Druid Fuel: Month One and Residency

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Monday 17th of January 2022, will mark a day in the history books for Eva’s Echo Theatre Company. After a generous vegetarian breakfast from the Hyde Bar, we made our way towards Druid Lane with anticipation, excitement, nerves, and wonder. 

So the Druid Fuel artists all meet that morning for a coffee and introduction. This was where we met Luke Casserly, Martina Carey, and Edwin Mullane artists from far and wide with one thing in common, to create meaningful art. If meeting like-minded individuals wasn’t enough, we were then taken to explore and witness where the design magic happens. Yes, we explored the wonder that is the Druid’s costume and set store. We saw many iconic pieces of costume and set from Druid Shakespeare’s Richard III to Becket’s Waiting for Godot. Delicate cutlery and vintage furniture were at every turn. We may also have had fun with prop swords! 

A week later, Eva’s Echo began its residency! The first two days for me involved getting to the root of why I create art and reigniting my love for it. As a producer, it’s very easy to slip into what is produced, when it is staged, how the work is done, and scheduling the year ahead. Sometimes you get sucked into a world of spreadsheets, calendars, emails, and applications. Before you know it, another year is gone and you’re asking yourself ‘What did I do/create?’ Last year was different cause we finally got ‘Uniform’ on stage, don’t get me wrong it’s amazing seeing the shows produced but I was always an actor first. From there, we decided to partake in ‘The Artist Way’ programme which involves writing morning pages, weekly artist dates, and weekly tasks. It’s only been two weeks since we started this and I have to say I’m absolutely loving it. 

Buying Artist Way in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop Galway

Day two also of course entailed building a foundation for ‘Stardom’. From our talk with playwright Michael West the previous week, we were inspired to bring the portrayal of media back to a form of theatre through imagination and absurdity. This was a breakthrough for us rather than opting for projections, apps, and other digital media integration (Disclaimer, digital theatre, and art forms are great but we frankly had enough of it). So taking all this, we created a mood board depicting the plots, characters, inspiration for the story, and themes. From there, Rena began writing. 

Day four, I came back and we read through the draft while Rena made final changes for the feedback session that evening. We were joined by Druid theatre manager Síomha Nee, designer Hazel Stanley, playwright and former Druid Fuel artist Annie Keegan, actor Mícheál O’Fearraigh and theatre practitioner Elizabeth Flaherty. The session most definitely proved to be valuable leaving us with much to think about and various ideas on how to move the plot forward. I said it before but a big thank you to Druid for access of the the space the last few days, the resources, support and we hope to present what I’m sure will be an amazing showcase.

Two actors performing irish queer theatre

Jungle Door – The Rewriting Process

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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

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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!