“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.