Stimulating initiative that centres on mentoring
A mentoring scheme and residencies are firing up artistic work at Axis: Ballymun
Mark O’Brien hopes to create a win-win situation with the launch of his new mentoring initiative Playground at the Axis: Ballymun. As acting artistic director of the arts and community resource centre, he hopes it will shine a light on the more informal mentoring at Axis for the past 11 years.
“Axis has long been a place where artists from many disciplines have been invited out to,” he tells me, “to share and develop their work in a collaborative or studio setting.” He hopes to crystalise that practice and revitalise practitioners in their early career by providing space, professional guidance and mentoring.
“We have been looking at how a venue can be a better resource to both its community and the professional arts world. We’re creating another access point for people within Ballymun and beyond, letting them know that we are here, ready to talk to them about potential collaboration and artistic development, now and further down the line.”
Two programmes will be offered, in theatre performance and playwriting, with director Jason Byrne and playwright Sean McCarthy working with the participants. Two more strands , in film and music, start in the new year. “So many different skill sets, working around Axis at the same time, will create a hub of activity around the venue, driving creativity into the building and out into the community.” He stresses the mentorships are not output driven. “For us it is about furthering our relationship with new artists, without the unnecessary expectation to produce their work.” It could, however, bleed into a residency, as it did recently with THEATREclub and PaperDolls. “Those companies were looking for space to rehearse and develop their shows for the Absolut Fringe. We were interested in having them engage with our audience by giving workshops and putting on performances for the community.”
“Axis gave us space and space is really precious for what we do,” says Emily Aoibheann, co-founder of aerial performance group PaperDolls . “It’s fundamental. We had access to a venue to develop our practice, they’ve come to all of our productions and kept in contact about future projects.”
Philip Connaughton has also returned to the village of his birth after 14 years in Barcelona to become dance artist in residence, developing a new show while also engaging with local dancers. “Going around to local schools is incredible. Seeing the hip-hop dancing, the Irish dancing. There’s so much musical theatre and some wonderful ballet schools out here. Contemporary dance isn’t really happening though. So it’s important for me to promote that.”
He’s facilitating workshops with some of the world’s most exciting choreographers, such as Kyle Abraham and Jon Kinzel and local talent.
The aim is to get artists to see Ballymun as a resource, to create connections between local people, local organisations and artists from all over the city, who may work together on projects reflecting local concerns. In recent years the theatre has developed work with youth, and people with mental health issues and from differing cultures. They have hosted conferences and festivals investigating the Irish language, had a week celebrating Traveller Pride and facilitated an early childhood creative research collaboration between their creche and visual artist Orla Kelly.
The artists-in-residence, including writer Daniel Seerey and Workin’ Class Records, have access to the Axis’s administrative and technical staff, as well as O’Brien’s ear. “If I want to take my residency in any particular creative direction,” Connaughton says, “I call him up and we talk it through. It’s a proper give and take.” The venue also plays a role in career development for young people from the area, including actors coming out of the Roundabout Youth Theatre, many of whom are now working on shows such as Fair City.
“What interests me is what happens when you say yes to people,” he says. “A lot of conversations on the arts centre on ‘Can you book us?’ and ‘Can we apply to you?’ It’s all transactional, financial. I’m interested in looking at the practitioner bit. Besides, we learn as much from them as they do from us. And that’s where the fire is for me.”