Five Favourite Newsletters

Newsletters, Tiny Letters, SubStacks, whatever you want to call them, I love getting these updates from people’s lives in my inbox. I’ve always loved email. I subscribed to so many mailing lists in the pre-social media days of the internet that email was how I first got to know people online. Email is still the first thing I open when I sit down at my computer.

A good newsletter can feel like a great secret and it feels a little bit odd to be talking about my favourites out in public like this. Maybe it’s because they are sent directly to me and that makes them seem private and personal, or maybe because they remind me of the early days of online journals when every newly discovered site felt like it belonged to me alone. But I like sharing the things I love, and I can console myself with the fact that very few people read this blog, so they will remain mostly secret!

These are five (plus one bonus one) of my favourite free newsletters.

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11 Things I Learnt at the 2019 Dublin Fringe Festival

I really enjoyed this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival. It was two weeks of booking more shows than I could really afford and seeing wonderful performances all over the city. It’s one of my favourite times of year. I love coming out of a half six show while it’s still bright out and then heading off to see something else. I love bumping into friends in theatre foyers and hearing what they’ve seen or what they recommend. Here are some of the things I learnt over the course of the festival.

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Fringe Awards

I feel like I should finish my Fringe Festival blogging before I can move on to writing about the Dublin Theatre Festival and there are a couple of things that have been thinking about over the last couple of weeks.

The last show of the festival was the Fringe Awards on the Sunday night. Loads of things I hadn’t seen got a mention and won awards but there were a few winners that I had seen. The lovely Camille O’Sullivan won Best Night at the Speilgeltent which was well deserved, though I’m not the most educated judge since hers was the only show I saw at the Speilgeltent!

Who is Fergal Kilpatrick? won one of the Best Show awards. I can’t decide if I liked this show or not. I got under my skin because it was a little bit too clever – things were set up and then the rug was pulled out from under your feet as soon as you felt like you knew what was going on. I liked the ideas behind the show and how they explored and confounded our expectations of theatre. It made me think but it didn’t really make me feel anything. I found it interesting but a little bit irritating. I am interested to see what they do next.

Another award-winning show that I did manage to see wasIris Brunette which was created and performed by Best Actress winner Melanie Wilson. I liked this show a lot and it has stuck with me though it was a strange experience. I feel lucky to have seen it because it played to a tiny audience of 20 in the Player’s Theatre at Trinity. It was a deceptively simple show with no set to speak of and a cast of one. It was almost the exact opposite of Who is Fergal Kilpatrick? – there was no trickery here, it was very much what you see is what your get. The artist cast the audience as other people in her strange dystopia and towards the end involved them in the performance by asking choose-your-own-adventure style questions. This simple show created such a rich world because of the wonderful performance by Melanie Wilson. She created the world through her character – the way she stood and moved and spoke were a result of that world, and as a result, that world felt very close at hand.

The main thing I got from the awards was the sense of community around the Fringe. Some might describe it as clique-y but I think that though it may seem like that from the outside, it is open to newcomers. The same names would come up again and again in the thank you speeches and the atmosphere felt supportive more than aggressively competitiveness. It is a community that I would very much like to be part and my new ambition is to have a show in near year’s Fringe Festival!

More Fringe Madness

The Fringe Festival has thoroughly taken over my life. All I seemed to have done for the last two weeks is go to work and Fringe stuff. My room is full of ticket stubs, programmes for shows I went to see and flyers for shows I didn’t manage to get to. I need to hover, and change my bed and wash some clothes. My eye-brows need plucking. Last week I was bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t seem to get to bed before 11.30pm, this week that’s turned in 1.30am!

Last night I was working at the Speigeltent again, and it was bliss to sleep in until 10 this morning. It was my last shift and I got to see most of the first half of La Clique, which included the girl who spins about 15 hula-hoops at the same time! Amazing! And the wonderful Mario, Queen of the Circus. And because it was my last shift, and things all seemed under control, there was dancing and drinking and hanging out in the Artist’s Tent. It was a good night.

I was down at the Speilgeltent on Wednesday night as well. This time to see Camille O’Sullivan. I went with my mum and dad, and my aunt and uncle like some sort of fifth wheel, a family affair. Last year I saw the Cat’s Miaow with my mum and my aunt, which was a bit of Camille and lots of other people she’d roped in to sing a few songs. This was more of a prepared and rehearsed show with just Camille and the band and it was glorious. She sang for two hours and I think I would have stayed for two more, expect that my ass was falling asleep – Speilgeltent seats are very small and very close together. But it was still an excellent night. We stayed for a drink on George’s Dock and I’m so glad that the weather has been dry for the two weeks and it’s been possible to sit outside and enjoy the evening.

On Thursday I saw Jesus has my Mom in there and has beaten her up real bad and really enjoyed it. It’s a bit strange, a bit like the stuff produced in Brunel, full of ideas and finding interesting ways of putting these ideas on stage. That’s what I like – theatre full of ideas and new ways of looking at the world. Afterwards, I ran up to Blessington Basin for a another fantastic volunteer shift. (Sounds sarcastic but it’s not.) The show – Basin was completely sold-out with 15 people on the waiting list half an hour before it started, most of whom were turned away, and I saw it for free! It was also really, really good. Devised and written especially for the little hidden park at the end of Blessington Street, it was about things that had happened there (the show’s creator used to live in the park-keepers house, inside the park) and things you could imagine happening there. It was really strange and beautiful. I liked the little out-door scenes where it felt like you (and twenty other people) were ease-dropping on the conversations. The pieces inside the house were also like peeking in on something. You were free to wander about the house as you wished – there was no specific order to see things in, and each piece was just a glimpse, just a snippet of life in this house. I really enjoyed it. And enjoyed talked to all the lovely people who worked on it in the pub afterwards and ended up down at the Speiltent, hours after I should have gone to bed.

Today’s been a bit of a lazy day – I’m still in my dressing gown at 3pm – I’m heading out this evening to see Meltdown at the Project and Scar Stories at the Absolut Fringe Factory. I didn’t manage to get a ticket for Madame Butterfly but I’ve been told the show takes place in a window on Crane Lane and that’s it’s worth a look so I’ll wander down and take a look at that too! But sure yet if I’m going to try and cram in a final few shows on Sunday or if I will take it easy before the Fringe Awards and closing night party tomorrow night.

Fringe so far.

I am having a very enjoyable Fringe Festival. I’m enjoying my volunteer shifts and seeing lots of shows. I was getting a bit worn-out at the end of last week. By Friday evening I had completely run out of steam – poof, no more steam let, but I took it sort of easy over the weekend and am ready for another busy week.

My first shift was on the first day of the Fringe, Saturday 5th September in the Absolut Fringe Factory in Smock Alley. The Factory is actually quite impressive. It a great tall space and has lots of nice Absolut Art winding up the wall.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far;

Anatomy of a Seagull
I saw this while I was volunteering and I was glad I hadn’t paid for my ticket. I didn’t really like it. I’d seen the National Youth Theatre version of The Seagull at the Peacock the previous week so I was maybe a little bit too familiar with the script. I also found the production too naturalistic for my taste. Possibly Loose Canon’s style is just not my kind of thing but this my problem not theirs. They won Best Production at last year’s Irish Times Theatre Awards for Phaedra’s Love, which I hated. I will give them another try. I’m going to see Jesus has my Mom in there and has beaten her up real bad on Thursday.

This is Not a Drill
I also saw this as part of a volunteer shift and I loved it. It wasn’t one that I was planning to see, I hadn’t even really noticed it in the programme so I’m delighted that I got to see it by change. It was very much my kind of theatre. Beautifully written, dark and funny, it was non-naturalistic and a bit weird. I loved the very clever use of technology (yes I am a big nerd but that kind of thing. I grabbed the director afterwards to find an explanation for some of that wonderful tech.) and repetition that really worked. It reminded me of Forced Entertainment (mainly Speak Bitterness) and Katie Mitchell’s production of The Waves that I saw at the Dublin Theatre Festival last year. I left the performance feeling joyful with a big smile on my face, which is an odd way to leave a show about the end of the world! I saw it again the next night because I had the same shift again, but I was happy to watch it again.

The Blanch
Very funny and sometimes a little bit disturbing. Three actors played I-don’t-know-how-many characters and live music and sound effects were provided by onstage performers, it was fantastic. The characters were a little bit terrifying, especially since the house lights were up for the entire and they did look straight at you. It was wonderfully weird and very contemporary.

Who is Fergal Fitzpatrick
I went to see this show because a couple of people had recommended it to me. And I did like it but I think my expectations were maybe two high. It was interesting and a clever way of looking at theatre, what we expect from theatre and ways to distort these expectations. I think it was a high-concept show that was well executed. It didn’t really have me leaving the theatre with a big smile on my face but it did make me think.

Le Clique
I can’t really offer a full review of this one because I only saw the second half of the show while I was volunteering. What I saw was still fantastic – the physical abilities of the performers is breathtaking, but they are also entertaining! One of my jobs on the night was to look out for people taking photos because this is strictly prohibited. I didn’t see anyone with a camera in their hands. All I could see were rapt faces gazing up at the magnificent spectacles taking place on stage. However, it’s hard to pay that much attention to the audience when there’s a girl being spun around by her partner onstage, he’s on roller-skates and she’s just has her foot hooked around his neck! It sounds impossible but it happened. I was ready to duck, just in case she came flying at me!

Power Point
I saw this on Sunday evening. I think it was probably their 8 consecutive night performing. I got the feeling that the actors were a little off, that timing wasn’t quite right. It felt sloppy to me. It was a strange show anyway – the audience are at a business seminar and the people giving the seminar are a little odd, and having a few problems of their own. I loved the set-up, it’s a great idea but for me, it just didn’t quite work. Maybe I just didn’t get it. There were just too many things happening that didn’t fit together and I left feeling a bit disappointed.

The Legend of Zorroco
This was a one-woman show and I was the preview performance. It was a Spanish nanny who really wants to be the Rose of Tralee. It was very funny and I think it will get better as the week goes on. It had loads of little jokes, mostly at the expense of the Irish, a great story and a sympathetic main character. I really enjoyed it.

Iris Brunette
Another one-woman show but very very different. Where Zorroco was one woman behind a microphone, Iris Brunette had many lighting and sound cues and used the audience to stand in for other characters in the story. It was a slightly troubling tale about love in a weird, post-apocalyptic world. I liked it a lot.

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!

Project Brand New 4 – Day 2

I thought Friday night would be a quiter than Thursday because it was a Friday, and also because U2 were playing in Croke Park and half the people in the city seemed to be going to see them. I was wrong and the theatre quickly filled up just before half seven. I kept seeing people I recognised in the audience then realising that it wasn’t that I knew them, I’d just seen them on stage recently.

The first piece of the night was called Players at the Hooley!. It was a piece from an Active Retirement group and it was about the lives of older people and what people think about getting older and specifically their own ageing. It was a really simple piece with no agenda behind it and I like that. It consisted of talking heads of different ages answering questions about how they would look, feel, spend their time, etc when they were old, not any specific age, just old. And then the members of the active retirement group – the older people themselves – told stories from their own lives. I liked that the performers didn’t pretend to be something they weren’t, they just told their stories directly to the the audience. There were two couples, both married 40+ years, teasing each other and enjoying sharing this experience with the other. I love when you see that on stage – performers obviously enjoying themselves.

They also had the brilliant idea of passing sweets around the audiene so you were surround by the sound of crinkling paper as everyone opened their sweets. The sweets were hard-toffees – the type older people generally avoid because they’re not great for the old teeth – I don’t know if this was on purpose and was supposed to mean something or if they were just noisy sweets!

The second piece, The Flamboyant Bird was a solo piece that was described in the programme as “a 15 minute extract, which occurs 1/3 the way into a full-length solo piece called The Flamboyant Bird.” The actor performing it was very talented and did a good job but being allowed to see a small part of the story meant it sort of left me cold. I don’t know if I would have felt differently if I didn’t know it was a chunk from the middle of a longer piece and had been left to judge it on it’s own merits. It might have worked better that way. I didn’t hate it but it didn’t really make me feel a whole lot for the characters or their plight.

The third piece of the night was called Captive. It was a piece that had been performed at Project Brand New before, and the performers had been asked back to perform again. I didn’t see it the first time but listening to others talk about it, it hasn’t changed much since then. The programme notes describe it as ‘A performance with talking and some music bits.’ I liked the music bit welll enough but could have done with out the talking, which was most of the time just a guy behind a microphone. Towards the middle the music made me feel really depressed and paranoid. I don’t know if that was the intended effect or not. The name of the piece was apt, I felt trapped listening to this awfulness and just wanted to end.

The final piece was a bit strange. It was called SilentCity and was presented by Dey Sed who describe themselves as a multimedia collective. It was a strange sort of dreamscape of a performance, with a strange narrartive structure loosely wound around it. I liked it. It was dream-like because because it didn’t make a lot of sense, it didn’t have a beginning, middle and an end and if it did, they were all jumbled up, but there were nice images on stage and weird and interesting ideas in the piece. It reminded me of a piece I saw in the Fringe last year called I’m So Close It’s Not Even Funny which had the same sort of dream-like quality to it.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy the Friday night as much I’d enjoyed Thursdays. But the whole set up of Project Brand New means that you are not going to like everything and I think it’s important to see work I actively dislike sometimes. It makes me think about the sort of work I don’t want to make, which can lead me to the type of work I do want to create.

Project Brand New 4 – Day 1

Going along to Project Brand New reminds me a lot of performance days at Brunel. These happened at the end of term when our modules finished and every group had to show their work. They both involve seeing lots of short pieces in a short space of time, all the pieces are brand new and often being seen by an audience for the first time. I would be fairly certain that I would not like all of it, but it would different and exciting. I love going to PBN because my brain feels so full of ideas by the end of the night. New ideas and new ways of doing and looking at things.

This is the first time that I actually have tickets to all three nights and I’m looking forward to being inspired and mentally stimulated for three nights in a row!

Last night the theatre was already packed when I got there and full of excited people looking forward to the night ahead. Finally the lights went down and the show began!

The first piece was called Blooming Great and it was about the life cycle of a flower. It was wonderful! The only dialogue came from a voice-over that sounded almost like a biology text book. Everything came from the actors’ phyiscallity and facial expressions. This meant it was very visual and really beautiful! The interaction between the Flower and the Bee was very sweet and funny. The Flower had such wonderful facial expressions and even though the piece was only about 15 minutes long, it was really quite emotional. I loved it!

The second piece was Storybook and for me it was the piece that felt most finished and polished. That’s not a critisim. I only mention it because Project Brand New is often billed as being works-in-progress or artist’s experimentation, but this didn’t feel like that. It still felt fresh and new and different, but at a very high standard. It involved a light projector (those projectors that lecturer use with acetate slides) which I loved because I also think they are great and have always wanted to use one in a performance! And concluded with short pieces of text from novels, which we actually tried as an ending for our dissertation piece. It worked a lot better in this piece which was simple and engaging.

The third piece was a dance piece called A Still Return. I thought this was interesting and a lot of the movement was very beatiful but it didn’t do a great deal for me. I don’t think I know enough about dance to critque it. It is described in the programme as a ‘meditative solo’ and I agree with that. It made me feel peaceful, while also wishing that my body could move like that!

The final piece was called Jesus has my Mom in there and has beat her up real bad. This was one that really felt like a work-in-progress, probably because it was a first look at a show that Loose Canon Theatre Company are preparing for the autumn. It was interesting and a bit chaotic but had some nice moments. It felt like a rough draft but one that made me interested to see the finished product.

Blooming Great was my favourite piece of the night and it could have gone on for twice as long and I think I still would have loved it.

I’m heading back for another batch of brand new theatre tonight and looking forward to it!

Dublin Fringe Festival

At the beginning of September, I was still getting used to having a full time job again and life was about to get even busier with the start of the Dublin Fringe Festival.

The last time I volunteered for the Fringe was in 2004. I wasn’t in youth theatre any more and it had been a while since I’d been on stage, or done anything theatrical in any way, shape or form. And I missed it. I didn’t realise how much I much I missed it until I started volunteering for the Fringe. I didn’t even last the whole festival because helping out and watching other people have all the fun made me so miserable. I think it was one of the things that finally pushed me towards studying drama.

I was a bit reluctant to volunteer this year because of my miserable experience the last time but I decided it had helped me get on the right path, and I should give it another change. I thought it would be a good way to find out what sort of work was being creating in Dublin, figure out a bit about the different companies in the city and what they’re up to and meet like-minded people.

And it worked out pretty well! I was insanely busy – working all week and then volunteering for 4 hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays, and also trying to make time to go and see a few shows – but I enjoyed it. I did a few different shifts at different venues, working with different people and I had a great time. I had some great conversations with people with goals and ambitions that might be considered unconventional because they don’t revolve around making lots of money, people just like me! People were really easy to talk to and I was reminded of how much I’ve changed over the last four years. I’ve become much more confident and find it easier to start conversations with people I don’t know, I’m more sure of myself and feel that I have something to say that people will find worth listening to. I meet some great people, but I really make any new friends because I didn’t manage to get anyones number or e-mail address. I may be less shy than I used to be but I’m not that ballsy!

My favourite volunteering shift was the Saturday afternoon at Grand Canal Dock for a number of our-door performances. It was a beautiful, hot and sunny day and I was responsible for general crowd-control. I saw some great performances too. There was the physical performances inside a giant tube of water, which managed to be funny and beautiful, the guy “dancing” with a mechanical digger created a wonderful and powerful love story, and there was the two girls who hopped, skipped and jumped along a tight-rope – in high heels! They were untraditional, creative performances that the audience of families and small children loved. It was a really fun day.

I tried to go and see as many shows as I could, and take advantage of volunteer vouchers and concessions, but time-constraints made it difficult. I did go and see Little Gem at the Project with my mum and we both loved it. It was funny and touching and the three actresses were wonderful. I also saw Camille O’Sullivan (and friends) in the Speilgeltent for The Cat’s Meow. That was a great night out as well. I didn’t make it to La Clique, which I’m kicking myself for missing. I’ll definitely try and see it next year.

And just last Friday, I saw a wonderfully, weird show in the Samuel Beckett theatre called “I’m So Close It’s Not Even Funny.” It had a lot of the same themes as my dissertation piece and I think they managed to create the right sort of atmosphere for those themes. There was a lot of very clever multimedia that it reminded me of “Water”. It was a lovely and uplifting piece of theatre.

The last few weeks of theatre and work and running all over Dublin has left me exhausted but I enjoyed it immensely. I’m looking forward to the next Fringe Festival already! And next year, I want to be in it!

We Are Here 3.0

I’m really enjoying my time in London. I love working at the Southbank Centre and I really like being in London during the summer, where it has been sunny almost everyday so far!

However I am disappointed to be missing We Are Here 3.0 which is going on in Dublin at the moment. I picked up a brochere for it when I went to see The Wonderful World of Dissocia in the Project a couple of weeks ago. (I liked the play a lot but not as much as I liked God in Ruins, another Anthony Neilson play, that I saw at Christmas.) The brochere describes it as performances that “use cities and their people as source material.”

It looks like a really interesting collection of performances, all of them seem to be non-traditional theatre and a lot use new media in an interesting way. There’s Etiquette, where two people wearing headphones through which they are told what to do and say, interact with each other or In Real Time where two rooms in different countries are connected via video and audio feeds and the performers and the audience in the two cities can interact with each other.

I would be very interested in seeing how they work and I think they are definitely worth checking out if you’re around Dublin at the moment.