Playwright Paul McNamara’s thoughts on Fishamble Mentoring Scheme

Belltable:Connect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

The theatre writing course I am involved in as part of Belltable:Connect is not simply a writing course. It is a theatre course.

I have been a writer for a little under twenty years, which may sound impressive but I am only 23 so a lot of my career has well, flown under the radar. For as long as I can remember I have loved to write. From the age of four or five I have loved writing stories and poems. Creative writing assignments in school were an exciting challenge. While I still write poetry and have also in recent years delved into performance poetry to relative success another form of writing has taken over my interest.

Theatre didn’t enter into my life until my first year of college when I got the chance to act and then to work backstage. My first attempt at writing for the stage followed the next year. As part of the Writers’ Society in Mary Immaculate College I wrote numerous short plays which I would often help produce, direct, act in, provide music and lights for… etc. In other words it was quite a small setup. But over a number of years we managed as a group to improve and get bigger and better. We did this by, well, making every mistake possible and learning from them (for the most part anyway.) This led me to writing and producing my first full-length play in college ‘Searching for Rusty.’ Searching for Rusty was probably, for me at least, the pinnacle of my experience in college theatre. After that I was ready to try and enter in the real world and try to write outside of college. I was ready to write. I was excited. I also had absolutely no idea what to do, how to do it or where to find answers. Until…

Belltable:Connect entered into my life at the perfect time. I wanted to write and work in theatre but I didn’t know how. This was my way in. The course wasn’t going to do everything for me but it has given me the opportunity to learn from my mentor Gavin, my fellow writers, many of whom have a wealth of experience, and also the directors in the other course. I have gotten to learn about play structure, about character building, how to effectively critique a play. Also, very importantly, I learned how to effectively take critique and understand why certain kinds of feedback are given.

When I said at the start of this piece that the course is not simply a writing course it is a theatre course I meant it. The interaction we have with the directors, industry professionals and each other teach much more than just writing. The classes don’t just teach you how to write they try and help you understand the place of the writer in theatre. How to work with directors, managers, actors etc. and how you must realise all theatre is collaboration and everyone has a role in the creative process.  This class for me has been a great aid in transitioning away from college theatre. I have got to meet and learn from so many great up and coming writers and directors. I have made connections that could lead to collaboration. The course has allowed a network of young writers and directors to come together and I cannot wait to see what everyone will accomplish both individually and hopefully in many cases as teams comprising of the people we have met here. After almost twenty years of writing (15 off which my parents and relatives were my only readers) I have a hell of a lot left to learn but this course has been a great start.

-Paul McNamara

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.