Traveling through the Jungle Door

By Rena Bryson

Images by Catriona Bonner Photography.

Revisiting Jungle Door was a journey completely different to what we had expected. It was a play that had stuck with us in a very significant way, the representation of queer characters in a storyline unfocused on their sexual orientation was a mission I felt we achieved and I was very proud of this accomplishment. The team gelled together like a family when bringing the play to Sligo and Galway audiences. We felt comfortable in the world of the play knowing it and each other like the back of our hands. This was all about to change as we and the characters were thrown out of our comfort zone with the help of a new version of the script and a new director.

New Script

The new script further highlighted Michelle’s struggles with her body image and societal pressures, allowing us to view one character without the other for the first time. As both women are constantly playing what we in the rehearsal room simply titled ‘the game’ this shared the vulnerable side of Michelle she is scared to share in front of Louise for fear of losing. I was excited to get the new script up on its feet, especially this additional scene which featured a new character Sharon, played by Sabrina Kelleher. Other than this, the rest of the play would resume as it was previously, or so we thought..

New Director

Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts our original director Elizabeth Flaherty was unable to join us this time around. She was very missed and we so appreciate her making Jungle Door what it was, but we were excited to see what a new director’s view would change. We would soon learn it would change quite a lot. Cornelius Dwyer focused heavily on text analysis encouraging us to dissect the play fully, line by line. This process completely changed the dynamic of the two characters and opened up dialogues about the characters issues and why they are the way they are.

An interesting element of the script that had previously gone unhighlighted was Louise’s internalised misogyny enforcing her to mock or disregard anything feminine, wishing to be a ‘cool girl’ or ‘not like other girls’ not for male approval but because she genuinely views femininity as a weak characteristic. Through a mixture of script work and hot seating more and more was revealed about Michelle’s relationships or lack thereof with other memebers of the LGBTQ community. Michelle felt rejected by the community for not presenting as ‘gay enough’ and would prefer to maintain the heteronormative aspects of her personality than fit in. This concept was based on the discrimination sometimes faced by bisexual people, who are believed to be experimenting, especially in a college setting which is were Michelle and Louise met. Louise being accepted by the community during their relationship and Michelle being accepted by the larger community in present day created a great dynamic of status to work with.

New Moves

Following the intensive script analysis Louise and Michelle had transformed, while still maintaining the core of the characters they had become fleshed out, wanting to leap off the page. So we began to leap and jump and flex all thanks to Choreographer Jessica Bruen. Cornelius and Jessica worked together to lead us to discover a method of transforming our characters subconscious thoughts and feelings into individual movement pieces. This was a beautiful and powerful process that not only gave us agency as actors but produced authentic and unpretentious movement pieces that reflected the world of the play. Cornelius adored these pieces so much they made the bold decision to cut all projections from the show, not risking any distraction from the movement. Instead a song accompanied each piece ranging from Simon and Garfunkel to Jade Bird. Have a dance along to the full playlist here.

New Music

We realised a monologue Louise expressed during a projection scene no longer fitted the new shape of the play. This was initially a voice over or the actor speaking but it was an expression of the subconscious rather than something Louise says during the play. Much like a Shakespearean actor will perform aside, letting the audience know their feelings but is unheard by the other characters. For this to now work within the pre established rules of the play it must be a song like the others. So with the script in front of me and some backing tracks from a band I was in years ago I began working on the original song Jungle Door. As if it was meant to be the lyrics blended perfectly with an acoustic track created for a different song in 2013. Adam Conboy generously donated his time to re record the track in Sligo and I added the lyrics on top of it in Galway and hey presto we had ourselves a song, a first for Eva’s Echo.

New Roles

On top of a new script, new movement and a new song Sabrina Kelleher landed from England to receive various new roles. Always a trouper Sabrina went from the shows Designer to the Designer/ Stage Manager/ Sound Operator and took on the role of Sharon, Michelle’s mother. Each night Sabrina performed through a live mic in the tech box, simulating a phone call with Hazel on stage. The live aspect to the performance allowed the actors the freedom to react authentically each night, playing off one another.

New Theatre

We absolutely loved our time at The Moat Theatre. The technical aspects of the theatre allowed Cornelius and Sabrina so much opportunity regarding design and the staff were more than lovely, a special shout out to Conor who made us feel so very at home. It was exciting to perform in front of a new audience and challenged us to not rely on the safety of our regular audiences, pushing us even further outside of our comfort zone. Although we did receive a few surprise visits from familiar faces, which we so appreciate, it made us feel all fuzzy inside and still does.

New Adventure!

After the first show the four of us sat in a lovely Italian in Naas and decided this could not be the last stop for the new Jungle Door. It desired a longer life span and we didn’t want to let it go just yet. So we are bringing the show to Galway’s Town Hall Theatre Wednesday the 10th of June to Saturday the 13th of June . See you there for all the botox, brides and booze you can handle!

Breaking the ‘Block’ Wall

Whether writing play, scripts or completing funding applications it is inevitable that at one point you will hit a ‘wall’. The daunting phrase is more commonly known as writer’s block. This, I must say, is my greatest adversary when it comes to any form of writing. It has always been the biggest challenge when attempting to write, what I’m hoping would potentially be on par with Derry Girls… Love that show.

Writing Space

It is advisable to set up your own relevant writing space to complete your piece. It varies from writer to writer whether it be at a desk in their own home, a bustling cafe or even outdoors in the sun. My writing space has varied especially when doing crazy commutes around Galway and meeting tight deadlines, I wrote at any chance I got before meeting friends, before or after work, in between meetings/rehearsals you name it. When it comes down to it though, I like a quiet space at a desk with a podcast/classical music in the background. This is your space and your practice of writing you need to find what works for you. 

Distractions

Distractions and not being in the headspace does not help with writer’s block, quite obvious but they don’t. When you’re trying to write a monologue or complete a festival application form and you get distracted when Friends is on in the background, you won’t get anything done. The same goes for if your phone is constantly buzzing, you’re gossiping with your ‘writing buddy’ (ye are really meeting for the ‘bants’, admit it), your adorable pet is looking for cuddles and so forth. Before even sitting down to write, get rid of every distraction and ensure that you have a clear head before starting. If at any point you feel you’re not in the mindset, it’s ok to step away for a moment and then come back.     

Direction

Once you know what direction you want your piece to go, that’s half the battle. If however, you have no idea where Act Two is going it may be time to step back and map out the direction of the narrative. I have found mind mapping, spider diagrams, key words and story boards the best tools to use at any point of writing. Sure it’s better to begin your writing with these but they’re always readily available at any point you may feel stuck and remind you of where you want the play/piece to go.

Inspiration

To gain an insight into the kind of piece you want to write, there is nothing wrong with seeking inspiration from external sources. Odd to say but since starting blogging this year I have found reading other blogs, content from influencers, relevant articles and even Stellar Magazine (guilty!) to enable me to find my voice for each blog. Even when writing plays I have found inspiration in real life scenarios, quotes from classical texts, old scraps of writing and the odd ‘aha’ moments. You guessed it, find the inspiration that resonates with your artistic mindset.

So when writing that next play and or poem find your own space, get rid of distractions, map out the direction of your piece while keeping in mind what inspires you. Thank you for reading our blogs all year I’ve enjoyed it so much and hope to do a lot more next year… Shhhh!!!!!! Happy Christmas and Happy New Year!     


Hidden Opportunities

By Rena Bryson

So this may be a more of a rant than a blog due to the subject matter but stick with me. I think most Irish creatives will understand the frustration of being unable to put themselves forward for a role / gig / design project etc. they know they would be perfect for. The issue isn’t that there is a lack of opportunities but that the opportunities are not open to all artists. Hazel and I first moved to Galway to pursue our acting careers. It’s a place infamous for culture, constantly producing new work, there must be so many exciting roles to audition for! We wrongly presumed. We quickly realised although there was a lot of exciting work being made in Galway, auditions were pretty much unheard of. This obstacle led to the creation of Eva’s Echo our company which always holds open castings and produces new work.

Eva’s Echo Co founders approaching applications (wine was needed)

Of course this is not just a Galway issue, or even just an Irish issue. Although I do think we can be particularly guilty for for hiring ‘Mary’ over and over again because she’s great craic! Like most large issues I believe the issue stems from the top down. As an organisation who’s ethos centres on emerging artists and open castings we find funding applications particularly difficult. In most situations you must state the entire team in the application that will permit the production to take place at all. This requirement means most funded organisations don’t hold open castings as they will have had to state the names of each team member and instead of auditioning several months before rehearsals begin they print the names of their regular collaborators. The emphasis on the credentials and achievements of the creatives in applications also deters companies from working with emerging artists. 

Often the lack of new blood in a professional company or even community drama group is not due to funding applications but rather comfort. Directors and facilitators can become comfortable with their group and become extremely close. Many can become concerned that a new creative would upset the dynamic of the group. To this I say comfort is the death of creativity, yes it is true that you will discover who you work best with throughout your career but you will never know what a new perspective can add to a production until you welcome a new voice. 


So, What’s Next?

By Rebecca Spelman

Seeing as this is the Halloween edition of the Eva’s Echo Theatre blog, I wanted to share with you one of the scariest things that can happen to a theatremaker. It’s something that happens quite often and pretty casually. Said by people who think nothing of it, these three words can make an artist’s blood run cold and propel them into a spiralling existential crisis:

“So, what’s next?”

Those words strike more fear into my heart than any scary movie. Okay, not any scary movie, but a lot of them. When someone asks me that question, my blood runs cold and I desperately try to mumble something non-committal without crying or launching into a 45-minute rant about how life is unpredictable and none of us ever truly know what is next. Who needs jump scares and haunted houses when the deepest terrors live inside you, right?

Feeling the terror

Once those words hit your eardrums, the feeling of terror sets in. Your stomach drops, your mouth gets dry, and the tightening in your chest makes you wonder if you’ll be able to get the words out once you think of an answer. How can one little question carry so much weight?

A lot of it has to do with the unstable nature of the arts. Whether you’re working on a professional show or getting involved in a community production, odds are most people involved don’t have their next project lined up. Being asked what’s next just amplifies that feeling of uncertainty, of wondering if you should have something lined up by now. If you ask someone with a stable lifestyle what’s next, they’re probably content to tell you about their carefully-planned career trajectory and personal goals. Ask someone in theatre, however, and they start to question every life choice they’ve ever made.

Another reason it’s so unsettling is that every production requires a huge commitment. Time, money, and energy are all put in with the desperate hope of getting everything ready by opening night. A lot of people involved in theatre need a break between productions, usually using the time to catch up on areas of life that were neglected in favour of rehearsals and cast bonding. Back-to-back projects can lead to burnout if they aren’t managed carefully, and yet post-show depression can affect people who don’t know what to do with themselves once a show is over. There’s a fine line between overwhelming and under-stimulating yourself, and getting that balance right with every single project is a monumental task.

Playing a dangerous game

The real question is, who asks this kind of question? What sick, twisted monster cooks up the most terrifying question they can and preys upon innocent theatremakers? Who would have the nerve to ask “So, what’s next?” Odds are, it’s probably your mum or something.

Everyone asks this question when they meet a theatremaker, it’s as simple to them as asking a taxi driver how long they’ve got left on their shift when they climb into the car. From the question asker’s perspective, it’s little more than harmless small talk. They probably do care if you have anything coming up, but not nearly as much as you’d like to think. Little do they know the fear they’re instilling.

To be fair, theatre is a relatively niche interest. Unless you’re speaking to someone who takes part in theatre themselves, odds are this awful question is the only thing this person can think to say. They haven’t seen many (or any) plays, and unfortunately, they just weren’t able to make it to your last show! So sorry about that! They’ll definitely get to the next one!

Asking a theatremaker what they’re doing next seems like a safe bet to someone who doesn’t have a conversational alternative. It feels like nothing more than the theatrical equivalent of “So, any plans for the weekend?” The theatremaker who is now having a panic attack knows otherwise, but saying so would bring a very different tone to this casual chat. 

Making things a little less scary

It’s all well and good to talk about crippling fear and small talk that makes you wish the ground would open up and swallow you, but shouldn’t we be a little more proactive?

If someone asks you the dreaded question, there are a few ways you can handle it. Not all of them will achieve the same goal, but some might be more fun than others. You can:

  • Tell them the truth… honestly. You don’t have anything coming up, there are some potential opportunities but you don’t know for certain if they’ll pan out. Maybe this could happen, maybe this other thing could happen, you really don’t know. Oh God, why are you doing this with your life? Should you have done business in college like your mum said? Should you give up productions and learn to teach Speech and Drama? Oh my God, what if-
  • Tell them the truth… not so honestly. Blag your way through it confidently and rush away before further questions can be asked. You have a couple of things in the works, it’s difficult to tie down a concrete schedule when there are so many potential projects vying for your attention. Oh, it’s so difficult to even remember them all in this conversation! There’s just so much going on in your fabulous theatre life. In fact, you have to go right now- must have lunch some time!
  • Cry. Just cry. Don’t even try to answer the question, your tears will say so much more. It gets you out of that conversation and- bonus- no-one will ever ask you again.
  • Turn the question back on them. Someone says to you, “So, what’s next?” and you say “I’m glad you brought it up. I’ve been worried about you. Your life seems a little bit directionless right now and I just want to know that you have a plan. What are your goals? What are your dreams? What steps are you taking to make the life you crave a reality?” Keep going until you see the look of panic on their face that you usually feel in your own facial muscles during these situations. That’s when you know your work is done.

“So, what’s next?” is a seemingly innocuous question that holds far too much power for three little words. If you want a really good scare this Halloween, just strike up a conversation with someone you haven’t seen in a while and feel the suspense build as you wait for the dreaded question. Scarier than any horror film, I can tell you. If you can’t manage it this Halloween, don’t worry- it will definitely come up at Christmas too.

My Rejection Story

One of the things bound to happen in the creative world is rejection. You go to the audition/design proposal/directing pitch full of confidence and hope. You have put in the preparation, your research is done, you’re experienced and have amazing credentials. You get on with the director/producers and walk out of the room convinced you’ll be given good news. A week later you receive an email; ‘I regretfully inform you that you have not been casted/chosen for project name. Thank you for your application and we wish you all the best in the future.’ That’s when those thoughts creep in; ‘What’s wrong with me?’ ‘Am I not experienced/smart/professional enough?’ ‘Did I come across too quiet/uptight/casual/confident?’ ‘Why was I not picked?’ It is the wondering and lack of why that causes an artist to doubt their abilities, visions and passions. Sometimes it makes one think twice before applying for an open call in fear of being rejected. As with other aspects of life , rejection  is something artists faces in any practice. I myself have an idea.

Hazel in Youth Theatre

While in youth theatre, I knew acting and drama were my desired career pursuits. That was why I longed for the leading role in the end of the year pantomime. ‘Yes, this will give me the best start.’ ‘I will be discovered.’ ‘I’ll make a great impression once out in the real world.’ That however, wasn’t meant to be. At the time I believed; ‘I wasn’t working hard enough’, ‘I must be too fat’, ‘I’m not popular enough’, ‘Maybe I’m too serious’. It was only in my last year there I realised as my teacher said that ‘It could be done and casted many ways. Don’t think that you’re not good because you didn’t get picked.’ That is advice I thrived to carry with me into my third level and professional years. 

Hazel while studying Performing Arts

During my third level years opportunities have come along through open castings and auditions. An experience I remember specifically related to both is when I was in second year. We were in our finals for our Physical Theatre Module when a well-known Irish director (I mean, well established) and his team came into us. They were looking for extras for a film they were due to shoot that summer. They spoke to us individually asking where we were from and our plans for the summer, they then took ‘headshots’ and left. I recall a classmate of mine saying ‘I don’t care, I don’t want to do it.’ … And they were casted! I thought; ‘I wanted to be in it!’, ‘Why didn’t they pick me!’, ‘I should’ve worn make up that day, ahhh!’ Another example is an audition I did for a play in Galway. I had a free semester in third year and thought no better way to utilise my time. I went to the audition and it went well. A week later, the director called me saying; ‘It was a very hard decision you were down to the last three but we went with someone else in the end. We were very impressed though.’ Then why wasn’t I picked!!!! Of course I didn’t say that, I took the rejection gracefully with the arts world being small I didn’t want to ruin my reputation so early on. 

In my final year, I was in full focus and yearned for that First Class Honors. I gave up drink in the run up to our grad show, quit ‘social’ smoking, worked out most days (I was in the best shape of my life and still trying to get back to it!), stayed on top of my reading, made sure I was off book for rehearsals and did all the right things (as I thought). I was certain I was getting the 1:1, I was less than one percent away from it after the Christmas semester I have to get it, I will get it… I ended up with a Second Class Honors. The sense of rejection and devastation took over me so much I wondered why did I even bother. ‘What does that say about me as an artist?’ ‘Am I not good enough?’ ‘What was the fault or faults in my work?’ Out of all the rejections to date, this was the one that I took the hardest and almost quit theatre completely. One year later, a close friend of mine went through the same thing and I told her to not let it define her as an artist as I did. A year later, we set up our own theatre company, staged a sell out show and walked away with an award. 

Rejection whether for a local theatre group or a huge scale film production is never easy to take. The most important thing I have learnt is to not let it define you and what you do after counts the most. Even writing this has made me reflect on my experiences and how I deliver rejection as a producer. As I look out at the fog on Benbulben it has made me think twice and want to be mindful and give more to the artist than a ‘no’. I wish to no longer be like the fog but to let the artist see the full view, give advice and encouragement in moving forward with their craft.