A Good Year in Theatre

As the year runs down, I wanted to note that it’s been a good year in theatre for me. It makes me wonder if I shouldn’t clamp down on my rampant pursuit of every written-word medium and focus in a little on what I seem to be okay at.

But more of that anon.

The year started, as is did the year before, in Claremorris at the Fringe Theatre Festival. I had won it the year before with ‘The Doubles Partner’ and wanted to be there again in 2014. 

I wanted to do it again for the fun and the drama but also, importantly, to be able to work with my friends, Donna, Tara and Eamon to put a new play together and show it to the Fringe. The play for 2015 has just been submitted and I would like to be able do it all yet again, one more time, if possible, but the competition will be stronger than ever, I know, and first we've got to get in. We’ll see.

That’s how ‘Dance Night’ was created. We didn’t win at the Fringe but, in my mind, we won everything that mattered to me. We won the audience and we won the polishing of a new small play which I have come to be very proud of. Dance Night went on to be performed at the Irlam Fringe Festival, a lovely event which gave me an excuse to return momentarily to England for the first time in fifteen years. This was a lovely production which had the desired effect of reducing many to gentle tears. Success! I hope and believe that the Irlam Fringe will return for 2015 under the guidance of Jane McNulty and I recommend you keep an eye out for it.

While all this was going on, my teen play ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ had been put forward by the National Association of Youth Drama as one of three New Stage scripts. That meant that interested groups could take on the play, with the royalties covered by NAYD. Two new productions resulted for 2014 and I had the very best time travelling to see them and making new friends. First up was MAD Youth Theatre Company in Dundalk. This was a joy for me. I got to sit in among the audience and nobody knew me from Adam. I loved hearing the laughter and the sighs but most of all I loved the astonishment of the young group around me as they watched their friends and peers being so astonishingly brave and uninhibited on the stage in front of them.

Onward, a little later in the year, to Kildare to see ‘Midnight’ done by Griese Youth Theatre and the cast of the MAD production came too! This was another extraordinary production, imaginative and bold, and some gender swapping of characters opened my eyes to some new possibilities for the piece. A great show – two great shows – I drove home happy and fulfilled each time.

As if this weren’t enough, my pal Oisin Heraty brought‘Conception, Pregnancy, and Bert’ to Clann Machua Drama Group in Kiltimagh an they took it on, head on, and toured the One Act Festivals with it. This play was originally a radio play, written for and recorded by St Patrick’s Drama Group in Westport a good few years ago. The play is silly and a bit of fun and Clann Muchua brought all the energy and commitment required to carry it off, not to mention a series of eye-popping set changes. I followed along and saw them play in quite a few venues and, each time, the audience were clearly having a good time, as was I. 

This was the icing on the cake of what was, for me, a good year in theatre.

As I was alluding to at the outset, I start to wonder if I should focus my energy more exclusively to writing for theatre, if that’s where the fun and fulfilment can be found for me. My other pursuits, in TV and prose, took a lot of energy this year and singularly didn’t bear fruit. Should I draw a veil and just do what I seem to be able to do?

Well, no, I don’t think so. While I would love ‘The Break’ and the opportunity to not have to work full-time while writing into the night, I also need to write wherever my heart and head take me. And that might be a short story, a blog post, a film script, a TV notion, a radio play or ever a novel (again). 

I think if I start to make it about the ‘result’ and the ‘success’, I might lose whatever impetus makes me sit down and write stuff all of the time.

This is my life, I think. To never be a true writer in my own head but to still be able to reach people and sometime touch people with what I write.

Who knows, maybe next year will be a good year in Radio or TV or… something.

Let’s see how it all plays out. 

Two Memories of Toy Story 2

Alex on Twitter mentioned Toy Story 2 the other evening. He just said how his young daughter was loving it. That got me thinking about when I went to see it and what it means to me.

My life and the movies I see are always inextricably tied up together. If I want to evoke a certain era or a place, the best thing I can do is think back to the films I saw around that time. This is like a tiny key to my memory casket. The film comes back and other things come back too.

When Toy Story 2 hit the cinemas, Trish was heading off to London for a day or two and so it was just John and me whiling away the weekend together. I’ve checked online and, apparently, the film was released here in Ireland in February 2000. That would mean that John was very nearly four years old.

He really liked his Toy Story video and we had watched it many times over so I figured that this was as good an opportunity as any to give the local cinema another try. John had only been once before, with his Mum and some other Mums and pals. It hadn’t gone well. The film was called ‘Doug’s First Movie’. It didn’t make a major splash with the general public and it made less of a splash with my son John who, afterward, expressed the firm wish to never attend the cinema again.

This was hard on me. I never saw myself as the Dad who would be at the sidelines of the soccer match or the Dad who… did anything, really. Except go to the movies. I was Movie Dad and to have a young feller who was not keen to go… It was hard.

So, with Trish in London and some level of anticipation for this particular show, we steeled ourselves, John and me and we rolled off to see Toy Story 2.

This is the first of the two memories that stay with me from that early afternoon viewing. We went in to the cinema after the lights went off because the going off of the lights was one of the controversial issues. But, as it turned out, the lack of lights was also a similarly-rated controversial issue. We were nearly gone home before we even got in the door.

Memory One – The Usher’s Seat

There was a single seat, just inside the door. It was the seat where the usher would sit, back in the days when there would be an usher in the cinema. It was a solitary fold down seat, all on its lonesome. 

“Let’s just try this seat here,” I whispered, in some desperation,  because John was not for staying, “it’s right beside the door so we can leave anytime.”

So we both perched in the little seat in the awkward spot. John heavy on my lap. Both equally nervous, for slightly different reasons.

Then the movie began.

And everything was okay.

After a while we moved from the usher’s seat, down to two more comfortable ones beside the aisle so we could still get out quickly if required.

We were okay for the whole movie. I watched it swallow little John up and sweep away all his fears and anxieties. It was a wonderful metaphor for Cinema itself and what it can do for us all when it is done right.

Memory two was a teeny tiny thing that I really should have forgotten by now but I haven’t and it still makes me smile to think of it.

Memory Two – The Floor Popcorn Girl

When the movies are over, here in my town as in most towns, people move in to clear up the stuff before the next show begins. The soft drink cups, the sweet packets, the floor popcorn. They generally don’t wait until the credits finish because Multiplex time is of the essence.

At Toy Story 2 that afternoon, there weren’t many people in for the early show. The teenage girl who came in to do the floor popcorn really didn’t have anything to do except watch the credits with John and me.

And the credits scene in Toy Story 2 is funny.

And, because the film had been showing for a week or two already, the Floor Popcorn Girl knew the credits scene. She knew it off by heart. 

That’s my memory. The Floor Popcorn Girl stood in the aisle beside our seat and she spoke the credits scene along with the movie. She wasn’t doing it for us, she was doing it for herself. And she was very good.

I particularly remember her doing Mrs, Potato Head’s monologue to Mr Potato Head as she packed him up with provisions. 

“I’m packing your extra pair of shoes, and your angry eyes just in case.”

She did the voice and everything. Here’s a YouTube clip of that scene. It’s only a minute long and it’s good for a smile.

After that, John and me saw many movies together and, when Sam came along, we saw even more.

Our cinema-going is one of my delights and it has provided many fond memories. Just like the two I mentioned above.