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!

Website: www.bombinatetheatre.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/BombinateTheatre
Twitter: @BombinatePlays

Helena Close – Belltable:Connect/Fishamble Mentoring Session on 10/12/2016

BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

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.

Stand up and fight like hell.

Helena Close

Director Mike Ryan – There’s Lots of Reasons To Put On A Play

BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman
BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

“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.

Mike Ryan

“The Nuns Woodis running at the Granary theatre Cork from December 13-17. Tickets can be booked HERE.

First Playwright Session of Mentoring Programme

BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman
BelltableConnect Fishamble Mentoring Programme, photo by Ken Coleman

Niall Carmody is a playwright originally from Limerick who now lives and works in Galway. He is a recent graduate of NUIG and is currently working on a set of original plays. Here he writes about the first session of Belltable:Connect Fishamble Mentoring Programme for Playwrights and Directors:

‘The first session of our Belltable:Connect programme filled me with the same nervous excitement of the first day of school. Arriving at the Belltable in Limerick City I met the other participants. Over tea and coffee we introduced ourselves and talked about expectations and hopes for the programme. An overview of the history of the Belltable:Connect programme was given to the group by Marketa Dowling, the Belltable Programme Manager. We were introduced to Gavin Kostick and Jim Culleton of Fishamble and split into our appropriate groups; Directors with Jim, Playwrights with Gavin. We made our way to the playwrights room and immediately got down to business. Gavin explained each session would be composed of three parts. Firstly we would discuss the plays we would be given to read for each session. Secondly we would discuss our task to be submitted to Gavin for the upcoming month (covering themes surrounding the plays discussed in the class). Thirdly each week four writers would present an idea they have to the group for feedback. These ideas could come in the shape of a script or presentation or simply a brain storming session.

For our first session we discussed the plays Woman and the Scarecrow by Marina Carr and Swing by Steve Blount, Peter Daly, Gavin Kostick and Janet Moran. The two plays chosen contrast greatly as Swing is a devised piece full of movement and dance whereas Woman and the Scarecrow is a stiller play with emphasis on dialogue and conversation. The two plays highlighted contrasting styles of writing and theatre making as one play is a solo work while the other is devised by four different artists. Next we examined the opening of Antigone which highlights the epic elements of Greek Tragedy. The contrast between the opening of Antigone and Swing lead to our first task for the next session. We are each to write an opening to a play and send them to Gavin of discussion in our next session. Four members of the group also put themselves forward to present an individual idea of the next session. From the first session I can see the programme being an interesting ten months full of writing, discussion, and collaboration.’

Start of Mentoring Programme for Playwrights and Directors

Belltable:Connect Fishamble Mentoring Programme-photo by Ken Coleman
Belltable:Connect Fishamble Mentoring Programme – photo by Ken Coleman

On September 24th, 2016, we welcomed Jim Culleton and Gavin Kostick of Fishamble: The New Play Company to Belltable:Connect. Jim and Gavin lead the 10-month Mentoring Programme for Playwrights and Directors. Limerick-based director Ann Blake here shares her experience of the first session:

‘At the early time of 10am on Saturday September 24th, the Belltable foyer was unusually abuzz. Mentee directors and playwrights gathered, were furnished with coffee and pastries – quite welcome to those who had to be up early to travel I’d imagine – and got ready to start the mentorship venture, Belltable:Connect in association with Fishamble Theatre Company. Having been welcomed by Marketa Dowling of the Belltable, we split into our respective disciplines, directors with Jim Culleton and playwrights with Gavin Kostick and headed upstairs to the Arts Hub.

In the directors’ room I saw faces I recognised amongst the many I didn’t. It became clear, as each person was introduced, that this was a diverse group of directors of varying ages, backgrounds and hometowns. We got to know each other, explored ideas of what a play actually was and soon found ourselves at our coffee break. That funny ‘first day at school’ feeling where you want to get to know the people you don’t know took hold. Being Ireland and the very small community that is Irish theatre, it wasn’t surprising to find I had friends in common with a quite a few of the participants.

By the end of the day some of us had had an opportunity to share concerns about projects we were working on and tap into the hive mind available to us as well as offer our thoughts on work others were looking for ideas and/or support around. As I’m starting directing a show this week, this was good timing for me and particularly helpful.

In a lovely turn of events I went online yesterday and saw that one of the projects discussed, Halflight, won the First Fortnight Award in The Tiger Dublin Fringe – congrats Molly!’

Ann is a theatre director and lives and works in Limerick. Her most recent work is The Crucible with BA in Contemporary Applied Theatre in Mary Immaculate College, she is currently working on Cars Production with UL Drama Society.