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

 

Fight Back 2020 Festival – Week 2

For thoughts from the first week of Fight Back 2020 Festival, click here.

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I’m used to theatre festivals meaning a few weeks of running around, subsisting on sandwiches slightly squashed in pockets as I clock up the kilometres between venues, and taking up residence in corner seats of theatre or near-the-theatre cafés imbibing coffee and probably crisps as I type up my reviews in the brief gaps between shows. It has felt a little strange to travel no further than the distance between the back garden where I lazed in the sun watching the first two of this week’s performances, to the couch in the sitting room where I watched the second two performances after the breeze outside threatened to steal the pages I was writing on. However, though Fight Back 2020 Festival is not a normal theatre festival, it has still brought the work of some of Ireland’s talented writers and performers to the fore.

The second week of the festival opened with a delightful monologue written by Ultan Pringle. Toffee, performed by Clelia Murphy, tells the story of a Aisling, who is going on a first date with a woman at the National Gallery Café. While she waits for her date to arrive, she tells the audience about her experience of going to university in her mid-40s, after a divorce, and raising her two grown up children. There are no major twists or surprises in the 15-minute monologue, but none are needed. Exactly the sort of heart-warming story that is called for in these trying times, Toffee is as sweet as its title.

Day six of the festival brings another love story, but not such a straightforward one. A hilarious and slightly bizarre lockdown story, Ali Hardiman’s Hug takes the form of a lockdown diary inspired by Matt Damon’s video diaries in The Martian. As she grumbles about her neighbours, reminisces about her childhood friend Jack, and reveals the difficulties in her family. Bringing an interesting twist to escapism, Clíodhna, played by Madi O’Carroll, will certainly make you laugh but will also make you pause and think.

Ella Skolimowski’s monologue Pandemic Panic, tells the story of a very different reaction to the Covid-19 lockdown. Aneta Dina Kedar plays a very stressed character who is struggling to manage her OCD while in lockdown. Though the monologue is funny in moments, it is also a tense watch which clearly conveys the fear and panic that the character is feeling.

The final day of Week 2 brought a comic story of a time machine in a wardrobe. Written by David Halpin and performed by Jed Murray, Backwards and Forwards takes the form of a FaceTime call, in which the main character is excitedly discussing the dilemma of whether to go backwards or forwards in time with his newly constructed wardrobe time machine in order to save the world. Though it is light-hearted and funny on the surface, Backwards and Forwards, like many of the other monologues this week, also conveys the frustration and uncertainty of a character in lockdown.

Fight Back 2020 Festival continues until 24th April.

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.