The time of my life: ‘It felt like the city was being ran by 18-21 -year-olds’

Shaun Dunne… on a DIY theatre space

“We really cut our teeth and made loads of connections and became a presence in the scene.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

“We really cut our teeth and made loads of connections and became a presence in the scene.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

My friend Liana had got access to a space on Clarendon Street [Dublin 2]. The problem was, there were several skips worth of junk and debris in it. She said: we have this great space, let’s turn it into something. The space was in an absolute jocker. We spend days cleaning it out by hand. By the end we had this empty basement with no windows. We had a plan of starting a youth theatre there, so at that point we just thought “let’s just do this ourselves, make a youth theatre ran for young people by young people”.

There were gangs of us from all over Dublin, a mix of backgrounds, people from the suburbs on the southside, people like me from the inner city, and we just made it happen. We had a chair, a committee, and at one point we had 40 young people coming through throughout the week. I had started university at the time, but I was taking a long time to settle into it, so for me, when I was disillusioned with college but knowing I wanted to make art, it gave me a lease of life. I could develop plays. We got a load of lamps and hooked them up to the beams, and put gels on them, like normal lamps you’d buy in Dunnes. We thought it looked amazing at the time! Like, put a blue gel over a house lamp to create a nighttime effect.

We were young, there were no adults, we were drinking too much, killing each other

We were totally buzzing. In the first six months I put on two new plays. I was only 18, and one play got picked up by the Gay Theatre Festival. Very quickly I started to make connections in the industry. We were really arrogant that we thought our work was amazing, even though it wasn’t. We’d be saying, “Fringe needs to see this!”, so we’d invite Róise Goan from the Fringe, and Lian Bell.

‘Doing interesting things’

We really cut our teeth and made loads of connections and became a presence in the scene. At the time there were loads of things happening, The Exchange in Temple Bar, Grace [Dyas] and THEATREclub were starting The Theatre Machine Turns You On. It felt like the city was being ran by 18 to 21-year-olds, from our perspective anyway, running spaces, doing interesting things. Fringe companies started from that basement. People from Collapsing Horse met there, Grace would have passed through, young actors, people really found their space. When I look back on it, I think it was so hilarious, but there was a toxic element to it as well. We were young, there were no adults, we were drinking too much, killing each other.

Sometimes you’d wake up and you wouldn’t know who was there, walking around going “f***ing hell, I’m meant to be working here and this sesh has gone on and on”. All the furniture was so cack. Old couches, random s*** people would be pulling in from nights out – the place was full of traffic cones. It burned really bright for a while. I don’t think we had the energy to sustain it. Once we lost the space, that was a gift and a curse. When it ended by the time I was maybe 21, I was already hooked in with Rough Magic, Project, Fringe.

I don’t think there is a space like it that is totally youth-led now. What we were doing was radically different. We were doing it on our own, we had no funding, we had no subsidies, but we had a space. We were doing it for craic and because we thought it was something we were good at. It was a really scrappy space, but it was deadly, it really was.

Shaun Dunne is a theatre-maker and filmmaker.

Time of My Life is a weekly column about a moment that changed someone’s life – for the better or the worse. Do you want to share your Time of My Life story? Email magazine@irishtimes.com with “Time of My Life” in the subject line

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