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.
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 :-).
“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.
‘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.
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!
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.
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.
“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.
Follow ALSA Productions on Facebook & Instagram: @alsaproductions
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.
“Of course, there’s lots of reasons to put on a play”, Jim Culleton gleefully realised in answer to the question he had just asked of the directors present. Session number three of the Belltable:Connect: Fishamble Mentorship Programme offered plenty of discussion and discourse, as had the previous two instalments, but having thoroughly settled into the format by now, the assembled theatre creators wasted no time in getting to the nugget of this week’s topic.
It’s been a manic three months for all of the directors taking part, but after three sessions I’ve come to the conclusion that directors’ lives tend to be manic all the time. Thank god! I thought it was just me. I think that this realisation, more than anything else, is the great success of the programme so far. Being a director, you tend to lock yourself away in the little pocket universe of whatever play you’re directing. Being given the opportunity to discuss the highs, lows, and the general process of creating theatre as a director has been invaluable so far. Myself and Al, one of the other directors from Cork, joked early on that it was like a group counselling session for directors, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Last February I set up my own theatre company called Ferocious Composure with some of the designers, actors and managers that I had worked with in UCC. The name came from the commentary for the 2014 All Ireland Gaelic Football Final. I can still hear Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh’s voice as I sat in my car on the way back from helping with a puppet show in Meath. “The Kerry team have shown ferocious composure all year”. It’s how we in the company like to imagine ourselves. Ferocious yet composed, ready to pounce, and full of potential. I’ve come to realise over the past three sessions that, sadly, it’s not a trait unique to the individuals I recruited for my own endeavours. All eleven of my fellow directors have that same quality. I’m sure the playwrights group is the same. The theatre industry can be vicious and unforgiving at times, like a perpetual, harsh winter. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you set out to work in theatre in Ireland, you have to be driven, prolific and imaginative, while simultaneously maintaining your cool and standing your ground, otherwise you’ll be weeded out remorselessly before you even get a leaf out of the earth.
To push the metaphor even further into infuriating hyperbole, the “group counselling sessions,” in that case, serve as a welcome reminder of what awaits you if you do make it into the sunlight. More, like-minded individuals, ready to hear your woes, share their own experiences and offer help and advice in order to facilitate your own growth as a director/plant.
Working on my current production, “The Nun’s Wood” by Pat Kinevane, I’ve found the sessions incredibly helpful in two major ways. Firstly, the collective knowledge of the group is immense, especially with Jim thrown into the mix. I’ll often find myself rapidly scribbling notes for five or ten minutes at a time while listening to another director’s experience, or hearing the advice being offered to that director. Sometimes I’ll find myself offering an answer to somebody else’s question, only to realise that I’ve inadvertently solved one of my own problems. Secondly, (and to sheepishly bring things full circle), I’ve realised that I’m not alone in the madness of creating theatre. The problems I’m facing have been faced before. The thoughts and worries I’ve had have all been experienced already. Knowing that I have a safe space to which I can retreat once a month to say “Oh! That’s happened to you too?” gives me great confidence in my own ability and in my own choices.
It’s a mad auld industry we’ve chosen to plant ourselves in, and people get drawn into it from incredibly diverse backgrounds. I’m not sure if anybody really knows exactly why they put on a play. There’s lot’s of reasons to put on a play. There’s no one right answer to the question, but after three sessions I’m sure of one thing. Right answer or not, I’m not alone in being compelled to do it anyway.
“The Nun’s Wood” is running at the Granary theatre Cork from December 13-17. Tickets can be booked HERE.