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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 27, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

    Bums on seats and other poetics

    Fiona McCann

    As Gate Theatre Manager Michael Colgan once told me, the most important thing about running a theatre is getting bums on seats, not just for financial reasons, but “for the unfortunate, vulnerable, naked, worrying, getting sick before a performance, nervous, knee-knocking performers”. Which is likely the impetus behind Take Your Seat, the new website offering free tickets and discounts to performances in a wide range of venues (the Abbey, the Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork, the Town Hall Theatre in Galway and the Linenhall Arts Centre, Co. Mayo are among those participating) to all who book through the site for a show taking place between November 9th and 14th. Basically, it’s a week-long arts and performance promotion co-ordinated by Arts Audiences and provding a decent database of what’s on where for those in search of an evening’s entertainment. There’s anything from Ibsen to Oliver! (exclamation mark essential): I’d love to know how it works for folk and if anyone has scored free tickets that way. Send us your comments. And maybe let me know what it takes to get your bum on a theatre seat these days: do you read reviews? Does a particular actor / director / playwright impel you towards the box office? Who’s going to the theatre in these trying recessionary times, and why?

    In the meantime, the shortlist for the TS Eliot prize is out and by my reckoning, there are two Irish poets on the list.

    Congratulations to Eilean Ni Chuilleanain (The Sun-fish) and Sinead Morrissey (Through the Square Window), who are thus in the running for the  £15,000 prize to be announced on January 18th. Their competition comes from Fred D’Aguiar for Continental Shelf,  Jane Draycott for Over, Philip Gross for The Water Table, Sharon Olds for One Secret Thing, Alice Oswald for Weeds & Wild Flowers, Christopher Reid for A Scattering, George Szirtes for The Burning of the Books and Other Poems and Hugo Williams for West End Final.

     A bualadh bos to all, and a poem from one to finish:

    Through the Square Window

    In my dream the dead have arrived to wash the windows of my house. There are no blinds to shut them out with.

    The clouds above the Lough are stacked like the clouds are stacked above Delft. They have the glutted look of clouds over water.

    The heads of the dead are huge. I wonder if it’s my son they’re after, his effortless breath, his ribbon of years -

    but he sleeps on unregarded in his cot, inured, it would seem, quite naturally to the sluicing and battering and paring back of glass

    that delivers this shining exterior… One blue boy holds a rag in his teeth between panes like a conjuror.

    And then, as suddenly as they came, they go. And there is a horizon from which the clouds stare in,

    the massed canopies of Hazelbank, the severed tip of Strangford Peninsula, and a density in the room I find it difficult to breathe in

    until I wake, flat on my back with a cork in my mouth. stopper-bottled, in fact, like a herbalist’s cure for dropsy.

     - By Sinead Morrissey.

    • Simon McGarr says:

      Hardly anything could persuade me to put my bum on a seat in a theatre.
      For my very rare trip out of an evening, I’d sooner meet friends over dinner, see a comedy show or go to a gig.

      I think it might be the involvement of actors.

      But seriously, the last time I even heard of a show I might have thought of seeing was Improbable Frequency. Though I didn’t actually get to it.

    • Fiona says:

      Simon: Is that a matter of personal taste or a reflection in the decline in theatrical standards?

    • Simon McGarr says:

      It is the result of too many trips to the theatre that felt like I was more like a stage prop or unpaid extra (Audience Member 23) in a show that was more about the writer’s/director’s/performer’s dreams of themselves than anything else.

      The (correctly) maligned Hinterland in the Abbey years ago springs to mind. It was attacked as an assault on the Haughey family. A better basis of complaint would have been that it was a terrible presumption on the good manners of the audience members. We ought to have got up and wandered off to do something more rewarding with our time- like go to the cinema, or read a decent book.

      Instead we continued to watch the unfortunate thing.

      I can’t tell you if my feelings are a matter of personal taste rather than reflective of a wider failing of Irish theatre- it is the only taste I have, after all. But, glancing at the Abbey website now, I see that the same author has a new play on- Tales of Ballycumber.

      Here’s how it’s introduced:

      “Daffodils are in bloom as dawn breaks over the foothills of Ballycumber, ushering in hope for a new day and stirring the ghosts of a past fraught with sorrow, isolation and emptiness.”

      For a theatre tradition that prides itself on the power of words, that tortured sentence isn’t going to get me in the door.

    • Conor Malone says:

      Simons comments seem me to to illustrate an oddity of the theatre experience – mamely that one poor play can put a customer off going to the theatre for months or even for good.

      If someone goes to the cinema and doesn’t like the film they’ll shrug their shoulders and come back the next week in the hope of seeing something better. If they read a book they don’t like they’ll put it down and pick up another one.

      If someone has a bad experience at the theatre they’re equally likely to pan the entire medium.


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