Mark Ravenhill in conversation

I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Royal Irish Academy when Mark Ravenhill came to speak in Dublin last month. The event was organised by Dublin Theatre Festival and Theatre Forum and the interview is now available on YouTube. Ravenhill was very open about his own career and the challenges facing artists today. He also gave some great tips on playwriting.

He recently wrote a libretto for the Norwegian National Opera (and admits that he had to ask the stupid question and make sure he wasn’t expected to write it in Norwegian) and says that in opera, the writing has to be pared back – “every single vowel sound has to earn its right to be there”. Looking back on his own plays afterwards, he felt they were over-written because he’d got into the habit of interrogating every word in the text.

He also talks about working with the RSC on a version of Brecht’s A Life of Galileo. The very start of the play deals with the tension between the art of science and doing work to pay the rent. This is a topic that has interested and agitated Ravenhill in the past, as seen in his speech at the opening of last year’s Edinburgh Festival. He talks about how the arts are valued economically, and the different ways that artists have to justify themselves to governments and other funding bodies. He recognises that the cost of being a human being has gone up year after year, making it more difficult to take time to make work that you might not get paid for.

Talking about his own career, he says that he is best known as a playwright because it is what people pay him to do. At the beginning of his career he wrote things because he wanted something to perform or direct himself. He says he would like to do more directing, but does feel that he’s very good at it, mostly because he hasn’t done it enough. Directing is something that you have to be allowed to do, you need resources to get good at it. Writing, on the other hand, you can do on your own at the kitchen table.

His advice to playwrights included the idea of writing the first draft very quickly, as if you were improvising on the page. He also said to write about things that you don’t have the answer to. He says that Brecht gives his characters great ethical choices. He criticises post-modernism because it does away with ethics, and a sense of good or bad, right or wrong. We have an ethical responsibility to attempt to make connections. It’s too bleak to say nothing is connected and everything is random.

Dr. Emilie Pine is a great interviewer and there’s some good questions from the audience at the end. Definitely worth a watch if you have an hour to fill over the long weekend!

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Pondling: Interview with Genevieve Hulme-Beaman

Pondling by Genevieve Humle-Beaman

Pondling by Genevieve Humle-Beaman

Pondling returns to Smock Alley Boys’ School next month, the same venue it sold out at last year’s Dublin Fringe Festival. Written and performed by Genevieve Hulme- Beaman, this intense one-hour play is dark and funny. Genevieve won Best Female Performer at the Fringe Awards for her portrayal of the creepy young girl and the play has also been nominated for the Steward Parker Award.

Pondling was first performed as part of the 2013 Collaborations Festival and I asked Genevieve where she got the idea for the show. She said that the first thing that came to her was the image of a little girl in a dramatic pose. This, along with the idea of a child speaking tragic, over-dramatic, French, was her starting point for Pondling.

Genevieve has been working with her Pondling director Paul Meade for many years. He was her assigned mentor when she was a student at the Gaiety School of Acting. After she graduated in 2010, Genevieve played the part of Amber on the international tour of Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem, directed by Meade. The characters in Little Gem are three generations of the same family who tell their story in monologue. Genevieve says that this role really taught her how to perform monologues.

After Pondling‘s success at the Fringe, Genevieve went on to perform at the Gate Theatre, in a version of Pride & Prejudice adapted by James Maxwell and Alan Stanford. She played the youngest Bennett sister Lydia, who she describes as “such a little boldy”. She says it was an amazing part in a big cast, and that it was refreshing to be part of an ensemble for a change. Genevieve says that the nice thing about acting is that it’s always changing.

Genevieve will be spending a week in Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig as part of the Stewart Parker nomination and has some ideas of what she’d like to work on while she’s there. Beyond that, she would love for Pondling to have a long life and to perform it around the world. She’d like to see how audiences in other countries react to her psychotic 10-year-old creation.

In the meantime, Dublin audiences will have the pleasure of Madeline Humbel Buttercup’s company in Smock Alley, 31st March – 5th April and in Axis: Ballymun on 17th – 19th April.

Related Post: A very female Fringe

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Snow Angels at Project Arts Centre

Snow Angels

Snow Angels

For Snow Angels, in the Cube at Project Arts Centre, the audience sit on three sides around a set that combines realistic, solid structures – walls with light fittings and doors that opened – and more abstract design – the floor and sofa are made from wooden pallets and there is a door lying on the ground. An image of falling snow is projected onto to a screen tilted like a ceiling and suspended above the stage. The wide configuration lets us think we are seeing more than we are; a lot of the action happens off stage.

When the play begins we are introduced one-by-one to the three characters. They have just moved in together and this is the first morning they have woken up in their new home. We get to know them and their relationships to each other slowly. We learn a lot about Sebastian (Michael Hough) from his younger brother Oscar (Ger Hough), who mocks Sebastian’s “gritty, inner city novel” but also seems afraid to knock on his door and wake him. Later Sebastian quizzes Oscar about Jim (Des Hickey). Oscar doesn’t say much other than “he’s my friend”. The way he says it however, suggests that Oscar doesn’t have a lot of friends. As a result, the audience are given a number of different versions of each character. There’s the way they are talked about by the others, the way they see themselves and the way they really are in front of us. Everyone is telling stories about themselves but as it becomes clear that they are trapped in the house with no means of escape, these different versions are slowly stripped back and we see the characters at their most base and most vulnerable. While it is intriguing to learn about the characters and watch the relationships between them develop, it doesn’t take us anywhere new. While I was interested in the characters, I never got enough information to really feel for them. There were too many false leads and basic questions left unanswered. I never understood why they had decided to live together.

The ending was also unsatisfactory, so much so that I felt like maybe I had missing something. Maybe I did, but it could also have been purposely left open-ended. There was an air of mystery about the play – the mysteriously locked doors, the characters that are spoken about but never appear, the discovery of a rabbit in the bread bin.

Christine Dwyer Hickey can write great dialogue and she has created three interesting characters. It’s a shame that they so little happened to them over the course of the play.

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Interview with Hilary O’Shaughnessy

HilaryOShaughnessyLast week I spoke to Hilary O’Shaughnessy, the artist behind Make and Do, who are bringing The Journey to the End of the Night to Dublin. Hilary herself has played the street game in San Francisco, where it began and is played every year. She has also played other city-wide street games such as 2.8 Hours Later, a zombie street game, which she played in Bristol. Hilary says that street games are a great way to experience a city and get to know the people who live there. Games are all about connecting with other people. You are surrounded by people with the same goal as you and very quickly find yourself talking to strangers and getting to know people.

With Journey, these connections between strangers start before the game begins. The creators of the game (Ian Kizu-Blair, Sean Mahan and Sam Lavigne) have released it under a Creative Commons/Non-Commercial license so anyone can organise a game, but not for profit. This means the game is run entirely by volunteers – dedicated enthusiasts who get involved because they think it’ll be fun. Hilary is currently assembling the Dublin team.

She is also one of these enthusiasts but says that people sometimes have difficulty understanding what street games are. She compares it to trying to explain a bicycle to someone who has never seen a bicycle before. One of the reasons she is bringing Journey to Dublin is to introduce the city to street games. Her hope is that once people get what it is, they will begin to create and run their own street games. She feels that there is scope for a lot of people with different backgrounds to enjoy and create street games.

Hilary’s own background is in theatre. She was Joint Artistic Director of Playgroup, the theatre company that produced the award-winning Berlin Love Tour, and is currently Artist in Residence (with Make and Do) at Project Arts Centre. She recently spoke at the IndieCade Conference in New York about Outsider Games – games by people who have no formal training in designing games, the valuable things this lack of training can add to the creation of games and how it can increase the pool of potential players. Hilary also has an MA in Interactive Media from UL, which she did in part to learn about ways to add technology to games. She is interested in tech as a way to extend the experience of the game and add an extra layer, but says that’s important not to forget the people are.

Journey, which will be part of the Darklight Festival, will have a digital storytelling strand to the game, where people can share photos, tweets and vines. (I won’t be in Dublin for the game and I’m glad I’ll be able to watch it unfold online on the night.)

Hilary’s next goal is to bring a play festival to Dublin, to further stimulate the game making and playing community in the city. She says that it won’t be aimed at children because they don’t need help or encouragement to play – they do it everyday. It’s for the adults who have forgotten this vital skill. There are festivals already running in many European cities such as Ig Fest in Bristol and w00t in Copenhagen. Later this year, Hilary will be presenting her own game CHARGE! at A maze in Berlin. Hopefully Dublin will embrace street games with the same enthusiasm as these cities and we will see lots more games happening here.

Related post: The Journey to the End of the Night

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Some thoughts on crowd-funding

Adventures in Failure

Adventures in Failure

I am currently working on a show called Adventures in Failure. It’s a devised physical piece with three wonderful performers and a talented and enthusiastic team behind it. I’m enjoying working with great people, who are all working incredibly hard to make this piece of theatre. As producer, one of my jobs is to make sure we are able to pay for the production. Everyone is working for free (or “profit-share” as it is also known), but we still need to cover the cost of the venue, rehearsal space, set, costumes and publicity. We all want to make a great show and we want it to find an audience.

So I find myself running my first ever Fund:it campaign. And I am finding it an interesting challenge. I read lots of articles about crowd-funding before we launched our campaign. This one from PBS is my favourite. It contains the warning “Crowdfunding is not a walk in the park. Unless that park is covered with broken glass. And a lion ate your shoes at the entrance gate. And he is now chasing you.” I did not go into the campaign expecting it to be easy. It’s hard convincing people to part with their hard-earned cash – we all have less of it these days. I’m aware that we’re not trying to cure cancer or buy equipment for a children’s hospital. We’re trying to raise money to make art, and art that will only exist inside the theatre for a few hundred people. We won’t have a CD or DVD to give you at the end of it. So that’s a challenge.

Crowd-funding is exciting because suddenly the list of potential funders is much longer than just your friends and family. However when you’re trying to convince people to give you money, that personal connection is a big part of why people fund you. The projects I’ve contributed to belonged to people I know, even if I only know them through their work. When Amanda Palmer raised over a million dollars for her album on Kickstarter, a friend in the music industry made the observation that generally the artists who raise a lot of money via crowd-funding have already had success with the old model. Having a dedicated fanbase in place definitely helps any crowd-funding campaign.

One of my worries is eroding the audience’s goodwill. I don’t want to badger people to the point where they’re already fed up of the show before it even opens. The advice for avoiding this is to offering your audience something – provide them with entertainment or information, don’t just always be asking for money. But can you carry this too far, to the point where they don’t even realise that you are asking them for money? Online, where so much is available for free, how will people know that I’m looking for money if I don’t ask them?

Despite my concerns, despite all my research prior to launching the campaign, I was still surprised and delighted by people’s generosity. It’s lovely to feel that people believe in you and the work you’re trying to create. Every donation feels like a wonderful, encouraging gift!

Right now, with 8 days left of the campaign and over €1500 still left to raise, we still have a long way to go. But I have faith that we will cross the finish-line.

And if you are in a position to give us a hand, here’s our Fund:it page.

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Journey to the End of the Night

On the 26th April, Journey to the End of the Night will take place in Dublin. This is a free street game played at night, and run entirely by volunteers.

Journey to the End of the Night -Dublin

Journey to the End of the Night -Dublin

It’s basically a giant game of tag, but with extra rules thrown in to make it possible to win and lose. All the players start from the same place, then they have to visit six check-points spread out over the city. But while they’re doing that, they are also being hunted down by the chasers. If a player is caught, they switch sides and become a chaser. The winners are those who make it to all the check-points without being caught.

Journey to the End of the Night was created in 2006 and since then it has been played in over 30 cities all around Europe and North America. Thousands of people have taken part, so there must be something in it!

It will be fun and exciting and unlike anything you’ve done before. The creators have described the experience as cinematic – like being the star of your own action movie. I suspect it’s very good for stress – a wonderful opportunity to ditch all your real life worries for a night and throw yourself into the game. Though maybe game isn’t the right word – one of the survival tips is “Bring a friend or two. Preferably ones you can outrun.”

The Dublin event is run by Make and Do who set up the prosocialrulebreakingclub a couple of years ago, run theatre games at Electric Picnic and are currently Artists in Residence at Project Arts Centre.

They are currently looking for volunteers to help make it all happen. The Volunteer sign-up form is here.

If you’re interested, you can learn more about the Dublin game, or find out more about Journey to the End of the Night in general or follow Make and Do on Twitter.

Related post: Interview with Hilary O’Shaughnessy

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Cultural Freelancers Ireland

The Cultural Freelancers are holding their first meeting of 2014 on Monday morning. These fortnightly meetings began as a result of a session on freelancing at IETM last year. I started attending meetings last September. “Attending meetings” makes it sound like a support group, an arts-equivilant to AA or AlAnon, and in a way that’s exactly what it is! It’s a place to talk about your experiences and hear from people who are experiencing something similar. Sometimes a support group is necessary to help you feel less crazy about working in the arts.

During the problems experienced by Limerick’s City of Culture at the beginning of the year, artists were described as distrusted and undependable, while recent attacks on the Abbey can make it harder to defend a career in the arts. It can feel crazy to be following this career-path. It can be hard to see the value in what you do when the jobs you are doing are low-paid or no-paid, and when people see it as a hobby or a phase that you’ll grow out of. It really helps to talk to people doing the same thing.

The meetings are structured and everyone has to talk about something so there’s an equality in what we give and receive in each meetings. They are also warm and supportive. The group is not competitive or ego-driven and there is a social element and an opportunity to network as well. It’s run entirely by volunteers and is a fantastic resource for anyone working freelance in the cultural sector. It’s an opportunity to talk to like-minded people and feel some validation about your career choice. Your ambitions seem less impossible when you’re sitting next to someone who has done something similar and is willing to tell you all about it. It’s also a great way to start the week because the ideas and support that come out of each meeting mean that you feel energised and ready for the week ahead.

I really can’t recommend it enough! It’s open to freelancers working in theatre, dance, film, visual arts, literature, architecture, circus or traditional arts and there’s generally a good mix of art-forms and experience in each meeting.

To sign-up or find out more you can join the Facebook group or email culturalfreelancersireland@gmail.com

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