Hiding in the Shadows, Dancing in the Light

As you may know, last week was a great week for me in terms of my own plays being performed. It’s all over now but it was the best of good fun.

So, what did I do while my plays were actually on the stage? It’s happened to me quite a lot of times now so I have my preferred routines. I like to stay out of the way beforehand and, normally, when the play is on, I’m in a seat, preferably right at the back, watching to see what the audience does and when they do it. 

This time around, though, I was a busier little beaver. 

I’m particularly thinking of the double bill of 'Fine' and 'Midnight in the Theatre of Blood' which spent two fun-filled nights at the Linenhall Theatre in Castlebar. A word of highest praise for Donna Ruane’s ‘Castlebar Acting For Fun’ group who put in months of tireless and enthusiastic work to make this happen and who did the most excellent job ever.

Now, back to me.

I had a magic two minute interlude all to myself, before everything kicked off. I stood on the stage, the theatre was empty, the control room above me at the back, primed and ready to deliver its lighting and audio effects. I stood and I listened to the music coming over the auditorium speakers. Behind me, the dressing rooms were abuzz with anxious players. Out in front of me, the sold out audience were collecting their tickets and chatting expectantly in the foyer. Everything seemed a little heightened, humming with potential. The scribbling has brought everybody here. The scribbling had some little value.

I took on lots of stuff to do while the plays were actually being performed. There were lots of willing cast members who could have done it all and left me safely in my back seat but that wasn’t what I wanted from this experience. I wanted to be up and about, racing around, doing things, and that’s exactly what I got. 

I was there at the side of the stage when the first cast got their cue to go on then I was back in the control room before the first line was spoken (that’s quite a dash). I was back down stage-side for the end of that play and helped Richie change the set for the second play. That wasn’t too hard, in fairness. Another entrance and another dash to the control room where I had various sound effects to perform on cue by banging on the wall. I had a large roll of insulating tape which I was using to make my bangs and it had worked good in rehearsal but, in the real thing, it soon became clear that the cast were not hearing my bangs so I dropped the insulating tape and hammered on the walls with my fists, causing a little personal damage along the way. Never mind, the cues were heard down on the stage. That’s all that mattered. 

I stuck around in the control room to see the ‘dancehall’ scene and that left me another quick dash down to the side of the stage where I had my drum and cues all lines up. From where I stood, I could watch the little scene between Sean and Tess play out to its rather touching conclusion. As it ended, I was stood poised like a Japanese Kodo Drummer and, right on cue, I hammered it like there was no tomorrow. This was to create a live effect rather like what happens in the original movie version of The Haunting. I hit the drum so hard that I broke the drum stick but some people told me afterwards that they nearly lost their lives with the shock they got, so that again made the damage worthwhile. There was doors to rattle too. Stephen rattled the doors on the other side of the theatre and I rattled mine. It was spooky stuff.

Drumming and door rattling complete, I had to get right around to the most back-stage part of the theatre where a mirror ball was suspended on a rope high above the stage. My final mission was to manually lower it, on cue, into the lights. 

This was my 'Phantom of The Opera' moment and I have to say I really relished it. Waiting for my cue, I got to watch the final scenes of the play and I also got to watch the audience beyond as they sat and watched, I have to say, entranced by the performances.

It is the fate of some of us to dance out in the spotlight and to perform and to be admired. It is my happy, happy fate to lurk in the shadows and watch the things I write pass above me and beyond me. It is a shadow I happily embrace.

And then it was all over. At various times over the subsequent days, I would run into members of the cast. They all looked great and cool as they always do but there was a certain something… It was like they had been given some subtle super power for a while and now it had been taken away again. I felt like that too. For a moment, we had been allowed to be a part of a combined effort and, in that heady interlude, the thing had become a little greater than the sum of its parts.

Then it was gone.

Until the next time. 

And therein lies the rub. Despite the effort, the element of grind in the long rehearsal schedule, the dull pain of it all ending, there remains a will, an imperative, even, to come together and to do it all again. Whatever part we play in the thing, whether it is to hide in the shadows of the wings or to dance out there under the hot lights, let’s make a date. 

Let’s do it all again.


The Importance of Making Things Happen

When I was a younger writer, I had no time for local matters. I was going to beat the world and all I needed to do was to write my stuff and lay it on the ground and the world would come and pick it up and embrace it. 

And everything would be fine…

My writing went straight off in the post to the National Theatres and the Big Broadcasters. Nobody at local level had anything of value for me. I was getting out of town and I wasn’t ever coming back.

And it’s fair to say I’ve had my share of dalliances with the big boys. There have been plays on national radio stations in various countries, translations in far off lands, meetings and plans at the highest level of national theatres. Self-affirming stuff.

But, if I had waited…

If I had waited for the big boys to come and pick me up and make me shine, where would I be now? I don’t know. No place good, I reckon.

It works for some people. Maybe they’re the best. Maybe they’re just very good and a little bit lucky as well. Maybe they’re simply in the right place at the right time. Who knows?  It doesn’t work for many people. Let’s say it out loud, maybe they’re just not good enough, not committed enough. Maybe the gears just never clicked into place as they needed to do.

Who knows?

If you have faith, deep in your heart (as I’ll confess that I do) that you are good enough, then you need to aim for the stars. Go all out. Go for broke. Fear nothing.


While you’re waiting for the stars to get back to you, there are things you can be doing. Real, challenging, important things. And you can do them on your doorstep.

“Nah,” you say, just like I said ‘Nah’ for so long, “this one-horse town hasn’t got anything that can benefit me. These people are nice people but they are happy to sit mired in their own small town ways, knowing nothing for higher achievement and caring less.


Not correct.

You want proof? I’ll give you the proof. Look at yourself. Go ahead and look. You are in this one horse town and you don’t care to wallow in shit or settle for a lesser thing or play an inferior game in any way, shape or form. 

You care. Deeply. And therein lies the rub because if you care this deeply then there are other people in this stupid one horse town that care just as deeply as you do. They’re out there. Just because they don’t live in the city that doesn’t make them lesser assets. They’re out there and they care just as much as you do and you have to go and find them.

I found them. Or they found me. I’m never sure which. The key thing is that we fairly quickly recognised each other as people who didn’t really care to fuck around or settle for inferior product. If we collaborate, as we do, the writer, the actors the producer, the theatre director, the designers, we want the result to be as good as anything anywhere in the world. Nothing less will do. 

If you find the people who say, “it’ll do” or “it’s fine, it’s a small town” then my advice is to keep walking. Unless, of course, you’re one of those people too, in which case you can stay and have lots of fun at that perfectly good level. If you need to shoot higher, keep strolling. 

I found what I need. I found people who will kindly tell me when what I’ve done is not up to standard, and encourage me to go back and try again. I found people who I can tell the same things to without it ever becoming petty or unprofessional. People who delight in doing things well and who are willing to sweat to make that happen.

And we do… make things happen. And the satisfaction of it all is almost unquantifiable. 

You can sit and wait for the Big Show to come and claim you and I hope that some day it will. But maybe, like me, while you’re waiting, you can grow and learn and delight in the making of Drama or Art or whatever it is you do with the best people in the world, who are somewhere right there in your own place.

I know what I’ll continue to do.

One Reason Why I Love Rehearsals

At the moment, I am gleefully involved in three separate rehearsals for three separate theatre plays of mine. It’s a very happy situation for me because I love rehearsals.

I love them for lots of reasons, really, but here’s just one.

When I'm writing a play, I’m always subconsciously, and sometimes consciously, acting them out. If there’s a fight, I’m fighting with myself. If there’s a love scene, the door is closed and there’s no entry. Every line - no, sod that - every word gets interrogated to see how it might play. Will it sound right? Will it hold the whole thing up unnecessarily? Will it fit in? It’s an intricate business.

Then, suddenly, there are actors.

It’s the gift of all gifts. The best thing in the world. There are real live people here who are willing to take on your lines and say them and breathe life and vigour into them.

They say the lines and they bring them to life, as promised. It’s absolutely brilliant.

But this is not the thing I love that I want to tell you about. 

Oh, no…

Here’s the thing:

They say the lines wrong.

This is the beauty, the marvellous thing I love. Their voices, saying my  lines, are so often completely different to the ways I said them to myself in my head, back there in front of my computer screen. 

At first, this is pretty scary. 

“Wait a minute,” my brain, the original actor, mutters, “this isn’t right, that’s not how it’s meant to be said.” Then gradually, the magical realisation kicks in. It’s not as I did it. It’s better. The actors are bringing their own essence to the words and it’s almost invariably better.

Often it benefits from a little interaction. I’ve often got some low level stuff going on that might not be self-evident from the bare words. In rehearsal, I get to elaborate a little on that, if elaboration is called for. But, generally, the addition of a new voice, one with intelligence and some emotional experience, will bring sap and stickiness to the bare words and the truth will gradually seep out. 

There are lots and lots and lots of reasons why I love rehearsals. 

This has been just one.

Midnight in the Theatre of Blood and Fine will be performed by the Castlebar Acting for Fun Company in the Linenhall Theatre, Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland on 21st and 22nd of March. You can Book Tickets on 094 90 23733.

The third play remains embargoed for the moment but it is brand new, deep in rehearsals, and will appear in the next few weeks, all going well.