The young ones: brave new writing takes over Irish theatres
Irish theatre is bursting with energy – but youth is all these artists have in common
‘Boys and Girls’ by Dylan Coburn Gray
Shaun Dunne in ‘I Am a Homebird’
Let’s lay most of the criticisms of theatre being created by young theatre makers on the fist-thumping table: they are arrogant; post-dramatic form papers over the cracks; they can’t write stories; it’s just a bunch of twentysomethings talking about themselves; the work is self-indulgent and with a sense of entitlement.
This is mostly nonsense. But does “young” theatre in Ireland have a distinctive voice or direction? And what kind of form appeals to contemporary writing and devising? One thing for sure is that there is a lot of theatre being made by young people right now. The Dublin Fringe Festival favours novelty, but in 2013 it was full of kids – in a good way. Dublin Theatre Festival occupies a different sort of space, yet the young and established Shaun Dunne has written I’ve To Mind Her, presented by Dublin Youth Theatre and directed by Gary Keegan.
Dylan Coburn Gray, who won the Fishamble New Writing Award at the Fringe for Boys and Girls, has theatre practitioners for parents. You could not get more “young theatre” than this production, and, according to Irish Times theatre critic Peter Crawley, it soared. “To the hand-wringers who see the slow death of culture in each new generation grinding art into mulch or, worse still, letting their powers of creation begin to sag under cheap communications of LOLs and hashtags,” Crawley wrote, “this stunning Dublin hymn makes it seem like sour grapes. If you want brave new writing, here is your salvation.”
Coburn Gray joined Dublin Youth Theatre when he was 16 and wrote a piece for them when he was 20. “It’s only in the last year and a half or so that the switch has gone from being a musician making theatre to being a theatre maker who plays music.”
He is clearly enamoured with theatre, flying through lists of shows that informed him as a youngster. As for now? “The people who agitate loudly get the most press. That doesn’t mean that’s all that’s out there,” Gray says, citing the diversity of productions at the New Theatre.
TheatreClub barges in
A company that shouts very loudly indeed is TheatreClub. “When we started, we barged our way in and insisted,” says Shane Byrne of TheatreClub, also made up of Grace Dyas and Doireann Coady.
“We cared lots about making things contemporary, and we cared about form, but we were also interested in the social aspect of it and what theatre means to us. We felt a personal power that you gain from theatre – what it can do for you.
The divide between “established” and “emerging” theatre is also blurring. “I don’t understand when you’re supposed to be established. It’s okay for us all to be different,” says Byrne. “There’s room for everyone at the table. It’s okay for everyone to have different aesthetics. There are people who want to put on a play, and they wear costumes and it’s set in 1910, and it’s not about the economy – it’s a love story. There are other people who want to put on a show and get into a balloon and paint themselves blue. It’s hard to describe what’s going on right now. I feel excited.”
Byrne references Boys and Girls, Cuomo by Matthew O’Dwyer and Monster/Clock by Collapsing Horse Theatre. “The idea of having convictions behind ideas like that is amazing . . . There’s a ballsiness with young artists now.”
“There is kind of an opposite of a greying – whatever that is,” Coburn Gray says of theatre in Ireland now. “The post-dramatic thing takes the emphasis away from the lonely artist sitting in a room. And the collaborative model is more like a band; it’s less of a thing that you turn up and get told what your lines are. In the collaborative devising mode, you have so much more ownership of it. It’s the garage-band model, where a bunch of teenagers can get together and do it on their own. It’s a more open-ended approach to the theatrical arts.”
‘There isn’t an orthodoxy’
“It’s reassuring there isn’t an orthodoxy,” says Willie White, director of the Dublin Theatre Festival. “The unifying theme is that they’re all living through this moment as young people.
“We shouldn’t chastise young people for their lack of politics,” White says. “Young people are getting together and organising things.” Which, he agrees, is in itself political. “An alternative is to leave. An alternative is to stay at home.”
Dublin Youth Theatre – and youth theatre in general – remains a core part of what informs young theatre makers, as well as so many other things. “Youth theatre is not about preparing the next generation of theatre makers,” White points out, “but about harnessing the energy of young people.”
Dunne says that when he started out with a few peers, aged 18 and 19, they felt as though they were the only people making work.
“But now there’s lots of us making shows. I think that has to do with DIY culture. A lot of people believe they can do things, and there are nights popping up that tune into art, like the Petty Cash stuff [a series of spoken-word events]. People are thinking, why not? People don’t think you need to do your four years in Trinity to put on a show.”
I’ve to Mind Her is at Smock Alley Theatre until Sunday as part of Dublin Theatre Festival