Director Elena Coderoni: Plunging into the unknown – Why leaving your comfort zone is important.

BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

“Deep practice is slow, demanding and uncomfortable. To practice deeply is to live deliberately in a space that is uncomfortable but with the encouraging sense that progress can happen.”
― Anne Bogart

Every so often I find myself at a crossroad in my life where plunging or freezing are the only possible solutions;  I need to decide whether to risk what I have cumulated until now in the chance of getting more and opening more doors to myself, or whether to keep the safety of the status quo, albeit paralyzing any other possible action that would get me astray from a path that is already growing sterile.

As a person who has moved to a foreign country (at the age of nineteen, barely fluent in the language, with no friends nor family in the location) I always promote getting out of your comfort zone when the situation calls for it; sure, it is very scary at first, and you might regret your choice a couple of times, but the final outcome and the experiences you derive from it are worth the price.

All my good life choices have been determined by stepping out of my comfort zone: this mentorship was for me a full trust fall, for I did not know if I was experienced enough, capable enough, and every time I take the bus or get a lift from Cork to Limerick I am getting out of my comfort zone (as I suffer from travel sickness and I never know what the journey will bring me to).

Directing was another bold choice I made. It wasn’t the reason why I enrolled to college initially, and I had past problems due to being in a power-conflicted theatre company that made the experience less than appealing; but I slowly came to the realisation of all the possibilities it could open up to: the feeling of creating something new on the stage, like putting together pieces to form a delicate mosaic or a decoupage, working together with the actors as the designers while coordinating their skills like a conductor in an orchestra. It sounds very pretentious, but the feeling of elation and pride that comes after all the work for a play is so ephemeral for me that I don’t have any other way to describe it other than these images.

When you first step out of your comfort zone everything seems bigger and scarier than it actually is: everyone in the mentorship group seemed so much more experienced and bolder than me, and I was afraid I could not keep up with the others. I believe it was the result of being stuck in my comfort zone in all the other areas of my career: I had a few plays in mind I wanted to put on, but I kept postponing them because I thought I was not ready for it. I decided to stop overthinking and a little after I accepted the direction to a contemporary play (Eigengrau, which shall be put on this spring), and the stage management of Cork Shakespearean’s Hamlet.

After that, I kept asking myself ‘what can I do more?’. There is always the fear I am not good enough for a certain project, or not ready enough, or that I am too young for it, but truth is that because I am this young and this inexperienced I do not have a reputation to defend, or a track of success to keep up to, nor a comparison to previous work: one tends to believe people will have high expectation, but the reality is that I worked too little for people to even have the chance of forming new expectations on me. So why not plunging into big oceans and try something difficult and new? The outcome will certainly be more interesting and fulfilling that staying in my comfort zone and repeating things I know I can already accomplish.

My latest and current challenge is directing Cork Shakespearean’s Julius Caesar. This is a classic example of what I was writing earlier, for I love this play beyond reason, and when I first saw it live-streamed two years ago I went out the Gate cinema jumping around and the first thing I did was message a friend of mine to tell him that I wanted to direct that play.

When the occasion presented itself I jumped on it, but all kinds of fear came about: Shakespeare is absolutely marvellous and intricate, but the text can be off-putting to many actors and many audience members if not well performed, and it is definitely the kind of play people have expectations on before ever seeing it. Not everyone understands the language, so projection, both physical and vocal, must be on point; diction must be correct, there is no space for carelessness.

Plus, I never worked on Shakespeare as a director before.

So I was terrified.

And then, I started to apply my usual solution: it is a small trick I use everytime I approach a new genre of play or a new art: it is a very simple way to get yourself to extend your comfort zone, and it works on analogical thought and experimentation.

The first part is easily explained: you need to find the similar within the new, to connect what you already know or have seen and experienced within the new context. I found for instance that it was easier to explain Shakespeare if I connected it in my mind with rules of harmony, which I am also currently studying. Relying on interdisciplinary has always been a good solution for me.

The second part required pushing yourself more outside your comfort zone: it is not only about experimenting, but also trusting your co-workers while they do so, keeping yourself from controlling the room all the time. I find that using other minds and relying on others always reveals new opportunities and new directions and sometimes gives you the solution (or the information) you need to settle down in your new environment.

At the end of the day, once you push yourself to practice this little two tricks every rehearsals, you find out you survived the plunge and have completed a new project.

There is no art that hasn’t profited from borrowing from new, unexplored sources, while blending familiar concepts and rules to create a new product: impressionism and art nouveau were influenced by ukiyo-e; jazz and rock started through experimentation, and even great classics like Johann Sebastian Bach’s and Debussy’s work were the product of plunging into the unknown, exploring new rules and new rules of harmony and counterpoint. Beckett, Pinter, and Strindberg are obvious examples. Postmodernism is an extreme one, but it has brought a lot of fruits to the table.

Noticing new things and relating them to the familiar has always been a common practice amongst all arts: dance and theatre have profited by their relationship to the rest of the world, and are always about the renovation and hybridization that comes when new minds take on exploring. It’s what both realism and character storytelling have in common: observation, analogy, and experimentation, repetition (of gesture or concept).

It is about learning to trust yourself and your ability to adapt to new situations, your problem solving skills as a director, and your abilities to explore the text in new ways and with different approaches.

It is also about learning to trust your colleagues, which is something of extreme importance to me: it is about trusting them to put as much work as you in the project, to be as enthusiastic as you about it, to make it their baby as much as yours, to keep exploring it with you and to accept the trust you put into them.

It is also hoping that everything will be fine, while knowing that something might go wrong, and be ready to adjust yourself to the new circumstances if it does.

At the end of the day, the only rule about art is to keep moving, and plunging into new territories can bring you to whole new continents to explore. To boldly go, where no one else has gone before.

Director Mollie Molumby: Reflections on Participating in Belltable:Connect

Belltable:Connect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

I could not have started the Belltable:Connect Director’s mentorship programme at a better time. Before participating in the programme, I was feeling somewhat lost having just finished university. In college, I had been allowed to fail -it didn’t matter as long as I was able to learn from it and get something out of it. This was to be my first year outside of the warm and cosy bubble of drama studies. Now, the stakes are much greater and it feels like every piece of my work will be taken as a statement of what kind of artist I am. Frankly, this terrifies me. It has been refreshing to have a place to seek guidance and advice from directors both relaxed and/ or as scared as myself! To pick their brains about anything from funding to thrust staging. To give advice as well as receive.

A lot has changed since I began the mentorship programme back in September. The day after my first session in the programme, Half Light won the First Fortnight Award at the Dublin Fringe Festival. This meant we would get to remount the show as part of the an incredible festival challenging stigma through the arts. It made my heart soar to see fellow mentees Mike, Rebecca, Martin, Niall and Shane all come see the show. It’s an incredibly supportive group.

Additionally, a few weeks after our first mentor session I began studying at Artstrain, the National Association of Youth Drama’s course in Drama Facilitation. This has also been a wonderful experience where I am gaining new skills in designing and leading workshops and also taking time to reflect on my directing skills.

Last weekend, I travelled to Galway to participate in Branar’s Tiny Plays initiative, collaborating with Fionnuala Gygax on a new children’s play The Boy in the Boat. I am also collaborating with Fionnuala on a new piece called How to be a Superhero, which I am directing a work in progress of as part of Smock Allies Scene and Heard. This will be performed in three weeks time.  I am really looking forward to Play on Words by fellow Belltable: Connect mentees Niall Carmody and Shane Hickey-O’Mara, also being presented as part of Smock Allies.

I am also hearing lots about ALSA Productions, Sonar, Ferocious Composure, Mothers Artists Makers, and Honest Arts, all founded by fellow director mentees. I am very excited to check these out!

Website: www.bombinatetheatre.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/BombinateTheatre
Twitter: @BombinatePlays

Playwright Dermott Petty on Theatre and storytelling

BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

My name is Dermott I am a ginger and writer from North Clare. I’m not sure I have always wanted to be a writer? I am dyslexic, it was 11 by the time I had learned to read, the writing came much later. To this day my handwriting and spelling are a source of immense embarrassment and shame. I always feel that someone is literally going to drag me away from keyboard to show  the world what an imposter I am as a writer.

I enjoy play-writing for the storytelling potential. I worry sometimes that Theatre sees itself more as high art, sometimes ignoring its roots as bawdy, rough, in your face entertainment with  explosive passionate rows and conversations to spin your head. I also dream of a 32 county socialist utopian republic so both counts may be elusive.

Story and ideas are fantastic to me, yet characters are more  compelling for their mystery, wisdom and ignorance. Not every character has a story or an idea but they all have that one trait that makes them different. A secret not known, a drink too many, a kiss better forgotten.

In my family many such delicious contradictions abound. My Dad was a plasterer, he went to England just after World War 2. He loved England. Coventry, London or Brighton were all a possible source of fortune and craic for him And yet he became a draft dodger. Declaring that ‘he did’t want to fight for his country why would he fight for a foreign land’ he was on the run for a number of years. There was the practical concern of been cannon fodder in Malaysia or Cyprus in the dying light of the British Empire. The surprising fact was that afterwards he still  loved England and he loved English people, he was at best politically a reactionary. Left wing ideas and Hippies had the same value of a bad fart to him. And still he made no apologies for not taken the Kings shilling.

On my Mother’s side my Great Grandfather had emigrated to the USA and spent many years in the Wild West. He ran a saloon that the outlaw Jesse James was a regular patron in. He bucked the trend and return to live in Ireland and bought a small farm in West Clare. He built a cottage on the top of the mountain with a view of Liscannor Bay.

The house also had a unique feature. While it was a typical West Clare cottage it had one and a half floors. When we were kids this was a mild source of mystery. Why would anyone only build only half a floor?

Many years later an Uncle explained to me that Great Granddad was a bit of a dandy. He had returned from the United States with a certain flair, a confidence verging on cocky, with a thirst for liquor that would sadly never be quenched.

He first wanted to build the house on the very top of the mountain, with a lovely view but totally exposed to the raw relentless winds of West Clare. Eventually friends and neighbours persuaded him to build the house into a more practical sheltered site. Each day while building the cottage  he would buy a barrel of porter for the workers, and as importantly, for himself. In the West of Ireland in the late 19th century a barrel of good porter was costly. Alas too costly, as he ran out of money with only the one and a half flours of the cottage build. Practicality always wins over grand visions so my mother and her family lived in the only 1 and a half sided cottage in West Clare. Peoples dreams are not always a testament to living happily ever after, more akin to continuing to live.

I have a feeling that in the near future Theatre will be more about storytelling as we enter an age of powerful fragment media. The Fishamble program is very enjoyable. The writers are all very different, funny, hard working and all very determined to change Theatre in the Mid West one scene at a time.

Momentum (by director Alan Dalton)

“No director is perfect. However talented or technically brilliant a director might be, there is always some hidden flaw. But then again no director, however limited his gifts, will be entirely without some hidden virtue” (John Caird, Theatre Craft)

All in all, it has been a super busy last few months since I graduated from the CIT Cork School of Music honours degree in Theatre and Drama Studies. I wasn’t totally sure about what route I was going to follow after my training. To keep going down the performance route or to follow my gut into Directing.

When I look back now to how anxious I was finishing college. All the usual “out in the big world” graduate questions bopping around my head; “What am I going to do next? Where am I going to find work? Will I go to London? Will I end up working in theatre? Will I be an actor? Am I an actor? Will I end up working in a café? Will I do a masters in Directing? Will I do a masters and end up working in a café?”.

No, I didn’t move to London and start a masters (that story is for another day).

I did end up getting the part time job in the café.

Instead of falling into this hole of anxiety and dread, that can easily happen to all of us, I decided to look at things a bit more positively and take things each step at a time. Quite quickly things began to fall into place. I feel like I’ve been riding this massive wave of forward momentum since the Summer. This wave has already brought about so many great things for me; was assistant director on Corcadorca’s Cork Midsummer Festival production, I set up a production company ALSA Productions with my girlfriend and fellow graduate Sadhbh Barrett Coakley, we self-produced a show and brought it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we devised and presented a brand new piece of theatre as part of TDC SHOW 2017, was hired to direct a new piece of writing by Strive Theatre which will tour Waterford and Cork and I am also back in college production managing their final year show.

Not only all that, in among all that madness, I was also accepted onto this wonderful Belltable:Connect Fishamble Mentorship Programme.

We are now at the half way point of the programme and the time has just flown. Each session more invaluable than the last. Before I started, I was not comfortable calling myself a “director”. I wasn’t sure what to call myself and I was afraid to call myself a director in case anyone would ask me, god forbid, about being a director. Through our monthly discussions, facilitated with such ease by Jim Culleton and listening to the experience from my fellow mentees, I’ve realised that I am and we are, most definitely all directors! It has been such a privilege to be able to sit among the group and listen to opinions, thoughts, problems, concerns and most importantly advice. Every session I have left with another door that I thought was closed shut, now open and available to walk through. I think I am most blown away by the amount of respect in the room for one another. It is truly a haven. I refer to the sessions as a “self-help group” for directors, and have continued this “therapy” back in Cork with fellow mentee Mike Ryan over the last few months as we tackle individual projects of our own.

We all can create our momentum and when we do anything is possible.

Al Dalton

Follow ALSA Productions on Facebook & Instagram: @alsaproductions

Helena Close – Belltable:Connect/Fishamble Mentoring Session on 10/12/2016

BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

Stand up and fight until you hear the bell. Stand toe to toe, trade blow for blow.

Saturday and the city buzzes as I head to the Belltable. A drum beats a tattoo in my head, dull, repetitive but consistent. I hope I can concentrate. We launch into work, beginning with Ballyturk. Intense discussion, rising drumbeat in my head. We move on to my peers’ work. Today we have matchmakers and gyms. We also have glam rock and Bowie. Workshops throw up all the bonkers stuff.

Keep punching ‘til you make those punches tell, show that crowd what ya know.

The drumbeat in my head is loud now. Too loud. The tribe gathers, I can feel it inside me. I am torn between this, the monthly playwright mentoring session and the theatre that will happen across the city in a couple of hours. Plato’s cave wanders into our discussion along with Sonya Kelly’s The Wheelchair on My Face and more glam rock. And Enda Walsh. Always back to Enda. I am restless now, eager to join my tribe. Chekhov’s The Seagull floats in for a visit. So does Amy Conroy.

Until you hear that bell, that final bell….

I wonder if Gavin can hear the drumbeat now? I also wonder why he didn’t do a Christmas bake for us. Myself and a colleague hatch a new TV show: Gavin in a bake off with a glam rock theme. The drumbeat is a roar now as I leave the Belltable. My friend is dressed in red, tribal colours. So am I. We walk over Thomond Bridge and our tribe swells. The river snakes through the city in watery December sunshine. The castle rises up behind us, like a protective hug. The tribe is hundreds, then thousands. I can see it now, towering over the skyline – the greatest theatre on earth. I can hear my tribe sing inside. We throng through the turnstiles in electric air. We take our seats. The drumbeat is on the pitch, the stage is set. We sing our tribal war dance. 26,000 voices. Plato would love this.

Stand up and fight like hell.

Helena Close

I’m all out of bubblegum! – Pat Hynes on Belltable:Connect

BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman
BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

I’ve been into writing since I was a tot. Myself and my pal Pony were always half-trying to outdo each other with tales of derring-do, entertaining ourselves by putting a spin on the dreary “English Composition” exercises we were doled out in National School (i.e. My Dream, or My First DOT DOT DOT). We eventually started to write daft stories without the aid of a prompt, creating whole worlds for our own entertainment. Our stories were peppered with grisly scenes of bloody death, like Rambo on steroids (I suppose it’s no surprise as we both saw First Blood when we were 7). Often the protagonist was alone and found themselves in the midst of a jungle, or a dense forest with jeeploads of sweaty, grimy men emerging from the undergrowth on all sides, bearing ill-will against our hero, mostly just for existing. There was no need to reveal anything about these guys’ inner turmoil; to provide a back-story or explain further would be to obfuscate, we just wanted to get straight into the action. We didn’t get bogged down in the detail, we took our joy in seeing them get bogged down in the muck and jungle.

Flash-forward three decades, and I’m still at it: still producing short stories, but mostly plays and screenplays. They mightn’t be as bloody as the first, but there are still liberal doses of horror and violence to be found in there. As well as telling stories, I’m selling them – flogging books in our bookshop, Scéal Eile Books in Ennis by day, but by night (and on weekends!) I’m writing away.

One of my plays was short-listed for the Eamonn Keane Playwriting Award (Listowel Writers’ Week) earlier this year, and others made the short-list for RTÉ’s PJ O’Connor Award, and the Bruntwood Playwriting Award. I’ve been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival twice in the last decade, once with a company play, and the last time with my own offering Sparks; a one-man show with Darren Killeen, brought over by our own Scéal Eile Productions, set-up by myself and my wife Éibhleann. We very much follow the ethos “Keep on keeping on”. I’m enjoying being part of the Belltable:Connect /Fishamble Mentoring Programme. The best part about this mentorship so far is being given prompts by Gavin Kostick (which are very useful and in stark contrast to my past experience of writing prompts and workshop environments), and being led creatively towards the production of new ideas.

It’s very easy to become lost in a world of ideas when you are working alone outside a group, and sometimes you just need a kick up the arse and someone to tell you to just write the fecking thing and stop procrastinating! Gavin hasn’t given anyone a kick in the arse yet but once he’s over his tennis injury… well let’s hope he’s not out of bubblegum! I’m working on a new play, which will develop throughout this next year as part of the mentorship, aided by the finest selection of biscuits to be found in any theatre, anywhere. Thanks, Belltable!

Theatre Makers 2017 Mentor – Lynne Parker

Lynne Parker
Lynne Parker

Director Lynne Parker is one of the main mentors working with the Theatre Makers 2017 creative ensemble, January to July 2017.

Lynne is Artistic Director and co-founder of Rough Magic. Productions for Rough Magic include: Northern Star, The House Keeper (Irish Times Best New Play 2012), The Critic, Travesties, Peer Gynt, Phaedra, Don Carlos (Irish Times Best Production 2007), The Taming of the Shrew (Best Production 2006), Improbable Frequency (Best Production, Best Director, 2004), Copenhagen (Best Production 2002), Sodome, my love, Three days of Rain, The Sugar Wife, Spokesong, Pentecost, Hidden Charges, Down Onto Blue, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Digging for Fire, Love and a Bottle (Bank of Ireland/Arts Show Award), Danti-Dan, New Morning, I Can’t Get Started, The Way of the World, The Country Wife, Decadence, Top Girls. Most recently the world premieres of Hilary Fannin’s Famished Castle and The Train by Arthur Riordan and Bill Whelan.

Other Theatre includes – Heavenly Bodies (Best Director, 2004), The Sanctuary Lamp, Down the Line, The Trojan Women, The Doctor’s Dilemma, Tartuffe, The Shape of Metal (Abbey Theatre); The Drawer Boy (Galway Arts Festival); Lovers (Druid); Bernard Alba, Me and My Friend (Charabanc); Catchpenny Twist (Tinderbox); Bold Girls (7:84 Scotland); The Shadow of a Gunman (Gate Theatre); The Clearing (Bush Theatre); Playboy of the Western World, Silver Tassie (Almeida Theatre); Playhouse Creatures (Old Vic); Importance of Being Earnest (West Yorkshire Playhouse); Love Me?! (Corn Exchange); Comedy of Errors (RSC); Olga, Shimmer (Traverse Theatre); Only the Lonely (Birmingham Rep); La Voix Humaine (Opera Theatre Company); A Streetcar Named Desire (Opera Ireland); The Drunkard, Benefactors (B*spoke); The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly (The Ark/Theatre Lovett); Macbeth (Lyric Theatre Belfast); The Cunning Little Vixen, Albert Herring (RIAM). Most recently, Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf (Tron Theatre, Glasgow) Stewart Parker’s Northern Star and The Provoked Wife by John Vanbrugh (The Lir Academy).

She was an Associate Artist of Charabanc Theatre Company. Lynne was awarded the Irish Times Special Tribute Award in 2008 and an Honorary Doctorate by Trinity College Dublin in 2010.

Theatre Makers 2017 Mentor – Deirdre Kinahan

Playwright, writer and actor Deirdre Kinahan. Photo: Barry Cronin
Photo: Barry Cronin

Theatre Makers 2017 will have two main mentors, working with the creative ensemble January to July 2017, playwright Deirdre Kinahan and director Lynne Parker.

Deirdre is actively involved in the Irish Theatre Sector both as Playwright and Producer.  She is a member of Aosdána and currently sits on the Abbey Board (Ireland’s National Theatre) and on the Stewart Parker Trust advisory committee whose mission is to encourage new writing for the stage. Her work is translated into many languages and produced regularly both in Ireland and on the International stage.  2016 saw productions of Deirdre’s plays in Chicago, New York, Washington, London, Warsaw and Ireland.  Deirdre is published by Nick Hern Books.

Deirdre’s latest play Wild Sky, commissioned by Meath County Council Arts Office  is written in commemoration of events  leading up to the 1916 Irish Rising and premiered in Spring 2016 at various venues Ireland and the US.

Deirdre is currently under commission to The Old Vic Theatre (London), Manhattan Theatre Club (New York), Fishamble: The New Play Company (Ireland), with numerous other theatre projects in development.

Deirdre has written for The Royal Court and Bush Theatre London, Fishamble: The New Play Company, Abbey Theatre, Civic Theatre, Project Arts Centre, Tall Tales and Livin Dred in Ireland. Her plays include: Wild Sky, Spinning, Halcyon Days, Bogboy, Moment, Hue & Cry, Melody,  Maisy Daly’s Rainbow. For Radio, she has written: Bogboy (RTE) and A Bag on Ballyfinch Place (BBC).

Deirdre has won numerous playwriting awards most notably The Scotsman’s Fringe First for Halcyon Days in 2013 and the Tony Doyle Bursary with BBC Northern Ireland in 2009.  She is the recipient of the Jim McNaughton Tilestyle Bursary 2013,  A Peggy Ramsay Award 2014 and Arts Council of Ireland Commission Award 2015. She is represented by Curtis Brown London and The Gersh Agency, New York.