Singlehood Experiences

I spent the second half of 2014 working on UMCK Productions’ tour of Singlehood. I’d worked with director Una McKevitt before, on Moving City with Maeve Higgins and on a week of development for Long Day’s Journey into Night. I’d also seen Singlehood in the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2012 and really enjoyed the show. I was thrilled to get the job. It was a much bigger show than anything else I’d worked on before – bigger cast, bigger venues, bigger budget. It was really exciting. When I came onboard, the tour had already been set up which meant splits and guarantees had been negotiated and funding had been obtained. We had money and part of my job to manage that money and stretch it as far as it would go. It was my first time working on a touring show but I was working with someone with a lot more experience than me, who has experience about what you can ask for and expect from a venue. We also had a lot of support from the venues, and from MCD who co-produced the show when it was on in the Olympia. It was still a steep learning-curve for me, but one I embraced and enjoyed immensely.

I also got to work on a show that I really enjoyed. The show made me laugh every night throughout the tour and I was happy to nag friends to come along to see it because I knew they’d have a good time. As a single lady I have a stake in the subject matter, and that helped too. I’m a bit of a cynical romantic and the show suits my temperament. There are are some happy stories but it’s not a “love conquers all” kind of show. It’s more of a “love somehow manages to barely survive despite everything” type of show – there are a fair few cynical moments. I went to a friend’s wedding a week after the Olympia run. All the talk in the church about life-long love and people spending their lives together as a joyful journey felt a bit jarring after all the singlehood chatter that had filled my life over the previous weeks! Though the message really the same – love is rare and precious, celebrate and cherish it.

SinglehoodOlympiaOur 12-date tour visited five venues over three months, from the beginning of September to the end of November. We started in the Naughton Studio in the beautiful Lyric Theatre in Belfast. It was the first time the cast has performed the show in about a year and a half, and PJ Gallagher’s first time performing the show for an audience. We had two fantastic sold out shows, with lovely generous audiences – and the tour had begun! Next stop was three nights in the Olympia which, size-wise is at the other end of the scale entirely. The Naughton is a small, studio space that seats 120 – the Olympia seats 10 times that many! It was a blast to work in the Olympia for the few days and have so many people see the show. We spent the October bank holiday in Galway, performing two nights at the Town Hall Theatre as part of the Vodafone Comedy Carnival which was a lot of fun. The final trip was to Cork in mid-November for three nights at the Everyman – another great, old-style theatre. Very like the Olympia on a slightly smaller scale. Finally there was the home-coming gig – two nights in the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire.

It was a busy few months. All my work started long before we went out on the road. It’s one of those jobs where I know I was busy but it’s hard to recall what I did all day! My job title was General Manager, which included a bit of producing and a bit of managing. I spent a lot of time sending emails. I was the contact person for travel and accommodation bookings. I got the poster design signed-off and printed. I set up interviews for the cast. I learnt that I really like looking after the the nitty gritty – the budgets, the logistics, the details – but I’m not pushy enough to be a brilliant sales person. I learnt that audiences are unpredictable. I learnt that the hand-dryers in the Olympia sound like someone is hoovering just off-stage. I learnt to go back over my to do lists on a regular basis, in case I had forgotten something when six urgent tasks suddenly came flooding in. (I often found something – write everything down!)

I had a great time working on this show. It was a fun way to spend half a year and I learnt a lot! Now I will start 2015 unemployed again, so if you need some help with a show, please let me know! I’m an excellent General Manager – I will manage the hell out of your money

Other theatre writing from around the web

Here are some bits and pieces that I came across on twitter recently. They are all from the UK, a lot of them are from the Guardian.co.uk and some from other small blogs.

The Irish theatre community is small, and Dublin is smaller again. I mostly like the smallness. Small means it actually feels like a community, you know what other people are up, people support each other, etc. But it can be risky; communities can become inward-looking and isolated. They have to avoid self-absorption and clique-y-ness and thinking that their little bubble is the centre of the universe. It’s important to keep looking outwards, seeing what other people are doing, be open to new influences. Luckily the internet makes that really easy!

  • Can a relationship with theatre change people’s relationship to society?
    Slightly misleading title, I think. This Guardian article is about audience participation, artist engagement, immersive and interactive theatre and is full of links to other writings about all of those topics.

  • Little Acts of Hope
    Written by Action Hero’s James Stenhouse it about how the audience affect a show. The story at the beginning is really lovely.

  • Trust
    This blog post by Mary Halton was written just after Forced Entertainment performed Quizoola live in Sheffield and online for 24 hours. It’s about a different form of audience engagement.

A couple of articles from the Guardian about funding, and what companies and theatres should do to be “deserving” of public funding:

And an article by Lyn Gardner about an experiment in Stockton’s ARC theatre with a pay-as-you-go initiative, as a way of encouraging more people to go to the theatre. This is worth keeping an eye on, I think.

Christmas Theatre Events

There are a few Christmassy theatre things happening next week that could be described as “networking events”. For better or worse, you get a lot of the work in theatre through who you know so networking is fairly important for a career in theatre. This is not necessarily in a cronyism kind of way, but simply because nobody can hire you if they don’t know you exist or they don’t know what you do.

I am not one of life’s natural networkers and that’s ok – it’s not something I aspire to. In my mind, a good networker is a smooth-talking American business man, bullshitting everyone about how amazing he is and handing out business cards to anyone who looks in his general direction. I’m Irish and I’m a woman – two things that conspire to make me unlikely and unwilling to talk about how great I am. The idea of it makes me cringe.

networking

Through Cultural Freelancers, I found out that I’m not the only who feels like this. I lot of people want to run and hide at the idea of networking. I also discovered that networking doesn’t have to be an ordeal and doesn’t have to involve talking shite about how great you are. It can be about talking to people honestly about what you do and about what they do. I’ve found a new way of thinking about it – instead of “networking”, my aim is to make connections.

Where networking is all about selling yourself, connecting with people is more of a two-way street. Making connections is about finding people you have something in common with, people you get on with and who are interesting to you. It’s just having conversations. You don’t have to talk yourself up but don’t talk yourself down either. Another tip from Cultural Freelancers is to practice your elevator pitch – describing your work in two or three sentences. No bullshit, just who you are and what you do, said in a positive way with no apologising for your own success or down-playing your achievements.

Thinking about it like this makes networking less horrendous. It might help you get work in the future but that’s not it’s sole function. It’s just the social side of business. If we all worked in offices it would be the conversations at break or while you’re waiting for the lift, but because theatre is full of freelancers, we have to go to events to have those chats.

Here are some events to connect at!

TODAY: December 12th – Fringe Elevenses in Fringe Lab at 11am
A general gathering with cake. I’ve been to a few of these and they are well attended, chatty, informal mornings with treats. It lasts about an hour and you can drop in at anytime.

December 15th – Cultural Freelancers – Festive Get Together in Irish Theatre Institute at 11am
This is not a usual CFI meeting with provocations and themes, just food, drink and chats. It’s a nice one to attend as an introduction to Cultural Freelancers or if you just want to talk theatre on Monday morning.

December 15th – Fringe Fuse and Christmas drinks at Fringe Lab, Fringe Fuse starts at 7.30pm and the drinks happen after at 9.30pm
This is a scratch night as well as an opportunity to make connections. It’s also a nice one for those of us who don’t have an office Christmas party to attend. This is the freelancers Christmas party!

December 18th – Theatre Forum’s Tell a Good Story Event at Project Arts Centre, 4pm
I missed last year’s Tell A Good Story so I’m really looking forward to this on Thursday. It’s a really nice way to spend an afternoon because it celebrates the successes in theatre throughout the year, with a wide definition of success. It’s a different crowd as well, usually it’s more companies and less freelancers at Theatre Forum events.

You do have to be a Theatre Forum member to attend but it’s only €25 for a year’s membership as an individual and if you join now, you will be paid up until the end of 2015.

It’s well worth the money. Apart from the annual conference, the other big event is the funding meeting at the beginning of the year which is a great insight into where the Arts Council money is going – it’s a big chunk of information presented in a meaningful way. They also run sessions on tax and being self-employed and it’s another good way to connect with the theatre community.

Feminism and Theatre

Last week I went along to the theatre and feminism discussion at the Gate Lab. I wasn’t wild about their title: “Is Feminism a Dirty Word in the Theatre?” because it seemed too focused on the word feminism rather than the issues faced by women in theatre, but I was looking forward to an interesting discussion. I was not the only one – there was a great turn on the night, of male and female attendees. And thankfully the fantastic panellists – Anne Clarke, Róise Goan, Ingrid Craigie, Marina Carr and Genevieve Hulme-Beaman – didn’t reference the title and just got on with it.

Róise Goan began the discussion with some stats about where we are now and why it’s just not good enough. She said that as a woman working in theatre, she didn’t realise there was a glass ceiling until her head was banging off it. She pointed out that while there are more women than men working in theatre, and the gender balance is even more tilted towards the women in drama courses and youth theatres, as you move up the ladder there are fewer and fewer women in decision-making roles in the theatre. The Gate (our host for the evening) has produced only four plays directed by women in the last 10 years and an equally pitiful small number of plays written by women. The numbers are all pretty depressing but I don’t think any of these stats caused much shock or surprise among the audience. We all know that things are bad; they’ve been bad for a very long time and they don’t seem to be getting any better.

Anne Clark made the point that it’s not just theatre that suffers from this problem; discrimination against women can be seen in all areas of society. Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington’s case against NUI Galway last month demonstrates that it definitely exists in the academic world. It’s also not a new problem. Marina Carr talked about Virginia Wolf’s To The Lighthouse, and the character Mr. Tansey who repeats “Woman can’t paint. Woman can’t write”. She feels that attitude still exists consciously or not, in women’s minds as well as men’s. She herself is sick to the back teeth of being refereed to as a “female playwright”.

The actors Ingrid and Genevieve were also not particularly hopeful. Genevieve said that one of the reasons she wrote Pondling (her award-winning one woman show) was because she wasn’t getting work and had a lot of time on her hands. The lack of work for female actors is also not a new thing. I recently read Lay Up Your Ends, a book about the history of the Charabanc Theatre in Belfast. It was set up by a group of actresses who were fed up about the lack of parts for them on the stage and decided to create their own shows instead. They did not set out to be an all-female company but the government funding they received required everyone in the company to be out of work for a certain length of time and they couldn’t find any male actors that met that requirement. That was in the early 1980s. Ingrid said that she thinks young actresses today have a harder time than she did because they are expected to create a personal brand; it’s about more than just their performance on stage or in an audition, they also need the online presence, the right look, etc, while the media is always on the hunt for the newer, younger, Next Big Thing.

Ingrid described joining the Abbey at the start of her working life. She was part of the Abbey company and had a secure, regular job for three years. There was an audible ripple in the room at this information, it’s an idea that seems almost unimaginable now. It felt like there was a lot of young actresses in the room, just finished their training or still at it, there because they are afraid about what the future holds for them. They know that there are a lot of them and not nearly enough parts to go round.

At this point there didn’t seem to be a lot of optimistic in the room, just a general feeling of resignation at how bad things are. Then we moved on to questions from the audience and there were also a lot of people there who wanted to speak. A lot of the audience were people who worked in theatre – I saw a lot of familiar faces in the room – but there was a good mix of young and old, male and female. I think it could have become a very lively debate, but unfortunately the whole discussion only lasted an hour. It felt like it was just getting started when it was time to call it a day.

Some things that came up:

  1. How things are marketed. A couple of people made the point that work by women is often only marketed at women, and as a result is often seen as less important because it’s for women, it’s something that only women would be interested in.
  2. The use of mentors. This was suggested as something that is working well in tech companies, who have a huge problem with attracting women to that area. Maybe we need something like Women in Film and TV for theatre. WiFTV is a support network for women working in those areas and one of things they offer is mentorship. The Irish chapter has been dormant for a while but has been coming back to life over the last couple of years. You can connect with them here. I’m not sure what shape a theatre-focused organisation would take but I think there could be a need for it.
  3. Using funding to encourage parity. This was taking an idea from film. The Swedish Film Institute aims to have achieved equality in film production in Sweden by the end of 2015. One of the ways they are making that happen is to stipulate that funding provided by the Swedish Film Institute must be divided equally between women and men. This was a controversial idea in the room but some people did voice their support of quotas and forcing things to change, instead of waiting around for it. Personally I am in favour of it. If the Abbey and the Gate were told they had to have an equal number of female writers and directors on stage by 2017 or their funding would be cut, I am sure they would start having a lot more conversations with women in theatre.

And then, just as things were getting interesting, it was over. Any discussion on a topic of this scale is always going to feel unfinished but it felt like there was huge desire to hear more about possible solutions and ways of changing how things are. It felt like the beginning of something, an acknowledgement that things need to change. I don’t know if the Gate plan on running any more discussions like this, but I think there is a need for them. We need somewhere to direct all that anger and frustration and turn it into positive change.

Were you there? What did you think?