January Treats

Sometimes the last few weeks of December can feel like hard work. There’s all those jobs that need to be done by the end of the year; the days that are too short and too dark; there’s so many nights out and so many hangovers and so much rain. Then the holidays come and it’s a relief to just relax in front of the tv or the fire, eating and drinking and sleeping too much; ignoring the fact that soon it will be January when the days will be just as short and dark and the weather just as miserable, but with no Christmas break to look forward to. Instead there’ll just be counting the days until payday and failing to live up to New Year’s resolutions made in happier, more hopeful times.

So it’s a good idea to do something nice for yourself and plan a couple of treats for January. I know I will need something to help me get through that long month. It might be connected to a resolution but it must be something fun. Something far away from that faithful trinity of resolutions – diet, exercise and managing your money. For me, this usually means booking tickets. Last year it was Walworth Farce, which I’d booked in November and definitely brighten up my January! This year, I have tickets for Nollaig na mBan at the Irish Writers Centre on January 6th and the Theatre of Change at the Abbey at the end of January.

Nollaig_na_mBanI booked my ticket for Nollaig na mBan really early this year because last January, I only got in by the skin of my teeth. (Thankfully sometimes throwing yourself at the mercy of the waiting list works out!) It was a really fun night in the Irish Writers Centre; Una Mulally quoted Constance Markievicz and Tara Flynn managed to be very funny about Ireland’s lack of reproduction rights. Other speakers talked about mental health, being a “lovely girl” and apologising too much. The panel discussion included lots of recommendations of great books by women which I’d forgotten by the time I’d got home because I got carried away by the wine and the Secret Santa-style book-swap at the end of evening. It was a really fun night and I enjoyed it immensely. Sadly it’s already sold out for this January but the waiting list worked out for me last year so it’s maybe worth a try.

The other ticket I’ve booked is for the Theatre of Change, the three day symposium at the Abbey. This was the thing I was most excited about when the new programme was announced in October. I’ve been to the last two and found them fascinating and insightful. (I even did a top five of my favourites panels and presentations from the Theatre of War, with YouTube links.) For this year’s Theatre of Change, I’m hoping for forward-looking, optimistic discussions but I don’t really know what to expect. One of the things I’ve liked about the last couple of years is that the content was surprising; often it was the speakers I didn’t know that I found the most fascinating, and the topics that I didn’t even know I was interested in were where I learnt the most. I know that spending three days in the Abbey listening to a bunch of artists and academics talking may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but to a giant theatre-nerd like myself it makes me very happy. Tickets are still on sale if you feel the same way. The €50 Early Bird tickets are available until December 31st.

Other January treats
First Fortnight – the mental health arts festival begins on January 1st and there are events happening all over Dublin until January 16th. I’m hoping to see some of the plays that I missed during the Fringe, and maybe some of the visual arts exhibitions and discussions. I’m also looking forward to Enthroned – “a modern fairytale charting a woman’s journey to confirm her right to existence” which takes place in St. Patrick’s Hospital.

What We Call Love: From Surrealism to Now
This exhibition is on at IMMA until the 7th February. Featuring modern and contemporary masterworks from the world’s leading collections by Abramović, Brancusi, Dalí, Duchamp Ernst, Giacometti, Oppenheim, Picasso, Warhol, Yoko Ono, and many more.

Dublin Old School – there are still some tickets available for this show in Project Arts Centre, 12th – 16th of January. I loved it last year – it’s really energetic and manages to be both funny and sad. It was one of my theatre highlights of 2014.

Dublin Film Festival isn’t happening until February but you could buy yourself a gift voucher now and make sure that you definitely go and see something during the festival.

Or if you fancy a bit of self-improvement, you could sign up for a class. This January, the Science Gallery are running short courses on how to make an app, web development and getting to grips with the Raspberry Pi, a tiny but powerful computer. The Irish Writer’s Centre has loads of courses coming up in the New Year, as does the very reasonably priced People’s College.

Whatever you do, do something nice in January.

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.

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.

Absolut Fringe 2012: Fringe Awards

The Absolut Fringe is over for another year, and what a wonderful Fringe it was! I had another great year volunteering with the festival and saw as many shows as my budget would allow.

The Fringe Awards happened last night in Meeting House Square, which was a wonderful out-door venue this year, playing host to Briefs almost every night of the festival as well as other acts. All the winners and nominations are listed on the Fringe Facebook page and, as usual, the list includes a whole lot of shows that I didn’t get a chance to see.

I’m looking forward to catching a lot of the winners when they come back again. The Lir Revival is a new award this year and the winners are given the opportunity to restage their winning production at The Lir. This year’s winners are Talking Shop Ensemble’s Death of a Tradesman (which also won the Fishamble New Writing Award for Shaun Dunne) and WillFredd’s Farm (which I tried and failed to get tickets for). I’m looking forward to seeing both of those shows when they are staged sometime between now and the end of the academic year. I have yet to see a show at The Lir so I’m looking forward to that too. I was down there a couple of times this Fringe as a volunteer and it seems like a great venue.

Death of a Tradesman is also part of this year’s Galway Theatre Festival which starts on next Monday.

Two more shows that I heard a lot of good things about but didn’t see myself were Paperdolls’ Constellations and Emma Martin’s Dogs. These two shows are closer to dance than straight theatre and both won big awards on Sunday night. Dogs won Best Production and Best Design and Constellations won Spirit of the Fringe. Paperdolls are definitely a company to keep an eye on!

So they are all the shows I didn’t see; I will post reviews of the ones I did manage over the next couple of days. And then we’ll get ready for the Dublin Theatre Festival which starts on Thursday!

Absolut Fringe 2011: Eternal Rising of the Sun

Eternal Rising of the Sun, by HotForTheatre

Eternal Rising of the Sun was another one-woman show. There were a lot of them in this year’s Fringe Festival and that’s no bad thing, especially when they are as good as this.

It’s a slightly harrowing tale of Gina, a woman who has been used and abused by most, if not all, of the men in her life. But she’s not giving up. She’s taking dance classes, just for herself, just because she loves to dance. It’s an uplifting show in it’s own quiet way.

The show is written and performed by Amy Convoy and follows the success of her first play I ♥ ALICE ♥ I which won the Fishamble New Writing Award in last year’s Fringe Festival and got another run in this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival. It’s a great script, slowly revealing more about Gina as the story goes on. This is exactly how you can imagine you would get to know the character. Amy also gives a wonderful performance. She plays Gina with a sort of contained energy, like there is a whole lot going on inside that we are only getting a glimpse of.

I hope Amy Conroy keeps making wonderful, moving shows like this one!

Absolut Fringe 2011: Where Do I Start?

Where Do I Start?
Where Do I Start?

Where Do I Start? was a lunchtime show about idenitiy and finding your place in the world. It was a one-woman show and the performer (Nyree Yergainharsian) introduced the show as if it was a seminar or group workshop about figuring out who you are. This clever opening gave context to the piece, acknowledged the audience and encouraged them to ask the same questions Nyree was asking about her own life. It also gave her an opportunity to give us a sense of why she had made this personal piece of theatre.

Nyree tells her story of growing up as an Irish-Armenian and the life she has lived up to this point. What makes this personal story so interesting and engaging for the audience is the simple, entertaining way she tells it. There is a lot of subtle humour and a sense of vulnerability from the performer.

I saw an earlier verison of this show as part of The Theatre Machine Turns You On last February and enjoyed it very much. This verison had more of a clearer shape to it and Nyree also used more physical movement to tell her story. There is a lovely section about how my mum and dad met for the first time that is told almost like a children’s fairytale, with larger than life characters and physical impersonations. Stories from before we are born often seems like family myths, especially when you hear them all the time when you’re growing up.

It was a very pleasant way to spend the hour and Nyree was a charming and entertaining host.

Absolut Fringe 2011: Autobiographer

Autobiographer by Melanie Wilson
Autobiographer by Melanie Wilson


On Saturday morning I left wet, windy Galway behind and headed to Dublin for a day of Fringe shows. My first show of the day was Autobiographer in the Studio Space at Smock Alley. I hadn’t been there since the Theatre Festival last year but I think it’s a great theatre.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the show. I was mostly there because I really liked Melanie Wilson’s previous show Iris Brunette. For me, Autobiographer didn’t have the same impact. It was atmospheric and the actors delivered wonderful, simple performances but I left a bit confused by the whole. The four actresses, of various ages, each wearing a flowing blue dress, picked up the disjointed narrative and passed it between themselves. It felt like one woman’s story, told through the many facets of that woman. There were reoccurring images and ideas but no clear narrative. We only saw aspects of this woman, she never really revealed herself to the audience. That was my main problem with the show – it felt disjointed and I wanted more narrative. I wanted to get to know this woman but she kept the audience at a distance. I was a little bit disappointed by the show.

Reviews coming soon for Twenty Ten, THEATREclub’s ambitious retelling of the year and Talking Shop Ensemble’s Do You Read Me?

Project Brand New shows at the Fringe

There’s a lot of crossover between the Fringe festival and the last Project Brand New this year. Probably because the deadlines for the two events were only a week apart, so a lot of people probably applied for both. And probably there are shows that didn’t make the cut for Project Brand New and vice versa. Not every piece of theatre would fit the criteria for both.

Here are the shows that did:

Delicious O’Grady – the tragicomedy about the famine. I think this was already a fully developed show and we just saw small scenes from it at Project Brand New. It was also very funny!

I Love Guns – I really liked this piece at Project Brand New but feel like I didn’t really get it. It was stark and beautiful and I want to see more of it!

My Life in Dresses – I’ve already mentioned this show and the lovely blog that accompanies it. I saw a poster for the show in Oxfam on Georges Street today, which felt like a very suitable place for this show to be advertised!

My Body Travels – This was one of my favourite pieces from Project Brand New and I am so upset that I’m going to miss the full length version. It’s only on for one night of the Fringe and I am coming back from Italy that evening. The 20 minutes we saw at PBN were completely memorising and I’d love to see how it translates into a hour long show. If you can, go see it on Monday September 13.

Neuropolis – I think this show was still in development when we saw it last May and I’m interested to see what it became after that. It was a strange bit of theatre but very intriguing. Worth seeing just to try and figure out what it was about.

More opportunities to get involved with the Fringe.

If you would like to get with involved with the Fringe Festival when it all kicks off in a couple of weeks time but you can’t commit to volunteering to the whole festival, or feel that getting naked on stage isn’t really your thing there are still productions looking for volunteers.

Macnas are opening the festival on the Saturday 11th September with “The Wild Hunt and The Sleepwalker – A Nocturnal Ballad”, a spectacular out-door event at Collins Barracks. They have lots of jobs for people who want to help out, including performers who have the ability to “follow directions and be enthusiastic in all weather conditions!” They are also looking for Stage Managers and Stewards, Fire Stewards and Float Operators.

There’s more information on the Fringe Festival website here.

And on the Gaiety School of Acting blog, Playgroup are looking for extras who can sing for their Fringe show Berlin Love Tour. More information here.

Sneak peak at the Fringe

The full Fringe programme won’t be released until August 18 but there are a few highlights listed in the Project’s latest programme. Along with Trilogy, I am also looking forward to this:

As you are now, so once were we
Why haven’t you read Ulysses? The most important Irish work of the last century is also the most unknown. Why? Spirit of the Fringe 2009 award winner The Company is back to ask you who you think you are, where you think you belong and to re-write one of the most relevant Irish literary works in light of the ways we now communicate with each other. This year The Company rediscovers what it means to be Irish.

The Company had the infuriating and fascinating Who is Fergal Kilpatrick? in last year’s Fringe and I am very interested to see their take on Ulysses. It’s a big, fat book, and an ambitious project to take on, but one with huge scope.

I read Ulysses about ten years ago. (I was going through a Classics phase.) It took me months but I was determined to finish it. I started reading it shortly after I moved to Dublin for the first time, and I think that really helped me to connect with the book. When my aunt drove me back to Dun Laoghaire on a Sunday evening, we would pass the Martello towers at Sandycove. I would see The Morning Star hotel on Amiens Street when I got the train from Connelly and was amazed that it was still there. It made the book seem more real. I will be interested to see what The Company do with it.

Sorcha Kelly’s My Life in Dresses is another Fringe show that I will be looking out for. It was part of the last Project Brand New (fourth one down) and I’m interested to see how the show will develop from that work-in-progress. I’ve also been keeping up-to-date with her blog for the project. Her dresses have been up to all sorts of adventures!

I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on the full programme and finding out what other treats the Fringe has in store!

Who is Fergal Kilpatrick?

Who is Fergal Kilpatrick? is on in the Project this week. You should go and see it; it’s a very interesting show. I saw it during the Fringe Festival and although I wasn’t blown away by it, I did find it a very interesting hour of theatre.

I think my problem with the show was that it didn’t engage me emotionally. It was very intellectually engaging and it did make me think, even after I left the theatre, but I didn’t feel anything for the characters.

Still a show worth going to see.