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. 

Talk Over Tea

News

Calling all Artists and Arts lovers!


We’re inviting you to join us to talk over tea Tuesday at noon! ( biscuits, cakes and buns also heavily encouraged)


In this strange time we want to reach out and offer a place to discuss how the lives of artists has and will change along side catching up and chatting about what Netflix shows everyone’s been bingeing.

To join us simply sign up below and you’ll be emailed the zoom link on Tuesday morning.

Dinner and No Show

Blog, Monthly Blog, Uncategorized

12th of March 2020, it was a Thursday. I went into work as normal looking forward to date night when I got home. Rehearsals were great the previous weekend too, there’s still two scenes to be blocked but we had a show. I showcased a scene at an International Women’s Day event where people came up after saying ‘What are the show dates?’ and ‘I’ll definitely be checking it out’. Anyone I spoke to I said to tell their friends and follow us on socials. I went back to Sligo happy and looking forward to the following weekend already. 

Fast forward to Thursday, we were getting the kids ready for dinner when our manager came down. She informs us that Vradkar has made an announcement that all creches, schools and colleges were to close at 6pm that day until the 28th of March… My first thought, rehearsals. How will we manage? Will we find another location? Will I have to sit feet away from people on the bus? As I walked home that evening I rang Rena to devise a plan. We decided to postpone rehearsals that weekend, hold a virtual rehearsal the following weekend hoping for the best. This should be fine, I thought. Last weekend went well, no matter what we have a show.         

It’s Wednesday the 22nd of April 2020. Last week should have been show week for my one woman show ‘Uniform.’ The weekend before would’ve been our last rehearsal, ensuring all props and costumes were sourced, that I was off book, that the characters were nailed down and all was set for tech day on Wednesday.  We would’ve celebrated 3 years of Eva’s Echo amongst crew and friends on the Saturday sensibly ensuring fresh heads for the next morning. This week I should be in work with the kids daydreaming; ‘This day last week was our tech rehearsal. It has gone by so fast. I can’t believe I actually did a one woman show. When can I go back on stage?’ I’d then remind myself that rehearsals for Jungle Door are due to start in three weeks time and that I must get off book again. All of this is not so, with exception to the later which we still have to wait on.  

Although Uniform was postponed due to circumstances out of our control, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of worry, defeat, anger, loss and hard done by. I spent a whole weekend perfecting the final script, I’d started a diet to get into shape (cringing at photos from the production just gone) and ensured I was well rested after work each night. I went into 2020 full of ambition and anticipation; ‘2020 is my year’, ‘This is the year I get back into acting’, ‘I’m going to show everyone how good I am.’ Sometimes I feel all the above but then other times I feel ok. I know that it will be ok and the show will go on. Maybe there’s a reason. Maybe the world isn’t ready for ‘Uniform’ yet, as well as the global pandemic obviously but still.  

As an artist and producer all I know is that I want to give back to the community as much as I can  now and when all this is over. To start that blog, to teach drama like I’ve always wanted, to get that play published, to get new plays on stage, to get upcoming artists on board for future productions and so forth. As I’ve said to friends and family, if 2020 has taught me anything is that nothing is permanent. Life is too short to be worrying about things which is a lesson I’ve tried taking on for a long time, but it has fairly sunk in this time. You only have one body, one family and one chance.