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”

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 Shane Hickey-O’Mara on theatre, self-doubt and Belltable:Connect

BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

‘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.

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!

Twitter: @BombinatePlays

Tara Doolan – Why Directing?

BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

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.


Twitter: @Honest_Arts

Tkts for ‘PUNT’: