The Wonderful World of Latte

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By Rena Bryson

Latte, Culture Night 2019

The Latte journey has been anything but linear, we initially performed a rehearsed reading of a shorter version of the play during Culture Night 2019. Following an enthusiastic reception from a full house, we swiftly made plans to revisit the play. The talented Sarah Fahy was on board and agreed to complete a full-length script. We planned to produce the new full-length version of Latte in the summer of 2020. But… you can guess how that went. However, this gave both the playwright and director time to thoroughly examine the text and make changes. During this time director, Hazel Doolan decided that Latte would be more suited to a site-specific performance than a traditional stage production. We’ll never know what the 2020 version of Latte would have been like, but I truly feel that the time, patience, and momentum gained from the wait benefited the creative process and therefore the final production.

I loved playing Sophia in 2019 and really wanted to explore what made the character tick! I was very drawn to the complexities under her reserved surface. She is a very different character than I am usually cast as, I’m usually drawn to louder, wilder characters. I wanted to play Sophia not only to push myself outside my comfort zone but because I deeply empathized with her story. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away so I won’t go into detail, but Sophia’s story is one shared with Jillian, although they are strangers to one another they share the same hurt.

Messing in between rehearsals with fellow actor Moira Mahony

I’ve absolutely loved working with the gifted Moira Mahony, she has been so open with her creativity. She shares her thoughts freely but is also totally responsive to others’ imaginings of the characters and their world. She brought a strong passion to the text analysis, this carried joy and fun into the investigation, which was greatly appreciated during a long day in the rehearsal room. I found out during rehearsals she played Sophia in the original Latte by The Seumas O’Kelly Players in 2017. So she has seen the show grow and expand over the years. She also has the unique insight of being in both Sophia and Jillian’s shoes. Although I am sure the characters have also evolved over the years, being there for the first seed will carry with you an understanding of the play’s message and energy.

Moira Mahony and Rena Bryson in rehearsal

It’s been a very unique rehearsal process due to the structure of the play. Although there is a cast of seven I do not interact with many of the other characters. My story is mainly contained to my table so I primarily act opposite Moira. The energy in the room the first day we all rehearsed together really brought the play to life. I had felt confident about portraying my character and her story but didn’t feel truly connected to the world of the play until that day. Each cast member has really given the play 110% and has been a joy inside and outside of the rehearsal room. The creative team has been equally brilliant and open to questions. Whether I’m asking Hazel Stanley about what type of engagement ring Sophia should have or Sarah Fahy about a line, they have always been patient and passionate.

The Latte cast during a character physicality exercise.

Hazel Doolan was back in the director’s chair after a long break for this production. She had directed the rehearsed reading back in 2019 and had continued to work with Sarah on the text. Throughout lockdown, she was reading drafts and offering feedback. She had a deep connection and love for the text before we even got to the audition stage. Hazel’s approach was very actor-led, instead of stating “move this way” she would instead ask “how does your character move?” By giving us the freedom to explore and play with our characters she created an organic and authentic performance. I really enjoyed this process as Sophia was such an interesting character to dissect and each week we added more and more layers. I feel this process really worked for Latte specifically as the play is driven by its textured dialogue. A deep understanding of the characters was essential and impacted every aspect of the performance.

I’m so excited to share the wonderful world of Latte with a live audience on Saturday! The site-specific nature of the play will add a whole new element to the performance. The audience and performers share the cafe as customers, creating an interesting relationship between us. I can’t wait to see what effect that has on the play. This is the true magic of theatre, the performance is alive and ever changeable!

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.

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. 

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!