’s a chance to completely dissolve into a subject. I cast a very wide net as I wade into my research for the first time. Although the audience and performance is always somewhere at the back of my mind, I try to lose myself in the learning and inquiring before I arrive at the form.

My work usually comes from one initiating question – often something I’m consumed with in my own life – that the research and the work tries to answer. In this case the question was How can I prepare myself for my death? Research is an exciting, dynamic process. One thing leads to another and new questions surface all the time but the main initiating question acts as an anchor when I need it to during the process. (continue reading below)


Watch Joanne Ryan’s Reflective Vlog:


I began by rereading sections of The Tibetian Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, a book that in many ways has inspired the whole project. It was when I read it a number of years ago that I was first struck by how utterly unprepared I am – culturally, spiritually, practically, psychologically, every which way – for death, despite it being the only thing that I know is definitely going to happen to me, and that the seed was planted.

After looking at the text that first inspired me again and doing some written reflections, I decided to start in the past and contacted Dr. Clodagh Tait, author, historian and one of Ireland’s foremost experts in death and the dead in early modern times.

We discussed historical approaches to death and dying through the ages and how pandemics are often a time that sharpen people’s attitudes to death and force them to give it more consideration.

My conversations with Clodagh led me to the Ars Moriendi, The Art of Dying, a popular medieval text that offered advice on the procedures of a good death. Written in the aftermath of the Black Death it was a handbook on how to ‘die well’ and the first written guide to dying.

I spent some time learning about the impact that the plague and the Ars Moriendi had on popular culture during the 14th century when regular plague outbreaks meant that people lived in constant fear of death. In ballads for example or in art and iconography.

This brough to me to the recently republished 1980’s seminal book The Craft of Dying (The Modern Face of Death) by Lyn H. Loftland which introduced me to the Happy Death movements of the ‘70s and in turn led me to John Troyer’s Technologies of the Human Corpse and Jessica Mitford’s The American way of Death Revisited.

Loftland’s writing about the death movements in the 70’s made me wonder about equivalent contemporary movements which led me to Caitlin Doughty, American mortician and founder of The Order of Good Death and then to her debut book From Here to Eternity; Travelling the World to Find the Good Death.

After falling down a fascinating Caitlin Doughty rabbithole – in addition to writing books she has made hundreds of brilliant mini documentaries about all aspects of death and dying – I brought my focus back to Ireland.

I spent some time searching for references to death in The Schools Collection, a wonderful digitised archive of Irish folklore collected from school children around the country in the 1930s and a brilliant free resource. Then I looked to some recent documentaries that have handled the subject including RTÉ’s The Funeral Director  and RTÉ Radio 1’s Kicking the Bucket, about a Limerick project led by Katie Verling and the late Limerick artist Sinéad Dineen.

I ended this research phase with three beautiful books that deal with dying in different ways; When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die and JESSICA MITFORD With the End in Mind; How to Live and Die Well by Kathryn Mannix. They were poignant, insightful and compelling and they were as much about living as they were about dying which I think any meaningful interrogation of death really is.

This research phase was a wonderful journey through a fascinating subject. Even though I have only scratched the surface I now have a good overview and far deeper understanding, a long list of books, experts and other materials that I hope to consult in the future and an even longer list of more detailed research questions. It has also raised some important and challenging questions around form and audience that I look forward to grappling with in the next phase of work.

Thanks so much to Belltable:Connect for the opportunity.


Blog: Mary Nunan on New Work Commission 2020 – The Hood

Reflective blog written by Mary Nunan about her experience researching The Hood collaboratively with Jo Slade in Belltable Hub as part of the New Work Commission 2020.

Throughout 2019 Jo Slade (poet/visual artist) and I (dance artist) began exploring some ideas (for performance) based on a text that Jo was working on comprising a series of poems, in draft form. The poems use the contemporary ‘hoodie’ as a metaphor to explore such issues as: identity/ anonymity, centre/ periphery, body/not body. As part of our research we were looking at how we could use text and movement improvisations to disrupt fixed meanings attaching to these terms.

The process was long and slow. Because of the complexity of the themes we were exploring we did not want to take any short cuts. Belltable Hub provided a perfect environment for us: a warm, clean, light-filled space with a really reasonable rent. The latter was important because it, literally, afforded us the opportunity to take the time necessary to incubate our ideas. Interestingly, as time went on the room itself (dimensions/sparseness/atmosphere) became a source of inspiration for the work!

In 2020, with support from Limerick City and County Arts Office and a research commission from Belltable we were able to further develop our ideas with support from a mentor.

At the end of August we presented our Research-in-Progress (4 sessions presented over 4 days to an invited audience). The presentations took place in Studio 1. We received really positive and helpful feedback from our audience. So we must go on!

For the next phase, we want to continue to explore our core themes and deepen our research into the content and structure of the emerging work. And we also want to explore some ideas about possible (innovative) performances contexts. We are looking forward to doing this should our application, to the Arts Council, for bursary funding be successful.

Special thanks to Marketa and all the Belltable staff for their support throughout and especially for the care they took with all the Covid protocols. It was a very safe house to be in (poetically and practically) at all times!

Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Liam O’Brien

I’ve been making theatre for as long as I remember. Acting. Singing. Directing. Thankfully never dancing. Much. A jack of all trades like so many of us in this business.

But for my Belltable 10 Connect bursary, I wanted to spend some time focusing on the thing I’ve dedicated most of my time in Limerick over the last decade, which is producing theatre.

Continue reading Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Liam O’Brien

Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Emma Fisher

The Other Limb

Prosthetic science looks at man’s need for wholeness, artificial limbs were developed for cosmetic appearance, function, and a spiritual sense of being complete but have developed to be so much more. Through storytelling, puppetry and object theatre this play looks at loss, life and coming to terms with a different form of completeness while tackling ableist views of the body. Continue reading Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Emma Fisher

Belltable:Connect 10 Blog- Ann Blake

Ann Blake is one of the Belltable:Connect 10 local theatre makers who have been researching a new creative idea during the month of May.

In her vlog, Ann talks about her research into Gabriel Marcel’s play Ariadne. She is considering staging the play, or creating an adaptation of it. Find out more by watching her vlog below.

Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Pius McGrath

‘The Black Handled Knife’

We find ourselves living in a time of great change. We know this, we see the seismic shifts happening all across society, nobody has been left untouched by the events of these last few months. The year 2020 will live long in our memory, its outcomes etched in our psyche indelibly. Yet despite this, we have endured, we have adapted, and we hope for a better tomorrow. Continue reading Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Pius McGrath

Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Maeve McGrath

An Chéad Turas…..

In the late 80’s I went to Ballyferriter to Dún An Óir with my Irish class from school. It is my only experience of Irish college and a little different to the normal Gaeltacht experience as I knew my classmates. We had only one class in my school doing honours Irish, I was not in that class and was moved up so I could take honours Irish in the Leaving Cert. I was way behind and while the rest of the class was all A’s and B’s, I was a D at best. But I loved the language. I may not have been up to speed on the Módh Coinnoíollach and the Aimsir Fháistineach but I loved speaking ‘as Gaeilge’ and even though the class was a struggle for me, I did jump to a C in my Leaving Cert exam in honours Irish and I was delighted. Continue reading Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Maeve McGrath

Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Georgina Miller

I’m extremely grateful to Belltable Connect for this bursary, which has allowed me the time to work on developing a one-woman show around life-threatening and life-affirming experiences I had whilst travelling eleven years ago.  I collaborated with Terry O’Donovan as dramaturg on this project, building on our professional relationship which began whilst working on Bread not Profits in 2019. Continue reading Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Georgina Miller

Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Conor Madden

History is a cycle, humans do not change, we’re peasants with iPhones.

I researched a priest, Canon William Kennedy, a bible thumper by all accounts. I wanted to see if his time, 1920s Ireland, was similar to today. Between the war of independence, World War 1 and Irelands civil war, reality was frightening, though the lockdown that we’re experiencing now is luxury when compared to the fear and uncertainty of then.

Continue reading Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Conor Madden