In 2012 I moved to Sydney, a new city with no friends and no contacts. It was a tricky situation for an actress to find herself in as a theatre career runs on having a great network of contacts. Eventually, I stumbled across Short+Sweet, a 10-minute, international play festival that looks to connect writers, directors and actors.
Established in Sydney in 2002, Short+Sweet is currently active in over 30 cities, with over 2,500 artists involved globally each year. Before my first year in my new home was out, I’d directed my first play, performed in another, nabbed myself an agent, and most importantly found my tribe. As a drama teacher, directing wasn’t completely new to me, but it was the first time I’d worked with a playwright. The play I directed was by Spiro Athanasiadis, a writer based in Melbourne who was very supportive of the production and open to collaboration.
That February he and his sister Helene flew to Sydney to see the show. Spiro exuded warmth and creativity, he was exactly what I’d expected. We spent the afternoon together discussing the joys and fears of producing something new, before watching our work come to life that evening. When Helene contacted me a few weeks later to tell me that Spiro had died of a heart attack, I was devastated. I hadn’t known him for long, we had met only once, but he’d played a huge part in helping me to settle into my new life in Sydney.
I was subsequently invited to speak about Spiro at the Short+Sweet Gala Finals and Awards night. In front of an audience of hundreds, I recalled his talent and gentleness. I thanked him for his script The Thirsty Rats, and asked the audience to remember him. At least I think I did. What I remember is staring into bright lights as a strained voice came from my throat in a failed attempt to not cry. Then it was over, for the audience at least, but for me Short+Sweet meant more now.
When I returned to Ireland in 2014, I had that universal experience that you are never quite prepared for – reverse culture shock. Once again I found myself in a new city with few friends and even fewer contacts. Having had such a positive experience with the festival in Australia, I knew I wanted to bring Short+Sweet home with me. It’s taken a few years to bring it together, but myself and the team are very excited about our inaugural line-up.
Of the 20 original plays in Short+Sweet Dublin, 75 per cent of them are written by Irish-based writers, nine women and 11 men, and 65 per cent of the directors involved are women. The festival is divided into two categories: The Wildcards and the Top Ten. The Wild Cards will be performed on October 22nd and 23rd and the Top Ten run from October 24th to 26th, with judges attending most nights. The festival judges include Sheila O’Flanagan, Alan King and Frank Shouldice. Audience goers also have an opportunity to share their thoughts in the People’s Choice Awards. At the end of the festival, two playwrights will receive the Spiro Athanasiadis Award for Best Playwright in their category.
The past eight months have been more challenging than I expected, but Short+Sweet has once again given me new friends, a creative outlet and a stronger sense of belonging. We all need a place to belong, something which is certainly reflected in the programme of Short+Sweet Dublin. A longing to be part of something, for connection is a recurring theme.
Gregory Hardigan’s Rentals reminds us of the fragility of life and how we never know how long someone will be around for. Sarah Gilmartin’s Old Woman of The Roads explores our desire for connection and the fears that hold us back. Some of our plays go deep into uncomfortable territory. David Butler’s He Said / She Said, shortlisted for the Billy Roche Award, was inspired by the Belfast trial of the Irish rugby players accused of rape. Aisling Flynn’s Her Crooked Man explores the uncertainty of a young woman leaving a sheltered boarding school into a world populated by strange and ominous men.
There are plenty of laughs in the programme too. Jonathan Josephson’s This Hungry Churchyard is a quirky take on the hours after the death of Romeo and Juliet. Rex McGregor’s Threatened Panda Fights Back looks at the lengths someone will go to when an unexpected arrival rocks the boat.
It has been possibly the busiest eight months of my life, but when I step back for a moment, I am in awe that these artists have placed their trust in me and this festival. Short+Sweet Dublin runs from October 22nd-26th at The Sean O'Casey Community Theatre in East Wall. Tickets and further information are available on Eventgen.ie and the Short+Sweet website.