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;
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!
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.
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…
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!
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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!