Project Brand New at the Dublin Theatre Festival

Tomorrow is the last day of the Dublin Theatre Festival and I do have a few bits and pieces to say about it (along with a couple of Fringe reviews that I have been meaning to post for the last three weeks!) but in the meantime a quick recommendation – if you are in Dublin tomorrow evening, go and see Tear Down the Walls in Fumbally Court, Dublin 8.

Project Brand New has invited six artists to create brand new work in response to this non-theatre space. Tickets are €5 and it’s happening at 6pm and 8pm tomorrow. I loved Project Brand New’s “Magic If…” in last year’s festival (Lynne Parker was particularly creative and articulate) and I think this will be very interesting.

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The End of the Road

Yesterday I went down to the Project Arts Centre after work hoping to get a ticket for Fishamble’s new show The End of the Road. This production is part of the Made in Temple Bar festival and when it opened for booking at the beginning of July, the tickets went fast and I wasn’t quick enough! But luckily, someone wasn’t able to make it yesterday and I got their spot!

I was interested in this show because I like the work of both the writer Gavin Kostick and the director Louise Lowe, and I wanted to see this promenade performance. The play is about the life of one man, a guy called Bill and the audience drop in and out of different moments in his life, gradually building up a picture of this man and the life he’s led.

The audience are in groups of eight and you are lead out the back of the Project by Bill’s Mam and Dad and left listening to a recording of interviews with the real Bill. This is interweaved with the voices of the actors who play Bill in the production. Each group is accompanied on their tour by their own Bill. The fours actors (John Cronin, Ronan Leahy, Michael Glenn Murphy, Robbie O’Connor, below) are all different ages but each one plays Bill at every age as we visit scenes from his life.

Robbie O'Connor, John Cronin, Ronan Leahy and Michael Glenn Murphy, Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Bill acts as a tour guide for his own life as he leads his audience down towards Fishamble Street and shares his story with them. He does this through conversation with the audience and also by letting us see it happen for ourselves. There’s an intimacy shared between the audience and the actors, you find yourself in real places – cafes, waiting rooms, pubs – ease-dropping on other people’s conversations, but these conversations happened 30 years ago. It feels a bit like time-traveling as you walk down the street and see horses and people pushing old fashioned prams and bicycles. There are boys and girls in uniform playing old-fashioned games. It feels like you are taking part in something, not just seeing a play.

The performance is well-balanced between the pieces on the street when Bill talks directly to the audience and the scenes inside the various buildings. There are wonderful performances from the main actors and also the extras on the street and I really appreciate how the performance does not talk down to the audience but allows us to piece together the story for ourselves as we more back and forwards through time.

It’s a wonderful piece of theatre where the fourth wall is completely dismantled, along with a few other theatre traditions. We’re not really dealing with a nice, neat piece of fiction – instead it’s the messy reality of someone’s life. It is performed with respect for the subject matter and the audience and you come away feeling like you have experienced something a little bit special. My only complaint was that there was no time for applause or acknowledgment. My little group ended the show standing at the end of the road, applauding the horse. He didn’t seem that bothered.

Even though it’s fully booked, it’s definitely worth trying to get a ticket for. The Project Arts Centre are running a returns list from 5.30pm each day and there are 8 shows a night until Friday. Shows are at 5.45, 6:05, 6.25, 6.45, 7:05, 7:25, 7.45 and 8.05pm. I arrived at 5.30pm and managed to get a ticket for the 6.05pm show so it’s worth giving it a try.

Project Brand New – call for submissions

The next Project Brand New will be happening on the 16th, 17th and 18th of December and they have sent out a call for submissions for work to be presented.

“If you are interested in submitting a proposal for consideration, all you have to do is the following:
1. Describe your idea and where you would like to take it in no more than 500 words

2. Tell us why you want to show work in PBN and how you propose to solicit and incorporate feedback

3. Include CVs/biogs for each participant

(If you are submitting a new play or musical text, it is helpful, though not essential, for us to read a draft of the extract you intend to present.)

Submissions will be assessed under the following criteria:
*The artistic quality of your idea
*The scope of your ambition
*The practical needs of your idea”

The deadline is 5.30pm on Friday 5th November (only 3 and a bit weeks away!) and all the submission details can be found on their Facebook page.

Project Brand New are also presenting The Magic if… as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. They are promising tea, cake and inspiration at 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm & 6pm on Saturday 16th at The New Theatre, Temple Bar. €2 per hour.

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.

Dublin Theatre Festival (again!)

The launch party for the Absolut Fringe Festival is tomorrow evening, when they will unveil the programme for this year’s festival. The Fringe itself is only four weeks away – exciting!! But before we get all swept away with the Fringe madness, I thought I would have another look at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

A show that I am now really looking forward to seeing (if I can get tickets – on sale Wednesday at 9.30am!) is The Smile Off Your Face. It’s been getting great reviews at the Kilkenny Arts Festival and it’s sounds a little odd and interesting – the audience member is blindfolded and put into a wheel-chair before they enter the “performance”. Ontroerend Goed have three shows in the Festival and they are all a bit odd. Internal is performed to just five people at a time and has the warning “contains nudity”! The Game of You just sounds a bit tricksy from it’s blurb. All these performances are approximately 30 minutes long and cost €15 each. I don’t see it on the website, but the paper programme says that you can book a ticket for all three for €36 which is a little bit of a saving.

Personally I think that’s still a lot of money, but probably worth it for the experience!

The Festival does have some free work-in-progress performances and live art pieces, buried under the Special Events tab on the website.

The In Development strand has new plays from Corn Exchange and Fishamble. Sadly, for me and anyone else who works full time, a lot of them are during the day time.

Project Brand New is also there with The Magic If… on Saturday 16th October in The New Theatre, shows are running hourly from 2pm – 7pm. There’s no advance booking, you just pay €2 at the door.

Amanda Coogan’s Yellow is on in St. Mary’s Abbey (off Capel Street) from September 30 – October 5th. It’s a durational live performance and audience members can come and go throughout the performance which is between 6pm – 10pm each night. Each evening it will be performed by a different woman. And it’s free!

I really would recommend getting a paper programme rather than relying on the website. They are available free of charge from the Festival offices on East Essex Street, just down from the Project, or from the Abbey and Gate theatres. You can also request one from the website.

Project Brand New 5 – Saturday

The first piece on Saturday night was Diceman The Musical. This was a rock musical set in the Dandelion Market in 1978. My first impression was that it was nice to see so many people on stage. Most of the Project Brand New pieces are one or two-handers. This had a cast of six, plus an electric guitarist. It was a pretty traditional piece of theatre about the love-lives of five young people working in the market, with The Diceman looking on and commenting on the proceedings. The music was great and added a liveliness to the piece. The script was funny and clipped along nicely. It was probably only the first scene of longer script. I enjoyed it but I am not dying to see the rest of it.

The second piece was My Body Travels. This was a movement piece with some voice-over text in the first section. According to the programme it was about ‘a misfit who wants to find their place in the world’ which I think is an accurate description of what we saw on stage. It was performed by Matthew Morris and it was a beautiful piece of work. He came onstage wheeling a suitcase and wearing one running shoe and one high-heeled shoe, bring pink hot-pants and a vest. It was amazing how fast he could move across the stage in these mis-matched shoes, always dragging the suitcase behind him! The movement piece, which was complicated and very disciplined, was accompanied by a voice-over that reflected the misfit status of the performer onstage. It was like a running commentary on a hectic, sexually-confused, haphazard life of someone who was struggling to figure out where they belonged. It was clever and funny and fit well with what was going on onstage, both in tone and content.

In the second section, the performer took off his mis-matched shoes, took out a pair of trousers and a crumbled white shirt out of his suitcase and put them on. There was a large rectangle of light on across the stage, like light spilling out of an open door. The section involved the performer moving forward across the stretch of light, then retreating backwards. He repeated this movement for about five minutes, adding hand gestures which to me looked to me almost like sign language, moving forward and back, slowing down and speeding up. It was a little bit odd and seemed to go on too long.

However, it was utterly redeemed by the third section which was truly beautiful. The performer fist removed his shirt and the vest beneath it, then did the same with his trousers, revealing again the bright pink hot-pants. These were also removed leaving the performer completely naked. He stood there a second before begining to move again. It was facinating to watch because you could see every muscle in his body and how they worked together to create the complex movements. It was like a lesson in anatomy! When the suitcase was stood up and open, sand spilled out onto the stage. The piece ended with the performer almost making a nest for himself in the sand. It was very moving, like he had finally found somewhere he felt safe.

I think this was probably my favourite piece of the three night run. I’d love to see it again, I’d love to see more from the same artist. It started off a little bit arch and clever but ended on a very pure and moving note. I loved it.

It’s a little bit hard to give an accurate description of Missing, the third piece of the night, because I experienced it from back-stage. I was one of the shadows at the very end of the piece! From what I could hear and what I saw in rehearsal, it was a very funny script about the serious issues of missing people and homelessness. The audience seemed to enjoy it immensely, judging from the laughs it got. I would love to see it properly sometime.

The next piece, Neuropolis was about a man who wakes up with no memories. He is trying to figure out who he is and what has happened to him. This much was established quickly and neatly at the beginning of the piece when we hear the man being interviewed/interrogated by an official of some sort. There is then a movement section where the man, Henry, encounters strange people who seem to know him and all seem to have an agenda. The other characters (five in total – another piece with lots of bodies onstage!) repeat the same movements over and over again while moving around the stage; one woman keeps pouring water over her head and there’s a man who keeps ringing a little bell. Only Henry is able to alter his actions and reactions as he moves between them. In the end they surround him and each character speaks a few lines, switching between the different characters and we get a hint as to what their relationship with Henry might be.

It says in the programme that this piece is a work in process and that the ‘primary focus at this point has been imagery and atmosphere; answers will come later…’. I think they were successful in doing that. The movements of the actors were very precise and the repetition made it seem like we were in a very odd place. It reminded me a little bit of Iris Brunette. It has a vague apocalyptic feel to it. And it did throw up lots of questions. The audience is trying to work out what kind of person Henry is by what the other characters say about it him. The interesting thing is that Henry is trying to do the same thing!

The final piece of the night was the return of Short Message Service from the first night. Helena and Les came back on to tell us about the texts they had received since Thursday night and also asked the audience to disregard theatre protocol, switch on their phones and text them while they were onstage.

This reminded me of a class in university when the lecturer told everyone to turn on their phones, leave them on the desk and read out any text messages that came in during class. As it happened, a few of the texts read out were from people in the room organising a drinking session later that evening and one member of the class came in late, missed the announcement about texts and then sent a dirty poem to a another classmate. It was very funny. I think the lecturer’s point was that stories can come from anywhere.

The performance on Saturday was similar. The texts read out were for the most part funny, silly, little thoughts. They did make you wonder briefly about the person who had sent them and the story behind them. It did sort being the audience together. It felt like we were a collective. The texts had come from us as a group, and we were hearing them as a group which felt sort of intimate because text messages are generally private things.

Short Message Service is still going on. It has become a durational piece. I’m not sure if that was the original idea, or it has just developed in that direction. They are now asking you to respond to this message – “A Problem Shared is A Problem Halved. Text us and we will reply – +353 (0)87 0906268.” And I can tell you from personal experience that they will indeed reply! And you can keep up to date with them here.

Project Brand New 5 – Friday

Video Sniffing?, the first piece on Friday was about the ‘art’ of tracking down open, wireless transmissions of footage from security cameras and I really liked it. There was a couple of things going on in the piece; it started as a lecture of sorts where the guy was explaining video sniffing to the audience – how to do it, why people do it, the criticisms against it, etc. Then he was was joined on stage by a female lover who criticised his ‘hobby’ because his scrutiny of the video footage made him scrutinises her and she didn’t like feeling she was being watched all the time. She pointed out how difficult it is to behave normally when you know you are being watched.

The switch was a bit strange because the piece started with the guy talking directly to the audience, and then when she entered the scene, they sort of put up the fourth wall and had a private conversation. I think it might have seemed less split if her entrance was taken as more of an intrusion onstage and if they were a little more aware of the audience who were watching them argue.

They touched lightly on the idea that possibly being watched all the time and the number of CCTVs in our lives is not a good thing, that it doesn’t act as much of a deterrent against crime and is possibly an invasion of privacy. This subject was very lightly touched-on, so slight you could almost miss it. If that is what they want the piece to be about, I think it would have to take a more central role. But as it was, it was very enjoyable to watch, with lots of interesting ideas and was very well performed.

The second piece was called I Love Guns. According to the programme it was based on “a true and horrific story about a family massacre that started with a son killing himself with his father’s gun”. I didn’t really see that story in the piece. There was references to guns and to the feelings of hopelessness that might led to suicide but I couldn’t see a clear story. What was performed on Saturday night may have been a short section from a longer script.

However the lack of clear narrative did not stop me from enjoying the piece. The two performers, the Writer and the Actress, came on dressed all in white. This costume instantly creating an aesthetic that was other-worldly and strange. They sat on chairs, towards the front of the stage and the Writer began reading what sounded like stage directions for the Actress. The movement in the piece complemented the text. Sometimes the Writer would read out a list of physical instructions for the Actress which she would either follow or ignore. I really liked the text which was full of images and atmosphere and I would love to see more of it.

The third piece, Chaosmosis was a video installation. It involved black and white blobs moving through and over each other. It was a little bit too abstract for me and I spent my time trying to figure out if they were naturally occurring blobs, sub-diving cells perhaps or frog spawn, or if they were just computer graphics.

The fourth piece was called My Life in Dresses. It was a work in progress for a finished performance that will take place in September 2010. It’s about the creator, Sorcha Kenny’s addiction to second-hand and vintage dresses, her fascination with the lives these dresses had before they came into her possession and the sentimental attachment we all have to certain pieces of clothing.

I liked the idea of the piece and the staging looked very pretty with tailor dummies in vintage dresses, an old suitcase and other pretty, vintage things, like an old-fashioned radio and telephone. Despite obviously still being in the development stages, it was a lovely piece of theatre. Sound and video clips were used to great affect to show us all the different things that she is looking at for the final performance. There was space made in the piece for men’s voices too. There was the old man who keep all his wife’s dresses after she passed away and the dress diaries where Sorcha lent out her dresses to people and asked them to keep a diary of their week with the dress.

I think all these elements will combine to create a visually interesting and engaging performance and I will be looking out for it in September. You can find out more about the project at the My Life in Dresses blog.

The final piece on Friday night, Heart was about “the relationship between our conceptions about our bodies and how we construct them through language.” On stage, this involved a man informally interviewing his parents about how they first met and fell in love. While this was going on at the front of the stage, graphic clips of open-heart surgery were played on the big screen behind the actors. It was a nice little love story and a bit of open heart surgery.

The aim was to contrast the actual, bloody, beating heart with the more romantic notion of the hearts we see on Valentine’s cards. Scattered throughout the narrative, which I don’t think was scripted but had probably been rehearsed, were phrases that used the word ‘heart’ in a variety of different ways; things like “my heart was in my mouth”, “it was a hearty meal”, “it was a heartless thing to do” etc. These phrases became more frequent, or maybe just more noticeable, as the piece went on.

For me, the juxtaposition didn’t work because both things were happening at the same time but didn’t seem to connect in anyway, other than with the obvious heart connection. There was no overlap and this made it too easy to ignore one or the other.

The performance didn’t feel like a finished piece to me. The performers were engaging and I actually enjoyed the open-heart surgery because I like watching messy, medical procedures but it didn’t quite work as a piece of theatre.

Project Brand New 5 – Thursday

Thursday was the first night of Project Brand New 5 and I was looking forward to another three nights of brand new theatre. As ever, the upstairs foyer was buzzing with people when I arrived, the comment curtains were ready for feedback and the bar was doing great business!

The first piece of the night was called Calle O’Reilly. It was Afro-Cuban music, enhanced with a live video performance. The musicians were already playing when the audience entered the theatre. Lots of percussion and a bit of bass. Eventually the crowd were all inside and settled in and the piece began.

The musicians and singers performed in darkness and there were light-displays projected onto each performer. These were tribal masks, the kind that remind me of a totem pole, with exploring fireworks of light coming out of their heads! The fireworks were linked to the sounds each performer was making, so it would only happen when the drummer banged the drum and it was in time to the music. There was also a video of drawings of Cuba on the screen behind.

It was a really great opener; it looked and sounded great, it wasn’t too taxing to watch and it made me feel like we were in for a good night!

My only small criticism was that because we couldn’t see the singers faces, it felt like it could have been a recording. Some of the specialness of live music was lost for me because of that.

The second piece was You Will Never Be Seen Again and came with a warning that it started with six minutes of darkness, so we wouldn’t be concerned by that. The darkness came with a voice-over telling us about something that happened to them. These voice-overs (from about three different people) were the main part of the piece. They were all about relationships – relationships gone bad mostly. They were very raw; they felt like real interviews played in all their flawed glory. While the voice-overs were going on (and after the lights came up on stage), there was a single performer onstage performing a movement piece. It didn’t seem connected to the text and it didn’t really do much for me. I liked it better when we were sitting in the dark, just listening to the voices.

The third piece, Short Message Service was very much a work in process. It was more a presentation than a performance. The two artists, Helena O’Connor and Leslie Cullinan are creating a performance based around text messages. They explained where this idea came from and how they had been exploring it. They also said that they found they couldn’t use their own texts because they had a history attached and they found it impossible to see them outside that context. Instead they were looking from texts from strangers and giving out their phone number all over the place. And they would come back on Saturday with the resulting performance.

It was a genuinely enjoyable presentation. They managed to be funny and informative and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final piece on Saturday. They also had a wall of post-its outside in the foyer with all their texts on them. They were brilliant – tiny little snippets of information, a peek into someone else’s life.

The fourth piece was called Body Response System and it was as technical as that sounds. It involved a “motion-sensing interface that triggers musical responses” and a dancer that moved around inside this interface. There was also a saxophone player who responded to the music created by the movement. It was an interesting idea and I’m sure a lot of went into it but it wasn’t all that interesting to watch. The developer, Maria Coleman, did say at the beginning that she created it because she wanted to make something that audience had to phyiscally engague with, not just be a spectator. Possibly I just didn’t experience it properly.

The last performance Delicious O’Grady, was the highlight of the night for me. It was a one-man show about the famine. By then the audience was a little bit giddy and after three intervals, possibly a bit drunk. Luckily it was a tragicomedy that leaned heavily towards the comedy; it was very very funny. It was five short scenes (one was a little animation on the big screen) set during the famine.

It was very visual and great fun. Colm O’Grady had a great rapoture with the audience. There was a bit of audience participation, and a very silly scene with an Irish school master. It also had a fantastic ending!

I think the piece we saw in the Project was a short section from a much longer show, and the whole show will be performed at the Cathedral Quarter Festival in Belfast on May 5th. Definitely worth going to see if you’re in the area.

This was only the first night of goodies, I have two more nights of magic to recap!

Project Brand New 4 – Day 3

Saturday night was probably the busiest of the three nights at the Project. Maybe word had spread and people were bringing along friends or maybe it’s just the night for going to the theatre. I had spent the day in a drama workshop and when I got home that evening after a day of lots of movement and lots of ideas flying around, I considered giving it a miss. Just staying in, maybe watching a movie and then going to bed early. I couldn’t do it. I was afraid I’m miss something spectacular, something special if I didn’t go. I’m glad I did manage to drag myself down to the Project in the end. I think it was my favourite night of the three.

The first piece was called Worksong and was based on interviews with people who had experienced a big change in their work life. It was about work, but the underlying theme was the importance of having meaningful work to do, work that people feel is worthwhile. This idea really resonated with me.

The technique used was a little strange. The edited interviews were played directly to the actors through headphones, and they repeated the words they heard. Reading the programme before the performance, I wondered why it was done like this and what the advantage was. Surely it would make more sense for the actors to learn the lines before hand and have time to work on the characters they were playing. These doubts went out the window when I saw the performance. The actors were forced to react instantly to what they were hearing and this gave the performance a immediacy that felt fresh. The only disadvantage was that the actors weren’t able to pause for laughter or spontaneous applause. They had to keep up with the interview that was playing through their headphones. And there was laughter and applause – it was a great piece.

Dog Skipping Pegasus was very like the live art pieces that I studied and experienced at university. It was almost a visual art piece that consisted of a woman working at a sewing machine, feeding material along, while on the other side of the stage a man skipped, mirroring the mechanical repetition of the sewing machine. The man stood in a spotlight on a white canvas divided into four squares and used a long red skipping rope, the sound and movement of which was vaguely hypnotic. The text he spoke (while skipping! he never stopped skipping) was flow of conscience stuff that sounded poetic, lots of images. I found it hard to concentrate on the words because I was entranced by the sound of the skipping rope. It looked good and the physical accomplishment was admirable (non-stop skipping for 20 minutes!) but I didn’t really find it very theatrical.

The third piece was called Messages from God and was a piece from an artist that had performed at Project Brand New before and was invited back (Project Brand New RSVP). It consisted of the artist, Priscilla Robinson talking about illustrated notes that she’d made as a child while listening to her father’s sermons in church. The pages were projected onto the wall behind her and she told us the biblical story each page related to. I liked the piece. Priscilla was very personable and it was a funny and light-hearted. She’s the only artist I feel the need to name in these reviews because it was such a personal piece and who she was was a big part of it.

One of the pieces of feedback that she asked for at the end was how could she make these drawings and stories into a piece of theatre. For me, that’s the big question and one that I have asked myself often when devising theatre. We would have all these ideas and images and characters that we wanted to put onstage but we had no idea how to put them all together in a way that worked in a theatrical sense. I hope Priscilla finds a way because I would like to see more of her work.

The final piece on Saturday night was Market Research This which might be my favourite of all from the entire Project Brand New 4 run. It was another work in progress, with the final piece being staged in early next year. There was a sense that there was more of the story to be told but at the same time if seemed very polished and tight, and it worked. The three actors were very good and really gave life to their characters. The writing was also excellent and probably the main reason that I am dying to see the finished piece. It was smart and contemporary and funny and I really enjoyed it.

Market Research Thing was the second piece of the night to be about work, and it was a perfect contrast to the first piece Worksong. Here the characters, working in their Market Research job, their job in Market Research, did not find their work meaningful or worthwhile. Again, this struck a cord with me because I have experience of those jobs that just slowly suck the life out of you. However it was not a depressing piece of theatre. It was lively and clever and had such a light, sure touch but still the themes and the struggles of the characters stuck with me. As I said, I am really looking forward to seeing the finished piece and will be looking out for Redtape, the company who are producing it.

I left on Saturday night feeling inspired and invigorated by all the pieces I’d seen, my mind buzzing with ideas. I’m already looking forward to the next Project Brand New and who knows, I might even have my own performance to put forward for consideration by then!