‘History has a Scary way of Repeating Itself’ – Users of all Three Limerick Direct Provision Centres Attend Jimmy’s Hall

An old army barracks. A disused hotel. A former convent school for girls.

This motley collection of buildings, each constructed with very different purposes and each with stories from their various pasts, have now diverged into a connected present. They have been repurposed from their former lives, transformed into a new function. They are now Limerick’s Direct Provision centres, scattered across the county from Foynes to the city centre to Knockalisheen.

I visited all three centres on one very hot day last week. My sunburnt arm from hanging it out the car window is testament to my Limerick odyssey-of-sorts. The mission was to put notices up in each of the three centres, inviting residents in Direct Provision to an open dress rehearsal of the Abbey Theatre’s production of Jimmy’s Hall, which opened in the Lime Tree Theatre earlier this week. It is the story of Jimmy Gralton, the socialist who built a little dancehall in a field in Leitrim and refused to hand control of it over to the Church. For this he was subsequently deported by DeValera’s government as an “undesirable alien”, despite being born in Effrinagh, County Leitrim in 1886. It is a story with the struggle for justice, freedom and equality at its core, and a community’s fight against an unjust deportation. Not a million miles away from the stories and experiences of many currently living under threat of deportation in Direct Provision right now.

Knockalisheen DP Centre is situated on a hill with a view of Limerick City when the sun shines. A labyrinth of portakabins and low-rise buildings, it houses around 230 people who have come to Ireland seeking asylum, including about 70 children. It is the only centre in Limerick with family accommodation, as two small play areas in the grounds indicate, yet when I arrive these lie empty. I go to the reception to stick up the notice about the play on the board, beside signs for English classes and how to seek legal advice on your application.

This centre used to be an army barracks, but its new reincarnation is not unfamiliar to it. In 1956, more than 500 Hungarian refugees were housed here. They were given a great welcome by the citizens of Limerick, but this welcome did not last on an administrative level. Despite the UN Convention conferring on all refugees the right to work, considerable efforts were made to prevent the Hungarians from seeking employment. One article from the Limerick Leader dated November 26th 1956 quoted some of the Hungarian men as saying that “they did not want to be idle”. This is scarily still the case in Direct Provision now, with the new regulations around the Right to Work still inaccessible to the majority of asylum seekers.

The Hungarians were confined to the Knockalisheen camp, and a Department of Defence report at the time likened it to an internment camp. In April 1957, most of the adults went on hunger strike as a stand against the conditions they were forced to live in.

Fast forward to 2007, when 200 asylum seekers in the same Knockalisheen camp went on hunger strike in protest against the diet and the poor quality of accommodation in the centre. History has a scary way of repeating itself. As I left the reception area having been relieved of most of the flyers by some enthusiastic young girls, I noticed the sign they have up on the wall – “Enjoy each day, and don’t forget to smile”. It takes on an eerie aggression in a place where people are sent to wait for months, often years, while their asylum application is processed.

Heading back in to town I make for Glentworth Street DP Centre, in the middle of the city. The plaster on the walls outside is crumbling, and the hinges where a sign once swung in the breeze can still be seen. This was the historic Hanratty’s Hotel, a busy spot in the epi-centre of Limerick life. DeValera used to stay there when he was canvassing in Limerick and Clare. In the 1980s, touring theatre companies to Belltable used to opt for the surroundings of Hanratty’s after performing. I’d say many a seisiún was had there after shows. But it has changed a lot since those days. The little door to get in to the centre is around the side and there is no natural light. I’m dazzled for a bit after coming in from the sun outside, but stick the notice up on the board. There are mostly single men in this centre, and some of them ask me about the play. The manager watches me from through the reception desk Perspex glass as I leave.

Back on the road heading to Foynes for the final stop, my arm considerably pinker than when I left this morning. Mount Trenchard houses 55 single men, an old grand house that was later bought by the Sisters of Mercy and turned in to a private boarding school for girls. The original house was built by the Anglo-Irish Rice family, and it has a dramatic past. It was used as a safehouse by IRA fighters during the War of Independence. The family boat was used to ferry men and arms across the Shannon Estuary. Mary Spring Rice who was reared on the Mount Trenchard estate was actively involved in gunrunning in the fight for Irish freedom in 1913 and 1914, held many nationalist meetings in the house and set up a branch of Cumann na mBan in Foynes. The Sisters of Mercy later built on to the original house, and what was the old chapel is now the recreation room for the residents in Direct Provision, a few pool tables lit up by the sunlight coming through the stained glass windows.

I had no idea how many people would turn up for the open dress rehearsal of Jimmy’s Hall. Western Limerick Resources and Doras Luimní very kindly sorted transport from the two isolated centres, as otherwise it would be impossible for people to get to the Lime Tree Theatre. But at 2pm on Saturday, people started arriving. About 40 in all, from all around the world and of all ages.

Direct Provision attendees at Jimmy’s Hall (photo by Matthew Thompson)

I sat beside one eight-year-old fella as the director Graham McLaren introduced the play and said it was an honour to have so many people currently living in DP as the first audience for the new version of Jimmy’s Hall. The band struck up and got a rapturous applause after each of the preshow tunes, especially the rendition of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. The little fella beside me sat on the edge of his seat the entire show, glued to the stage. It was an electric, exhilarating performance, and though I had seen the show a few times before it took on new meaning seeing it in that audience. The lines about deportation and injustice especially took on a weighted significance. The resistance dance at the end was explosive, and got a great applause from everyone. It was one of those rare times where you see anew what theatre can do. One guy afterwards told me he had never seen theatre before, and was blown away by it. The power of theatre is that it can challenge, demand attention and bring us to places we didn’t think possible. It is entertaining yes, but that intangible something that comes from watching exciting, enlightening theatre is what really gets me. The resistance dance played on loop in my head as I waved at the buses heading back to Mount Trenchard in Foynes and Knockalisheen. And it stayed with me all the way in the car back to Dublin. What happened to Jimmy Gralton must not happen to anyone else seeking refuge in our country. We must all dance the resistance dance and demand an end to Direct Provision. It is time.


The next performance in the development of Displace by Belltable Artist in Residence Katie O’Kelly will take place in Belltable in December 2018.  We will continue to keep you updated on the piece’s progress through Belltable:Connect blogs.

Displace Rehearsed Reading Vox-Pops

The first work in progress rehearsed reading of Displace by Belltable Artist in Residence Katie O’Kelly took place on June 20th, 2018. Following the performance we spoke to some audience members to get their thoughts on the piece’s progress so far:

Displace is being developed as part of Katie O’Kelly’s residency at Belltable, supported by the Arts Council and Limerick Culture and Arts Office. This work-in-development rehearsed reading marked World Refugee Day. You can read Katie O’Kelly’s thoughts on the rehearsed reading here.

The next performance in the development of Displace will take place in Belltable in December 2018.  We will continue to keep you updated on the piece’s progress through Belltable:Connect blogs.

‘A surreal moment’ – Belltable Artist in Residence on the First Rehearsed Reading of Displace

Following the first work-in-progress rehearsed reading of Displace at Belltable a week ago, Artist in Residence Katie O’Kelly shares her thoughts on seeing the play come to life on stage for the first time.

Sitting in the front row of the Belltable last Wednesday watching actors read my work in progress script of Displace was a surreal moment. I usually perform in my plays, but for the purpose of the reading I had my writer hat on so was watching it with the audience. I’ve never actually heard any of my plays performed before, so it was a terrifying and thrilling experience. The actors were amazing and breathed life into the characters which have, until that night, existed only in my head.

We started off the reading with a brief talk with Limerick-based actor Frances Healy, who performed in The Magdalene Sisters, and Donnah Vuma, a founding member of MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) and Every Child is Your Child, and campaigner to end direct provision. It gave a context to the work, and an insight into the systems of marginalization, isolation and oppression which the play depicts. It was an honour to share the stage with such brilliant, strong and courageous women, and I’d like to thank them both for taking part and sharing their experiences with us.

A trio of very talented actors then took to the stage to read the work in progress script. Georgina Miller, Sahar Ali and Niamh McGrath were exceptional at weaving the story together and presenting us with the many characters depicted in both the worlds of the Magdalene Laundry and the Direct Provision centre. At the end of the reading the audience was given the opportunity to give feedback on the script, and I had the chance to ask questions about what worked within the story and what needed further developing. It was so great to get feedback from people in the audience who are directly affected by the direct provision system in Ireland at the moment, and to see what else I can bring to the worlds to make them clearer and richer for those watching it.

The reading was sensitively staged by director Sarah Baxter and the feedback session was articulately presented by dramaturg Pamela McQueen. The brilliant Mags O’Donoghue steered us through the technical side of things, with producer Clara Purcell working miracles throughout the day to ensure the smooth running of the whole event. For a play which is so much centred on the female experience in these systems, it was crucial to have such a competent, committed and talented team supporting the work. A huge thanks to all who came along and to those involved in bringing it to the stage. I am feeling fired up and excited about getting started on the next draft, and can’t wait to get a full production up on its feet!

Post-reading feedback session with the creative team of Displace and the audience.

The next performance in the development of Displace will take place in Belltable in December 2018.  We will continue to keep you updated on the piece’s progress through Belltable:Connect blogs.

‘This Play is a Gift’ – Georgina Miller, Displace Rehearsed Reading Actor

Ahead of the work-in-progress rehearsed reading of Displace at Belltable on Wednesday, June 23rd, at 8pm one of the actors who will help bring the piece to life Georgina Miller wrote about the piece. 

Hi, I’m Georgina Miller, and I am one of the actors taking part in the public reading of Displace in Belltable on 20th June.  I was thrilled to be asked, as it’s a powerful piece with a story that is so relevant and touching.  Good writing is not easy to come by and, as an actor, this play is a gift.

The two story-lines, each with their own inherent drama, compliment each other really well.  Set in two different times in the same building in Limerick – a Magdalene Laundry in the 1950s, which has been converted in the present day to a Direct Provision Centre.  The struggles within masked by its walls are as heartbreaking today as they were in the laundry days.

To my shame, I knew very little about the process and conditions for asylum seekers here in Ireland.  I think Katie O’Kelly has done a wonderful job of presenting the reality of their day-to-day existence.  She’s also breathed real life into the whispered stories and headlines of existence for women in the Laundries.

I know sometimes it can turn people off when you say that a piece of theatre is important, but this one truly is.  We can’t shy away from the horror of our past, nor be ignorant to the failings of our system in the present.  That said, the play is also warm and light-hearted in places, and the authentic female relationships and companionships are brilliantly represented.

I’m a mum of two small kids and, for me,  it’ll be interesting to see how that experience informs my connection with this work.  Both women in the play are dealing with their difficult circumstances whilst having the responsibility of another small human to consider.  The role of a mother is a complex and challenging one at the best of times, and these women are forced to carry that out under extraordinary conditions.

Katie has written a remarkably accomplished and engaging piece—it had me in tears on my first reading, and I’m really looking forward to seeing and hearing the audience’s reaction to it on the night.


Georgina has been working as an actress for fifteen years across theatre, TV, film and radio. She is also an experienced and busy voice-over artist.

Displace is being developed as part of Katie O’Kelly’s artist in residency at Belltable, supported by Limerick Arts Office. This reading marks World Refugee Day. To book tickets for the work in progress reading of Displace at Belltable on Wednesday, June 20th, at 8pm phone box office on 061 953400, ext 1 or visit our website.

“I Remember 1996” – a Response to the Magdalene Laundries

“We weren’t allowed to cry or laugh”.

An account from one of the last Magdalene Laundries in Dublin that closed in 1996. I remember 1996. Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland. ‘Ballykissangel’ was on the telly, and the film ‘Michael Collins’ was premiered. I saw the set of the burned out Four Courts when I was a kid. Mick McCarthy was manager of the Irish football team and the Spice Girls released their girl-power smash hit Wannabe.

Katie O’Kelly and Clara Purcell from 1996 doing their Spice Girls act.

On our street in Dublin, we spent the summer making up dance routines to it in our cycling shorts and Boyzone Tshirts. It’s hard to believe that while we were arguing about who got to be Sporty Spice there were women incarcerated in Laundries all over the country, never told when they would get out and forced to work in excruciating conditions for no money. Free slave labour. I found out recently that one of the last Laundries to close was in Donnybrook, five minutes from where I grew up.

Last week we Repealed the 8th Amendment, a huge win for women’s rights that have been oppressed and silenced for too long. But we still have a long way to go in unearthing and comprehending the systematic abuse inflicted on so many women for so long in this country. Justice must be sought. The church still hasn’t paid out the vast majority of what it owes to Magdalene Survivors. They seem to essentially be sitting on their hands until it is too late and there are no survivors left.

On Tuesday evening, I was outside the Mansion House as eight bus loads of Magdalene Survivors were driven to the Mansion House for a reception with the Lord Mayor and the President of Ireland. I bawled my eyes out at the sight of all these amazing women, ranging from their 40s to 90s, who had suffered so much at the hands of the Irish State and the Catholic Church. One woman shouted to me that the women of Ireland have ended this with the referendum, the stranglehold that our country has been in since the foundation of the Republic. But we still have a long way to go to fight for justice for Magdalene Survivors. We cannot afford to be complacent ever again. And we cannot forget our collective past.

This piece was written by Belltable Artist in Residence 2018 Katie O’Kelly. Read the Irish Times article which inspired this post here.


To book tickets for the work in progress reading of Displace at Belltable on Wednesday, June 20th, at 8pm phone box office on 061 953400, ext 1 or visit our website.

In preparation for a public reading – Displace workshop

Hearing your own work read for the first time by actors is both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. It somehow makes it real, takes it out of your head and brings it to life. It’s a strange experience, after carrying the world of the play around in your head for so long. To hear it spoken by other voices throws up so many new ideas that it can be difficult to jot them all down. They tumble out.

Last week we got to do a development week on ‘Displace’ as part of the Belltable residency. It was an amazing experience, to get to develop a work-in-progress with such a great team of supportive people. Our actors were Sahar Ali, Roseanna Purcell and Niamh McGrath, with Sarah Baxter directing, Bryan Burroughs as movement director and Pamela McQueen as dramaturg. As Bryan put it, it was great getting the opportunity to work ‘just us girls’ :-).

We started by reading through the script a couple of times to get familiar with the story and characters. I don’t think I breathed for the first read. But everyone was so positive and supportive that it made it much easier than I thought it would be, and I relaxed. They gave some great feedback on the script, what parts really worked and suggestions for parts that weren’t quite there yet. I went home after the first day feeling energised and excited to start rewriting.

The movement days were Bryan were invaluable. Very often when I’m writing, I become overly reliant on words at first; they are a safe area. No playwright wants to have blank paper staring at them. But through the movement exercises you begin to see what can be spoken and created through the actors’ bodies on stage, and sometimes it can be far more affecting and powerful in the absence of words. Particularly in the two worlds of the play, where language is so different. In the Laundries for example, the women were forbidden from talking to each other. They only spoke in prayer. Yet friendships were formed secretively, a whispered, hushed form of friendship. In the direct provision centres, language can be a barrier between people from different countries and cultures, often when they are sharing rooms. It creates a whole new level of integration that has to be dealt with. The body can sometimes tell us what words cannot, and this can be particularly interesting on stage.

One of the days was spent with myself, Pamela and Sarah dissecting the second draft of the script, pulling it apart and then putting it together again, to see what structure works best to tell the story we want to tell. This was a really helpful experience as a writer, because so often we can get stuck in one way of thinking; it can become difficult to see different paths the story could take. But opening up to get new perspectives on it can lead to interesting discoveries about the characters and their individual journeys in the story.

After so many great chats, exercises and ideas, I’m scribbling away like mad to get a new draft ready for the rehearsed reading on June 20th in the Belltable. This will be a new step for me as a writer, I’ve never done a reading of a work in progress in front of an audience before so it’ll be brilliant to see what new ideas it sparks!

Limerick research trip for Displace – Katie O’Kelly

 

There’s nothing quite like the bright lights of Obamaplaza on the road to Limerick from Dublin. It’s shiny, warm glow and astonishingly wide range of Obama souvenirs and trinkets always heralds that the journey is nearly over. On the way home from gigs in the Belltable in the past it has frequently been the provider of supermacs and road trip snacks for hungry actors. Last Thursday was no different, as we pulled in to its majestic car park on our research trip to Limerick City.

The trip was to show the team that I am working on my new play ‘Displace’ with some of the places that inspired the story. So at 9am I picked up dramaturg Pamela McQueen, director Sarah Baxter, movement director Bryan Burroughs and producer Clara Purcell in Dublin and we set off.

As a relatively new driver, most of my attention went on making sure I didn’t go up any one-way streets the wrong way while in the city, but once we were out on the road it was great to get to chat about theatre, the Belltable residency and some of the people I have met as part of my research.

The play is about a fictional Magdalene laundry building in Limerick that has been turned in to a modern day Direct Provision centre for asylum seekers while they wait for their application to be processed. This process can take years, and asylum seekers are left in a system where they are not allowed to work, not allowed to cook their own food, and given €21.60 a week. The price of two supermac meals in Obamaplaza, or a couple of keyrings with I heart Ireland on them.

When we reached Limerick, our first port of call was the Limerick School of Art and Design, what used to be the old Good Shepherd Laundry. It was amazing to see the building that I had read so much about transformed into a completely different setting, but with so much of the old laundry aesthetic still evident.

You can tell what parts of the building were the nuns’ quarters and what were the parts for the women incarcerated

there by the difference in design – some corridors have parquet wood on the floors and walls, while other areas are covered in old 1950s lino.

 

The team couldn’t believe how much of it was still there. The windows high up in the walls in some of the old laundry rooms meant that if you were one of the women working there you weren’t even allowed to look out. Given no indication of how long you would be there, cut off from the world, much like the people left in the modern day direct provision system.

We went in to the exhibition gallery, which used to be the old chapel in the grounds of the laundry. Here, the women would be brought in for Mass and seated on one side of the building while the children from the orphanage would sit in another part. There are accounts of the women craning to catch a glimpse of their child that had been taken from them and put in the orphanage, while the mothers worked only a short distance away in the steaming heat of the laundry. It was very affecting to be in the silence of that room, with its ornate marble and gold mosaic on the walls, and think of the suffering that those women were put through. It’s haunting.

Next we visited Marketa in Belltable before a very delicious lunch in Hook and Ladder – Bryan said he became a regular there when he was in Angela’s Ashes the Musical, and we can see why! Lovely food and a very nice atmosphere, we’ll definitely be heading back there for sure :-).

After lunch we visited a friend of mine in one of the direct provision centres in Limerick. I won’t say which one as I want to be sure nothing happens because of it – this is all part of the system, of keeping people separated and afraid of what can happen if you cause ‘trouble’. It’s shocking to visit these centres though, many of them are old religious buildings that have repurposed to house asylum seekers, out in the middle of nowhere and with extremely limited transport in to the city. If you get the bus in to town, it leaves at 9:30am and you won’t be able to go back until the return bus at 5:30pm. That’s a fecking long wait.

Some of the centres have an air of Stepford about them, with everything looking nice but something not quite right at the same time. The ones with children have playrooms for example, but the toys aren’t used and frequently the door in to the room is locked. There are no children to be seen, a strange feeling in a centre that supposedly houses 70 little ones.

In another centre that I went to, I was the first person to sign the visitors book in 2018. Two people had signed in last year, and five in 2016. How are people supposed to integrate in to the community, one of the things they look for when assessing applications, if you are purposely cut off from that community – placed in a big vacant building miles away from the nearest town?

We saw the canteen in this DP centre, the noticeboards of signs saying the rules, and the laundry where half the machines don’t work; the depressed atmosphere of waiting is palpable. The car ride home was very different from the journey down. Everyone was very moved and affected by what we had seen. There was far less chat, it seemed trivial after it somehow. We are determined to try to bring some of what we saw to the stage, to share it with a wider community.

I’ve finished my second draft of the script of ‘Displace’, and am all fired up to start work on the next draft for the reading in the Belltable on 20th June, which marks World Refugee Day.  I’ve never done a reading of a work in progress before, so it will be interesting to see what new ideas are sparked by it, as well as being just a wee bit terrifying! But it’s good to push your comfort zone sometimes, and the warm glow of Obamaplaza will always be there for the supermacs afterwards :-).

Katie O’Kelly, Belltable Artist in Residence 2018

 

Director Sinead Hackett reflects on Fishamble Mentoring Programme

BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

Limerick your a lady…….

And so are you Marketa. The boys from Fishamble ain’t so bad either 😉.

All jokes aside, I  just really want to say thank you  for  the  place on the Belltable:Connect mentorship programme.  It was a  valuable experience.

Driving down to Limerick city once a month over the past 10 months to meet and connect with other emerging directors in the Beltable theatre was exciting.  The directors group was hosted by Jim from Fishamble  theatre company, whose manner is so chilled he put us all at ease.

It was full of first times for me and first times can be nerve wrecking. This is my first time to ever blog!!!!!.

But it was also my first time  to ever pitch. My first time to sit in on a mentorship programme, my first time in THE Beltable theatre,  my first time having any connection with Limerick City and my first time meeting all the other young, hip, cool emerging directors and Jim.

Little by little we got to know each other,  our styles, our preference and our projects, through the monthly  meet ups and chats.

It was great. Hopefully we will meet again. Until then onwards and upwards.

Sinead.x

Playwright Niall Carmody on presenting his work to peers

Belltable:Connect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

Having spent countless hours among the other mentees, taking and providing criticism (always constructive) on varying projects, we were given the opportunity to present some of our work to professionals in the theatre sector. When preparing a piece of work to present to a room full of strangers I tend to over think the prospect, allowing it to become a monster determined on devouring me. In the session running up to the presentation Gavin posed a question to our group; ‘what do you want from the presentation?’ Sitting amongst the other mentees I thought ‘I just want it over’. I had no definite answer to his question. Visions filled my head on how my work would be received. Images switching sporadically between wads of cash or rotten fruit being thrown from our gathered audience. Both scenarios were equally as terrifying, a face full of fruit would be embarrassing but an influx of capital would bring paralyzing pressure to succeed. The weeks inevitably passed and the day of reckoning flew closer and closer. I decided on presenting Play on Words, a piece that will be shown in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Tiger’s Eye Theatre Company. A safe bet, it is a play that is happening anyway it had a run out at the Scene and Heard Festival, it may not be loved but it certainly won’t be hated (hopefully). Box ticked. Job done. Yet Gavin’s question still bothered me, what did I want from the presentation?

On the 20th May, we gathered in the Belltable Hub and soaked up the nervous energy. Each person assuring the next that ‘it’ll be grand’ and ‘it’s no big deal’. We practised the running order with plenty of nervous laughter and awkward timing. There is nothing like a group of strangers to be honest about your art. These were professionals after all, not Mammy and Daddy patronising placing your work on the family fridge. At 2pm we were prepared for battle. Our invited audience filed into their chairs, nobody carried boxes of rotten fruit thankfully. The presentations came and went without any stumbles or issues. As each person finished their presentation the room became lighter and lighter; the cloud of potential screw ups lifted from the room. The relief was palpable, ironic that a group of theatre makers were so jittery about a four-minute presentation. Having completed my own presentation, I relaxed and enjoyed the pitches from my peers. My mind drifted to Gavin’s question, ‘What do you want?’ and it hit me. Sitting amongst representatives of the theatre community, each at different points in their careers, I wanted reassurance that what we are doing is worth it. That you can create art and lead a happy life. That the ‘struggling artist’ title does not have to be a lifetime sentence. And it is possible, it’s not a lifetime sentence. It is by no means a simple task, but it is possible. It is easy to become fatigued and disheartened working in theatre as you constantly struggle for employment and funding. I have gone through stages of bitter self-doubt when attempting to justify my career choice to friends and family.

The presentations carried out on the 20th May gave an insight into differing theatre projects, but more importantly for me it revitalised my passion for the art. If a room full of intelligent and talented individuals see the worth in pursuing their passion, then I owe it to myself to do the same. We push ourselves to the point of self-destruction to pursue our passion, and we always survive. That’s the fun in theatre, that’s the fun in living.

Director Róisín Stack checks in from KunstenFestivalDesArtes, Belgium

BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

This is my second attempt at a blog post. The first was written a few days after a run of a show I’d directed. I was writing about the post-show bubble and how difficult it is to review your own work without letting other people’s opinions, good and bad, influence your relationship with it, yet how necessary it is to reflect on the whole experience in order to move on to the next thing.

I didn’t submit that blog because the more I read it, the more critical I became of it (which was fitting giving the subject matter) so I decided I’d wait and write again while away on an upcoming trip which might give me a new perspective.

Now I am on that trip, in Belgium, attending shows in Brussels as part of KunstenFestivalDesArtes, and in Ghent to explore the work of Ontroerend Goed. The work I have seen so far is a mixture of performance art and political interactive theatre. Some of it I have found quite inaccessible – it seemed more about the artists’ intellectual ideas as opposed to the execution of a piece that left room for an audience.

The shoe is on the other foot now, as I experience, interpret and judge the work of others, just a couple of weeks after churning over how to take praise and criticism of my own. I’m looking at these performances as an audience member, a [sensitive] critic and a theatre maker. I find hope in the things I don’t like, because I feel I can do better, and I find inspiration in the things I do like because it makes me want to be a better artist.

The work I have seen here traverses a line between stage and spectator, performance art and theatre, science and philosophy, film and lecture. These are not theatre pieces as such but happenings, protests, experiences, live art. I realise that although I talk about the desire to make theatre which is unpredictable and disruptive, I still want my work to involve skill, heart, aesthetic and a sense of artistry. Much of what I have seen here does not have that – the idea is the piece, rather than central to it; the execution seems disregarded and this is where I encounter a tension within myself.

I feel quite lucky that I can come away here and have these experiences and reflections. It’s great to be able to go and see work outside of Ireland as it informs my perspective and reminds me that it’s all relative. Last year I attended a workshop in London where participants complained about how theatre in the UK is too traditional, yet often in Ireland we regard theatre in the UK as being progressive (and obviously there are many organisations there which are). On the other side of that, this year I’m experiencing work which is so untraditional, it makes me wonder where the line is between accessibility and experimentalism. So much of this depends on audiences, on the appetite for the arts in any given place. Who am I making the work for? What am I responding to?

I’m not altogether sure where this leaves me in relation to my own theatre making and the post post-show bubble. The piece I recently directed was not experimental but it afforded me the opportunity to try out some simple yet potentially risky ideas, to work with somebody else’s script and a smaller cast. All of these elements of the traditional theatre process gave me secure conditions in which to create work and as such I learned an awful lot about directing. For my next piece, I plan to write it myself but leave room for collaboration and devising, working with a small cast and drawing on elements of Dadaism and post-dramatic theatre. A few weeks ago, I might have thought I was proposing something cutting edge but by European standards, this is nothing new – this is old hat. And that’s OK. I’m not making this piece for KunstenFestivalDesArtes and while I’m glad to have another context in which to place what I want to do, I’m not going to change my perspective to try to be relevant.

It’s great to be reminded that I’m not creating in isolation, in my own community, or my own country, but surrounded by continents of artists and a whole world of audiences. It’s quite freeing to think beyond my own perceptions of what theatre is and the possibility of where it could take me.

On the plane home I came across an extract from the writings of WH Auden and was reminded that reflection, self-criticism and authenticity are age-old struggles (I also thought it would make me sound very learned to conclude my blog with a quote from a poet):

”[Every writer] needs approval of his work by others in order to be reassured that the vision of life he believes he has had is a true vision and not a self-delusion but he can only be reassured by those whose judgement he respects . . . No writer can ever judge exactly how good or bad a work of his may be, but he can always know, not immediately perhaps, but certainly in a short while, whether something he has written is authentic – in his handwriting – or a forgery”