Theatre of Change at the Abbey Theatre

At the end of January, I spent three enlightening and inspiring days at the Abbey’s Theatre of Change symposium listening to fantastic speakers from all over the world. I am so grateful for the Abbey for organising the symposia over the last three years. It’s a great way to kick-off the new year and I hope it’s something that the new Artistic Directors carry on with. The line-up for each symposium has been wonderful. One of the joys for me was hearing lots of different voices – different accents, different ages, different genders. I appreciate the Abbey bringing these people to Dublin and allowing me to sit in front of them, hear what they have to say.

It felt like an overtly feminist conference this year. WakingTheFeminists was not only in the programme but it was also mentioned in Fiach’s opening speech. (Not really surprising – it’s hard to talk about the Waking The Nation programme now without mention what isn’t there.) There were a couple of sessions on reproductive rights in Ireland and the role of women in the Rising also featured prominently.

Lian Bell, Eleanor Methven and Loughlin Deegan spoke on behalf of WakingTheFeminists on Thursday afternoon. Eleanor talked about her decades-long battles against workplace discrimination. She was one of the founders of Charabanc Theatre in 1983, set up to provide decent roles for female actors, so she is an old hand at this lark. Loughlin, on the other hand, admitted that although he would always have identified as a feminist, he “has been on a very steep learning curve since my involvement with Waking the Feminists.” He spoke candidly about having his belief that his career achievements were based solely on merit shaken by the stories that came out of the WakingTheFeminists movement. He also talked about patriarchal structures and the damaging Myth of the Great Man. (You can read their speeches in full on the WakingTheFeminists website, links above. Or watch below.)

 

On the Friday afternoon, Emer O’Toole and Susan Cahill presented The Man Problem. This was a performance presentation that looked at the fact that the vast majority of our politicians, political pundits, radio presenters and journalists are male and so when we start talking about abortion, it is rare to hear women speaking about it. We tend to hear the least from those who are most affected by it; those who have to travel, those who need medical attention that is not provided in this country. This is changing as more women are talking about their abortions. It happened that Friday afternoon in the Abbey, when Susan gave a very personal and poignant account of what it was like to discover she was pregnant while en route from Canada to Ireland, for a month long stay here. She described what it was like to be pregnant and not want to be, in a country that was debating the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. She waited until she was back in Canada to terminate the pregnancy and described how grateful she was to be able to go home to her own bed afterwards, and not queue up to get on a plane full of stags and hens. It was very affecting. Dearbhail McDonald’s potted history of the Eighth Amendment as the introduction to the piece was also very moving and a bit fury-making. Let’s hope that 2016 is the year that this cruel and archaic piece of legislation is removed from the constitution.


The Man Problem

DaysOfSurrenderThere were also a couple of presentations about the role of women in the Rising and how they have been removed from the “official” history. Jacki Irvine read from her book Days of Surrender . She read a piece about Elizabeth O’Farrell’s walk across Moore Street carrying the white flag of surrender. Elizabeth was the owner of the feet behind Pearse in the photograph of his surrender. Her feet were removed before the photo appeared in the newspaper in 1916, and Elizabeth’s role was also removed from RTE’s version of the events, in Rebellion a few weeks ago.

 

 

Over the years, the symposia have never let war be something distant, something firmly in the past. There are many reminders that war and conflict zones still exist all over the world. This year there were speakers from Israel and the occupied Golan. Taiseer Merei runs a theatre as part of the Golan for Development, which exists to resist Israel’s occupation and control. The theatre is locations underneath the medical centre, which is also part of Golan for Development. They offer people health care, education and art as part of a peaceful resistance in a dire situation. The Golan Heights has been occupied by Israel since 1967 because it’s an area with fertile land and lots of water.

Gideon Levy is an Israeli journalist who spoke about the situation in Gaza. He said that the only way Gaza can attract the attention of Israeli or the world-media is by firing rockets, otherwise they are forgotten about. He also made the point that there is precedent of how to bring down apartheid, we saw it in South Africa. Boycott Israel, he said, bring it to understand that the occupation is unacceptable in the eyes of the world. The way to make the Israelis’ feel this is if they lose money. He also talked about the dangers of dehumanising a specific group of people, which is what the Israelis have successfully done to the Palestine and which is in danger of happening to refugees coming to Europe.

As well as looking at the past and the present, the symposium also looked to the future. Emer Coleman’s talk Big Data: Owning Your Own Story looked at the past from the future, when she made the point that if you’re not on the internet, then you don’t exist. Emer worked in theatre at the beginning of her career but said there is no evidence of this career on the internet, so it’s like it never happened. In the future, history will be shaped by the machine. She talked about the “rise of the robots” and how that no longer means physical robots, but the software that has worked itself into every aspect of our lives. Because of the power of the tech companies, “technoethics” have to become more important. We need to make sure that these huge companies pay their taxes and behave ethically because the way things are going, soon they’ll own everything! It’s important to stop behaviour like Uber’s who say that Uber drivers are not their employees, landlords who evict tenants so they can put flats on AirBnb, and companies who fire full-time employees then hire them back as contract workers without any benefits. For anyone worrying about their content being owned by Facebook or other corporations, she recommends Jaron Lanier‘s book about mirco-licensing Who owns the future?

The role of the artist in remembering, celebrating and integrating the past and the world today was also recognised by the symposium, particularly in the first and last panels. The first one, The Body of The State included a number of artists from different disciplines. Visual artists Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones are creating a piece called In The Shadow of the State that will take place in Derry, Liverpool, Dublin and London. They are exploring statehood from the perspective of the female body and a different performance will take place at each location. Choreographer Fearghus Ó Conchúir talked about The Casement Project which explores what types of bodies are acceptable and what is acceptable for these bodies to do.

Sarah Jane Scaife spoke about her work with Beckett’s plays and placing them in the world we live in. I saw the first of these at the side of the Abbey as part of the first symposium, Theatre of Memory and I also enjoy The Women Speak in last year’s Fringe. I really liked how she placed those stories in history, and demonstrated how that history leads to the present.

On the final morning, we heard from Oskar Eustic, Artistic Director of the Public Theatre in New York which sounds like a great place. Their show Hamilton is currently one of the hottest shows on Broadway, but the theatre started out making free theatre, the famous Shakespeare in the Park. He said that the mission statement of the theatre was to “Dislodge theatre from being a commodity and bring it back to being about relationships.” They also do performances of Shakespeare in prisons, which he said that the actors love doing. Once they do that, it’s hard to get them to do anything else. He was obviously very passionate about his theatre and the work they do.

At the end of the three days, I felt very sorry that it was all over and that there isn’t another symposium to look forward to next year. Well done to the Abbey and all the speakers. And the videos from the last three years are all available on YouTube, including this fabulous performance by Penny Arcade.

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YES! Ireland makes history.

Just before we leave the topic of Marriage Equality, here are a couple of links about the historic weekend in Ireland.

 

Miriam Lord in the Irish Times does a wonderful job of describing the events of the day as the Yes tallies kept rolling in.

And a shout out to all those who came Home to Vote, it couldn’t have happened without them, espeically the amazing Joey Kavanagh who lead the Get the Boat to Vote initiative.

And finally, I really like Una Mullally’s article on being who you’re meant to be and how the world will change around you when you allow yourself that freedom.

Now – as President Bartlett would say, “What’s next?”

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!

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.

10 Days of Dublin 2012

10 Days in Dublin, 5 - 14 July
10 Days in Dublin, 5 – 14 July

10 days in Dublin started yesterday. There will be over 200 performance happening all over the city between now and July 14, including theatre, comedy, music, film and visual art. All or almost all tickets are under €20, there are loads of shows for €5 or €6 and a few free events as well. Have a look at the programmme online or pick one up from their box office on Wellington Quay, just between the Clarence Hotel and The Workman’s Club.

And a special mention to Just Us Four, partly because I have a friend in the cast and partly because after reading Stella Duffy’s brilliant, angry and inspiring blog last week, it feels important to support theatre that puts women on the stage and tells women’s stories. They does both – female playwright and two female cast members tell a story about female friendship.

There are lots of female-led pieces across the 10 Days in Dublin programme, I’m sure something else will. There’s lots of great work being made by men as well! Go out and see something! At the very least, it will get you out of the rain.

Three Fund:It Campaigns

The Last Burning (13 days to go)

The Last Burning is a play about Bridget Cleary who was the last woman in Ireland to be burned as a witch. NUIG DramSoc put on the play in 2010 so I haven’t seen it. I have seen a lot of the cast in other things over the past year so I know that they are a talented group of people. Hannah O’Reilly, the director also devised a movement piece called The Waves for DramSoc this year. I really enjoyed that show so I think The Last Burning has the potential to be a wonderful piece of theatre.

Thereisbear plan to tour the show around Ireland this summer and are looking for funding. They plan to bring The Last Burning to Galway, Ballinasloe, Inisboffin, Laois, Limerick, Kerry, Cork and Dublin this August. They have less than two weeks left to reach their target of €3000. You can help them get there or like their Facebook page here.

Tromluí Phinocchio/Pinocchio – A Nightmare (18 days to go)

Moonfish are a Galway-based company who make bilingal shows in English and Irish. Tromluí Phinocchio is a retelling of the Pinocchio story and is as magical and imaginative as you would expect it to be. I saw this show in Galway earlier this year. It’s very visual and has a wonderful style and aesthetic. There are also dark moments and they recommend it for children over 11. The clever way it mixes the English and Irish means that even someone like me, who never got on well with the Irish language, can enjoy the show!

I’m delighted that it will be part of the Absolut Fringe Festival this September because I really want more people to see and enjoy this show.

You can fund them here or like their Facebook page here.

Shadowskin by Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (40 days to go)

Shadowskin is a puppet show for grown-ups, loosely based on the story of Red Riding Hood. All the puppets in the show are being handmade and you can watch their progress on their Facebook page.

It doesn’t say yet when and where Shadowskin will get it’s premier but it looks like it will be worth waiting for.

You can fund them here or like their Facebook page here.

Rise Productions Podcasts

If you haven’t already done so, you should really check out the Rise Productions Podcast. Aonghus Óg McAnally started doing them last November and they are basically hour long chats with theatre people from around Ireland. There’s actors, writers, directors, theatre critics, designers; basically theatre makers of every sort. The format is pretty informal but Aonghus is good at getting people to tell stories.

I’ve used a couple of them as research for my last couple of MA essays and they are great for that. They are easy to listen to and a great way to learn about the different routes people on their way to being very successful in their field.

Rise Productions Podcast. Also available on iTunes

Amy Poehler’s Awesome Harvard Speech

Amy Poehler looking wise from New York Magazine, 23 May 2011
New York Magazine, 23 May 2011

Jezebel.com recently posted Amy Poehler’s speech to the graduating class at Harvard. She is funny and lovely throughout and also has some advice for the graduates to help them through life. The following are useful things to remember when you are doing improv and also in life!

“I moved to Chicago in the early 1990s and I studied improvisation there. I learned some rules that I try to apply still today: Listen. Say yes. Live in the moment. Make sure you play with people who have your back. Make big choices early and often. Don’t start a scene where two people are talking about jumping out of a plane. Start the scene having already jumped. If you’re scared, look into your partner’s eyes — you will feel better.”

I did a couple of improv courses with John Dawson who, life Amy Poehler, is a Second City graduate. I had these rules drilled into me in those classes. My favourite is Make big choices early and often. – I think that is great advice for life on-stage and off.

The Ugly Blog

I was flicking through links on Twitter last Friday afternoon and came across this wonderful blog. Over the weekend, I worked my way through all The Ugly Truth blog posts, which start in October 2009 and finish last month. In them, Emma Adams talks about writing a play called The Ugly Truth, from draft 0 to the rehearsal room. She talks about the highs and lows of play-writing and I found it fascinating!

Other stuff to read

It’s going to be Saturday evening before I finish writing about Trilogy so I will send you elsewhere to read other things!

Like this article in The Irish Times“From theatre virgin to grumbling veteran”
It’s a month old but I only found it this week, when I was looking for something else Fringe related. It’s a view of the Fringe from an artist putting on their very first theatre production. It’s a little bit of a fairy-tale (though I’m sure a hell of a lot of hard-work was involved as well!) and goes to show that anything is possible with the Fringe!

This evening I am going to “see” The Smile Off Your Face. I’m looking forward to it but I’m also a little bit nervous. Audience members are blind-folded and put into a wheel-chair! I’ll either love it or hate it.