Theatre Week at NUIG

Theatre Week is over. It was fantastic. It was also stressful and exhausting and very busy but I loved it.

On Monday night I got to perform ‘My Angry Vagina’ (one of my favourite monologues) to an appreciative audience. I heard that Tuesday night’s audience were even more appreciative and over the two nights, we raised €1,300 for V-Day and the Galway Rape Crisis Centre. Well done to DramSoc and the Feminist Society for a great production.

The One Act Play Festival started at lunchtime on Wednesday. I had one play at lunchtime and one in the evening on Wednesday and Thursday. Then on Friday, there was the omnibus edition with all eight plays back-to-back to an almost sold out theatre. I thought it would be a long hard night but it actually flew by. I watched some plays and hide backstage with my nerves during others. It felt like it was over all too soon!

Over apart from the clean-up and the award ceremony! I like award ceremonies. I don’t know why, I just do. I like celebrations of work well done. I like seeing people happy and thanking the people who helped them along the way. I especially enjoyed Friday’s awards ceremony because so many of my hugely talented friends were recognised for being awesome. The last award of the evening was the writing award for Best Play, which was won by Mr. Patrick O’Byrne for Ahhhh Lad!!. He was shocked and surprised and I was proud as punch to have been involved. I loved my cast, I loved the script, I loved working with all these talented people.

Well done to everybody involved. There was a lovely atmosphere backstage and at the after-party on Friday. It was just a great group of people to hang out with and I had such a great time. I’m sorry it’s over and I have to come back to real life and start worrying about my coursework again!

The full list of awards can be found here.

Busy Week

Theatre Week has just begun at NUIG. The first day included rehearsals for two different one act plays (I’m directing one and performing in another), and a performance of The Vagina Monologues.

Yes, V-Day is also upon us again! This year I am helping to raise money for the Galway Rape Crisis Centre. My performance is done, but you can still see the show at NUIG tomorrow at 7.30pm. Tomorrow night I will be seeing Rhinoceros in the Town Hall Theatre. The One Act Play series kicks off on Wednesday and there will be performances at lunchtime and in the evening, Wednesday – Friday. And to round off the week, on Saturday, I’m going to see Carthaginans at the Town Hall. It’s going to be a busy week and I know I will be wreaked by the end of it, but I also know it’s going to be a lot of fun. And because shows are actually opening this week, I think it will be less hectic week than last week.

Last Monday I had four separate rehearsals for three different shows, and a directing workshop with Garry Hynes (which I will write about soon, promise!), and the week continued like that! By the time Saturday rolls around, I will be more than ready for it!

V-Day Retrospective

I was surprised how nervous I felt on the day of the show. I was expecting to feel excited that the day was finally here, but ready for it; maybe not tranquil but reasonably calm. Instead I felt on edge all day, my to do list constantly hoovering at the edge of consciousness and constantly worried that I’d forgotten something. It was a stressed out restlessness that made it hard to get things done.

I arrived at The Sugar Club half an hour later than I intended to after standing at a bus stop for 15 minutes feeling sick with nerves. There was so much to do and so little time and instead of running around getting things done, I had to stand still and wait for a bus!

Once I got there and the cast started arriving and we started getting things done, I relaxed a bit. That was our first day in The Sugar Club, the first time the cast had a chance to get up on stage. There were lots of last minute decisions to be made so people didn’t walk into each other and knew when to sit and stand and speak. It was the first time we got to use the mikes. There was a lot to get through.

Almost as soon as I started to feel calm, it was time to clear out of the space in anticipation of our audience! Suddenly it all felt very real! I spent 40 minutes getting people in, greeting people I knew, checking up on the cast, how many tickets were left, etc. Technically, the show was sold out but most of the tickets were waiting at the door to be collected and paid for. We had a great crowd but we probably could have squeezed a few more in.

Finally, finally, finally the show began and there really was nothing else I could do. I’d done a little bit of directing at university but this was the first time I’d sat with a paying audience, watching a show that I had put together. I was so proud of the cast and the audience really seemed to enjoy themselves, and I enjoyed the show along with them. It was wonderful. I was beaming with happiness from the first word to the last.

It was a great night, everybody I talked to enjoyed it immensely. The cast were all a bit disappointed that we had one night. We probably could have filled The Sugar Club for a second night, at least. It was a great venue and they looked after us very well.

Thanks to our fantastically generous audience we raised $280 for the V-Day project in Haiti and €1732 for Ruhama, on our one night. Thanks also to the hard work of the cast and everyone else involved on the production it was a very successful Dublin V-Day.

V-day minus one

I meant to write a lot more about The Vagina Monologues while we were putting the show together. I wanted to write about the auditions, the fundraising, the rehearsals, but I was too busy to write about it while it was all happening. Now the show is almost here days away and all the tickets are sold. Tomorrow afternoon, we’ll head down the The Sugar Club for some last minute preparations and before we know it, the big night will have arrived! I feel ready and excited and happy and tired.

I wanted to write something before the show because however things go tomorrow night, I am really glad I did this. I’m proud of my cast, who are amazing and have worked really hard, and I’m a little bit proud of myself too.

I had planned to submit an application to the Dublin Fringe Festival last month. I went along to the pre-application talks and workshops and then, about a week before the deadline I got a bad dose of The Fear. It completely paralysed me and meant I couldn’t do anything. I felt untalented and unimaginative. I couldn’t imagine anyone being interested in anything that came out of my brain. As well as doubting my creative abilities, I had no faith in my practical skills. I just didn’t believe I would be able for the work involved. I wouldn’t be able to organise a cast or crew, I wouldn’t be able to sell my show, I wouldn’t even be able to get it to the stage where it was ready to be seen by the general public. I felt I was too old to be submitting work to the festival, too old to be working in the arts at all. This idea of making new things was a young persons game – you needed to be young and optimistic and a little bit native to take that leap of faith and believe that you will be able to cope with the consequences.

Basically I let the little, doubting voice in my head convince me that submitting anything would be a colossal waste of time.

I mention this here because I had all those fears about The Vagina Monologues last January. I was really nervous signing up to do, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to look after all the different aspects involved – finding a venue, fundraising to pay for that venue, auditioning a cast, organising rehearsals and rehearsal space, organising publicity and ticket sales, etc. I wasn’t sure if I was up to it. I was afraid.

I’m not saying the last three months have been easy – they have been really hard work – but I managed to made things happen. And people were kind and supportive and helpful all along the way. I managed to surprise myself and that’s always nice. And once or twice a week, I got to hang out with an amazing group of women.

So maybe I’m not too old after all. In the future, I will ignore the doubting voice and have a little more faith in myself. It’s a lesson I needed to be reminded of, even though it’s one I know and have seen in evidence before. But it was a good reminder and one I will cling to in the future.

Tomorrow will be an exciting night and a happy night and the end of tiring three months that have made me very proud!

Trilogy reflection

Trilogy finished over a week ago now and it has taken me that long to write about it coherently enough to post here. I had a busy week catching up on real life, but I was also busy trying to unpack all my thoughts on Trilogy that have been stacked on top of each other inside my brain for the last week or so.

I volunteered for Trilogy for lots of reasons – I like being onstage, I wanted to challenge myself to be onstage naked and I wanted to be involved in this life-affirming feminist performance. It became about more than the performance though because so much of the experience happened off-stage. Our dance lasted less than 10 minutes each night but we had four three-hour rehearsals to prepare for it. These sessions were more than just dance rehearsals; they gave us an opportunity to get to know each other and to figure out what had drawn us to this project in the first place. It was a chance met other brave women and maybe find another way of looking at the world.

And it did change people. All week, when we sat down to talk about how we were feeling on that particular day, women talked about the revelations they had had since starting the process and the way it was changing how they saw the world. I didn’t feel changed. My biggest revelation was that I was surprised how easy it was to dance naked once you got over the initial shock.

Then on the Friday night, I saw the show and something shifted for me. I was really hyper after the performance, I wanted to talk to everyone about everything, I was excited and giddy.

Troligy is a very feminist play. Part One begins with some quotes from The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer and ends with that naked, celebratory dance by women who aren’t embarrassed or ashamed by their bodies or the ways they jiggle! Part Two is a reaction to Town Bloody Hall – a debate in 1971 between leading feminists and famous misogynist Norman Mailer. They play lots of clips from the recording of the debate and I loved the passion that was displayed by those women from long ago. What was going on onstage in the present was also wonderful. There was lots of beautiful movement sections, and some really moving monologues. The third part is an introduction to Make Your Own Herstory, a web-based project that is taking feminism into the future.

This wonderful feminist play made me feel that all my thoughts on feminism aren’t out-dated and out-of-step with the world around me, that there are other people who feel the same way, that are looking for a community and a way to move things forward. And that made me happy. At one point, my over-whelming thought was ‘I love theatre!’. It just bubbled up in me and made me grin. I felt happy to be there experiencing this wonderful work that these people had spent so much time and care into creating. I felt lucky to be there to see the work, and lucky to have experience working with the people onstage and be involved, in a very small way, in creating it.

The next day I felt like Trilogy had started me on some sort of journey. I’m not sure where it’s going to lead but I feel like it’s going to be more of a creative journey than a purely feminist one and I’m really interested to see where I end up.

My Trilogy experience wasn’t “life-changing” in some big, dramatic way, but I think that week did change me. Since then, throughout the last week, I have had moments when I feel like I can do anything I want with my life, that there’s nothing stopping me having the life I want. Nic talked about the play having an effect on those we saw it, and that it would go on to cause ripples in the wider community. I hope that’s true but I think for the women who took part, it will have a slightly bigger effect. I feel like Nic has lit a power-keg under each of us; we don’t know yet how long the fuse is or how much gun-powder is loaded but eventually there are going to be lots of explosions from all these wonderful women.

If you would like to experience it all yourself, and if you happen to be in Belfast, you can! Trilogy is on at the Waterfront as part of the Belfast Festival and they are looking for volunteers. More details here.

The Vagina Monologues

The Vagina Monologues was performed in the Howell Building at Brunel University on 27th and 29th February 2008. It was performed by a cast of ten women in their late teens and early twenties. These two performances were part of the V-Day campaign. V-Day is an international movement that works to end violence against women by raising awareness of the problems women face and money to help eradicate them. One of the ways they do this is staging plays of Eve Ensler’s award winning play “The Vagina Monologues” where all profits raised by the performances are donated to charity. The performances at Brunel University donated money to Refuge and the Hillington Women’s Center.

Eve Ensler’s play was the result of interviews that the author conducted with thousands of women about their vaginas. Some of the monologues in the play are funny and some are heart-breakingly sad, some make you angry at the world we live in and some make you proud to be part of that world. These are interspersed with ensemble pieces – what would your vagina wear?, what would it say? – and the vagina facts.
All of which combines to create an incredible piece of theatre.

I performed the monologue ‘I was there in the room’. This poetic piece was written about the author’s own experience at the birth of her first grandchild. It is a beautiful and powerful monologue that made many members of the audience think about the vagina in a new way.

As well this performance, I was also responsible, along with two fellow cast-mates, for the production of show and for bringing the V-Day cause to Brunel University. In late November, we held auditions and found seven other talents actresses to join us in bringing Ensler’s powerful words to life. As well as running the rehearsals, we also organised fundraising for the show, rehearsal and performance space, posters, tickets, publicity, lighting and sound.

The nature of the project meant that it was never just about the final performance. The cast ran a cake stall at the university to raise extra funds for their chosen charities. Everything sold at the stall was made by members of the cast and other generous volunteers. The stall also acted as a place to publicise the show, sell tickets and tell people about the reasons they were doing this play. People who came to the stall were encouraged to express their opinions. Some people were shocked or offended by the word ‘vagina’ being used so liberally in a public place. Others were shocked at the statistics detailing violence against women that covered the wall behind the stall.

The two nights of the show were a great success. The feedback from audience members, both male and female, was tremendously positive. It affected how people felt and got them talking in the bar afterwards. Everyone who came to see the show learnt something and a generous sum of money was raised for the chosen charities.

Do You Know What You Know You Know?

Boxes - Do you know...?

Described by one audience member as “Q.I. in performance art form”, Do you know what you know you know? encourages it’s audience to see the world in a new and more interesting way and not to accept things at face value. The piece was created by ‘In Search of the Yeti’ theatre company and was a fun and playful journey thorough different fantasy worlds.

To enter the performance space, the audience crawl through a fabric tree draped in front of the doorway. Expecting to come into some magical fantasy world, they are surprised to be faced with four female office workers, hunched over their keyboards with blank expressions on their faces. Although this image creates the impression of a boring office, the world is not quite right. The keyboards, which sit on large cardboard boxes, are not connected to anything and their leads trail on the floor.

When the audience are seated, the performers begin to type. The typing continues sporadically for a few minutes. Just as the endless typing is becoming monotonous, one performer stands up abruptly and pushes the boxes out from the under the other typists who instantly freeze.

Using the boxes to create a doorway, she then produces a small tube of glitter. The performer playfully sprinkles the glitter over the boxes and the audience. Finally she sprinkles some of this magical fairy-dust over herself and prepares to dive through the doorway. At the same time, the other performers drop to the floor and move backwards through their chairs, dragging their chairs behind them.

The lights change as the first performer emerges into the new world and is faced with three strange creatures who quote numbers and rules at her. The visitor is unperturbed by this and counters their strangeness by handing out small music boxes to each of these creatures. They open their music boxes and begin to eat what’s inside.

Chair peopleThree strange creatures

It quickly becomes clear that this is a childish world where childish rules apply. The music boxes contain spinach to make you strong, bread crusts to make your hair curly and carrots to help you see in the dark. The performers show these rules through mime from their positions behind their chairs.

Once the music boxes stop playing, the visitor puts up a black umbrella and facing the audience, starts reciting news stories. A connection is made between the stories that we believe as children and our unquestioning acceptance of what we are told by the media. The last news story states that carrots do absolutely nothing for your eyesight. As the visitor puts down her umbrella, the lights go out.

Still in black-out, a disembodied voice speaks over the microphone. It says “In the beginning there was nothing.” The phrase is repeated three times. Still in the dark, a small light appears behind the curtain. The light moves playfully, flicking onto the ceiling and dancing around. The voice speaks again; “But there was something. Because nothing is still something. And this something began expanding and expanding and expanding….” The voice trails off as spinning mirror ball is illuminated and the black room fills with twirling stars.

The space theme is continued as a spotlight illuminates a woman standing alone in the light, as if she is on her own little planet. She begins blowing up balloons and sending them off into space. Each balloon has a message on it; an attempt to communicate with whatever might be out there. One the other side of the stage, another performer sits engrossed in a computer game. She never notices the balloons and stays completely engrossed in her own world until the final balloon is popped suddenly spilling more glitter on the floor. Then she looks up to the sky.

The idea of spending hours lost in a computer game is expanded in the next scene. UV light transforms the space and the only part of the performers that can be seen is their white hands and feet. Two performers return to the keyboards, typing out endless sequences and sentences while Looper’s “The Modem Song” (a piece of music based around the sound of a modem connecting to the internet) begins to play. The other two performers sit between them and perform a choreographed movement piece, as if they were controlled by the typists.

Manic, UV movement

The movement becomes more manic as the music changes and all four suddenly pull back the black curtains that enclose the space. This reveals the back wall, which has been plastered with images and text, much of it glowing in the UV light. They then peel off their clothes revealing text, images and symbols covering much of their bodies. These symbols also glow under the UV light, looking like tribal markings.

When the music and the manic movement stop, the four performers takes off their white gloves and puts on one of the cardboard boxes from the first scene. They have already transformed the space and now they transform themselves. A space has been cut into each box for the performers head. Other holes allow other limbs to be reach out of the boxes; two hands comes out of the front of one box, a single arm extends from the top of another, both arms poked out of each side of a third and a single finger peeps out beside the head of the fourth.

The four performers in their boxes is a strange and humorous image and the audience is allowed to enjoy this image and read what they like into it as the individuals in their boxes stare back at them. The scene ends with a single line that sums up the whole piece, a quote from Einstein “Imagination is more important that knowledge.”

The “box people” then return to the keyboards and attempt to type as they did at the beginning. It’s not possible; the world is not the same as it was then. Everything has changed.

As the audience leave, they are given goodie-bags to take with them. Each bag contains a party popper, a brightly coloured kid’s plaster, a little note with idea or instruction to follow and yet more glitter!

Do you know what you know you know? was performed in the black box studio at Brunel University on the 12th March 2008.

We Bleed

We Bleed, performed in April 2007, was a humorous, tongue-in-cheek examination of the different roles that women play in society and their experience of the the male gaze and what it is to be a woman. In a collage of short scenes, the women strip back the layers of pretence they wear for society. It ends on a confrontational note.

The God-like Ted

The first thing the audience see when it enters the space is “Ted”, a stuffed man, sitting on an elevated chair above the seating area. The rest of the set comprises of two white screens towards the rear of the stage. When the audience enter, these screens are lit from behind to show the silhouettes of the women who are posing provocatively behind them. Etta James’ “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” starts to play and the women begin to dance in a provocatively and deliberately sexual fashion. They know they are being watched; not just by the audience but also by the God-like Ted. In his plaid shirt and jeans, Ted represents every-man, watching the women perform for him. As the actresses come out from behind the screen one by one all their attention is directed at him. They are wearing pretty, feminine, fifties-style dresses and rubber gloves, and they have tea-towels like gags in their mouths. They pose provocatively for Ted.

When they get no reaction from him, the women begin to compete for this attention in another way. They hope to win his approval by being the perfect house-wife. To do this they behave like household appliances. The room fills with the sound of cleaning as the mop, vacuum cleaner, dishwasher and washing machine compete against each other. The sounds get louder as the competition gets more heated until there is a clear winner and the vacuum cleaner finally gets her man.

The Women

Throughout the piece, the women continue to subvert their roles and move further and further away from typical femininity and lady-like behaviour. One woman delivers a tragically funny monologue about obsession and desire. However, her over the top devotion drives the unseen object of her affection away. Another monologue deals with the pain of being left by a man for no good reason other than someone newer and more exciting came along.

The piece also exploits the idea that women are merely sex objects in a scene where two “ad directors” encourage two female performers to make the product “more sexy” and to “give me more”. The women are just there to do as they’re told and use their bodies to sell the project. The idea that sex sells is turned on it’s head as the ads go too far, becoming crude and over the top. The scene ends when the woman selling water “wanks” the bottle to ejaculation.

The myth of women as pretty, sexy, obedient creatures is put to rest in the final scene when the one of the performers shaves her legs on stage, another swears violently while brushing her teeth and a third uses rice pudding to symbolise vaginal discharge, while reminding the audience that “lady’s knickers don’t always smell like roses.” The scene ends with the fourth performer writing the words ‘Fuck off’ on one of the screens in red paint using sanitary towels to symbolise menstrual blood.

The lights go down and the women exit the stage, leaving their final words and attitude towards society spot-lighted in the corner of the stage.