Whatever happened to class?

Blog, Monthly Blog

By Rena Bryson

I’m about to ask a big and complex question, which I have no intention of fully answering but I would really like to ignite a conversation on the topic. Are the arts classist? For the purposes of this short blog, I’m going to focus on the Irish theatre industry as it’s the area I’m most familiar with. I’ll also be discussing the issue through my own personal experiences within this blog but in the future will explore the industry from a birds-eye view. I would like to discuss other Industries in the future to gain a fuller picture (music, visual art, dance, film etc.). For both of these future pieces, I will need to do further research. 

I asked this question in FB in September and I received an influx of nuanced tajes on the subject. The main points that frequented my comment section and inbox were: 

  • Elite Drama schools can only be attended by those who can afford it and those who manage to attend from lower-class backgrounds feel ostracized. 
  • Funding and opportunities are given to the same names again and again.
  • People are pushed up the ladder because of their connections, it often comes down to who you know not what you know. 
  • Theatre itself can be viewed as an upper-class activity from the outside, even if theatre artists are not. 
  • The starving artist narrative has been dangerously romanticized. 

Many of the comments I received impacted me personally. My mind was spinning with memories of feeling on the outside due to my background. I’ve also often expressed my frustration that opportunities are often not advertised but given to artists the company/casting agent/ festival already knew. 

As an artist, my eyes were really opened to this issue when I studied for my Master’s at NUIG. I realized very quickly that my upbringing and background were very different from many of my peers. I had studied my undergrad in an I.T that did not even have a drama soc while many of my classmates had attended well-funded universities with fully funded drama societies. I had never previously been aware that universities in Dublin were producing shows with resources I could never dream of. I was even envious of many recalling their experiences at drama summer camps or musicals their schools organized. They cut music from my school, so the drama was definitely never on the cards. I did attend summer camps but the ones focused on drama were always too expensive or far away. 

The location in which a child is brought up will inevitably have an impact on the opportunities they’re exposed to. I just didn’t realize how much I may have been missing out on until I was older. I would like to add here that I still was very fortunate, I had parents who supported me, especially my late mother who really believed in me. Even though there were no opportunities at school my mum saved and borrowed money to send me to music and drama lessons in another county every weekend as a teenager. Meaning I could still take music in the leaving cert even if the school didn’t teach it. 

Many of my classmates were baffled by the idea of running a show without a full team (Production manager, SM, ASM etc.) While my training had focused on creating small-scale productions without the necessity for extra hands. I feel this was a result of the west having a do-it-yourself attitude due to a history of receiving less funding than Dublin. Our point of reference for professional work in Sligo was the Blue Raincoats, who operated with a small team but created high-quality work. This highlighted the difference in our approach to the theatre from different places in Ireland. Originally this made me feel insecure about my education and approach to my craft but I later realized I had been better prepared for working with small budgets. 

During the Master’s programme we had a weekly workshop or guest speaker. This was an amazing opportunity and I learned a great deal from each guest speaker about the craft. However when asked how to get to their position? Eg. “How did you get your start?” or “How did you get this job?” The answer was never there was an open call or Job Advertisement and it was usually “I knew so and so and they asked me to”. This always made the inspiration I had just received shrivel into hopelessness. Especially as I learned many successful theatre-makers did not have relevant degrees and I was putting myself into debt to complete my Masters. This is not in any way to state these people do not deserve their position or are not good at their job, they are. I just think it’s important the discuss the variants of luck, connections, and privilege in someone’s career path. 

Photo by Catriona Bonner photography

The reason we set up Eva’s Echo was that we felt there were no auditions in Galway even if there were shows. This is why we are dedicated to holding as many open casting as possible. After being in the industry for a few years now I understand the why behind this issue. As a small company paying artists a profit share, it is feasible to continuously hold open castings. However, if you hope to move up and pay your artists a wage you must apply for arts council funding. For most production awards you must list your full team and that includes the cast. This means you must have the show cast before applying for funding. So companies that work with the same actors over and over again are not closing their doors to emerging artists out of snobbery. They are making this choice strategically as an actor with a strong track record on an application is more likely to result in funding. It would also be time-consuming and possibly pointless to hold auditions and cast a show that may not get made. It’s easier to put a name that you know on the application. This applies to all arts organizations that are not strategically funded. I thought this was an important area to discuss when exploring classism within the arts. By looking deeper, we realize lack of castings is not always because arts organizations don’t want to work with new artists. Which I feel is a misconception that hurts both companies and emerging artists. 


In conclusion. This blog is impossible to wrap up, as the issue of classism in the arts is much larger than a short blog can cover. But I hope that this piece can open up a conversation around class within the arts industry.

Gutted: A Review

Blog, Monthly Blog

By Hazel Doolan

*Please be advised that this blog references some topics that readers may find triggering*

We were contacted recently by Steve Dixon, he was one of our poetry submissions for our fundraiser in aid of Samaritans. It was a delight to hear from him and to hear that he has another work to be published in his publishing company Pretty Pug Publishing, big congratulations Steve! We were absolutely thrilled and honoured to write a short review of the publication ‘Gutted’ by Sharon Byrne. 

‘Gutted’ is a dark comedy play set in 1980’s Dublin and follows the story of Deirdre, Delores and Breda. These young women in their late teens/early twenties work in a fish factory. They each narrate their own stories at different points while the actors depict different characters throughout. The play was first performed in 2017 and later featured in the Edinburgh Festival while having a range of different performances since it’s debut. 

While reading it, I was transported to an era simulating ‘The Snapper’ and ‘The Commitments.’ An era of recession, poverty and vast emigration which affected the three women in more ways than one. Not to give the plot away but credit is due to Byrne for exploring the following issues which still resonates with a modern Irish audience today:

Domestic Violence: The 1980’s was the beginning of the end of women being restricted if faced with an abusive partner. Yet thanks to social expectations and oppression from the Catholic Church, the stigma existed and little resources were given to victims of domestic violence. Especially if they were married. If a woman was a victim of abuse one of the first things they’d be asked would be ‘What did you do?’ placing blame on them. Luckily, the character in question took refuge in her mother’s house, though the threats were still present on nights out and the partner’s threats to break into the house. Byrne explored this with sympathy, sincerity and compassion through the character’s terrifying experiences, including an incident while on a date. 

Unplanned Pregnancy: Even today, this is a taboo subject in modern Ireland and it was not so different back then which makes it sadder. On more than one occasion it is mentioned how one of the characters heard of someone down her street getting pregnant and the verbal abuse she faced. Another reference was judgement from an older character ranting about how young mothers were getting ‘handouts’ and free housing. There was also the threat of being sent away to the laundries so to be a young expecting mother then was a tense and scary time. 

LGBTQ+: 1980’s Ireland was not as colourful and accepting as we see today (although a lot more work needs to be done in this area). To be a member of the LGBTQ+ community was actually criminalized in Ireland until the lifting of that in 1993. The playwright highlighted this and the fear of coming out with sincere sensitivity through one of the character’s journey coming to terms with their sexuality. 

Emigration: This is a common trait associated with all three women and the other characters in the play. The longing to emigrate in search of a better life whether that be in London or elsewhere. 1980’s Ireland saw a vast number of Irish people emigrating to the UK and US due to poverty and a severe recession. The women in the text did have jobs, however they longed for opportunities to rebuild their lives through more job opportunities and a better quality of life. 

At the start of the text, there was a glossary which consisted of Irish sayings that the non Irish/Dublin reader may not be familiar with. Though it was a bit cringey on my end, I thought it was a nice touch for anyone not Irish. Although set in the 1980’s, the issues in Gutted still hit home as we now possibly face another hard hitting recession and have had an increase in domestic violence cases nationally. Although we have since repealed the 8th amendment we still have much work to do when it comes to protecting young expectant mothers, and those affected by the mistakes made by the State in relation to the mother and baby ‘homes’. If anything, Gutted shows us the mistakes we made in the past, highlights what is still affecting us in the present in order to build a better future. 

Actor and Playwright Rena Bryson

Life outside of the arts

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“As soon as you’re not a human be-ing, you’re a human do-ing. Then what comes next?” – The Simpsons

Sometimes working in the arts can feel more like a vocation than a career. Artists rarely switch off after a day of work, ideas, schedules and creative ambitions are always percolating under the surface. Opportunities can be scarce which drives artists to feel grateful to work, no matter how draining or far from their niche the work is. For these reasons and many others artists can often feel their work is a strong part of their identity. This is not the only career in which this happens. But due to the lack of stability, financial stresses and scarcity of respect it is more dangerous to blend your identity with your work as an artist than as a doctor. 

Photo Credit – Levi Regan

Due to the erratic nature of arts work it is also very difficult to work another job while building your arts career. I’ve missed so many auditions because I was working a job to pay the bills so I wasn’t available. This forces many talented artists to stop pursuing their arts careers all together and others to feel they must sacrifice their own wellbeing/ financial stability for the cause. I’ve fallen into both of these traps.

When I first moved to Galway I worked a retail job that only let me know if I was working the next day when I left, making it impossible to book meetings or auditions. After building my identity around my work as an actor for 4 years of college this was devastating. I felt totally stripped of the essence of who I was. Unfortunately although this was a particularly bad work environment this is not uncommon in the service industry. I persevered and developed my skills in arts marketing and drama teaching in order to earn an income connected to my qualifications and interests. This career path has given me the flexibility to work around auditions, opportunities and the managing of Eva’s Echo. However I am aware that I am incredibly lucky to have this flexibility that many other artists don’t. The most frustrating part of working a “regular” job while pursuing an arts career is that either side views you as one or the other. Employers don’t respect your art and view it as a frivolous hobby and other artists will sometimes not understand why you can’t call in sick on show week. Hazel worked in a creche during many Eva’s Echo shows and wrote a great blog about her experiences titled Working 9 to Art

Rena performing from her sitting room during lockdown 1.0

After the shock and stress of cancelled shows settled in March I and many other artists had an opportunity to reflect. Personally, I felt lost, the theatre was my home and the doors were shut. I choose to do what I always did and persevered making theatre through digital means. This led to live play readings, singing from our sitting rooms, zoom rehearsals and a fantastic creative writing night. I loved each of these projects but if I’m being totally honest it’s just not the same. I still crave the magical discoveries of the rehearsal room, the adrenaline rush that accompanies a Get In and the thrill of opening night. So I took some time to reflect and ask “What do I do now?” “Who am I outside of the theatre?” And most importantly “Why have I dedicated my life to this?” I’ve been so busy creating I have not asked why I’m creating in years! 

The answers to these questions were complicated but freeing. The end result is: Yes I have dedicated my life to theatre and will continue to but I am also a full person outside of my art. That sentence took a long time to reach and believe. This is not to say that aspects of my work are not tied to my identity and vise versa. Especially when it comes to the portrayal of mental health and queer characters on stage. It would be impossible (and I don’t want to) separate these themes from my own experiences and passions. The acceptance of this sentence also offers me the freedom to explore my interests outside of the theatre more fully. I hope others may relate to this and I am not the only one who has at times a toxic relationship with the theatre. Sometimes when contemplating exploring another career path or even another project I feel as though I am cheating on my one true love: the theatre. This insecurity most likely stems from the societal view that artists will grow up and give up on their arts careers. This mixed with my stubbornness, I am a Taurus after all! 

The take away from this rant is to encourage artists to look outside of their art and see what makes you you. I’m an artist but I’m also a sister, a daughter, a partner, a friend, a bad painter, a lover of horror flicks (good and bad), a comic reader, a yogi, a girly girl, someone who’s always cold and a proud fur baby parent. 

Mindful Mind = Mindful Creation

Blog, Monthly Blog

By Hazel Doolan

Happy December everyone! Hope you all have your shopping done or are ready to rest up for Christmas or are having a good one or whatever applies to when you’re watching/reading this. Let’s face it, 2020 has been like a technical rehearsal gone wrong in so many ways. For us here at Eva’s Echo we’ve had shows postponed, unanswered questions about the future and our beloved Echo Acting saw the effects too back in October. One thing that I have taken from this year though is how much mindfulness has not only helped during this time, but also with the creative process. 

Back in April I felt so sorry for myself and thought the theatre world was ending. Then I also felt guilty that I wasn’t creating anything in my own time. The truth is I was in no mindset to do such a thing. Instead, I turned to yoga and meditation. Throughout any rehearsals I directed or any classes I taught I always placed emphasis on mindfulness and quieting the mind before and after each rehearsal/class. It was throughout this time and most recently that I realised I wasn’t practicing what I put so much emphasis on, what truth is in that? 

To be honest I found this lockdown a lot harder than the last one. I’m not the biggest fan of the winter months and have a tendency to as my mam would put it ‘hatch’ inside. Many days I would’ve dragged myself to go for a walk and pass on any other exercise. Meanwhile I tried to squeeze any ounce of creativity out but to no avail. Most recently I braved the weather and went out. During the walk, I took some time to notice my surroundings and I was astounded. It was absolutely baltic but I noticed the colours of the leaves (or what was left), the sky, the fields and the sounds of nature. As Aristotle put it; ‘ To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold.’ After I had that walk I was bursting with creative ideas and there was no stopping me. 

Today, I am training to be a mindfulness and meditation teacher. So far, I’ve noticed so many overlaps between new practices and techniques I’ve used in character development, warm ups and exercises in the rehearsal room. I’ve found that when running a theatre company, it becomes quite easy to forget these, but it is important to remind oneself to embody them. If arts practitioners can all enhance skills to live mindfully, I believe this will improve the quality of work produced and our working relationships.  

Go raibh maith agaibh gach duine agus Nollaig Shona daoibh!        

Acting Off Stage

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By Rena Bryson

As an actor I’ve performed shows in many unusual spots Prison, (The Big Wall) The Park (Alice In Wonderland) and an old factory (Halal Daddy). But the most fun I’ve had performing in unusual spots has been when not part of a traditional show. This month I’d like to share some non traditional jobs for actors that can help build your performance skills while paying your rent. 

Discover your Elf Self

Best suited for: Expressive, physical actors who like children. 

Each year I celebrate my Christmas cheer by working as an Elf in the lead up to Christmas. I’m fortunate to live in Galway where Elf Town shares a full interactive Christmas Adventure with their young audiences. But in every county at this time of year many shopping centres, family fun day organisers and Elf Town variations are looking for Elfs, Santa’s, Mrs Claus etc. It’s a lot of fun and seeing young audiences experiencing the magic of Christmas can really melt your heart. 

Step Back In Time

Best suited for: Actors interested in history with strong improvisational skills. 

Photo Credit – Catriona Bonner Photography

One of my favorite non traditional acting jobs was working as a nanny / housekeeper at Glenveagh Castle. The project was produced by Dark Daughter so all of the costumes were beautiful, authentic and vintage. As tourists were guided through the castle they would encounter actors in the rooms. I would greet them in the dining room and describe my life in a beautifully written monologue by Maura Logue. I would also wander the grounds in character and interact with the visitors I encountered. The role really strengthened my improvisational skills as well as my stamina as an actor. There are many similar acting roles out there, especially during the summer months. Many companies look for actors for national parks, historical buildings and for tour guides that can add an extra dramatic flare. I’ve even performed as Lily Yates at her 100th birthday party, there is an eager audience out there for everything!

Faking Sick

Best suited for: Actors with stamina and strong emotional range.

Every year many medical students must pass their OSCE (Objective structured clinical examination) to continue their studies. This exam is extremely important as the students must interact with patients and utilise their interpersonal skills as well as their medical knowledge. The staff outsource and have their students interact with professional actors to make the experience as authentic as possible. This role really tests your acting chops depending on what ailment you’re assigned. I’ve had a fairly easy going day as a student suffering from skin irritation caused by anxiety and a very draining day as a patient receiving the news they have TB. Strong stamina is essential as I had to give each student an authentic reaction to receiving devastating news, a process that repeated itself every 20 mins or so. It was a fantastic exercise for my improvisation and acting skills. 

Special Birthday Guest

Best suited for: Actors who love kids and are patient, singing is a bonus! 

This is one I’ve never done but would love to someday! I know actors who

Snow Queen Character For Birthday Parties | Party Princess Productions
Image from Princess Party Productions

have that really enjoy their work. This job is usually suited to the self employed and can be quite lucrative if you invest in a few high quality costumes for popular characters. Starting out I’d definitely get an Elsa costume. As a drama teacher for 4 – 6 year olds I can confirm little boys and girls alike are crazy about all things Frozen. A good knowledge of children’s interests and popular games to keep them entertained is a must.

Murder Mystery Fun

Best suited for: Actors who have strong organisational skills

This is another role I haven’t experienced myself but my good friend and fellow artist Elizabeth Flaherty has lots of experience so I’ll let her take it from here. 

I’ve had lots of fun working on murder mystery parties. The company I’ve worked with the most is ‘Murder on the Menu’ and we host the deadliest parties. 

Elizabeth Flaherty (@elizflaherty) | Twitter
Elizabeth Flaherty

For this job I play the host, organizer and the most important role the detective. Parties can vary from birthdays to corporate events to hen parties. Everyone in the party has a role to play so you could say I also play the role of a director by helping the guests to get and stay in character. There’s a murderer, a victim and lots more. 

It’s a fun job for an actor because you get to work on your improvisation throughout the night, you learn to project well when speaking to a large group of people and sometimes there are themed parties which gives you the opportunities to practice various accents and get dressed up. The parties may not always go to plan but it’s always a killer night.

There are so many other jobs actors can excel at when off stage / set Drama Teacher, Arts Administrators, Script Readers and no one’s better at pretending to care about difficult customers than actors!