The Theatre of The Everyday

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie

While I once again find myself writing a lockdown column, this month there is a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel with the most recent government announcement which suggests theatres may reopen in June.  Though they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras, good things come to those who wait…the waiting is still no fun. After months of darkened stages and empty auditorium seats, I know many of us are waiting with bated breath for the return of live theatre. Even with fantastic streamed plays, Zoom performances and other digital offerings, nothing quite matches the feeling of being present in a room with other people as a story unfurls on stage.  But, as the famous line from As You Like It goes, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” So this month, I invite you to look to the stage around us and find the theatre in everyday life.

We may not be able to come and meet those dancing feet at 42nd Street, or watch dancers pas de chat across a stage in the Dance of the Cygnets, but just step into your local supermarket and you will see a complicated new choreography that we have all learned over the past year – the Social Distancing Dance. You go to pick up a box of cornflakes, but as you do another shopper reaches for the box next to it; a quick chassé each and you have returned to your safe 2 metre distance, her by the Weetabix, you next to the Rice Krispies. Meanwhile, an unwitting corps de ballet of other shoppers steps cautiously in time with each other in their socially distanced queue at the checkouts.

Or if it’s music you’re missing, step outside your front door and hear the music that is being performed all around you. Following in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, and composers like John Cage, let the sounds around you become a performance. Imagine a dialogue between the ice-cream van’s jingle and the rattle of a train passing nearby, or between the car alarm that is wailing in the distance and the beep-beep-beep of the checkouts in a shop. Let the world’s overture entertain you as you wait for the curtain to rise in your favourite venue.

Finally, if you need some drama, look no further than the bird-feeder outside your back door. Watch the dynamic power-struggles unfold between a goldfinch and a starling over some sunflower hearts and peanuts. Act 1 opens as the goldfinch flies down and perches, ready for breakfast, but as the interloping starling swoops in, a drama to rival Ibsen or Sophocles begins. Or if you prefer a mystery like The Mousetrap, check out The Mystery of the Vanishing Parcel. You’ve been at home all day, the doorbell is working, and yet you spy the dreaded note below your letterbox – ‘We are sorry we missed you.’ You don’t know when it appeared, you never heard a thing, you can’t even remember what you ordered. As the curtain falls at the interval, the greatest mystery of our time leaves you wondering, where could the parcel be, and will it ever be seen again?

We have all been in lockdowns for longer than we care to remember; we have ordered all of the things we can order online, we have baked more banana bread than we could ever hope to eat, and we have re-watched our favourite sitcoms far too many times. But it won’t last forever – there is light at the end of the tunnel and that light will illuminate our stages again before too long. In the meantime, find the novelty in the normal, entertainment in the everyday, and let the curtain rise on the theatre of day-to-day life.

A Year of the Ghost Light

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie

To The Theatre,

It has been a whole year since the safety curtain fell. Four seasons, twelve months, almost fifty-two weeks to the day. When any of us sat down in an auditorium seat last March, did we know that it would be the last time for over a year that we would sit shoulder to shoulder with a stranger, united in the collective experience of a play?

It has been a difficult year of abrupt stops, false starts, and yet more stops. I ache to be back in an auditorium, and auditoriums remain achingly empty. But despite the sometimes seemingly constant barrage of bad news over the past twelve months, that is not what this letter is about. No, I am writing to celebrate the tenacity, solidarity and creativity that the theatre industry has shown since stages went dark last March.

Because, though doors closed, offices were swapped for kitchen tables, lights were switched off in venues, and Zoom with a capital Z was shoehorned into our vernacular, the ghost light never went out. I wrote in this column last March that “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,” and they haven’t stopped. From ballet performed at home in bath-tubs, to live streams of brilliant plays, and outdoor performances on greens and balconies, to new works created for new online platforms, people’s creativity and resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles has been incredible.

Though normal life as we knew it ground to a halt in March 2020, my colleagues in the industry refused to let that put the chocks under their wheels. With supportive hands and generous hearts, the theatre industry has kept creating, kept connecting. And so, this is my standing ovation for you all. No, it’s not the curtain call, but over the past year you have all performed a stand-out, showstopper of a number that deserves a round of applause all of its own.

None of us could have imagined we would still be in the midst of this pandemic a year later, but the show will always go on. I finished my March 2020 column with these words, and they still stand today, “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.”

Until opening night,

S

The Twelve Theatrical Days of Christmas

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie on 05/12/2020.

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler from Pexels

We’re hitting the home stretch on 2020. Lockdown restrictions have eased this week, Covid-19 vaccines are in the final stages of approval, Christmas is around the corner and 2021 holds hope for a better year than this one.

However, at this time of year I find myself missing live theatre all the more. Normally I would be enjoying Christmas treats like ballets, pantomimes and Christmas carol concerts, but with the restrictions still in place for live performance in Ireland, that isn’t the case this year. I miss the hush between the house lights dimming and the first note of the overture, the feeling of laughing or crying together with a hundred other people, interval chatting, rounds of applause, curtain calls, an audience spilling out of the theatre and into the crisp December darkness, to walk home under twinkling Christmas lights, discussing what they’ve just seen. I miss it all.

Our theatres can’t open their auditorium doors to us this December, but we can still capture some of the joy of the theatre this festive season. I can never remember the right words for the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, so here is my version, The Twelve Theatrical Days of Christmas. Just don’t try to sing it out loud, it won’t scan.

The Twelve Theatrical Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my columnist said to me, try a panto on your TV (or laptop).

For many of us, the panto is a Christmas staple. Since they can’t take to the stage, many pantomimes are going online, from the Adult Pan-demic-to on takeyourseats.ie, to Nanny Nelly’s Panto Tellyfrom the Cork Opera House, and Once Upon a Pantofrom the Olympia, there is plenty of pantomime fun to be streamed straight to your sitting room. Oh yes there is!

On the second day of Christmas my columnist said to me, read a play you love.

As the weather gets colder, curl up by the fire in your favourite chair, grab yourself a cup of cocoa and dive into your favourite play on the page instead of the stage.

On the third day of Christmas my columnist said to me, listen to a play.

Many theatre-makers are turning to radio and podcasts to share their work while live performance isn’t possible. Whether it’s listening to an adaptation of a classic on BorrowBox with your local library subscription, or a family audio adventure with Tailtiu Theatre’s new podcast, B.U.D.S – An Intergalactic Audio Adventure,” released by Droichead Arts Centre.

On the fourth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, try something different.

Moving online, short form work has been booming; perfect for trying out something new. Test the theatrical waters with the Abbey Theatre’s latest instalment in their Dear Irelandseries, or dip a toe into dance with SpringMoves Festival’s programme of short dance films.

 On the fifth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, the theatre phone rings.

Check out the Abbey Theatre’s newly announced project, Abbey Calling,where audience members can sign up to receive a phone-call performance of a poem, monologue or song and a chat with the artist who performed it.

On the sixth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, enjoy some festive singing.

You might not get to go to a Christmas carol concert this year, or enjoy a sing-along at the Christmas party, but grab your household and belt out a tune or two – you’ll feel all the more festive for it.

On the seventh day of Christmas my columnist said to me, grab a pen and get writing.

Blustery December evenings are the perfect time to settle down in a quiet spot, pick up a pen and give your own writing a go. Who knows, perhaps this time next year I’ll be recommending your play!

On the eighth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, discover the next generation.

The Lir Academy are bringing their student productions online, and Trinity College Dublin’s drama department is streaming work from their Debut Festival.

On the ninth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, think theatrical in your gifting.

Whether it’s a subscription to The Stage and other publications,the National Theatre’s new streaming service, or a stack of play-texts.

On the tenth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, tune into some literary readings.

Dublin Book Festival is well underway with a smorgasbord of literary delights to choose from, Five Lamps Festival has online offerings from poets and playwrights, and Fane Onlinehas added more events in its A Night in With… series, including delectable evenings with Yotam Ottolenghi and Nadiya Hussain.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my columnist said to me, I forgot it was such a long song…

*takes a deep breath*

On the twelfth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, support your local venues!

It’s been a tough year. Spread some Christmas cheer and generosity by supporting your local venue in any way you can so that 2021 can see a joyful return to stages across the country.

Phenomenal Women

international-womens-day-4887650_1920Originally published on TakeYourSeats.ie.  

This Sunday, International Women’s Day, we celebrated all of the fantastic women who have shaped our history, made their mark on the present, and are crafting our future. For over a hundred years, International Women’s day has been a day for celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

Throughout their history, Ireland’s theatres have been home to myriad phenomenal women, from Lady Gregory pouring her energy into establishing our National Theatre, to the incredible women who took to the stage of that same theatre in 2015 to call out the gender inequality that is rife in our in our industry. This International Women’s Day, I want to look both backwards and forwards, remembering some of my favourite shows on Irish stages created by women in the last few years, and looking forwards to some of the exciting work that is on the horizon.

So without further ado, let’s take a journey back to some of the treasures of the recent past.

Asking For It

One of the most talked about productions of 2018, Asking For It, based on Louise O’Neill’s lauded 2015 novel of the same name and brought to the stage by writer Meadbh McHugh and director Annabelle Comyn, was a powerful, incisive and urgent piece of theatre. From Cork, to Dublin, to Birmingham, Asking for It has brought a vital message about rape culture to our stages, and has done so in a sharply crafted, memorable production.

Owing to the Failure of

Moving to a production smaller in scale but equal in quality, we come to Owing to the Failure of, presented at The Workman’s Club in Dublin as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2018. Written by Zoë Comyns and directed by Catríona McLaughlin, Owing to the Failure of was one of the best love stories I have seen on a stage in recent years.

Rosas Danst Rosas

There are not many shows that I would return to see two nights in a row, but Rosas Danst Rosas at Dublin Dance Festival 2019 was one of them. The power sustained by the four women on stage, through the intensity of Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s arresting choreography was a truly breathtaking thing to experience. A landmark piece of postmodern dance, the piece has not lost a joule of energy through its 37-year lifespan.

Anna Karenina

No list of brilliant women’s work on Irish stages would be complete without a mention for Marina Carr. Coming to the stage soon after the Waking the Feminists movement came to life, Carr’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel breathed new life into an old story, and tied the experiences of Tolstoy’s 19th century fictional women, to those of the women in the audience and on stage in 2016.

The Olive Tree

Written and performed by Katie O’Kelly, The Olive Tree is a magic realist adventure that delves deep into one of the most pertinent political issues of today. As a weary shop assistant peels a Boycott Israel sticker off of a bottle of olive oil, the tree on the label becomes real and takes her on a journey through the stories of Palestinian struggles past and present.

These are just a smattering of the excellence that has graced our stages from women’s pens and imaginations, but International Women’s Day is about looking forward, not just back. So let’s take a look at some of the exciting things that we have to look forward to on our stages.

The Red Book of Ossory

A deconstruction of several songs and poems written by 14th Century Kilkenny Bishop, Richard de Ledrede and included in the historic manuscript The Red Book of Ossory. With the famous witchcraft trial of Dame Alice Kylteler, for which de Ledrede was responsible, as a backdrop, The Red Book of Ossory at Project Arts Centre promises to be an enrapturing blend of the historical and contemporary created and performed by Anakronos, led by Catríona O’Leary.

This Beautiful Village

Returning to the Abbey Stage after a successful run last year and continuing onwards on a national tour, Lisa Tierney-Keogh’s This Beautiful Village is a piece that I am determined to catch in whatever corner of the country I can. Described by critic, Katy Hayes as ’utterly clued in to the zeitgeist,’ This Beautiful Village promises to sharply dissect privilege, power and prejudices.

The Boy

Indeed, no list of brilliant women’s work on Irish stages would be complete without a second mention for Marina Carr. Coming to the Abbey Theatre during the 2020 edition of Dublin Theatre Festival, The Boy is a new cycle of plays written by Marina Carr and directed by Catríona McLaughlin. It is loosely based on the three Theban Plays, continuing Carr’s exploration of Ancient Greek theatre, and asks questions about responsibility and complicity in cycles of violence. The Boy  looks set to be an ambitious durational theatrical work, and is one of the plays I am most excited to see this year.

Between this year’s International Women’s Day, and the next, seek out the work of brilliant women, and remember the final four points of Lian’s List, created by Lian Bell as part of the Waking the Feminists Campaign:

“67. Support women: celebrate their success, amplify

their voices, show your solidarity.

68. Take responsibility for making changes.

69. Yes you.

70. You have more power than you think.”