All done!

On Thursday morning I felt ready for the day ahead and the show that night. We’d had a good dress and tech rehearsal the day before, the show was looking really good – we were ready! And then as the day went on, the nerves started kicking in. A lot of people I knew were coming to see the show that night and I didn’t want to disappoint them. I was suddenly afraid that it wasn’t funny and I should have put in lots more jokes. By the time I had to leave for the theatre, I wanted to run away and hide.

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When I got into Smock Alley, it was buzzing. It really felt like something exciting was happening and that distracted me from my nerves. We ran lines in the Banquet Hall, where there was one, maybe two other company doing the same. There were small groups warming up or having a quick bite to eat before their show. When we headed backstage to get set up, that was also a hive of -very quiet- activity. With four shows in each space, there were people everywhere! We ended up in a corridor while we waited for the cast of the previous show to finish up. We had a chance to run it onstage one last time (the advantage of having a very short show!) and then suddenly it was time to let the audience in!

I was very nervous as I sat in the dark and waited for the show to start. Then it started and my cast were wonderful and the audience laughed when they were supposed to laugh, which was a major relief. Not only did they laugh, but they listened and it felt like they were getting it. It was great. I had a pen and notebook in my lap but took zero notes. There was no need! I was on a bit high after that and in bar afterwards, I felt giddy and happy as I tried to talk to six people at once. People said lots of lovely things and I felt content and proud. Friday also went well – I was a little less nervous, though we also got less laughs. Mostly I was pleased and grateful to all the friends who came over the two nights. It was really kind of them and made me feel very supported. I was also so grateful to my cast who did such a lovely job with the script. They really couldn’t have been better.

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And now it’s all over but I’m glad that I did it. I was a fantastic experience, even the scary bits. Even the stomach-churningly terrifying bits when I wondered what the hell had I gotten myself into. Taking a play from page to stage has been enormously encouraging for my writing. Now I know that I can write something that makes people laugh! That makes people think! That makes them discuss it in the bar afterwards! I also learned a lot about editing. Listening to your own words over and over again makes you want to cut them down to the bare essentials. Everything has to be justified and the rehearsal process really puts that to test. I am hoping I’ll be able to write more sparingly in the future.

Mostly it was a joyful process of taking something that was just an idea inside my head and making it into a piece of theatre that I could share with other people. That was exhilarating. I want to do it again now!

AllDone

Friday Five: Spring is in the Air

SpringI don’t know about you but I am ready for winter to be over. I’ve had enough of the cold weather and the dark evenings. Recently there have been some small hints that maybe spring is on it’s way. There’s that stretch in the evenings and the colourful crocuses poking up out of the grass. So here are five things that are all about looking forward to spring and summer.

  1. Be a tourist in your own town. Now is a good time to do this before everywhere gets too crowded with real tourists. Visit museums and art galleries and pretend to be on holiday. If the weather is being cooperative, get outside and wander around Glasnevin Cemetary or the Botanic Gardens. Or if you’re free during the week, take advantage of the free Wednesdays at the OPW heritage sites. On the first Wednesday of every month, there is free admission to all their sites. In Dublin this includes the state apartments at Dublin Castle, Kilmainham jail and the Casino at Marino. Here is the full list of sites.
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  3. While we’re on the subject of museums, and I know I’ve already mentioned it once or twice here before, but I finally got down to Collins Barracks to see PALS last week and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is a beautiful and heart-breaking show. It focuses on one group of men, the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who had played rugby together before heading out to the doomed military operation in Gallipoli. Their stories are told with all the emotion and immersion that I’ve come to expect from an ANU show. They manage to deliver small, gentle moments and big, swooping world-changing ones, and both can be equally heart-breaking. It’s a gorgeous show, go see it.
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  5. Beer gardens are another joy of summer and while the weather might not be suitable just yet, that’s not stopping Project Arts Centre from celebrating their newly done-up beer garden on Friday, March 6th from 6pm. They are promising some super value drinks promotions, tasty pizzas and Siobhan Kane on the decks. And if you’re still there at 8pm, you can head in to see Carmel Winter’s new play Witness.
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  7. Summer is a good time to get together with friends. Get the Boat to Vote is an initiative to encourage recent emigrants to come home for the Marriage Referendum on May 22nd by making it a bit of a occasion! Tell your friends living aboard, tell them to sign up, come home and then plan a party for all those returning emigrants.
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  9. And one last shout-out to the Collaborations festival which is now in it’s final week. There are still lots of great shows to see and there is a great buzz around Smock Alley with so much on. It’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of it and I’m hoping to see some shows next week, once we’ve done our final show of In Protest Of… tonight.

Opening night excitement

It’s opening night! Tonight my play takes to the stage which is both exciting and terrifying.

Over the last few weeks I have been busy rehearsing with my wonderful, talented and generous cast – Mary Conroy and Rachel Mungra. We have been blocking scenes, cutting lines and learning about these characters and their stories. It’s been great fun to work on my own script and to see it get better as I work on it with the cast and we throw away the unnecessarily lines and add moments of movement or stillness. It feels like such a privilege to be making this piece for Collaborations and I am very grateful to Mary and Rachel for working with me to turn it into a living, breathing thing, instead of just words on a page.

Yesterday morning we went into tech in the Main Space and we got to spend four hours making that beautiful space our own. I have been thinking about lights and sounds and set and how I can use them to enhance the story we are trying to tell, without spending too much money. Yesterday we got to put all the different elements together with a basic set and a made-up lighting design. They added another aspect to the whole production. It all feels very real now.

As rehearsals progressed, I’ve been getting more and more eager to get the show in front of an audience. I think it’s good. I’m proud of the work we’ve done and I want to share it with people. Watching the tech run in the theatre yesterday, I couldn’t wait to be watching it with an audience. I am excited for opening night tonight. It’s going to be fun. I hope I’ll see you there!

Tickets will be available on the door or you can book here.

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Rehearsal process

Last weekend I had the immense priviage of seeing the 24 Hour Plays process up close and personal. I was Props Manager for the production so Sunday was a busy day of running around town, answering endless text messages and trying to find things on a deadline, but it was also completely fascinating. I loved seeing the plays come to life – how they changed from the words on the page as the script came hot off the presses at 7.30am on Sunday, to the first “stumble-through” with the actors by mid-morning, to the finished, polished production with lights and sound, costume and make-up by 7.30pm. Seeing the process condensed into a day was a great reminder of all the different elements that feed into a finished show.

It was also a reminder of the things that I’m failing to pay attention to in my own show. Things like sound and lights and costume. Things that I tend to ignore because I don’t have any real expertise in those areas and because it’s a small show with a non-existent budget, I don’t have any designers to advise me. I need to correct because I love shows where all those elements work seamlessly together. They can really add something to the story that you are trying to tell, giving clues to the audience about the sort of world you’re showing them and the characters that inhabit it.

Even in the very brief meetings the technical team had with each show on Sunday, and in the minuscule 20 minute tech time they had on the Abbey stage, time and consideration was given to each aspect of the production. And that’s because the 24 Hour Plays people are consummate professionals and total champs, but also because they are important! That’s the lesson I’m taking away from it – don’t forget the technical aspects of the show! Use what’s available to you.

Rehearsals for In Protest Of… are going well. I like getting other peoples input into the script and the actors seems to like the script and enjoy performing it. It doesn’t feel like a play yet, it’s still three people pottering about in a room. It hasn’t become a real piece of theatre but we’re getting there. There are only three weeks until our first performance, but after the speedy turnarounds I saw last weekend, that seems like loads of time!
Tickets are on sale here and you still have a week to avail of the Early Bird offer.

Here’s a photo of the 24 Hour Play team on the Abbey stage, shortly before they opened the house on Sunday night:
24HourGangThere are lots more photos here, from the Meet & Greet on Saturday and the finished shows on Sunday.

Friday Five: Festival favourites and sold-out shows.

1. I hope you got your ticket for the 24 Hour Plays on Sunday because, as predicted it has sold out, though it’s might be worth trying for returns on the night. You can also make a donation to Dublin Youth Theatre here. I am the Props Manager for the show – who knows what I’ll be sent out to find on Sunday morning!

2. A few festival favourites have returned for another run. Riverrun is on in Project until Sunday, Lippy is on in the Peacock until February 14th and A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing opens in Project next Wednesday, February 4th. It’s great to get a second chance to see shows that you missed during the busy festival season.

3. But if brand new work is more your thing, there’s lots of that at Collaborations which runs from February 18th to March 7th. There are over 60 shows in this year’s festival so it’s worth having a look at the programme – there will be something there that will tickle your fancy. Early Bird tickets are available until February 11th.

4. And for those who want to make new work, the Tiger Dublin Fringe are accepting applications for their 2015 festival now. The information sessions are on February 10th at 6pm and the closing date for applications is March 13th.

5. Last week I went along to the Abbey’s Theatre of War Symposium. It was a mind-blowing few days with speakers from all over the world, talking about the beginnings of wars, the day-to-day experiences in a war zone and the aftermaths of conflict. They also talked about art and artists responses to war. As far as I know, the Abbey will be uploading all the talks in the next couple of weeks so I’ll let you know when that goes live. In the meantime, ANU launched their new show PALS – The Irish at Gallipoli this week. It’s about the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers during World War 1. It’s starts next week and will run Wednesday – Sunday until the end of April. Book now because it will sell out!

I finished a play!

I finished writing my play and sent it to a few people to get some feedback. I felt euphoria at having a completed script swiftly followed by the fear of what other people would have to say about it. There was no need for the fear because the feedback I got was all kind and lovely. I obviously choose well when I was deciding on the people to send my brand new script to because they all said nice things about it and were very encouraging and supportive! It was great to hear what other people saw in the script and that feed into the next draft.

The other really helpful thing was hearing it read by actors. The characters came into themselves more and it was really good to hear the actors’ thoughts on their characters and where they saw inconsistencies or confusion around the characters behaviour. Letting the play exist somewhere other than my computer screen was like re-potting a plant. The plant grow quickly to fill the bigger pot and the play got bigger and better.

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In Protest Of…

Wednesday was the Collaborations launch night and while I was delighted to finally get my hands on the programme, it was also really interesting talking to people about the show and hearing other peoples reactions to the subject matter. My show is about protest and I spent a lot of time at the launch waving my protest sign! I’m starting to look forward to sharing the show with an audience at the end of February. Tickets are on sale now from the Smock Alley website.

And you still have one more day to donate to the crowd-finding campaign for eternal gratitude, rewards and general good vibes.

My play has now moved on to the rehearsal stage and seeing it becoming more than just words on the page is very exciting.

Scratch Nights

Scratch Nights don't generally features kittens or claws. This image is pure click-bait!
Scratch Nights don’t generally features kittens or claws. This image is pure click-bait!

The practical modules of my drama degree always included a performance as part of the assessment. This meant that at the end of term, each class had a day of performances/exams. They could be great fun, particularly if it wasn’t your class that was being assessed that day! There were five or six groups in each class so the audience (other students and the lecturers who were marking the work) would move between the different performance spaces and see five or six short pieces over a morning or afternoon. The work was brand new, often experimental and the quality could vary wildly. The pieces could be playful or dark, some might be very wordy and others would be very physical. The work generally had an unfinished feel to it because we were all making it up as we went along. This, along with the fact that you saw a lot of short pieces one after the other, meant the days performance felt a bit like a scratch night.

Scratch nights are made up of short work-in-progress pieces. Over the course of the evening you might see a 10-minute snippet of a devised piece, a rehearsed reading of a play, an improvised dance piece and a short monologue. They are an opportunity for theatre makers to try things out in front of an audience. For devised work, which might just be a collection of ideas and maybe a couple of scenes, knowing you have to show it to an audience helps you to focus those ideas. You are forced to figure out a beginning, a middle and an end, as well as the transitions between those moments.

In the same way for playwrights, having a deadline means the work gets written! Personally, I’ve found that having a deadline is often a necessary motivator in making theatre. When you know that there will be an audience sitting in a room, waiting to see your work on a specific date, it gives the work an urgency and a momentum that might not be there otherwise. Scratch nights are a relatively low risk way to get that urgency.

Putting a piece of work in front of an audience is also the only way to find out if it works or not. Does it make sense? Does it do the thing you want it to do? Theatre is all about communicating your ideas to an audience. Of course, this can be terrifying – showing your baby to the world for the first time – but in my experience scratch audiences are pretty generous. They understand that it’s a work in progress (possibly because a large portion of the audience is made up of other theatre makers!). A lot of scratch nights incorporate an element of feedback, formally or informally so at the end of the evening, you will go home having learnt a lot about your piece, for better or worse!

I really enjoyed those performance days in college because it was a free and easy way to see lots of work and you came away with your head full of images and ideas. There was a heavy lean towards live art on the course, so often you had no idea what the piece was about, you just decided if you liked it or not. It was a way to learn about your own taste in theatre, and you could also learn a lot from other people’s triumphs and failures.

Scratch nights are usually cheap; Fringe Fuse, for example, costs €3 to attend and includes refreshment. For this bargain price, you’ll see a mix of things. You won’t like everything, but there’s always the chance you might see something you love. You could discover that you love dance or spoken word or something you’d never considered before. Scratch nights let the audience try something new, as well as the artists.

I’ve already mentioned one Dublin scratch night – Fringe Fuse, which is held monthly in Fringe Lab in Temple Bar. They take a break during the festival and haven’t started up again yet, but join the Fringe mailing list or the Fringe Lab group on Facebook to keep up to date.

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The Theatre Machine Turns You On, Vol. 4 is accepting applications until November 14th.

There are also two festivals at the start of next year which will show work-in-progress pieces. The set up is a bit different to a scratch night, but they are an opportunity to see new work on the cheap. Collaborations will take place in Smock Alley Theatre from February 20th to March 7th 2015 and will included finished pieces as well as works-in-progress. The THEATREclub curated festival The Theatre Machine Turns You On is only looking for work in progress pieces this time around. The festival will be in Project Arts Centre from the 22nd – 26th January 2015. It’s also still open for applications until November 14th if you have an idea that you are dying to try out.

Over the years, work from both these festivals has gone on to full productions in the Tiger Fringe Festival, in Bewleys Cafe Theatre and on tour around the country. That’s the other really important aspect of scratch nights; they can be a great spring board for new work so it’s important to remember it’s the first and not the final performance of your show.

I think scratch nights can play a vital role in helping artists create work. For lots of other thoughts and opinions on the usefulness of scratch nights, I recommend this report from Devoted and Disgrunted.

KATIE/MAG

KATIE/MAG begins with a smartly-dressed young woman, laden down with shopping bags frantically pacing the floor. As she forces herself to carry out simple instructions – “Put down the bags. Slowly.”, “Ask for a glass of water.” we get the feeling that something has gone badly wrong.

Over the next hour the young woman, Katie (Amy O’Dwyer) walks us though her life, with help and prompts from Mags (Kelly McAuley), who played a vital role in it. We begin with Katie as a babe in arms and works our way forwards to the harrassed woman at the beginning of the play. As the play zips us past various moments, we see Katie at an unsure four year old, an easily embarrassed 13 year old and moody, rebellious 17 year old. The two actresses inhabit each moment beautifully. They transform fluidly into the different characters. O’Dwyer shows us Katie at all the different ages and moods while McAuley plays all the supporting characters – from the worried Mam to the boring lecturer and lots more inbetween. Often she manages to convey Mags attitude towards these people while she is bringing them to life.

The play gives you a brief snapshot of what’s it’s like to dumped by your best friend in primary school, or to finally start university and discover exactly how far the reality is from your expectations. These snapshots are so true and so well-realised that they leave you reeling with the remembrance of your own adolescent.

The play focuses on the close relationship between Katie and Mags but it also says a lot about women’s relationships with food, sex and ambition. None of these relationships are particularly healthy, but neither is Katie and Mags. And it only grows more destructive as the years go on.

Jennifer Rogers enjoyable script is really brought to life by the wonderful performances by the two actors. This tight two-hander asks a lot of it’s performers and they definitely deliver the goods. The set and props are kept minimal so that the focus is on the actors. They bring emotion and great story-telling to the piece, which is both funny and moving.

It’s great to see women’s stories being told on stage, especially when it is done this well.

KATIE/MAG is part of the Collaborations festival and is on in the Boy’s School in Smock Alley tonight (February 28) and Saturday at 9pm. Tickets are €10/12 and available here.