Two Irish Plays

Last month I saw two plays about life in Ireland, and the effect of the IRA. Both were written by English men, both were about things I didn’t know that much about. I saw Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman on a wet afternoon in London at the Gielgud Theatre where it transfer to from the Royal Court. A couple of weeks later I saw Jimmy’s Hall in the Abbey. Both are period pieces set in Ireland but they are very different plays, in their treatment of the IRA and Irish history, and in the way they were staged.

JimmysHallPoster

Jimmy’s Hall is based on the Ken Loach film of the same name, and they are both based on the true story of Jimmy Galvin and the community hall he built and managed in Leitrim in the 1930s. It’s about the opposition he encountered when he organised community art classes, poetry performances and dances. This opposition originated from the Catholic Church but ultimately it was the Irish government who had him deported; the only Irish man to ever be deported from the State.

The Abbey’s production emphasises the real-life aspects of the story, with direct addresses to the audience that includes Church directives on what women could and couldn’t wear, descriptions of the court scenes at Jimmy’s trial and a recent speech by President Higgins where he called out the shameful behaviour of the State. This opens the show and of course made me teary-eyed. There are few things as effecting as the rightous anger of our magnificent president.

The production is also lushly visual and includes lots of live music. This is performed by the cast who also perform wonderful dance sequences. We get the impression of a community that is lively and connected, despite being ground down by poverty. The characters talk about the broken promises of the 1916 Rising, about how the bubble burst, about the uselessness of politicians and how living should be about need, not greed. Their concerns and difficulties resonance with the present day, with characters facing homelessness and even the Church’s insistence on controlling education is similar to their Sisters of Charity’s attempt to hold on to control of the new maternity hospital earlier this year. We continue to fight the same battles. Our hero, Mr. Jimmy Galvin is a proud communist, working for the betterment of all. In contrast the clear villain of the piece is the parish priest, Fr. Sheridan who was almost booed like a pantomime villain when he first appeared on stage. It was an interesting experience to feel that distaste for the church in the Abbey Theatre on a Saturday lunchtime from an Abbey audience. The off-stage villain was the IRA who it was felt had let down the people by getting into bed with the Church.

FerrymanPoster

The priest in The Ferryman is a more pathetic character as he is forced to act as messenger boy for the IRA, sent to deliver information about a man, missing for the last 10 years has been found dead. It’s 1981, Maggie Thatcher is letting the hunger strikers die in prison and the Carney family are getting ready for the harvest. The Ferryman is strongly grounded in that time and place, there are no present day echos here. The set and costumes are impressive with a strong attention to detail. This set quickly fills with members of the Carney family.

From the beginning, the audience knows that this happy, busy, family day is going to interrupted with the news that a body has been discovered. It is skillfully told, and there’s a lot to tell in this 3 hour production, and very enjoyable. The Carneys are a good Catholic family with seven children, though when one of the younger girls is told her future by her clairvoyant grandmother, she baulks at the idea of triplets. They don’t see motherhood as their only option. It feels like a time teetering on the cusp of modernity. The Undertones make an appearance on the soundtrack and the clothes are relatively modern, but the work of bringing in the harvest is left to the men. The female children busy themselves with kitchen chores and childcare while male cousins are bussed in to help with the farm work. The IRA are glorified and the Rising has already become a glorious myth in a way that is not felt in Jimmy’s Hall when all the bloodshed and friends and family lost are still fresh wounds.

Patrick Lonergan has written a post called “Is Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman an Irish Play?” where he talks about the various echos of many plays from the Irish canon, among other things. I found The Ferryman a more traditionally Irish play than the first in-house production from the new Abbey directors. There are aspects of post-dramatic theatre in Jimmy’s Hall and the use of dance and music feels modern. Even the soundtrack is modern – the audience enter the auditorium to trad covers of Whitney Houston among others. The Ireland depicted in The Ferryman is gone, and it’s depicted with a certain nostalgia. The Ireland in Jimmy’s Hall on the other hand – an Ireland still struggling out from under the long shadow of the Church’s control, an Ireland that doesn’t protect or support it’s most vulnerable citizens – that feels very current.

The Ferryman is the bigger production of the two, with a long running time, a big cast, including lots of young children and live animals and a violent, dramatic ending. However it is Jimmy’s Hall that I would love to see again. It felt more moving, more engaging and more relevant than a lot of things I’ve seen lately. It reminded me of Riot, which is one of my favourite shows from the last year. The inclusion of The Parting Glass in both shows makes me think I may not have been the only one to link the two.

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Katie Roche and the new guys at the Abbey

Have you seen Katie Roche at the Abbey yet? It’s very good. I recommend it. It feels very modern. I don’t know if it’s the writing or the production; probably a bit of both. The character of Katie feels modern, she is opinionated and ambitious and fun. The play shows that modern, free woman trying to fit into the restrictive, hyper-patriarchal Ireland of the 1930s, a time that had very set ideas about how women should be. Katie Roche illustrates how harmful those ideas were, and how harmful it can be to be a round peg trying to fix into a square hole. It’s also a wonderful visual show, with a magnificent performance by Caoilfhionn Dunne.

Katie Roche was the sixth show I’ve seen in the Abbey so far this year and I’ve enjoyed them all immensely. I loved revisiting old favourites such as Dublin by Lamplight (which was so beautiful on that stage) and Ballyturk (where I enjoyed the addition of Olwen Fouéré), I loved getting a chance to see Druid’s magnificent production of Waiting for Godot after I missed it in Galway. I enjoyed Room which was a very different show for the Abbey, and I adored Jimmy’s Hall. I have more to say about Jimmy’s Hall but I will save it for another post!

I like what the new guys at the Abbey have done so far. I haven’t been organised enough to get to one of the free previews yet, but I think it’s a great idea. I also went to a couple of the Peacock work in progresses – A Whisper Anywhere Else by Jimmy Fay and Not A Funny Word by Tara Flynn. Plays that take a clear stand against the church, the police force, the state – things that feel a little subversive to be discussing in the Abbey Theatre. I love that Jimmy’s Hall opened in Leitrim and that Two Pints toured to pubs around the country. I think the new directors are doing what they set out to do by taking the Abbey out of Dublin and making it a nationwide National Theatre. There have also been day-long working sessions on gender and new writing and I’m interested to see what comes out of those.

FreePreview

So get to Katie Roche if you can. It closes on Saturday so there are only three shows left and I know it’s hard to ignore all the Fringe goodies, but try and make some time to see this show too, if you get a change.

Artists to Repeal the Eighth

On Saturday August 26th, Artists to Repeal the Eighth are taking over Project Arts Centre and offering a smorgasbord of art in response to the Eighth Amendment. A Day of Testimonies starts at 11am and includes film, live performances, music, installations and discussions. I think it’s going to be a really special day; a galvanising day and hopefully a supportive, buoyant one for those who have had to travel for a termination. The focus is on their words and experiences, it’s their testimonies we will hear, but it’s also saying that they shouldn’t have had to make that journey.

Real people’s experiences should be at the crux of any debate around the Eighth Amendment. Then we have to ask ourselves – do we want to be part of a part nation that treats people like that? We hear often about the 12 women who have to travel every day for a termination, but it’s important to remember that each of those women is an individual with a story to tell and a reason why they have chosen to terminate the pregnancy. I’m grateful to those who choose to share their stories. I don’t think it’s an easy thing to do, and I don’t think it’s something they should have to do. It is a generous thing to do. I want to be there to recognise that generosity, and to bear witness to their stories.

ArtistAgainstEighthOne way these stories will be told during the day is through a number of short films. Entry is free, donations are encouraged. The full line-up is here. I’m very interested in the older films being shown at 1pm and again at 5pm, 50,000 Secret Journeys from 1994 and Statistic from 1983. It’s always interesting to see how far we’re come, or not as the case may be.

I’m also interested in the Bus Stop event – How to Talk About the Eighth. This is happening from 11am – 4pm and it’s informal discussions and debates facilitated by Amnesty International Ireland and Union of Students in Ireland. I imagine it will offer a few tools for talking about the Eighth in the lead up to the referendum which is finally on the horizon. There will also be tea, and maybe a few biscuits!

Anu are performing a new piece called COLONY, every hour on the hour from 11am until 6pm. There’s also an impressive line-up of special guests for the evening programme which starts at 7.30pm. This is only ticketed event on the day but there are still tickets available from Project Arts Centre.

I think it’s a wonderful idea. It offers a chance to connect with others, bolster yourself as we get ready for the next March for Choice and the referendum beyond that. It’s about connecting with people in the real world. For all those people who complain about online activism, here is a real world event that will let you talk to real people in the real world and experience something in real time with other people.

What would you do if you won the lotto?

Every time I do the lotto I convince myself that I am about to become a millionaire, and then I’m bitterly disappointed when it doesn’t happen. Every time I declare it a total waste of money and swear I’ll never do it again. I don’t play very often but I do like to spend time thinking about what I would if I won. Pretending I’m a millionaire helps me figure out how I feel about my life. It helps me to see what’s not working and what changes I need to make. It’s particularly useful if I’m feeling general a dissatisfaction with life but I can’t put my finger on why.

I discovered this trick nearly ten years ago, after I moved back to Ireland after three years of college in London. I was back about a year, living in a house-share with a couple of other women. It was taking me a while to adjust to living in Dublin and I wasn’t very happy. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the house or the people I was sharing with, I just didn’t feel very at home there. One night, as I was lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep and idly wondering what I would do if I won the lotto, I imagined being able to afford my own place. I imagined buying a house or a fancy apartment that was all mine. It made me happy. It was such a glowing sort of happiness that I was still thinking about it when I woke up the next day. Then I started wondering if it was something I could actually do.

I started searching on Daft and discovered that I could afford to live by myself, it wasn’t an impossible lotto dream. My budget didn’t allow for anything fancy but the possibility of my very own tiny flat still felt like magic! I was able to live my lotto dream and I loved it! It took my a few months but when I got there I loved my little flat and I loved that it was all mine. My own fridge, my own bathroom, my own pile of dirty dishes stacked up beside the sink. Having something that was mine, something that I made happen, made me see other things I wanted to change about my life. It opened me up to possibility. I became more social. I did more drama workshops. I tried roller derby. I put on a production of The Vagina Monologues in the Sugar Club. I applied for college. Eventually I left my wonderful, cosy, delightful, little flat to move to Galway and do a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies. I still consider this one of the best decisions I ever made because I had such a wonderful time there and learnt so much. When I came back to Dublin I started working in theatre.

I don’t know if any of those things would have happened if I had stayed in the house-share where I felt vaguely dissatisfied but not actively unhappy, and accepted that that was how my life was meant to be. Living by myself meant there wasn’t anyone else to compare myself to, I had to figure out what I wanted my life to look like without the comparison and it allowed me to create a bigger life for myself.

My lotto imaginings were the spark that made me look for a place by myself but I know I was very lucky to be able to make that lotto dream a reality. It was early 2010 and my tiny flat in Drumcondra was €520 a month. The landlord put the rent up by about 100 euro when I moved out in August 2011, and the same flat advertised two years for around €800. The Dublin housing market is bananas. I have not been able to live alone since.

Making my lotto dream happen is not always easy. Earlier this year when I asked myself what would I do if I won the lotto, the answer was that I’d run away to Spain for three months and hang out with a couple of family members who live over there. That was not possible but I could just about afford a long weekend which I booked immediately and in a way, I got what I needed.

Recently my lotto answer was to do some renovation around the house and hire something to sort out my over-grown garden. I think that means I’m pretty satisfied with my life right now, and I don’t really feel compelled to do anything to make that dream a reality.

It’s a bit of a silly exercise and I think that’s why it works so well for me. My brain gets stuck if I try and figure out a five-year plan, but it’s fun to let your imagination run wild and dream up the possible lives I’d choose if money was no object. The answer usually gives me a pretty good indication about what direction I want to take.

The important thing is to think about how a lotto win would change your life; what would you do, not what you would buy. Then the trick is to figure out how to flip that big money dream into something you can do right now. It helps me. I’m curious to know if it works for any one else. Let me know.

If you like this this, you might like some of my other vaugely self-help style posts:
Successful planning and What to do when you’re feeling over-whelmed by the state of the world.

 

Strike 4 Repeal

Tomorrow, March 8th is International Women’s Day. I like to do something to mark this day each year, usually something small like going to see a female-led play or film. This year I’m doing something bigger. I’m taking the day off work to join Strike 4 Repeal on O’Connell Bridge to protest the 8th Amendment. I know that I’ve written about the 8th Amendment very recently, but I still have more to say and feel like I will continue to have more to say about until it is removed from the Constitution.

Over the weekend when the news was full of the Tuam babies scandal and the Citizen’s Assembly sat again to hear personal stories from people affected by the 8th Amendment and from advocacy groups and representative organisations. All of the presentations are available on the website, including the Q&A sections which I found really interesting because they allowed us to hear from the citizens in the room. They had a long weekend in the hotel in Malahide with two full days of presentations and I am grateful to those citizens who are giving up their time to take part in the Assembly. Even though it seems unnecessary because it’s blindingly obvious to me that we need to hold a referendum on the 8th Amendment. (Minister for Health Simon Harris agrees with me, as he told the World Congress Women’s Mental Health on Monday.) Maybe the Citizens’ Assembly is more suitable to the other, massive and difficult subjects they also have to discuss, such as the problems facing an ageing population and climate change. Those topics do not have the easy, obvious solution.

Legislating for abortion in Ireland will not be easy but we know that what we have now isn’t working. It doesn’t stop Irish women from having abortions, it just makes it more difficult, more expensive and more dangerous for them to do so. I want to see the repeal of the 8th Amendment and the introduction of safe, legal abortion in Ireland. I am pro-abortion. I am happy to live at a time when medicine and science have come up with a way to safely end unwanted pregnancies. There always is and always been a need for abortions by women experiencing unwanted, unexpected, impossible pregnancies. Safe, legal abortion means those women don’t have to throw themselves down the stairs or get into a hot bath with a bottle of gin and “hope for the best”. In this outdated scenario, the “best” is a miscarriage that doesn’t kill them.

But while I am unashamedly pro-abortion, I am also pro-choice. I don’t think abortion is the only solution for every unexpected, “inconvenient” pregnancy. Nobody should be forced to have an abortion. I support women who know that they cannot continue with a pregnancy and I also support women who choose to delay cancer treatment so they can continue their pregnancy, or women who know their child cannot survive outside the womb but want to carry that baby to term so they might get to hold him or her, even for a short time. I support women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and surprisingly delighted. I support women who are pregnant as a result of rape and want to have the baby because they see it as a way for something good to come out of a terrible experience. I think our government and our society should support and help those women. But we also have a duty of care to women who don’t want to have a baby. No women should be forced to remain pregnant when she doesn’t want to be. I agree with Amnesty and the United Nations that access to abortion is a human right. I am embarrassed by my country which does not allow it.

To me, abortion is a kindness. Women who have had abortions often describe feeling extremely grateful towards the medical professionals who helped them out, as Lindy’s West’s thank-you letter to an abortion doctor demonstrates. For Irish women, this gratitude is directed as those who looked after them when their own country turned their back. Abortion Support Network, who support women traveling from Ireland to the UK to access abortions are a magnificent organisation. It’s the most grassroots charity you could possibly support because the main thing they do is give money to women who need it. They also offer a confidential helpline, a lift to and from the clinic, sometimes a bed for the night. Such kindness and such generosity. I sometimes feel teary-eyed with gratitude when I think about how the Marie Stopes clinics in the UK offer discounted rates for Irish women, who have the extra cost of travel. I am grateful to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service who last year set up a helpline for Irish women who take abortion pills they got through the post and might need to ask someone what’s normal and to be expected, and what’s dangerous and requiring medical attention. This is important because going to the doctor is a dangerous thing to do in a country where taking these pills is illegal and could led to a 14 year prison sentence. You can see why they might need some non-judgmental medical help in what could be a life and death situation. And suddenly it feels like Ireland really isn’t all that far away from women throwing themselves down the stairs.

Abortion will not be the right choice for everyone but it’s a choice that everyone should have the right to make. It would be wonderful to live in a world where abortion wasn’t necessary, a world where every conception resulted in a healthy, happy child born to parents who had the emotional and financial capacity to love and care for them. A world where every child was wanted and cherished. But that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world with rape and domestic abuse, where contraception is never 100% reliable and where people make mistakes. We live in an imperfect, human world where abortion is necessary and should be free, safe and legal.

Making abortion legal and freely available does not increase the rate of abortions just as making abortion illegal does not stop people from getting abortions. There are better ways to do that. Improving sex education in schools and making contraception more available would probably help. So would building a society that values young women for more than just their sexuality; a society that offers more support to mothers, particularly single parents and parents of children with disabilities.

There are lots of improvements that could be made to Irish society. Repealing the 8th Amendments is one of these improvements. I’ll be on O’Connell Bridge at 12.30 tomorrow calling for it’s repeal.

A society should also be able to house it’s citizens, and the government should be doing more to end the housing crisis so that Irish children don’t have to grow up in hotels and everyone has access to somewhere safe and warm to sleep. In the meantime, to help the homeless this IWD, I will be donating period paraphernalia to the Homeless Period. They have top-off points around Dublin, in DIT student unions, Tropical Popical on South William Street and the Market Pharmacy in Smithfield.

 

 

The Citizen’s Assembly and Strike4Repeal

Last weekend, the Citizen’s Assembly met for the third time to listen to experts and discuss the issues around the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. I watched some of the proceedings online. The presentations are still available on the website. The whole thing looks like a staff think-in for a big organisation. Each table has a facilitator, who stood up to speak for the table. It seems to have borrowed the whole set-up from the business world. It’s an interesting entity as a part of democratic process. I like the idea of consulting experts, looking at statistics and having an open, informed discussion about the issue of abortion and reproductive rights but I wish it was happening throughout society and not just in a hotel in Malahide. It’s hard not to see it as anything other than a delaying tactic from a government that does not want to call a referendum on abortion. In the article in the Irish Examiner “Credit where it’s due… and that’s to 99 members of Citizens’ Assembly” about where things stood after the first two meetings it sound very likely that the Assembly are going to recommend a referendum be held, though the terms of that referendum are still up for debate. But I looked at the small print on the Citizen Assembly’s website and it doesn’t seem like the government have to follow the recommendations of the Assembly. The final line on this page says: “the Government will provide in the Houses of the Oireachtas a response to each recommendation of the Assembly and, if accepting the recommendation, will indicate the timeframe it envisages for the holding of any related referendum.” In short, don’t hold your breath waiting for a referendum.

The Irish government have a history of dragging their feet on around abortion. The only abortion referendum that I’ve voted on was the very confusing 2002 one when the government tried to overturn the results of the X case. You had to vote No to leave things as they were, and Yes to make things more restrictive. To confuse matters further Youth Defence came out for a No vote. They didn’t feel it went the wording went far enough because there was no mention of the protective of live for embryos before implantation. (In Irish law, life begins with implantation. That’s why the morning after pill is available though abortion is not.) The amendment was defeated by 51-49% but no legislation on the X case followed. It took 12 years and the death of Savita Halappanavar (and who knows how many other women) before the flawed Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill became law.

Savita’s family did us a great service in talking publicly about her unnecessary death, as did Amanda Mellet who took the case against the State to the UN Court of Human Rights, as did the women known as A, B and C who took the State to the European Court of Human Rights on this issue. These public cases make it difficult for the  government to ignore the concerns around reproductive rights. And the campaigners mean the public can’t ignore it either. Five years ago I knew nothing about the Eighth Amendment or how it restricted women’s bodily autonomy. Now everyone seems to have an opinion on it and that’s down to the amazing work of a whole host of campaigners, including many who campaigned against the Amendment when it was first proposed 34 years ago.

At the end of the summer, Una Mullally made a documentary for the Irish Times Womens’ Podcast called ‘The Year The Conversation Changed‘. It’s a really great listen and covers the massive shift in public perception around the Eighth Amendment in 2016. It covers everything from the Repeal jumpers, to Maser’s mural outside Project, to the Rose of Tralee getting political, and at least half a dozen other things that I’m forgetting because so much happened last year!

Things are changing. Attitudes towards abortion are not the same as they were in 1983 when the Eighth Amendment was voted into the Constitution or even the same as they were in 2002 when we last had a referendum on abortion. The government is slowly catching up with that fact, but not quick enough. We need a referendum and it needs to call for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. There should be no replacement and no rewording that makes it impossible to vote for. To reword it would be another delaying tactic. We need to repeal the Amendment because the constitution is not the place to define medical care. And again there are wonderful activists making that position clear. This time with the Strike 4 Repeal on March 8th. There will be no referendum set before then, the strike will definitely go ahead and it feels important to tell the government that there is an appetite for a referendum and that referendum should call for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

Change moves slowly in Ireland, at least at government level. Don’t forget it took them six weeks just to form a government last year. It’s like change isn’t useful to them. It’s not what they want. Our politicians would prefer to be eternally debating things and flinging insults at each other than actually take a political stand or making bold changes. The lack of action on the homelessness crisis and the continued existence of Direct Provision is shameful. Enda Kenny’s strongest stance recently has been to keep things as they are – of course he’s going to the White House for St. Patricks’ Day, it’s traditional. They are meant to represent us but they need a push in the right direction.

Change is happening, whether they like it or not.

WakingTheFeminists – One Year Later

Most end of year write-ups that I’ve seen look back at 2016 and remind us of all the terrible things that happened in the last 12 months. A lot of terrible things did happen but I want to write something more positive. I want to pay tribute to WakingTheFeminists and all they achieved last year.

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WakingTheFeminists had their final public meeting on November 14th 2016, back in the Abbey Theatre one year later. I missed all the previous meetings so I was determined to make it along to this one, and I’m so glad I did. It was less than a week after the US elections, Trump’s surprise victory was still a fresh wound and this was a comforting balm. It was hopeful and inspiring. The thing that came up again and again was “look what we can do when we work together”. There was a feeling of solidarity in the room. It was powerful.

The videos are online and they are really worth a watch it you haven’t seen them already. Just check out the list of speakers! (If you don’t have the time to sit in front of the videos, maybe convert them into mp3 and pretend it’s a podcast.) There was a great mix of speakers – young and old, men, women, and gender discombobulists. Feminism is often criticised for being a women’s issue, though the aim is always equality for all. WakingTheFeminists got lots of men talking about feminism, opening their eyes to sexism and making them want to do something about it. (Loughlin Deegan’s speech at the Abbey’s Theatre of Change last year describes this eye-opening very well. It seems to have disappeared from the WTF website but you can watch it here from 14 min 10 seconds) It seemed fitting that one year later the conversation opened up to include male voices.

ccroweArchivist Catriona Crowe spoke about the history of Irish feminism, and how there’s always two strands – the restrained and the noisy. During the campaign for suffrage in the early 1900s, there was the peaceful struggle for reform – the tedious work of lobbying and bill writing – and also the noisy struggle, which included genteel window-breaking with toffee hammers! She credited WakingTheFeminists with uniting these two aspects of feminism – the public meeting provided the noise that was then followed up by a lot of research and evidence-based findings. (The preliminary findings of the long-term research project were also presented at the meeting and are available here.) She said that it was a great example of grass-roots feminism and it has provided a template for future movements.

But there were also reminders that the struggle for equality is a long one. Karan O’Loughlin from SIPTU and Irish Equity quoted from a 1884 report published by The Royal Commission on Labour on the conditions of work for women in Ireland. The top three issues for women in work at that time were childcare, low pay and length of day. 122 years later, the top three issues for women in work are still childcare, low pay and length of day. Change happens slowly and there’s still a lot of work to be done.

WakingTheFeminists however have made some big changes happen this year. The Abbey Theatre set up a Gender Equality Committee and developed a set of guiding principles on Gender Equality, placing Ireland at the forefront of gender equality in theatre. The movement won awards and was recognised globally. It was awarded funding to carry out research and address gender discrimination. For the first time, the Gate Theatre will have a female Artistic Director. As a result of WakingTheFeminists, organisations are measuring, noticing and making changes around gender equality. There’s a different feeling in the community. People are talking and feel able to talk about their experiences. WakingTheFeminists brought people together, it gave them a voice because it showed them that they were not alone; they were not the only ones who felt like this or had experienced that. Most importantly it put those people in a room together. The strength of feeling was made clear in the room, and the support – you know people are on your side when you can hear their applause, their gasps and laughter. That connection is important and resulted in other conversations happening as people bumped into friends and started making plans. One of the off-shoots of last year’s meetings was the establishment of MAMs (Mothers, Artists, Markers).

Once again, the inspirational Sarah Durcan was the final speaker. She made the point that theatre is not life and death, unlike the social issues that many women in our society face. But, she said theatre shapes narratives. It is important. The US election showed us how important stories can be, how they shape the political landscape, how they can change society. We need to tell better stories. In that way, theatre can help shape a better world. To finish, the wonderful Camille O’Sullivan sang Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ and brought this inspiring meeting to a close

Change is possible. That’s the big lesson I learnt from WakingTheFeminists. Change is possible. You don’t have to accept things the way they are. In a world that seems to be getting darker and scarier, with the rise of far-right parties across Europe, the fall out of the war in Syria, the refugee crisis and the growing homelessness crisis, it’s important to have that reminder. We can do something about this, we have the power to make things better, we can do it together.

What to do when you’re feeling over-whelmed by the state of the world.

Image from a Buzzfeed article on 21 Perfect German Words We Need in English. Check it out, there are some beauties there.

There are so many things to worry about right now. So many things to care about and feel anxious about and powerless to correct.

For a start, in Ireland the number of people being made homeless is going up every week and the government don’t seem to be doing anything about it. There’s the shamefulness that is Direct Provision where the government is paying companies large amounts of money to keep people seeking refuge in intolerable conditions. Ibrahim Halawa will spending a fourth birthday in jail in Egypt as his trial was postponed for the 16th time and we are still forcing women to travel aboard for a basic medical procedure.

Further afield, there’s the uncertainty of Brexit to worry about as well as the hundreds of unaccompanied children that were recently moved out of the Jungle in Calais and sent who-knows-where. France is still under a state of emergency after two brutal terrorist attacks, refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean, bombs are raining down on civilians in Syria, millions who fled the war there are living in refugee camps and Israel cut off the water-supply to Palestine during Ramadan this year, just the latest in a long series on attacks on the Palestinians.

And that’s all before we start worrying about climate change or what will happen under the Trump presidency.

It’s hard. It’s hard to take it all in, to feel all that fury and sorrow. In the face of so much horror it’s easy to run out of feelings. Even when you feel like you want to help, how do you choose which of the heart-breaking issues to focus on? Sometimes it’s easier to throw up your hands up and do nothing, feel nothing and just try to have a good time because it’s becoming increasingly obviously that the whole world is going to shit. It’s a pretty bleak way of seeing the world and it’s hard to sustain because the horrors keep creeping in.

When the bleakness is threatening to overwhelm me, I take solace from this quote.

“Of course individuals can make a difference, but the fact is that evil has had the whip hand in this world since Cain. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to be good, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves, either. Evil is not going to be vanquished. Our job is to resist it, and to plant the seeds of further resistance so that goodness never entirely vanishes from the universe.”

Chris Cleave, author of The Other Hand/Little Bee.

I like it because it lets me off the hook a little bit. Once I accept that I can’t fix everything, it’s easier to just concentrate on what I can do. I can’t knock evil off it’s perch, but I might be able to balance the scales a bit. It’s helps me feel less useless and more hopeful because it suggests that the little acts of resistance, of goodness, of kindness do make a difference.

Doing something is always better than doing nothing. It chases away the hopeless, useless feeling; at least for a little while. So what can we do? There’s the usual things – donate money, volunteer, get on the streets and protest, write letters to governments at home and aboard. Volunteer.ie have a database of volunteer opportunities. Giving blood is good if you’re short on time and money because it’s costs nothing and you can only do it once every three months.

But if you feel completely overwhelmed and really don’t know where to begin, or feel like you want to do more but don’t know where to start, I suggest getting a few friends together and start a “change the world” group. (Your first order of business may be to give it a better, catchier name.) It can be part support group, part action group. Meet up regularly, talk about the things that are upsetting you about the world and then decide what you’re going to do about it. You also get to hang out with your friends; have coffee and cake, or go for a few drinks. Changing the world has a bang of worthiness off it, like it’s not meant to be enjoyable. It puts people off. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Make sure your group is fun as well. You might decide to organise a big fundraiser, or buddy-up to volunteer together, or everyone might want to do their own thing, but they have the support of the group, and they have to report back so there’s accountability.

This idea comes partly from Malcolm Gladwell’s essay Small Change, about the importance of strong-ties between people involved in social activism, but mostly it’s because I think communities are important. The way we live our lives now makes it difficult to be part of a community so we have to make our own. Real-life social interactions are important, sitting in a room together talking about everything and nothing is good for the soul. But it can be hard to organise time with friends and we end up relying too much on social media instead. Organising a regular meeting means you will see your friends more often. People already do this with book clubs or dining clubs, why not a change the world club? I also believe in collaboration, often the ideas that you come up with in a group are better than the ones you come up with on your own. In a group it’s easier to stay hopeful and not let yourself or others fall into despondency. Hope is important if you want to change the world.

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (More glorious quotes here)

And because I love Charlie Brooker, here he is singing with the Blockheads. This video also lets you feel nostalgic for the things we were fearful of in 2014.

I am not a Blogger

I started reading blogs almost 20 years ago, back when they were still called online journals or online diaries. The ones I read were mostly written by girls in high-school or college in the US. They were young women who had taught themselves html coding so they could create webpages and graphic design so they could create banners and logos. But really it was all about the words. In the 90s, the internet was generally more about words; connection speeds were slow and images meant more bandwidth, which was more expensive. Those early blogs were about about real people spilling their guts online, usually anonymously. The writers felt they could be their real selves online. They were kids who had the time and inclination to play around with computers (back when there were one per household) and learn about coding. This is what the internet was to me – online journals, webzines, mailing lists. I studied computers in college because I loved the internet, but I think what I really loved was words. I spent a lot of time online reading those websites. I had a long list of URLs that I would visit daily. I loved finding new blogs and having loads of back issues to read. I discovered the world that way.

html-for-beginner-2

Blogs and bloggers in 2016 are very different to the ones I used to read. It’s no longer all about the words, and you don’t need to know about html anymore. Now bloggers are more likely to know about algorithms and hashtags. There’s a blogger lifestyle, posts tend to be more aspirational than confessional and everyone wants to find a way to earns a living from their blog. Actually, I think writers always dreamt finding a way to make money from their blogs. And writers did get hired or published because of their blog, but the blog wasn’t usually the thing that made money. It’s interesting to see how it’s changed, and also how it’s stayed the same. The most successful blogs still have an honesty to them, and they are the ones where the writers engage with their readers.

However, I am still an old-fashioned, turn-of-the-century blogger. I don’t want my blog to be my job. I just want to write stuff and put it on the internet where people can read it and hopefully find it useful or interesting or entertaining. I have been writing on the internet for almost as long as I’ve been reading the internet. At this stage I can be fairly sure that I will always struggle to update regularly and I will always feel a bit weird when people ask me about my online writing in real life but I still like having a corner of the internet that’s mine. I can’t blog the same way as the hip, young Millennials and that’s ok. They’ll do their thing and I’ll do mine.

This is a long, convoluted way of saying that I’m going to try and write more regularly, but this will not make me a blogger. I’m just a person with a website.

What to book now for Dublin Theatre Festival 2016

Tickets for this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival go on sale for the general public this morning at 10am and I am making plans – what to see, when to see it, what to book now and what to book later. My early booking is financially strategic; if I don’t book my Festival shows now, I’ll spend all my money at the Fringe and by October I’ll be too broke to see anything.

I really like the Dublin Theatre Festival and I want to see as much as I can. It’s a great opportunity to experience theatre from other parts of the world, as well as seeing big shows from Irish companies. It’s also a chance to see a crazy amount of theatre in a short space of time. Following so quickly after Fringe, this can be a bit head-melting. But in a good way.

Here are some of my early booking picks:

These rooms by Anu & Cois Ceim
This one I’ll definitely be grabbing a ticket for. It’s on in a couple of houses in Dorset Street and capacity is limited. Some shows has already sold out, and I’d be surprised if the entire run isn’t fully booked before the Theatre Festival opens on September 29th. It’s a collaboration between Anu Productions and Cois Ceim and focuses on the experiences of the civilians who were caught up in the 1916 Rising.

Guerrilla by El Conde de Torrefiel
I have my eye on this one because I spend a lot of time in Spain but I haven’t actually seen any Spanish theatre, and this sounds a bit odd and interesting. A lot of the international shows have very short runs at the festival – this one is only on for three performances.

The Seagull by Corn Exchange
This is on in the Gaiety so tickets are unlikely to be gone too soon. I really like The Seagull. I’ve seen it a few times in various productions and I read a couple of different translations for an essay in college. It’s very funny and also has lots of fierce, ballsy female characters in it. Though things don’t generally end well for them and their existence tends to revolve around the men, they are still great characters in their own right. I’m also a big fan of Corn Exchange who make visually exciting theatre. I’m also a big fan of the two (female) cast members announced already – Derbhle Crotty and Genevieve Hulme-Beaman – so I think it will be a hot ticket this year. Tickets for the Gaiety are not cheap, but this play by this company – I think it will be worth it.

Alien Documentary by Una McKevitt
I’ve been hearing bits and pieces about this show for the last couple of years so I’ve very excited to see the finished product. It’s on in The Cube in Project for nearly two weeks. Long run but a small venue and I think it will be popular.

Crisis Meeting by Kriðpleir and LÓKAL Performing Arts
This is a show from an Icelandic theatre company about writing an application for arts funding. I’m curious to see if you can make an engaging show about arts admin and if the company do manage to oscillate “anarchy, sitcom and Beckettian gravity” as their blurb claims. If you don’t fancy the risk on that one, there are a couple of other Northern European shows in the programme – you might prefer the “epic and vaudevillesque” style of Wishful Beginnings by VERK Produksjoner from Norway or the “switch between dance and  scattered questioning” is This is Not a Love Story by Swede Gunilla Heilborn.

It’s definitely worth booking something a little bit outside your comfort zone. It’s what festival’s are for!

summerdream

I have mixed feelings about booking a ticket for A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Bord Gais. Again, it’s a play that I like and it looks like a fun, playful production but I’m not a fan of seeing theatre in the grand scale of the Bord Gais. I’ve been spoilt by all our wonderful intimate theatre spaces in Dublin.

I’m also on the fence about It’s Not Over, THEATREclub’s vision of The Plough and The Stars by Sean O’Casey. Do I want to see another production of the The Plough? Can I sit through a four and a half hour production of The Plough? I’m not sure.

I’m willing to be persuaded about both of these, and probably most of the other festival offerings. Is there anything else I should have on my early bird booking list? What’s on your list?