Two actors performing irish queer theatre

Jungle Door – The Rewriting Process

Blog, Monthly Blog

By Rena Bryson

One of the things I love most about theatre is that it is alive and ever-changing. Unlike a movie each time you see your favorite scene in a play it will be slightly different. There is only one play that Eva’s Echo has come back to several times and that is Jungle Door, but each time the play has developed and grown along with the team. When I first began writing the script I was 23 and I finished it as part of my MA at 24. I was writing about characters in their late twenty struggling with society’s and their own expectations of what an adult life should look like. This time approaching the text I was the same age as the characters.

The original 2018 Jungle Door. Photo Credit – Catriona Bonner

My relationship with the characters

When originally writing the text I could relate much more to Louise, struggling to find employment and afford to live in Galway, yearning for the simpler college life. I had just graduated the previous summer. In 2021 I could easily identify with Michelle, a bisexual woman marrying a man, concerned with losing her youthful appearance. I was able to contribute my experience of how much goes into planning a wedding while in the rehearsal room as I’m planning my own wedding. Having been on this journey with the characters and growing with them over the years is a truly unique experience.

In Rehearsal 2021.

Rewriting the text

Rewriting the text is a really rewarding and exciting experience and it has been for every version of Jungle Door. Although I’m the one who physically types the words onto the digital page the process is very collaborative. As a team, we read through the text (Hazel and I read each other’s parts) and then had a lengthy 3-hour discussion about what worked and what didn’t. Some aspects that we loved in previous versions simply didn’t feel authentic to these versions of the characters. It was very important to the entire team that this version of the play was approached as a new project. The characters had grown as we had over the last two years since the last production. As a creative team, this process was also really important as it gave everyone a sense of ownership over the text, we were telling this story together.

In rehearsal 2021

There were many edits made to the text, some to update it (eg. filler rather than botox) others were changes to the plot to align with the characters as they are now. Originally it was Louise who attempted to kiss Michelle and the ending was framed as a very sad moment for Louise. The atmosphere of scenes changed too, as the climax of the play the canal scene was originally very dramatic and dark, it now had a much lighter energy. There was also additional dialogue added to highlight the core issue in their relationship, that Michelle wasn’t accepted by their friend group in college. As this friend group consisted entirely of the LGBT+ society and Michelle was dismissed as curious, due to her bisexuality and very feminine appearance/interests. This had always been a present subtext but in this version, we felt it needed to be said. As it also gives more weight to Louise’s desire to go back in time, to a community that fully accepted her.

Two actors performing irish queer theatre
Eva’s Echo Jungle Door at the Town Hall Theatre 2021

Working with the text

Another fantastic aspect of this process is that the text remains alive throughout rehearsals. If a line didn’t feel authentic or practical changes needed to be made they were. A consistent edit in the room was removing a lot of stage directions, a practice I think I will continue. It gave more anatomy to us as creatives. For example: if a stage direction stated they laugh but the scene now feels heavy with the newly developed characters it could be cut.

The team behind the madness. Photo Credit – Catriona Bonner

I feel very fortunate to have had such an amazing team around me that all cared as passionately about the text as I did. There was just the right amount of talented cooks in the kitchen to make this collaborative process work. I hope to have the pleasure of working with them all again soon.

Why Kids Need Theatre Classes Back

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In light of the uncertainty, recent protests and a follow up of last month’s blog, I’m stressing why kids need theatre classes back. Not to be disregarding sports but not every child has an interest or ability to play certain sports on offer in their locality. For many, the theatre is the equivalent to what these sporting clubs offer in terms of the following points I’ll be making and the sense of belonging that comes with it. Let’s put it this way. As a former theatre kid myself, youth theatre was my sport. Centre Stage Youth Theatre was my club, rehearsals were my training sessions and the other theatre kids were my teammates. Seeing everything going on now I’m blessed to have had my time in youth theatre go uninterrupted. Yes, sporting clubs were out of action for months too. I don’t deny that. What does not make sense is that Pennys is back open, schools can have 30 plus kids in a classroom yet pods of 10 or less teenagers can’t go to their drama class in a controlled and monitored environment.  

Image of Hazel in Centre Stage Youth Theatre 2009

Mental Health

Every Friday, I’d be looking at the clock for it to hit 3.30pm. Yes! Weekend! Drama classes tomorrow! Youth theatre was my outlet, my safe and happy place. It’s where I released any worries, frustrations and pressures from life in secondary school. Where I could forget about that stressful French class this week and put aside studying for the upcoming Science test. Everyone needs an outlet to self regulate and mind their mental health. The arts do that. Many times I’d come home feeling refreshed and worn out more than any P.E. class I had in my six years in secondary school (make that five, they swapped it for study class in sixth year). 

Self Discovery

Your childhood and especially teens are a time of self discovery and exploration of the world around you. Whether that be trying out different music and fashion styles or viewing the world a bit differently from what you’re used to. Sure this happens in school and for some in your neighborhood too, but theatre classes provide another alternative for anyone who feels they can’t do that in those places. For example, a child could be living out in the countryside, not within walking distance from town, have no one their own age in their area and may not get on with their school peers for whatever reason. Another example being, a child may not be in a safe living area to hang out and they are ridiculed in school for simply where they live. The more people you meet, the more you learn about the world. That is true for theatre too. The more characters and scenarios you explore, the more viewpoints and situations you understand and the more empathy you develop. 

Social Interaction

Arts groups are an opportunity to meet people from a different area, school or gender in some cases! I went to an all girls school but thankfully had the opportunity to interact with and meet boys in my drama classes. Not in a romantic way but in general. If I hadn’t had that interaction, college would’ve been a lot harder than it was when it came to interacting with the opposite gender. I mean, most workplaces are not all gender so why have all gender schools (ok, that’s another story!). In saying that, youth theatre was where I first fell in love and made me realise what I wanted (and didn’t want!) in a partner. 

Transferable Skills

Warm ups, spatial awareness, thinking on your feet, language skills, technology, problem solving, planning, active communication, time management, collaboration, and public speaking. All these useful and transferable skills that you learn in youth theatre come into play in adulthood in work and in life. 

So in case you haven’t noticed, I am all for starting drama classes again. Our kids need them. Seeing kids talking of how much they miss their classes, their friends and crying on the six o’clock news is something I wish to not see again cause I know how they feel. It’s their safe space, their vocation and their passion. Let’s give it back to them. 

Top Ten Reasons to Learn Acting as an Adult.

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When we are children or when we have them our evenings and weekends are often dominated by extracurricular classes. As a child, I tried…. horse riding, ballet, Irish dancing, singing, guitar, and of course speech and drama. Notice the total absence of any sports activities, it was clear early on I was more artistic than athletic. I was very fortunate to be able to attend drama after school as it completely shaped my future. Especially as there was no drama or music at my school, I still feel hard done by when I hear about TY musicals! 

Usually, our list of extracurriculars gets smaller and smaller as we age. Until as a teenager we only attend the one we feel really passionate about or none at all. This is frequently a side effect of our secondary school’s atrocious amount of homework and the stern emphasis on the leaving cert’s importance. But once we’ve finished school, finished college (if we choose to go) we have that time back (to a degree) but we rarely consider using it for an adult “extracurricular.” I feel that is a missed opportunity and so I’m proposing the top 10 reasons adults should take an acting class.

1. Confidence

Completing acting exercises and gaining performance skills builds confidence in students of all ages. Being pushed past our comfort zone and being asked to be a little bit silly helps us become less self-conscious. This new found confidence will improve every aspect of our life’s outside of the arts.

2. Meet New People

It can be so difficult to make new friends as an adult and an acting class is a brilliant place to meet open minded people. Nothing builds friendships better than bonding over a funny improv session or a stressful show week!

3. Improve Public Speaking

Have an important presentation at work? Having trouble with your th’s ? Have to give a best man speech? Acting classes can help improve your public speaking and posture, leaving you prepared for all of these instances and more.

4. Improve your Imaginative Thinking

Acting classes build our creative skills by asking us to view the world from another perspective and think outside of the box. This skill can be implemented into all areas of your life, allowing you to problem solve more creatively.

5. A Safe Space to Play

It may sound cliché but through arts we really can connect with our inner child. It is a safe place to experiment creatively through play. It’s an escapist space where the only goal is to create and learn, which can be refreshing especially if you work in a very practical field.

6. Me Time

As an adult we can have so many commitments to work, relationships, family and friends that we don’t take time for ourselves. Taking an hour or two each week to attend a class for yourself can help solidify our identity in a new setting. It is so important to have something that is just for you.

7. Empathy

As actors we have to analyze text and learn to empathize and connect with the characters we are playing. Often these characters are very different to us, they may be from a different background, culture or even decade. This encourages us to empathize with others and view the world from several perspectives.

8. New Plays and Films

Through acting classes you will be introduced to many plays and films that may be completely new to you. Through studying acting and text analysis you’ll also appreciate these works and others even more.

9. Shine on Stage

The adrenaline rush you feel just after your five minute call is like no other. The nerves, the excitement and the build up is all so wonderful. Whether it’s performing on an actual stage or in the rehearsal room it’s an experience everyone should have at least once.

10. You could be a Star in the Making!

You may have always wanted to give an acting career a go but other things got in the way. Now is your chance, it’s never to late.

Stages of Arts Applications

Blog, Monthly Blog

This is a busy time of year for artists of all disciplines for sure. Reason being, applications! Whether applying through the Arts Council, upcoming festivals, bursaries or any other type of funding, the summer months seem to be peak times with numerous applications opening and deadlines assigned by the new time. Here are just some of the stages of completing said applications; 

  1. Optimism: You get a notification, another application is open. You take an in-breath and… It actually doesn’t look so bad. Seems straight forward, you have all your info easily ready and the deadline is in two weeks! It’ll be done in a day, for sure!
  1. Confusion: Wait a minute… You stumble upon a section with complex wording/a question that can mean one thing or the opposite (may not affect the application, but it just might) or just something you swear is written by an alien. You ask around, get advice and hooray! Problem solved! Moving onto the next section.
  1. Procrastination: Pubs are open again, the sun is out, you wish you could go but you’re just soooo busy with this application… In reality, you’re messing with your hair, your bestie is distracting you with funny animal videos, you’ve found out that new series has started and have now started to scrub the stubborn stain off the mantelpiece. You PROMISE you’ll get back to it when you’re done… Yeah… 
  1. Panic: You’ve been at the laptop for 3 hours, you can’t remember when you’ve last showered never mind eaten (a real meal) but that’s ok you’re nearly there. You’ve just one more section then… Where is it… Where’s the draft?! Where’s the form?! WHERE IS IIIIIIITTTTTT?! … Oh wait it was minimized, phew!
  1. Post Submission: That’s it, it’s sent! Aaaaand now you’ve passed out. 

The bottom line is to mind yourselves when doing these applications. Break it down into small chunks, get help from a friend, ask other people in the arts community for advice, and do not, I repeat, do not stress. Get out and away from it when you need to, let your friends know if you’re struggling and please please please, eat something that’s not Koka noodles!  

Directing Digital : Uniform

Blog, Monthly Blog

By Rena Bryson

The clothes line is down, the costumes in storage and the stage/screen empty. That’s curtains for Uniform, something I somewhere deep down didn’t think I’d ever be able to say! For several reasons, check out the video above for the full story. Such a big chapter deserves a proper closure, so for this month’s blog I thought I’d reflect on the process of creating digital theatre, what I learnt and how the experience has affected my view of digital theatre. I hope this article will be useful for other artists creating digital work.

The right story to tell digitally

One woman theatre show Uniform
Photo Credit: Catriona Bonner Photography

Overall I think the method of digital theatre worked, not as a piece of theatre but as it’s own thing. I think this was because of a few reasons. Firstly Uniform was a contemporary play, I feel this translated better to screen. For example our previous production Starseed which was more abstract would not have worked in the same way. Audiences in a physical theatre are very accepting to a change in lighting signifying a dream scape. Screen audiences are used to seeing these themes conveyed in hyper realistic manners through the magic of film. As there was nothing otherworldly or abstract within the world of Uniform I believe it suited a digital presentation better than other texts.

Lights camera action!

Once it was decided that Uniform would become a piece of digital theatre I found myself at a crossroads. Do I decide to lean into all that film can bring and begin storyboarding and have Hazel switch from theatre to film acting? (They are two very different things!) Or do I continue directing Uniform as it was intended to be, a piece of theatre on front of a live audience. I choose the traditional theatre root, but some compromises had to be made. I wanted the show to be captured all in one go in order to keep the essence of a live performance. This was not always possible due to different technical issues that naturally arise during filming. In this case it was mostly the mic being affected by the costume changes. However, we were very fortunate that our theatrical lighting did not have to be changed to suit the camera, this had been our most preempted issue. The multiple camera and editing showed the audience the full stage and close ups of Hazel. The capturing of these close up moments was a real unexpected treat and something that could not be seen by an audience in such detail during a live theatre show. When viewing it on the night I was pleased with my decision to keep Uniform as close to a traditional theatre piece as possible. Although I could not help wonder how the performance would have changed if given the energy of an audience to play off of.

Digital Audience

One woman theatre show Uniform
Photo Credit: Catriona Bonner Photography

On the production side of things the most difficult part was not interacting with the audience. We don’t know how many were in the audience or what they thought. As it’s a digital ticket there is no way of knowing how many people were actually watching the one link, I’ve heard of five people watching one ticket link together and for all I know that could be the case for each ticket bought. I’ve also gotten apologies from people who bought a ticket but something came up. So the number of tickets bought for digital show doesn’t reflect the amount of seats filled. After attending or being apart of a live show you can feel the energy in the room following the curtain. When Uniform ended I didn’t clap but I was delighted with how the show went and wondered how it had been received. I couldn’t tell and that was a bizarre feeling.

Overall it was a great experience and I always love experimenting with different approaches to art. I’m now diving straight into directing a very different piece of digital theatre ‘ It’s True I Love You All So Much’ by Jenni Nikinmaa. The upcoming play is presented as a theatrical digital experience, it was written with intention of being presented digitally and could not exist any other way. Through this process I’ve become very interested in the relationship between the performer and audience within the digital realm and how it differs from live theatre. I’m excited to explore this and many other themes within the world of the play.

I’d love to hear from Uniform audience members to gain a better understanding of the digital theatre experience from an audience POV. If you attended Uniform and have a few minutes to spare I’d really appreciate it if you answered this short survey.

One woman theatre show Uniform
Photo Credit: Catriona Bonner Photography