Going MAD at Midnight

On Friday afternoon, I drove to Dundalk to see MAD Youth Theatre perform my teen play ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’. 

I was so glad I went. The play was done brilliantly and the actors, directing and staging were all excellent. 

I found the whole experience of going to see the play very uplifting. Coming away from the theatre, having met and chatted with everyone who would talk to me, I was as happy as I have been in quite a long time. On the pretty-long drive home, I had some time to think about that. What was it that had made me so happy? What aspect in particular?

From the outside, looking in, that may seem like a rather obvious question. I’d written a play. A wonderful young theatre group had taken it on and won their audience over with their show. What was there not to be happy about?

All that is true, of course, and if the drive hadn’t been so long, I would have settled for that answer too. But it was long and so I tunneled a little deeper. “What exactly was it that made me feel so good about my evening?”

Perhaps it was ego. For a few hours, I got to play at being the writer in front of people. I don’t think that’s it. My modus operandi at these type of things is to hide, speak when I’m spoken-to, and keep my head as far down as possible. So it was on Friday evening, where I found a quiet corner in the foyer and watched the people come and collect their tickets and chat. I had no desire that anybody should knew my involvement with the play but I did enjoy the comings and goings. Therein, perhaps, lies a clue.

Perhaps then, it was artistic satisfaction. Some kind of creative fulfillment. Seeing the quiet, occasionally-lonely work of writing a play come to real life fruition. Yes, perhaps there was a bit of that.

In the auditorium itself, I was allowed to sit where I wanted and so I did what I love to do, I sat near the back where I could watch the play and the audience as well. I loved the audience reaction to the play. I particularly loved the honest disbelief of the teen audience members who almost couldn’t believe how far the actors – their peers – would extend themselves for the sake of the show. That was the biggest clue to my happiness. 

I finally decided that the biggest joy and satisfaction, for me, lay in the cast of the play and the joy and satisfaction they derived from doing it. That’s what made me so happy, seeing them so happy.

It’s a bit like if I invented a new board game and then I got to see people playing it and laughing and arguing and getting frustrated but basically enjoying themselves with it. It’s like I dreamed up a new sport and I got to watch people get sweaty and muddy and play it hard and win at it.

In short, it just felt like I had played a part in enabling something good. After all, writers like me, we don’t rock the world with our little plays. We don’t ever hit Broadway or the West End. We don’t get movie tie-ins. 

And the actors who put on the plays? They won't generally do ‘Big Time’ either (though one or two might). Mostly, they will play to our families and their friends (and their friends' friends) and to those strange people who tend to come in off the street whenever there is a show on. They will rock them hard, though, and they move them. They will make them laugh and they will make them shake their heads in almost-disbelief at how audacious and fearless they are and, if they’re really really lucky, they may put a little tear in their eye.

They move people but mostly, at the end of the day, they move themselves. They take something on and, regardless of how hard and terrifying it seems, they see it through to the bitter end. Sometimes, along the way , it may have seemed too hard and not-worth-it and almost boring, if truth be told. But, in the end, it all worked out great. The audience came along and listened and smiled and shed a tear and then they whooped and cheered too and we could tell that they meant it all because you can’t fake that kind of shit. Not in there. Not in that room with the stage and the seats and the darkness.

So thanks to MAD Theatre Group, Dundalk. To Kwasie Boyce and to all the guys and gals. You made me happy because you made yourselves happy. 

That, I believe, is what did it, in the end. 


Jim Murdoch said...

It’s always nice when someone reads our work. But what effort does it take really? They sit on their arses with a cup of coffee and let their eyes flit over the page. If they miss a line or find themselves skipping to the end of a paragraph so what? As long as they get the gist of it then they feel like they’ve done their job. No one reads our work like it should be read. That’s why I like reviewing because it forces me to read because I have to talk about what I’ve read and how can I talk about what I’ve not read if I haven’t read it? Any by ‘it’ I mean ‘it all’. The poetry takes a lot of effort which is why I review so little of it. If I get to read, to properly read, one book of poetry in a month then I’m pleased with myself. Good boy, Jim. So the idea of a group of people getting together and devoting not a few hours but days and days of their lives to bringing something I’ve written to life and not only bringing it to life but getting it word perfect… well, it’s never happened to me so I can only imagine. I’d love to see one of my plays performed. Would love it! Would hate it too. But that’s because I’m not really a playwright. I’m not good at sharing. I want to do everything. So I think I’d find it hard letting go. The best thing for me would be if I could get someone overseas to perform the thing and that way I wouldn’t be able to go every night and be a back seat director. Actually I don’t think I’d be that bad. I’d be too much in awe of the actors. My daughter wanted to be an actor when she was about seventeen (I believe they were still called ‘actresses’ back then) so I wrote her a play as you do, a monologue called Living Will in which a young girl talks to a video camera, a sort of Krapp’s First Tape although I only realised that’s what it was once I’d written it. I haven’t looked at it in fourteen years. Maybe it’s rubbish. My daughter liked it but if someone had written you a play you’d like it no matter how bad it was. My first play was just awful. Of course a month later she wanted to be something else so that’s why it got stuck in a drawer and forgotten about. Kids, eh?

But I’m pleased for you. A bit envious too but you’ll have to forgive me that.

Ken Armstrong said...

I feel extremely lucky, Jim, for all the reasons you described. To have someone take such care of my scribblings is a lovely thing. I know I'm privileged in that.

Thanks mate.

Unknown said...

Griese Youth Theatre are delving further into the script this week, now that the dreaded end of year exams are over, the cast have all just completed their first year in second level so the excitement will be building from here on in. MAD are coming to visit us when we perform on the 28th of June so it should be a great night. Sounds like you had a great night. And I agree the energy and commitment of the young people is what makes it all happen....if you could bottle it, you'd save the world.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Leish, that's great to hear. I'd love to come too, will you keep me posted? k

Ken Armstrong said...
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