To Those Who Have the Power to Make a Difference

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“Theatre is the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

 

To Those Who Have the Power to Make a Difference,

I am writing this to add my voice to the many currently asking the Government to take notice and provide concrete support to the theatre sector in this incredibly difficult time.

Every morning lately, I look through The Stage newspaper and listen to the radio, and every morning I hear and read the too familiar refrain of redundancy, mothballing and closure announcements from venues and theatre companies across the UK and, this morning, from The Stage itself. The theatre sector has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Like other sectors, we closed our doors a few months ago, not knowing when or how we would reopen, but unlike other sectors, there is still little certainty for us on the horizon.

Our industry has been brought to its knees.

We need more than a vague roadmap. We need dates, even provisional ones. We need clear health guidance. We desperately need a commitment to additional investment from Government to get back on our feet.

And we do need to get back on our feet. The UK needs the theatre industry to get back on its feet because, as the great playwright Thornton Wilder once said “theatre is the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” As we come together to find our way out of this pandemic, we need the community that theatre creates, we need the release that theatre provides, and we need the joy that theatre brings.

I could write about Shakespeare and  the grand history of theatre that we are continuing, but instead I want you to think about the technician who is looking towards September and wondering if she will be able to buy school supplies, the theatre manager who is lying awake at night wondering how to break it to her colleagues that she has to make them redundant, the newly graduated writer who doesn’t know if the industry he trained to work in will survive this, the little girl who watched the National Theatre Live production of Twelfth Night and is dreaming of building an incredible revolving set like that for her National Theatre one day. Will that little girl have a National Theatre to build her dream in when she grows up?

We have put years of our lives into bringing the magic of theatre alive for our audiences, often against the odds. We have kept going because we care and we keep going because we care. But now we need the Government to care and to help. Please be a voice for our industry in Government. We need you to. Please push for and provide the support that the theatre sector urgently needs to survive.

With hope,

Saoirse Anton

 

The Ghost Light Glows On

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Originally published on takeyourseats.ie.

Earlier this month, the safety curtain abruptly dropped and our stages went dark. Artists, company managers, box office staff, technicians, marketing teams and every other person in our industry scrambled to figure out the staging for this unexpected rewrite. An unwelcome rewrite.

Just as theatres closed their doors against the Plague in the 16th Century, today our auditoriums lie empty and our stages are silent due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept in and changed our lives more swiftly and thoroughly than a deus ex machine in the final act of a Greek tragedy.

As scripts are sadly consigned to desk drawers for the time being and sets sit gathering dust, things can feel a little hopeless. Simon Callow wrote in the New York Review’s “Pandemic Journal” last week, “The whole point of theatre, since the Greeks, at any rate, has been to gather the citizens together, to remind us, as Shakespeare so incomparably put it, that ‘we are not all alone unhappy.’” Though we cannot gather people as we usually do, we are all still doing what we do best – creating, inventing, imagining, connecting.

Since the theatres and other cultural institutions closed, there has been a wave of generous creativity. Companies, venues and individual artists have had steam coming out of their ears with the speed at which they have been thinking up new ways to bring the joy of theatre to everyone in their homes.

We may not be able to do what we do best, in the way we do it best, at the moment but with live streams, creative challenges, new online creations, and plenty more in the works, we are certainly doing the best we can.

Times are tough but every show, even the most painfully dull and lengthy ones, must come to an end, and so too will this. We will keep this imaginative generosity going, and let the glow of the ghost light remind us that when this passes our auditoriums will be filled with the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd once more.

The Ten Fringe Commandments

Originally published in TN2 Magazine as: Edinburgh Fringe Festival: The Ten Fringe Commandments. A Heavenly Guide to Navigating the Holiest of Fringes

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Ask anyone interested in the arts what they think of when they hear “Edinburgh” and what will they say?

(Don’t say Trainspotting or Jean Brodie, you’ll ruin my point.)

Yes, that’s right, it’s the Edinburgh Festivals.

For four weeks every August, the city is taken over by the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, though I have yet to attend that one). Both the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe were established seventy years ago in 1947 and, with the recent news that the Scottish Government has pledged an additional 10 million in funding for the Festivals; they are set to continue for a long time yet. The International Festival was founded in the wake of World War Two by Rudolph Bing and Henry Harvey Wood as a curated festival where high-quality theatre, music, dance and opera productions are brought from across the world to Edinburgh by invitation of the Festival Director. However, Fringe had a more interesting beginning (and arguably a more interesting future), and so it’s the Fringe that I am here to write about. The Fringe had a less official beginning in 1947 when eight theatre companies arrived in Edinburgh, uninvited, to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival. Though they were not there under the official auspices of the Festival, they made use of the already-present audiences and staged their work in alternative venues on…you’ve guessed it…the fringes of the International Festival. These performers set a precedent for others to imitate them in following years and the Fringe grew as a volunteer led event until 1958 when the Festival Fringe Society formed, formalising the Fringe’s existence and has continued to grow since then to become the World’s largest arts festival. To this day the Fringe Society follows the same basic principles of the original Fringe; though they will organise bookings, programmes and co-ordination of the thousands of productions that are staged, there is no vetting process like there is in the International Festival. As they say on their own website, the will include in the programme “anyone with a story to tell and a venue willing to host them.”

Despite that torrent of information I just delivered, and the fact that I am a massive theatre addict, until this year I had never been to Edinburgh during festival time, but with both the International Festival and the Fringe celebrating their 70th year in 2017, I chose the right year for my first visit. As I was over reviewing work at the Fringe with the Network of Independent Critics for the last week in August, I had a jam-packed week in which  saw twenty-two shows, wrote many words, and walked many, many miles. I dived in at the deep-end, programme clutched to my chest, and spent a week sprinting from venue to venue up and down the city’s many hills and steps, fuelled by coffee, baked potatoes and a wild enthusiasm for theatre.

It was fantastic.

However, with 3,398 shows running at Fringe this year (and probably as many if not more next year), and the streets filled with excitement, performances, posters and, well, Fringe, it’s easy to find yourself drowning a little in the deluge of flyers, choices and chances, so I have put together a wee list to let you learn from my mistakes and get you acquainted with Edinburgh and the Fringe.

 

The Ten Fringe Commandments:

 

  1. Thou shalt not plan thy Fringe to the very last minute.

(There are always a few gems you may have missed in the programme. Leave yourself time and space to discover new things.)

  1. Thou shalt not narrow thine options.

( Sure, you may not think you’ll like that Morris Dance show about Madonna and existentialism, but you might surprise yourself. The thing you take a chance on may be terrible, but you might just stumble upon the next Pythons.)

  1. Thou shalt sleep.

(This is the voice of experience. You feel invincible at the start and going to that breakfast show after going to that gig that began at 2am seems entirely reasonable, but remember to pace yourself. By the end of a week you’ll be glad you pencilled in time to sleep.)

  1. Man cannot live on hasty snacks alone.

(Same as above. Nature Valley bars are great, but have at least one decent meal a day. If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, cook and freeze a few basic meals in advance, and remember that Edinburgh has a lot of delicious places to eat; leave space in your budget to explore a few of them.)

  1. Thou shalt remember to wear layers and comfortable shoes.

(Prepare for every season and lots of walking.)

  1. Thou shalt check and double-check thy venues.

(You don’t want to be left racing from Pleasance Courtyard to Pleasance Dome at the last minute.)

  1. Thou shalt leave thyself time.

(On a similar note to the sixth commandment, make sure you have time to get between shows and leave yourself some contingency time. I thought it would be no problem to trot the five minute walk between venues in the ten-minute gap between shows, but I forgot that the five minute walk was up a sizeable hill. I could have lit the whole show with the glow from my beetroot, breathless face.)

  1. Thou shalt talk to strangers.

(No, I don’t mean the scary ones down dark alleyways, but chat to the person next to you in the queue at box office or when you’re hanging around venues. Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to discover exciting work you might not have heard of otherwise.)

  1. Thou shalt remember that there is more to Edinburgh than the Festivals.

(With all the festival-ing, don’t forget to take some time out to clear your head. Lots of people decide to climb Arthur’s Seat, but if you’re looking for a less strenuous escape take yourself for a picnic at the Botanic Gardens or have a wander round one of the city’s many museums and galleries.)

  1. Thou shalt enjoy thyself.

(The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world; throw yourself in, enjoy the unexpected, make memories and have fun!)

Now, my young Fringelings, you have a year to prepare. Go forth, write plays, save money, play “Yes, and…,” get excited for Fringe and let these commandments help you on your way.

Waking The Feminists: One Thing More

Originally published on The Reviews Hub: One thing more on gender imbalance in Irish arts

 

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Photo by Kate Horgan

 

“This is what collaborative feminist power looks like and it is a powerful, playful and inclusive thing.”

In just one sentence Sarah Durcan, general manager of Science Gallery International and member of the Waking the Feminists group, succinctly summed up the atmosphere in the Abbey Theatre today at Waking The Feminists’ One Thing More.

On October 28th 2015, the Abbey Theatre launched its 2016 programme marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising, a programme which featured only one play written by a woman, and only three directed by women. In no time Ireland’s feminist alarm clock, Lian Bell, had posted her now famous Facebook post highlighting the issue of gender imbalance, not just in the Abbey, but across the sector, and the wheels were in motion. Just two weeks later, the first Waking the Feminists meeting took to the Abbey stage, kicking off what was to be one of most active years of evolution and change in Irish Theatre in over a century.

Today, Waking the Feminists filled the Abbey Theatre for their final event, One Thing More. The aim of today’s event was to take stock of the year that was, and to discuss where the work of the campaign could lead in the future. With too many speakers to reference individually, dozens of diverse voices said their one thing more about Waking the Feminists.  Young, old, Irish, American, English, Welsh, Scottish, men, women, writers, producers, managers, actors, people from every corner of the sector and beyond added their voices to the discussion. Our new directors of the Abbey Theatre, Neil Murray and Graham McLaren, offered an open call for everyone’s “outrageous,” reminding us that “regardless of race, gender, age, or the money in your pocket, the Abbey is your theatre” and re-iterating that the National Theatre exists to serve, not be served.  Later, Amelie Metcalfe, the youngest speaker at only eight years old, told the audience of the reasons she is proud to  be a girl in Irish theatre, but asked when it was going to “wake up to children” appealing to her adult colleagues with the words “Excite us. Inspire us.” From a child then on to a parent, Tara Derrington of “Mothers Artists Makers” (M.A.Ms) spoke of their work over the past year, and of their continued aim to highlight the unequal care burden that is pushing many mothers out of careers in the arts.

Not only were there speeches in person on the stage; a number of supporters sent video messages to be played as part of the proceedings. Emma Rice, former artistic director of The Globe, took to the screen to much applause as she asserted that “we need to make our presence felt at every level.” With one speaker just off the plane from America, another a long-time emigrant returned to Ireland, another sharing her experiences of theatre in Poland, messages from England, America, and across Ireland streaming in, and a wealth of passionate voices both on and off the stage, there was a tangibly electric and powerful atmosphere throughout the venue. Orlaith McBride, director of the Arts Council, said that Waking the Feminists is “a perpetual flame, it is a fire that will not go out,” and the energy in the Abbey mirrored that.

Towards the end of the morning, the research group from NUIG who compiled a study of gender equality in Irish theatre over the past decade presented a number of their findings, sending a cacophony of gasps and sighs rippling through the auditorium. The full report is due to be published in early 2017, but even today’s snapshot painted a stark statistical picture.

As happened in 2015, with the now iconic sing-along to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” the meeting ended on a song. Camille O’Sullivan sang the event to a close with her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” bringing many to tears and all to their feet by the time she sang the final lines.

Waking the Feminists has been an historical moment in Irish theatre, and One Thing More was a fitting end to it. To borrow a quote from Jane Daly, “to do nothing is simply not an option.”

World Theatre Day

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Happy World Theatre Day! Today is a day to celebrate theatre in all its forms, to celebrate practitioners and audiences alike.

We are living in a time where the arts are facing huge funding cuts, where artists, companies and venues are struggling to continue, and where the arts are more important than ever. Theatre has the power to change lives, and yet it is all too often dismissed as a non-essential luxury. It is time to realise the true value of the vibrant theatre community we have in Ireland and across the world. We need to advocate, support and celebrate theatre today, tomorrow and every day.

Check out director Krzysztof Warlikowski’s inspirational World Theatre Day message at the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3fdXeALRzk&feature=youtu.be

#LoveTheatreDay

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As any theatre lovers on twitter probably know, it’s Love Theatre Day (or perhaps more properly #LoveTheatreDay!). Today is a day in which we appreciate theatre in all of its forms, promote theatre, explore the industry and reach out to new and old audiences and practitioners alike. I’ll be spending the day in Modernism lectures learning about Dadaism and Surrealism, presenting a performance based on a dream and watching my classmates performances, attending a committee run of a DU Players show that I am operating, working on an essay on gender and power in A Doll’s House and Medea, and writing a review of the Abbey Theatre’s Production of Sive (Which I will post here in the near future, so keep an eye out for that!).

What about you? Are you seeing any performances, working on any productions or getting involved in theatre in any way today? Whatever you are doing, you can follow all of the #LoveTheatreDay events and goings on by following the three hashtags: #BackStage, #AskATheatre, and #Showtime. I’d love to know how you are spending the day or what you think of the initiative so please comment below and share your thoughts!