‘Free is insulting’: Theatre awards winners vent on funding proposals

Recipients of Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards discuss challenges of Covid-19 crisis facing artists

Paul Keogan wins best lighting design for his work on Big Chapel X and others

Paul Keogan wins best lighting design for his work on Big Chapel X and others

 

Paul Keogan

  I found out about the award this morning in Belfast at about 10am. I had left my phone in my studio and was having a very lazy morning. When I switched on my phone, it was hopping and going a bit crazy. My other half was the first to twig that something was going on, because it has been so quiet the last few days and nobody has been phoning. 

 To be honest, I probably won’t celebrate. I am just getting in touch with the other people from the team now. I’m firing off messages and tweets and Facebook messages to all the other people in the team that I worked with. They are the people I am thinking about today, and hoping that they’re okay. We have all had our work schedules completely eradicated. I have been doing this work for 30 years and it is the first time that I don’t know what my next job is going to be. That is really disconcerting for anyone. I will be putting celebrations on hold until we can all be in a room together again.

 I have never really been one to follow the ins-and-outs of arts funding, and the politics of it, until yesterday. I thought the announcement the Minister [for Culture] gave yesterday was extraordinarily ill-conceived and tone deaf in everything it said [One of Josepha Madigan’s announcements yesterday was of an initiative for a €1 million fund from the Arts Council for artists to make “new and original art”, with the purpose of putting it up online for free for the public benefit. There will be 334 awards of €3,000 each.]

 The gatekeepers of culture aren’t just writers and actors, they are visual artists and stage managers, technicians and lighting designers and crew members. 

 How does a stage manager avail of this Facebook initiative? What is a visual artist meant to do? We have some brilliant technical staff in this country. How do you keep the wolf from the door for these people?

We have already come through years of austerity, and many companies have gone by the wayside. The Government response to this crisis seems so poorly conceived. 

 Paul Keogan won Best Lighting Design for The Big Chapel X, The Glass Menagerie, and Blood in the Dirt

Ella Daly

  We were aware that news of the awards was coming out today. I had a very fitful sleep last night; I was waking at 2 and 3am, texting another member of the company. I actually had a dream we didn’t win. Then I woke again around 6am and checked. And we’d won!

 I live with the set designer, Emma Fisher, so we had mimosas and blueberry waffles for breakfast to celebrate. We’re in Limerick, where the majority of our team are based. 

 Tonight, we have a Zoom party planned for 8pm. We will all get dressed up and have drinks of our choice. There will be about 50 or 60 people squeezed onto our screens. I still have all the costumes from the show in the garage, so Emma and I might appear at the party dressed in period costume. It was a huge community-based production, so winning the audience choice award means so much. 

 Our show was based on a historical overnight city-wide strike of Limerick, when there were tanks on the streets and you needed a pass to move around. It has such strange resonances with these times. There are a lot of unknowns ahead, and that includes what happens to the arts.

 As artists, we need to stick together at this time. We are stronger as one voice. The arts sector needs to come together. By group negotiation, we can come out of this stronger. Theatre artists need to be in spaces with each other, collaborating, and the Government suggesting yesterday we can sit at home and record monologues and put them up on the internet for free is insulting. 

 We are looking at streaming Bread Not Profits for free. But after that, no more free content from us. The public respect it, but the Government doesn’t.

 Ella Daly is the producer of Bread Not Profits, which won the Audience Choice Vote  

Gary Keegan

 I was out early and picked up The Irish Times on the way home. I opened it up in the shop; I couldn’t wait to find out. I subsequently bought about eight more copies.

 We’ll get together tomorrow with people via Zoom or Houseparty, and we might record some kind of acceptance speech.

 It’s an extremely dark time for freelancers. The worry will be that when the national budget is adjusted, will the arts be savaged again as usual?

 The thing we have going for us is that theatre is a live arts form and we should hold onto what we have and not be tempted to put it up online, as in the announcement yesterday. It seems very unpalatable for the Department of Arts to be collaborating with Facebook. What they are suggesting is an insult and devaluing of what we do, we should be holding fire. We should keep creating but not be offering it up for a pittance online.

 That’s what keeps us apart from TV. We are not content providers in that way, nor in the way social media platforms expect people to be. The most important thing is to remember what it is that makes us unique in theatres: performers performing in front of a live audience, where there is chemistry. But most importantly, we must not throw away our work for free. 

 Gary Keegan and Feidlim Cannon won Best Production for The Examination

Brian Doherty

 I thought the results were being announced online this evening, so I got a total surprise when I got a text from one of my brothers this morning to say I had won.

 I’m in London. Later on, I’ll do some video calls with some of the people involved in the shows, and we’ll crack open a few beers. But this is such a strange time. Look at the speed in which everyone working in this business lost their incomes.

 I was rehearsing at the Gate for The Little Foxes and we got to the end of week three of rehearsals and that was the end. We had expected to work on that show until at least May. This situation will pass, but in the meantime, people need to be protected as much as they can. The stress on people who work in the arts is bad enough as it is. We would hope there will be government assistance to help out. People who work in the arts don’t have that cushion of assets and income. 

 Everyone in the arts has effectively been made redundant right now. We need to support one another right now as much as we can, mentally as much as anything else.

 Theatre is not something that lends itself particularly well to the online world, which is what has been suggested we adapt to. Theatre is about live performance. And live audiences.

 Brian Doherty won Best Actor for the roles of Agamemnon and Dog

Conall Morrison

 I see this award as a communal gong for the whole company, and it’s something for all of us to celebrate. I hadn’t planned on celebrating, but I might just treat myself to a chocolate muffin. 

 It’s a very scary time for the arts right now. How long will it take before people are relaxed about gathering together in a theatre again, and rubbing elbows with each other again? Will people even have money to spend on tickets? I am lucky in that I am a writer, and have a commission I’ve been putting off, and now I can work on it, because I have no excuses now. But there are many other people in the arts who aren’t writers and don’t have a way to earn money right now. They need to be supported.

 Conall Morrison won Best Ensemble for The Travels of Jonathan Swift 

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