'Every day is full of drama'
MONDAYIn the heart of Rathmines village, just next the library, people from age three to PhD gather each day to perform and create. It’s the Conservatory Music and Drama at Dublin Institute of Technology, the largest provider of music and drama education in Ireland. It’s where I work. As I walk through the corridors on Monday morning I can hear music, singing or the spoken word coming from every corner of the building.This morning I am lecturing first-year BA drama students. Actor training is at the core of the programme, but rigorous academic demands, including scholarly research and written analyses, underpin the work. Many of our graduates go directly into working in theatre, film and television including work with the Abbey Theatre, RTÉ, London’s West End, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Smashing Times Theatre Company.
On Mondays I teach three modules in acting, movement and drama facilitation based on the work of Stanislavski, Michael Chekhov, Yoshi Oida and Anne Bogart, among others.
Working physically in an empty space with 19 students for three hours is intense but exciting. The students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own creativity and to learn how to connect and work with their own instincts and impulses as they develop their body, voice and imagination. The focus is on developing actors that are open, free, not disturbed by anything, very vulnerable, can communicate freely, and create real human spirits in the playing space with a profound sense of depth and truth that touches the audience emotionally.
I am directing the final-year graduating drama production, which is Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. The show runs at the Samuel Beckett Theatre in Trinity College from February 27th to March 2nd. It’s often described as the western world’s greatest love story. It is also a play about the failure of adults to create a civic society that respects difference and tolerance and refuses to allow our lives to be ruled by hatred and prejudice. The story of the feuding Montague and Capulet families is as fresh and relevant today as when Shakespeare created it. Today we have a 12-hour rehearsal. We begin by doing warm-ups to prepare the body and voice and then work on character development.
Shakespeare’s characters are compelling, showing humanity in all its virtues and vices. Acting is about creating truthful responses to fictitious stimuli and connecting on an emotional and visceral level as we create the life of the human spirit on stage. Shakespeare was writing for a sophisticated audience drawn from all classes of society. His plays were the rock concerts of their day and audiences expected entertainment and to be emotionally engaged. That is also our objective today.
I am artistic director of Smashing Times Theatre Company. Its work is underpinned by a rights-based approach and a commitment to social engagement. I start the day with a call with Freda Manweiler and we discuss the Memory Project, which uses drama and theatre to promote peace and reconciliation.
First year drama students from DIT recently took part in a Smashing Times project called Artists for Civic Action in partnership with five other countries. The students were involved in a theatre procession on Grafton Street as part of the UN Day for the Eradication of Poverty. They have also taken part in Smashing Times projects in the area of positive mental health and suicide prevention.
I have a great belief in drama and theatre as ideal mediums for self-development, for celebration and for creating solidarity and transformation particularly in creating a better and more inclusive society. Part of the students’ education is the development of drama in the wider social (non-theatrical) context of community, education and personal development.
The arts can help us define a sense of ourselves within society and to explore and express our cultural identities and to help a community re-invent itself. I am referring to the notion of change, using theatre to encourage change for a better and more inclusive society.
Production meetings. There are several things to be organised this week including budgets, meetings with the set, costume and lighting designers, a photo session with the students and combat classes with teacher Ciaran O’Grady. There is a great atmosphere in the rehearsal space as the work from the previous few weeks comes together.
I get a little time this evening to read Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, which was performed in London with Mark Rylance in the lead role. If any production came to Dublin I would definitely go along. The best production I’ve seen in Dublin recently was the one-man show Silent, by Pat Kinevane. It was an incredible and moving piece of theatre.
I am involved in organising master classes at DIT and this year I am planning to bring in two singer/songwriters; Liam Ó Maonlaí and Damien Dempsey. Both of these performers have incredible energy and presence on stage. I am interested in sources of energy in the body and “work that springs from the unguarded expression of deep feelings, deeper darkness, and our joyous, dangerous unpredictable selves”.
Rehearsals again today until 8pm and afterwards I work on my speech for a creative seminar I am attending in Donegal the next day. The conference is called Women: Peace Makers or Agitators and is part of a series of creative seminars conducted by Smashing Times Theatre Company as part of its work in peace building and reconciliation.
An interesting day in Donegal. At the conference, I attended two workshops conducted by Idan Meir, a member of Combatants for Peace Israel-Palestine, based on techniques developed by Augusto Boal, the Brazilian theatre director. He developed a range of theatre techniques under the heading Theatre of the Oppressed. They all seek to make the power of theatre available to all as a force for change in oppressed situations.
In dictatorships one of the first things to close down are the theatres and they “remove” the artists. People can be creatively deprived and access to the arts is a fundamental human right.
I travel home on Saturday night to spend the rest of the weekend with my four children. Féilim plays the fiddle and Naoise and Éanna have had parts in plays and films. Ella recently did a photo shoot with Ryan Tubridy for Electric Ireland. I suppose it’s in the blood.
This week I was...
Almighty Love by Damien Dempsey
American History X, and film versions of Romeo and Juliet such as that by Baz Luhrmann
Understanding Teenagers by Tony Humphreys and Helen Ruddle