Category: Plays + Performance

Arts Council Next Generation Bursary 2017 > Tyrone Guthrie Residency

Peat > Arts in Education Portal Guest Blogger

I was recently a guest blogger for the Arts in Education Portal, where I discussed the research and development period for Peat, including workshops at Sacred Heart National School, Portlaoise.

You can read the first post here and the second one here


The Arts in Education Portal is the key national digital resource of arts and education practice in Ireland. The ethos for the portal is about building a community of practice within arts and education, and providing a space where both artists and teachers can be supported and inspired. It provides a platform through which good collaboration practice in arts-in-education and arts education will be supported, developed and enhanced.

RELATED POSTS

Montague > Research + Development 2016

 

Since 2014, I have been exploring the layered history of The Montague.

The Montague Hotel is a real hotel – was a real hotel. On the far reaches of the rural town I grew up in, on the flat plains of Ireland’s midsection, my parents celebrated their wedding there in 1975. The Montague was the centre of things, where people celebrated everything, all of life and death – christenings to funerals and everything in between. It was a hitching-post on the Country–and–Western touring circuit, filled with the music of outsiders: frontier ballads of exile and emigration, outlaws and open plains, heartbreak, loneliness, loss. Closing its doors in 2000, it reopened in 2008. But not as a hotel. Taken over by the Reception and Integration Agency, it was now a detention centre for asylum seekers.

The Montague is a weird place: its disjointed narratives seem to be trapped like air bubbles between the layers of old wallpaper in the hotel ballroom. Preoccupied with the complexity of culture, society, history, I have been less interested in telling the real stories of this Montague than in taking a sideways glance at it, exploring how a refracted, fictionalised Montague could exist next to the real thing, whose political situation is present and pressing. In a weird confluence of real and unreal, in the clash between past and present, I’ve been searching for this story and a form for its telling.

           

In the early stages of development, I was supported by mentor Tim Crouch through Pan Pan’s excellent mentorship programme (listen to Tim and I talk about the early genesis of Montague on RTÉ Radio 1 here). Montague was then commissioned by Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Centre, and in November, with the support of Mermaid and an Arts Council Project Award, we began a 2-week research and development period with a full team of collaborators. During this fortnight of exploration, my initial text became a backbone. Exploring character, sound, set, lighting, movement, costume, texture, we worked together to explore the possibilities of form, to tell the imagined story of this real place – a story that began like this:

A band return to a hotel in the Irish midlands that they’ve been performing at since 1975, finding it transformed. In place of ticket holders for their 40th anniversary tour, an audience of asylum seekers. The four musicians are greeted by current resident Joyce and her young son, and she encourages them to stay and play. 

In this imagined encounter, in the clash between past and present, the band are forced to confront the urgent reality of the stage they have just stepped onto. In a political situation that is present and pressing, the story and performance unfolds in the form of a sound check. 

Development continues in 2017.


Writer: Kate Heffernan. Director: Gary Keegan. Perfomers: Sallay Garnett, Pat Laffan, Gina Moxley, John Olohan, Raymond Scannell. Choreographer: Megan Kennedy. Lighting and Set Designer: Ciaran O’Melia. Costumer Designer: James David Seaver. Sound Designer Jack Cawley. Sound Engineer: Eoin Murphy. Produced by Niamh O’Donnell for Mermaid Centre. 

Montague is commissioned by Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Centre. Research and development period made possible by an Arts Council Project Award (Creation Strand). Early development supported by Pan Pan’s International Mentorship and Bursary Scheme

Photography by Ste Murray.

Peat > Work in Progress Showing (On the Edge Festival Birmingham)

BOY:   I’m trying to remember all the toilets I’ve ever pood in. All the bits of me I’ve left all over the place. I wonder where they all went after I flushed ?
GIRL:   Into the sea, like everything, like plastic 
BOY:   But I wonder do they meet up again? I bet they do. I bet there’s one big floater somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean stuck together with plastic bottles
GIRL:   And plastic bags and wrappers and those beer can rings that seagulls choke on
BOY:   And what about all the baby teeth I lost? I was always swallowing them. I swallowed one on a bouncy castle. And one scoring a goal. And another one laughing at a joke. My last one is hanging on by a piece of skin. What if it ends up out the other end and out to sea? In a big poo island of plastic and teeth.

In June, I spent a week at The Ark developing the text with director Maisie Lee and performers Nyree Yergainharsian and Lloyd Cooney. We shared our findings with The Ark’s Children’s Council at the end of the week and, the following month, we presented a work-in-progress showing at On the Edge World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences in Birmingham to an audiences of artists, producers and presenters. Sharing our ideas and listening to the feedback of audiences young and experienced has been invaluable. Peat began life as Elk, as an exploration of the extinct Great Irish Elk.

As development progresses, the elk itself started to take a back seat, as bigger ideas began to emerge – ideas of preservation, migration, extinction, life, death and mortality. The text which is now emerging is something of a slant on Hamlet’s gravediggers for young audiences – a metaphysical conversation rooted in the world and perspective of two 12 year olds.


Development and showing supported by The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children, Theatre for Young Audiences Ireland and Culture Ireland. Written by Kate Heffernan. Directed by Maisie Lee. Performed by Nyree Yergainharsian and Lloyd Cooney. Originally supported by the Arts Council’s Young People Children and Education Bursary. 

Montague > How to Dress A ‘Country-and-Irish’ Cowboy

Who invented The Rhinestone Cowboy?

Montague-Jacket-Yellow  Montague-Jacket-Blue  Montague-Jacket-Robert-Redford  Montague-Jacket-George-Jones  Montague-Jacket-Porter-Wagoner-2  Montague-Jacket-DanielRomano

Ukranian-born Nudie Cohn and his Rodeo Tailors made American country stars embrace embellishment in the 1940s, and the love affair still burns strong in Nashville. A music of outsiders, country is about exile and emigration, frontier ballads of outlaws and open plains, heartbreak, loneliness, loss. Country stars wear their hearts on their sleeves, and their stories along their lapels. Cacti, lassos, lone horses, tumbleweed, covered wagons, dry horizons, bare crucifixes – Nudie stitched the icons of their lonely lives into their breast pockets.

So what should an Irish cowboy wear?

Montague-Bog-Cotton-JacketFinding its feet in the late 1960s, the Country–and–Irish tradition of music fuses Irish folk with American country, all speeded up to a quick-step rhythm suitable for dancing – ballads of colonial exile sang with a cowboy twang while people jive. The Montague Hotel was a hitching-post on its touring circuit, a regular haunt for the stars of the Country–and–Irish music scene which was hugely popular in the midlands, a key venue through the 70s, 80s and 90s.

The bands traditionally wore matching jackets, but not in the elaborate Rodeo Tailor style.

I find it hard to separate The Montague from Country–and–Irish, and have been thinking about it in this sense – about how the 40-year history of a country is weirdly contained within its walls, the story of who we are, where we’ve been, where we’re going. What if a band was to wear its sense of history, it’s sense of place, its sense of itself on its sleeve? What would these jackets look like? Bog cotton rather than cactus flowers, green plains rather than dusty plateaus? Old wounds becoming scars becoming appliqué embellishments, hardened into a smile by a rhinestone outline?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But, as I sit here tonight, imagining the characters of a band like this, I’m imagining how they might dress.

 

 

 

Peat Research > Aprilfestival and Danish Schools

 

DanishSchools-MainImageAprilfestival: Teater for Små & Store is an annual performance event for young audiences, each year taking place in a different Danish town. This April, over 100 Danish and international companies performed over 600 shows in diverse spaces – from classrooms to viking halls to basketball courts – transforming the 2015 host town of Frederikssund (50km outside of Copenhagen). Traveling to the festival with the support of the Arts Council’s Travel and Training Award (with the Elk project and questions of accessibility on my mind), I was thinking about the festival’s amazingly enabling ethos and core aim – to give every single child in a regional municipality a theatre experience. And I was curious to see how the performance work would fit into non-theatre contexts, how it was changed by the fit-up nature of the festival, by the rough-and-ready settings – and how those spaces were in turn transformed.

I visited some brilliant schools. The performances were woven into the fabric of the day, children moving from maths class to a show to language lab to lunch. Even in the smallest schools, performances might have been taking place at the same time in several classrooms, the gym, the library, the yard. In little rooms, tables and chairs were rearranged into improvised raked seating, windows blacked out with refuse sacks and parcel tape.

For me at least, the less dynamic work was that which attempted to impose a theatrical space where none existed, an obsession with drapes and rigging and blackouts and theatreness, to recreate a black box or proscenium arch, to try too hard to hide the fact that we were in a classroom or a gymnasium. And on the other end of the spectrum, the vibrant work for me was so often that which did the opposite – embracing the non-theatrical nature of the spaces in order to elevate the space and the work itself, an attention to detail and artistry that suspended them without hiding or apologising for them – transforming and reawakening them into an other world.

DanishSchools-BlueChairs  DanishSchools-WoodenChairsBand  DanishSchools-VolleyballSand  DanishSchools-WoodenChairsScoreBoard  DanishSchools-GymView  DanishSchools-WoodenChairsSoccerGoal  DanishSchools-WhiteCyc  DanishSchools-YardwithedBench  DanishSchools-TurquoiseChairs

A plastic bucket school chair takes on a life of its own. The coloured stripes of a multi-use sportshall floor become a key aspect of Lisa Becker and Claus Carlsen’s Besat af æbler for Teatrer Nordkraft (an early years live-art work and my hands-down highlight of the festival). A glossy classroom whiteboard acts as the perfectly reflective projection backdrop for the Northern Lights above the Tundra in World Images by Teater Madam Bach (directed by Imaginary Theatre Australia’s Thom Browning).

So many brilliantly found spaces transformed, so many times I thought, “I really want to make a show here.”


OTHER THOUGHTS

Elk was in my mind. I was thinking about the pathos of a creature doomed to extinction, about how to have an open and frank conversation about the vast world we live in with young audiences while at the same time offering a steady and sympathetic guide to navigating that bigness. And so it was brilliant to be immersed in Danish work, a tradition that does not shy away from the oftentimes dark reality of the world we live in. I encountered performances that dealt in many different ways with death, change and loss.

Teatret Gruppe 38’s Morket Ligger Under Sengen / The Darkness Rests Under the Bed was another highlight of the festival. A story about an older couple who return home to stay with their son, it drew gentle and playful parallels between a toddler’s fear of what lurks beneath their bed, and an elderly person’s fear of what might come in the night. The simplicity of its storytelling, its matter-of-factness, its placement of youth, age, life, death, light and dark on one plane and in one breath will stay with me.


BESAT AF ÆBLER BY LISA BECKER, CLAUS CARLSEN + TEATER NORDKRAFT

MØRKET LIGGER UNDER SENGEN BY TEATRET GRUPPE 38

 

Graphic Props > In Dog Years I’m Dead

DogYearsShowGraphicProps-1983InviteDogYearsShowGraphicProps-DutchInviteDogYearsShowGraphicProps-FlirtyDogYearsShowGraphicProps-EstdDogYearsShowGraphicProps-OhNoDogYearsShowGraphicProps-RussianIn Dog Years I’m Dead begins at a 1983-themed 30th birthday party, and ends at a Dutch themed 31st birthday (the international dialing code for the Netherlands is +31. The party tagline: “Go Dutch – and Bring Your Own Beer”). I made graphic props for the show, including these invitations for both events. The 1980s feel of the first invitation made its way to the show programme which you can see here.

Towards the end of the play, Emily and David both turn 30 and are inundated with  cards. Wearing playwright hat I imagined this ping-pong oneupmanship of greetings. Wearing designer hat, I made the graphic props to match.


EMILY: Cards came from all over. (Reading) You’re just an eighteen year old with twelve years experience. 29ish.
DAVID: Ested. 1983.
EMILY: It Took Me Thirty Years To Look This Good.
DAVID: Oh No The Big Three Oh
EMILY: Keep Calm, You’re Only Thirty.
DAVID: I got three of those ones.
EMILY: I’m Not Thirty, I’m Three Perfect Tens
DAVID: Age Is Like Underwear, It Creeps Up On You.
EMILY: Flirty Thirty.
DAVID: Dirty Thirty.
EMILY: And probably the most threatening:
DAVID: Thirty down. Thirty to go.

 


Show Programme > In Dog Years I’m Dead

DogYearsShowProgrammeCoverIn Dog Years I’m Dead centres on Emily and David, two 29-year olds who meet at a 1983 themed 30th birthday party. When I was researching the production with director Maisie Lee and performer Marie Ruane, we came across a list – Thirty Things Which Turn Thirty in 2013. The list inspired the 1983 party as well as many other elements in the play (a girl dressed as a Chicken McNugget, Microsoft Word, Billy Jean, Glenroe, Return of the Jedi, Grafton Street’s aging cobblestones, Fraggle Rock, Eamon Coughlin’s gold medal at the World Athletic Championships).

DogYearsShowProgramme-Page-1DogYearsShowProgramme-Page-2I designed and made graphic props for the show, including invitations to the party and 30th birthday cards which you can see here. I decided to replicate the feel of these in the look and contents of our show programme. The cover (above) is a hat-tip to the Wham Bar, a three-decade old confection and a fixture of my primary school-yard. In a less than romantic moment, David pulls a melted pair of Whams from his pocket at the party.

Inside the programme, the palette moves away from primary to pastel. For backgrounds, I used two iconic patterns which for me scream, or more appropriately screech, Saved by the Bell and 80s MTV – Nuwave and Wiggle. 

Throughout, I dotted speech bubble quotes about the move to a third decade. I put detail in the footers about the number 30 and things that turn thirty. To fit with the gentle fun we poke at nostalgia,  we gathered childhood pictures of the cast, creatives and crew for their headshots, And, for good measure, I wrote biogs for Care Bear and Cabbage Patch Kid, our not entirely inanimate supporting cast.

DogYearsShowProgramme-Page-3DogYearsShowProgramme-Page-4