By Rena Bryson
I will never forget the phone call that changed everything, I was 23 sitting in my parents kitchen, cup of tea in hand speaking with my friend Hazel Doolan. We had both moved to Galway after studying Performing Arts at I.T Sligo earlier that year. Disillusioned with the far and few between opportunities that presented themselves we were growing frustrated, frustrated that we were not using the creative muscles we had worked hard to develop over our four year degrees. Auditions seemed to be a rare occurrence in Galway, a fact we were very surprised by as it was known to us as such a wonderful city of culture.
We were both fortunate to have worked as actors following our studies but these jobs were not always paid. We felt very uncertain of what to do but we knew we felt the same drive to make theatre. It was during one of our many venting sessions that we remembered the joy we felt performing Hazel’s work in progress Match at a creative writing night at college. Despite having no funding, experience producing or business know how we decided to create our own company in order to stage Match. All we needed to do was finish the script and get it on stage, easy peasy.
Flash forward two months and I’m sitting on the set of Match sharing three boiled eggs with actor Killian Glynn. This would be our pre performance and only feast. I had learned the hard way that working in the arts and running an arts organisation are two very different things. Although I had felt the struggle as an independent actor was rough, it wasn’t until I put all of my money and energy into the company’s first show that I felt like in that moment a literal starving artist. I could now understand why other unfunded emerging companies were not paying travel expenses, paying actors or providing a profit share, without the support of sponsors, community or government funding there is no source to accommodate these payments. Although it created personal and financial difficulties I am proud to say we successfully produced our first show with our company ethos in tact. Each member of the team received an equal profit share and those travelling received weekly travel expenses. I believe this proves that however small the budget, every company can provide payment for their cast and crew. Even if a payment is small it is an important symbol of respect and appreciation for an artists work.
My best advice to achieve this without ending up eating boiled eggs for dinner is to budget and save ahead of time. My struggle was primarily due to having no savings and receiving a weekly payment of €100.00 via the dole when I founded the company. Business aside, the rehearsal process was wonderful, we couldn’t have asked for a more talented and driven team. The mix of nerves and excitement waiting behind the curtain on opening night, surrounded by the cast and crew is a feeling I will never forget. We were shocked and so honoured when we received the Best Emerging Artists Award at the Galway Fringe Festival ball. The award signified the importance of supporting emerging artists, an important part of our ethos to this day.
Hazel and I both took some time out before our next production, this was an important period of reflection. We had founded the company as a means to stage Match and to prove small companies could pay their teams. After that was achieved what was next? We narrowed down our company values into three main principles; respecting and representing emerging artists, expressing modern Ireland on stage and giving a voice to the voiceless through theatre. The name Eva’s Echo originates from an Irish Legend titled The Children of Lir. This famous tale begins with mention of Eva, King Lir’s wife and mother to the four children who after her death is seemingly forgotten. As we strive to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves through our work, we’re honouring Eva through the company name while staying in touch with our Irish roots.
We received nearly a 100 scripts and after a difficult selection process we choose to produce Donna Hoke’s The Way It Is. This meaty script differed greatly from our first light hearted and comedic production, as it dealt with domestic and sexual abuse towards men in heterosexual relationships. As the director of this production I drew a great deal of inspiration from female leads in romantic comedies and sitcoms, noting that these women are often abusive towards men but their behaviour is not only excused but a source of comedy. Hazel Doolan took inspiration from this and the character Yasmine became more likeable, allowing the audience to empathise with her, laugh at her behaviour and therefore be shocked having not condemned her behaviour before it eventually led to her committing sexual assault.
Michael Reed’s ability to utilise moments of playful bickering followed by intense and intimate monologues portrayed Cane as a flawed but sympathetic character. The team behind The Way It Is was the smallest behind any show, with a cast of two and a director on board. Due to the costs of producing Match we decided to work with a smaller team, this would also increase the percentage of the profit share significantly. I was very proud of the show and enjoyed tackling several roles alongside directing but learnt through the experience it would be unhealthy to continue such an intense work practice, especially as I was also completing a Masters degree at the time.
I feel we truly achieved balance when working on Jungle Door. This production would lay the groundwork for company practices inside and outside of the rehearsal room. Previous to Jungle Door Hazel and I were tackling each task together. We decided it would be more efficient moving forward to create different departments within the company. From that point onward I managed public relations and Hazel managed administration. This made a huge difference to our work practice, efficiency and stress levels.
We recorded several projections with the wonderfully talented Piotr Lyszkiewicz, which was a new but exciting challenge. I was so excited to bring Jungle Door to the Where We Are Now Festival and was especially delighted to be working with Elizabeth Flaherty and Sabrina Kelleher. I had directed the two theatre makers in two short scenes at the same festival the previous summer. Roles were clearer in the rehearsal room than they had been in the previous production and surrounded by a brilliant team I felt confident enough to back away from other tasks and truly concentrate on acting. Each rehearsal was fun, light and lacked a stress that had been lurking in the background of our previous productions. I feel this was due to our growing confidence as a company, utilising what we had learnt from our mistakes and choosing an exceptionally positive team.
Returning to the black box in I.T Sligo to perform was a surreal experience, Hazel and I had performed so many college shows in the space, we never imagined we would return with our own company. I was so thrilled when the play was received well as a part of me was nervous about staging my writing. I was especially pleased that the audience members I spoke with appreciated that it was a story about LGBTQ characters facing struggles outside of their sexuality as it was an aspect of the characters rather than a plot point, which was a goal I felt very passionate about. We were delighted to bring the play to Galway Pride following it’s Sligo run to fundraise for Teach Solais. We were especially proud to be the first to perform a play in the venue.
During the summer we put out another call out for scripts, we had another tough decision to make. Along with several others we had received Dayshift by Darren Donohue, it had a larger cast and was far more ambitious than what we were going for but we just couldn’t put it down. We decided to return to our roots with a comedy and fuller casts than previous productions. The audition process for Dayshift was the most intense so far, we had several very difficult decisions to make. The chosen cast were fabulously funny and added to the positive atmosphere we now prioritised.
Director Hazel Doolan took five minutes at the beginning and end of each rehearsal to instruct the actors to meditate, I found this extremely useful. Taking that time out allowed me to disconnect from anything I was working on as a producer and focus purely on acting for the duration of rehearsals. Sabrina was now fully in her element as both our stage manager and designer, she was Hazel’s right hand woman throughout the entire process. We also had Elizabeth back on board operating lights and Piotr was capturing the play. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to work alongside old friends and new.
Eva’s Echo has grown so much in two years. From staging Match, excited but unsure of what was next to preparing for Vlogger confident about the productions to follow, there has been quite a great deal of change. This change is something that can only be achieved through experience, learning from our mistakes and learning from those around us. Of course none of this would be possible without having taken a chance on staging Match, it could have all fallen apart but that was a risk that had to be taken and I’ll always be so grateful that Hazel took the leap of faith with me.
Memory lane with cast and crew
I remember one night in (Match) we were on stage and a small bit of water spilled, playing a waiter I started to clean it up while saying my lines and it all went smoothly and the audience thought it was all part of the show . The next night because it worked so well we said we would try do it on purpose…. (However) we ended up spilling the whole glass and the stage was soaked and I gave all of my stage time cleaning while still trying to be flirty with Elizabeth and say all my lines. – Cathal Ryan
My first fond memory from Match would have to be that bloody jacket that kept on getting left behind on stage! Somehow, every night, it ended up somewhere it wasn’t supposed to be – it was fully cursed. We always found a creative way for its location to make sense though (Pam’s quick thinking and lots of improv came in handy)! The next would have to be the transition of getting that massive desk and chair back through a significantly smaller exit in central stage. That transition was never discreet and all you could do was laugh. And who could forget Elizabeth spilling water all over my costume? Luckily I had to change for the next scene! – Killian Glynn
I loved our lunch outings in between The Way It Is rehearsals. It was something that we carried with us moving forward as it improved moral, you had a chance to socialise with your team and you had fun. I remember after our shoot in Salthill I was wearing a thin black dress and was absolutely freezing. Fortunately I got to pick where we had lunch that day and of course went for comforting warm grub from McSwiggans! – Hazel Doolan
Due to complications we had to relocate for our shoot in Sligo while our tech was cancelled. It was very stressful at the time I was pacing down the corridors of IT Sligo with full make up done and wearing a wedding dress. I didn’t think it was funny at the time but it probably looked funny from the outside looking in. Thankfully, with the help and quick thinking of friend and photographer Catriona Bonner, we moved location and still got a shoot so it wasn’t a waste of a journey after all. – Hazel Doolan
After Hazel had told us that we had to dress in grey on stage I noticed that Rickie was wearing entirely grey from that point on and I was so in awe of that, that I knew I had to raise my game. Weeks after we finished Dayshift I saw Rickie was still wearing grey and I told him he was incredibly committed but it turns out he just likes wearing grey. – Mícheál Ó Fearraigh
My favourite experiences from Dayshift were the days we made discoveries about the scenes and about the characters, when things just worked. For instance the first time when Michéal had the puppet prop for Mr. Rivendale and his character just came together, or when (Rickie’s) performance of John from Filing elicited raucous laughter, or when the complicated scene where Mr. Day and Cathy try to reach out to each other across the noise – when that scene was finally over prepared and worked upon so much that our ambitious vision for it finally became a reality – these are the ah-hah! moments during the rehearsal period that were so exciting from an acting and performance point of view. Of course our routine trips to Mr. Waffle were a joy of mine also, letting go of our scenes and discussing all sorts of shite over delicious waffles and re energizing coffee was also a highlight of the Dayshift experience ! – Conor O’Dwyer
I’ll never forget the time I got locked in in the Acoustic Room hallway in NUIG. It was a Sunday morning, I missed breakfast and decided to get in nice and early, drop off my things and get a quick breakfast. I had just messaged the group chat asking if anyone wanted anything from the shop when all of a sudden, click. I turned around and tried to push the emergency exit door which locked me in the small corridor where the acoustic rooms were. No one was around and I was desperately sending messages to the group chat to see if anyone were nearby. I was 10 minutes looking out the window of the fire exit door until our designer Sabrina came to the rescue. I spent the rest of the day warning anyone who was coming in. It brought a new meaning to ‘Hold the door!’. – Hazel Doolan