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.
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.
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”
This mentorship in Belltable came along at a time last September when I really needed a lifeline,-applications for everything between day jobs & arts stuff were coming back ‘No’s’ time and time again and I was feeling very deflated so when I got the email to say I had got a place on the course, my whole self just lit up and there were, I’m not embarrassed to say, a few tears as I sat rereading it over and over again ready to burst with a joy that just invaded my everything. I needed someone to recognise the potential in me that I know I have as a writer person thing and maybe to take a bit of a punt too and Gavin did that in choosing me to be part of the 12 so I’ll always be thankful to him for that. Soon after starting this course I found out whilst being glued to my Gmail – a daily routine, I had also got a place on The Next Stage – another artist development initiative as part of The Dublin Theatre Festival and I know this would not have happened if I hadn’t got the place on the playwrighting course so one definitely happened as a result of the other. I was back in the land of happy and hope and ’I am part of this’ – in the room and on an equal footing with people a few months before I never thought I would be.
Living a bit out in the shticks of Co. Galway, I can sometimes feel a bit on the outside or the only ‘creative in the village’ as a writer/performer full of ideas and wanting people to play / explore with ; staring out the window hugging my mug of builders tae , sitting not content at the table ‘trying to write’ – feeling a bit lost betimes with the ‘am I writer if I’m not writing, am I an actor if not acting, should I just go and work in a shop and stop codding meself debacle. So a journey to Limerick once a month, off the bus and in the doors of the Belltable at 9.30 on a Saturday morning, a coffee and let’s get stuck in, is to me a joyous relief and release and where I fit really – It’s there with my extremely talented group that I realise my gut feelings are right- I do have a contribution to make in the arts arena – I need to get out, make things happen, persist and make my mark cause no one else will do it for me. Life and ourselves can get in our own way sometimes and the thing we are meant for we can run away from or have to in some cases cause the rent needs paying etc but what I find this course is giving me as the months progress on aside from technical skills and meeting my peers which is a massive part of the good stuff is, it connects me and reconnects me, I feel rooted – an Anchor I think is the word. So regardless of any other goings on or noise in my life when I’m there, I’m present and I’m a writer (fuck it I said it ha ) and most importantly I’m me.
The few hours seem to tick by in a heartbeat and I’m walking away’ back into a busy Limerick Street/ soundscape with a sudden ‘oh it’s over ‘haze feeling. I want more, more of those few hours all the time, more ‘challenge me’ , more time with those people in my group I’m getting increasingly intrigued by with every meeting, more let me into the theatre space to play and create , more who are these directors in the room next door …. I just want to live in it- this world and not outside it if that makes sense. Bring on next time :-).
‘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.
If you had asked me when I was 17 and leaving school what I wanted my career to be, I couldn’t have answered you. But I think that is the case for most people. I had always had an interest in the arts. Writing, Musicals, Theatre and even visual art. However I felt I posessed none of the skills or talent to perform or make artwork. I loved telling stories though and Theatre for me became an outlet.
I chose what most people think is a very general degree. A Bachelor of Arts and I loved every second of it. I thought I could be a teacher and stay involved in the amatuer dramatics world, not having realised that all of those plays I loved seeing had to be made by someone.
Theatre found me without me even realising it. Without Mary Immaculate college I would not be where I am today. MIDAS the drama society was very active and well supported by Dr. Michael Finneran who gave willingly of his time and expertise.
I started to stage manage and knew I had found a role that I was good at, then I was given my first opportunity to Direct, that is when I found my passion. They say if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. When I was 21 I was offered a paying job to stage manage and the penny dropped, I realised I could make a living from working in theatre and I was sold. I was going to work in theatre and become a Director.
I don’t know if you’re aware but to obtain a job as a director starting out, is incredibly difficult, but I was lucky, I also love stage management and in doing that job I get to work with amazing directors with decades of experience and learn so much about every angle of theatre.
Directing has many definitions but I suppose for me I see it as having the opportunity to get into the nitty gritty of the story and characters and then step out to support the cast and design team to create the world that the director has formed from that process. It is challenging, collaborative and so rewarding.
Before I graduated I set up my own company Honest Arts, with Pius McGrath. You may wonder why so many people set up their own companies, the simple answer for us was to make work. In August 2013 we made our maiden voyage to the Edinburgh Fringe with our first show “The Mid-Knight Cowboy”. It was exhausting and challenging and the definition of jumping in at the deep end but it was also exhilarating and educational. The Play also was a part of the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York Later that year.
We were fortunate enough to receive funding for our second piece from Limerick National City of Culture ‘Waiting In Line’. That piece was nominated for best Set Design at the Irish Times Theatre Awards and also won the Cutting Edge Artist Award at the Toronto Fringe Festival. We had figured out an identity for our company. We then had to regroup.
We have spent the last year developing two new pieces of work. One of which is a play titled ‘PUNT’ which will debut on March 31st & April 1st 2017 as part of the Limerick Fringe Festival in Shannon rowing club. It is a story about gambling culture and the adventures involved with a life of investing in chance.
This mentorship scheme has been a sort of haven. To be able to set aside time every month to meet with like minded people with different styles, opinions and experiences is so helpful to broadening your mind and troubleshooting problems. It is also about getting to know other people who are going through the same process as you and having a safe and supportive space to be able to explore and learn.
My favourite thing about directing is that you can never know it all, you can always be surprised by what a good story and creative team can produce.
As I finish writing this, I ask myself why is this the topic of my blog, who cares about why I am directing? The answer is, I became involved in theatre for fun and to work creatively but now it has become my vocation. There is not only one path to take in pursuit of your passion in life, every person will find their own way, it takes patience and endurance to progress, but eventually you will be rewarded. I am proud of my accomplishments thus far but I have only begun my journey, and courses like the mentorship help me to continue on my path.