Great Evenings and How to Have More of Them

Last week I told you about my day out in Dublin. I didn’t tell you what I did when I was finished there though. I’ll do that now.

Most people would just go home. Not me. Nuh huh. I pointed my car in another direction entirely and headed for the town of Gort in County Galway. It was going to be one of those good evenings for me. The Wild Swan Theatre Company in that fine town were putting on one of my plays, ‘Conception Pregnancy and Bert’, and I was driving down there to see it. 

I get to do this a bit and I feel lucky every time I do. I get to go to a town that I don’t know and find a band of smart talented people there who have taken weeks and weeks learning off some of the silly stuff that I write down in my spare room. They have grappled hard with my pages and figured out how best to perform them. Then they'll play it all out for a willing audience. What a compliment they have paid me in taking this on. How very lucky I am.

In the case of the Wild Swan Theatre Company in Gort, that was only the start of it. Imagine my surprise when I marched in to a huge room elegantly dressed, table by table, as if a society wedding party was about to motor in at any moment. Walk around a corner and there was this beautifully set stage with hundreds of seats carefully laid out in front. 

This was Supper Theatre, except it was more Dinner Theatre as the patrons were about to be treated to a full sit down meal in between the two plays they had come to see. My play was up second, after everybody had been wined and dined. 

I won’t single anybody out. It was just a great evening. The first play was very well written and performed and went over marvelously with the audience. The second play was a little more odd and maybe a little more edgy. It needed a good director to get its quirky set-up across and a brave cast to play out the rather extreme levels of silliness that ensue. The Wild Swan Theatre Group delivered all of these things in spades. 

My usual delight is to sit at the back and watch the play and the reactions of the audience at the same time. I can learn a lot from where people laugh, don’t laugh, shift uncomfortably in their seat or even look down at the floor. This time, my cover was blown by a nice introduction from the stage. Never mind. The audience went along with the play as the pace accelerated and there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a room erupt with laughter at some of your own writing. 

I drove home after a very, very long day, buzzing and happy. 

So thank you, Wild Swan Theatre Group. It was a great night.

I only wish I could figure out how to have more of them.

My plays generally end up getting performed by a sort of ‘word of mouth osmosis’ or, as often as not, because somebody saw a production somewhere else and thought the play might suit their group for a performance too. I have quite a few plays and quite a few of them have had quite a number of productions. Which is great. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s great. 

It’s just that there’s no plan to it. None on my part anyway. No real rhyme or reason. I work hard on the plays, trying to get them as good as possible, and their first productions usually emanate from the wonderful people in the Linenhall Theatre here in Castlebar coupled with my production and directing friends here in Castlebar who all support and encourage me more than I can say. In the case of ‘Conception Pregnancy and Bert’ it was initially born as the third of three radio plays written for and produced and directed by Mary Carr and St. Patrick’s Drama Group in Westport. It then evolved into a theatre play, with the encouragement of some of my Castlebar friends.

Once a play has been first-produced, I generally end up at a complete loss as to what to do with it next. Sometimes, as I was saying, word of mouth carries it on to some other adventure. One play has been published and one great production came out of that but then no more. Another play is on the national database for youth drama and that has resulted in three productions since the first so that was good. Sometimes, though, it all just stops in Castlebar and I don’t really do much about it.

What should I do? Should I send the plays more vigorously around to theatre groups? I guess I should. That seems obvious even now that I’ve type it out. Should I make the scripts downloadable from this website? Very few people come here, in actuality, so I’m not sure that would be much use but then Google does seem to index the stuff on there pretty well so maybe it might be worth doing. From time to time, I just bang up a link to a script at random and that too has led to a most interesting production.

Whatever it might be, I should really do something. Because I like having those great nights out and I love seeing the plays picked up and performed for audiences all over the place.

I mean, who wouldn’t?

Belong/Don’t Belong at All

One day last week, I had to drive to Dublin and do some stuff. Dublin is strange for me these days. I feel like I belong there but yet don’t belong there at all, both at the exact same time. 

My years in London, and in Dublin before that, have left me with a general ease in the big city. This doesn't ever seem to leave me, no matter how small-town-trained I become. 

Whenever I go there, I tend to slip in to the rhythm quickly and slide easily through the melee. 

On the other hand, I now also have a tendency to study every single face, to wonder who they are and what their story is. It’s very tiring and it makes me want to get out and go back to my own small town, where I know many of the faces and where I have at least some idea of where they are all going.

Here are three small points from my day out in Dublin on Thursday. I’ll set them down in order. As far as I can tell, they are linked by nothing at all, apart from the fact that they happened to me.

I had to visit a venerable library reading room to look some stuff up. This next part will probably tell you something about myself but, before I went inside, I tried my pens on the back of my hand. I had quite a few. None of them would write. This actually happens to me quite a bit as I tend to migrate from dusty dirty places to academic reading rooms and the dust often lingers and renders my ball point pens incapable. 

It was a problem. With what could I make my notes?

There was a convenience shop next door to the library. I went in to buy some new pens. There was a guy sitting outside the door, holding up an empty coffee cup. He asked me for some spare change but I only had my pen money and so I couldn’t oblige.

The man behind the counter had loads of pens, right up until he went and looked for them and found that he didn’t have any at all. He was sold out.

“That’s okay,” I said, “not to worry.”

“Here,” he said, pressing something into my hand, “take my pen, Take mine.”

Hopefully this kind of thing happens to other people as often as  it seems to happen to me. People are just randomly and quite outrageously nice. This guy didn’t know me from Adam but yet here he was, giving me his only pen. He really insisted I have it.  

“Thanks,” I said, “at least let me pay you for it.”

He wouldn’t.

I’ll just type that again… he just wouldn’t. No, I don’t know why either. I generally try to be nice, I guess some people are encouraged to be nice back to me. To try to be fair, I bought a Mars bar that I really didn’t want because I am trying hard to reduce my sugar intake. 

The guy with the cup was still at the door. I gave him my pen money and the Mars bar too. Truth? I like to think that’s why the guy gave me the pen. A sort of Time Travel Karma.

As a footnote to this first point, the library would not allow the use of pens. They supplied nice pencils. 

My second point is about wildlife in the city and how very close to it you can stand.

On O’Connell Bridge, in the beating heart of the city, there is wildlife sitting there. It’s not foxes or bears or even rabbits. It’s seagulls. No, don’t go yet, let me tell you. Have you ever seen the seagulls that perch on the guarding of O’Connell bridge? They are Huge and they are right there. You can stand and look at them so that they are tiny inches from your face and they will stare defiantly right back at you. The ‘Danger’ in them is palpable. Their beaks are clearly razor sharp and they could easily lean forward and have your eye out with a savage peck. Their webbed feet (are they called ‘feet’? I can’t think) are so vivid and strong. Their feathery mane oily and stained from the city. In the wildest of the wild places, you could not hope to get so incredibly close to an untamed thing like you can there on O'Connell Bridge. It’s really quite something. 

Final pointless point. 

I met my good friend J_ and we went to the lunch place at the top of Debenhams for a bite to eat. Up there, in a certain corner, there’s a bench that you can sit up at and have your dinner. Beyond it, there’s a void, all the way down to the ground floor. And out in front of you, through the full height atrium glazing, lies the whole of Dublin City stretched out before you. Look down, and you see all the little people milling around on their lunchtime missions. Look up again and there’s the city, stretching away off to the Wicklow mountain. That bench sure doesn’t look like much… until you sit down at it. Trust J_ to find that. He knows stuff, he does. 

Up there, looking out over the streets and buildings, I felt it again. I felt I belonged to the City and yet didn’t belong to it at all.

It felt okay. 

Maggie’s Year

This morning, I’ve been sitting here thinking about Maggie’s Year and what a strange and surreal year it was. The trouble is that I was only seventeen and now I find that the true memories of that year have become clouded and mixed up along with impressions and emotions and even dreams such that the exact truth is no longer easy to know. 

What I do know is that I was too young to leave home. It was early September and I had just turned seventeen in July. Apart from a couple of hospital nights, here and there, I had never slept in any bed other than my own. No friend sleepovers, no evenings with Granny, nothing. And, yet, here I was waving goodbye to Mum and lugging my baggage through my small town to the train station and to the train that would take me to Dublin to live.

Summer was over, it was time for college. I spent three years in college in Dublin. To the best of my knowledge, I was the youngest person ever to start my course and the youngest to ever finish it. That sounds lovely, and on many levels, it was but I was young and maybe a little too young.

Not only was I setting off on my first solitary venture, I had no place to stay. I was booked into a B&B in Northside Dublin and there was a possibility of obtaining ‘Digs’ with an elderly lady within a couple of weeks. I sat on the train and read ‘Thin Air’ by William Marshall. The carriage was packed with the young members of a basketball team. I watched them laugh and jump around and thought about how they would be on the train back home again in the evening and I felt a not inconsiderable surge of envy about that. 

The B&B was almost too nice. For breakfast, they served me bacon and the cleanest fried eggs I had ever seen. There were three blonde daughters in the house and I feel in love with them in chronological order between Monday and Thursday. On the first morning, I walked to college. I came to a big road and knew that the college was in one direction and the airport in the other. I set off. The airport looked nice and I was late for my first lecture. 

On Thursday, following a lead from a guy my parents knew, I walked up a typical residential street in Phibsboro looking for a house. In this house was Maggie. The house was dull and poorly lit and old fashioned and a bit ‘cabbagey’. From the doormat the hallway was so dull that I could hardly see Maggie inside. She bade me come in and I did. I stayed for the next nine months. It became ‘Maggie’s Year’. I may not remember it terribly well but I can never forget it. 

Maggie took in two of us. There was me and there was a fellow from Cork who looked, if anything, even more lost than I did. On Thursday’s, this guy and me would treat ourselves to the cinema and I would show him the scary stuff I had already seen over the Summer months. I loved how ‘Halloween’ terrified him and, in a rerun of Jaws at the Ambassador, in an auditorium that was murky with cigarette and dope smoke, I gleefully thought he was going to lose his life.

The guy – I can’t remember his name – and me had a room each on the upper floor of Maggie’s House There was an upstairs bathroom, which was alien to me, and the rooms were dull and furnished with sold brown wardrobes that would kill you instantly if they fell on you. We got a breakfast and an evening meal, which was okay and in the evenings we watched a revamped version of ‘Quicksilver’ and other dubious stuff on the telly. Most weekends, I left Dublin on the bus and, during the week, my mind always registered the exact moment when half of my time away was over and I was again on the downhill road to going home. 

I loved college. It was full of people who seemed okay with being my new friends and there were new jokes and music and attraction at every corner. But, yes, I was young, and I missed my home and a part of me always ached to be back there. But, still, the days were fun and filled with companionship and learning.

And, in the evenings, there was Maggie.

Maggie was a short, stout woman who wore glasses which made her look like an owl. She seemed to me to be about seventy but I was only seventeen so perhaps she was only fifty. She was a country woman through-and-through. I have no idea how she wound up alone in a house in Dublin but there was nothing Dublin about her. She was feisty and opinionated and she loved her Gaelic Football. On the rare Sunday afternoons when I stayed in Dublin, she would be glued to her radio for updates on all the matches. She would whoop the good results and roundly curse the bad ones. 

Maggie was a good landlady. She looked after us well, if a little unconventionally. One Friday evening (I had stayed up for a party) she gave me a Valentine’s card to post. It was for my follow lodger in the house and it was from Maggie, albeit anonymously. “Look at the poor devil,” she said to me, “he needs a bit of encouragement’ I didn’t get one from her so I must have been doing better. I posted the card at the bottom of my street on the way to the party. There was a Saturday post so he would get it okay. It was Friday the thirteenth, the next day was Valentine’s Day. In a few short hours, a short way up the road, the Stardust Nightclub would be ablaze and forty eight innocent people would be dead.

My housemate moved back to Cork. It was just Maggie and me then, toddling along together. Shortly after that, Maggie got sick and ended up in hospital for a month. At seventeen I became the sole proprietor of a run down house in Dublin. I remember eating a lot of takeaways and watching subtitled movies on BBC2 in the evenings. Then Maggie came home. She was very sick. She told me she was dying. People came in and saw to her needs. I saw to her needs when they weren’t there. Before my year was over she was gone from the house again, back into hospital. I used to visit her and tell her how the house was okay. I never met anyone else during my visits. Shortly after my Summer began and before I had even turned eighteen, she was gone for good. 

I think of Maggie often. She was my very first experience of living with someone outside of home. Alas, she also became my first experience of mortality. 

I am grateful to her. Sending me to college was no easy feat for my parents and the accommodation she offered was so cheap as to be almost miraculous. She got me on my feet in Dublin and probably looked out for me in ways I still cannot even comprehend.

So here’s to you, Maggie. I’m better at Dublin now than back when we knew each other but, to be honest, I’m still a bit lost some of the time. 

Thanks for being my landlady.

The ‘Deb's Night’ Adventure Begins

I love being involved in making theatre. Most of all, I love writing for it. It has its limitations, of course. Unless you’re (insert somebody famous here), the reach of what you do will remain quite limited. The theatre space can only hold so many people and the number of nights it can be lit remains small. Also any recording of the event tends to dilute or even lose the magic beyond repair. So it's usually quite a small thing.

All of that, yes, but still I love it. 

And, as with most things in my life, I have been lucky in theatre. I have been lucky to wash up in a town with the brilliant Linenhall Arts Centre who warm me and encourage me and who give me space and time to do my theatre stuff. A town peopled with folk who can do the theatrical things that I cannot do. People who are okay with doing them with me. 

So, yes, incredibly lucky in theatre. Here in my town, I get to grow my little plays and then watch them venture out tentatively into other places, with other people, in other productions.

Gosh, it sounds fabulous, doesn’t it?

Lucky git, me.

And this week, the adventure begins again. 

On Tuesday afternoon, me and Donna Ruane the Director and about twenty powerhouse teenagers will meet up in the Linenhall Theatre for the first read-through of my new play ‘Deb’s Night’. I think of this as my third full length YA play. The previous two ‘The Moon Cut Like a Sickle’ and ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ had brought me much fun and journeying and excitement. I hope this one might do more of the same. 

More than the other two, I think this play offers a ‘blueprint’ for a strong innovative YA group to stamp their authority on. It’s a portmanteau story centring around a group of young people as they approach their graduation night. There is a central theme concerning families without one or other (or both) parents and there is a ‘loose’ feel to it that might either baffle of intrigue the audience. Time will tell.

I’ve worked long and hard on this one and it will be a bit nervy, now, to see how it gels. The last few productions I’ve been directly involved in, have all been of plays that had been done before. No matter how original the production, there was always the safety net of knowing that it had played to an audience before, that it had hit its mark. Here, we have completely untrodden ground. Who knows whether we will all be stepping along a solid path or wading in a bog.

These last few weeks, knowing that the reading day was fast approaching, have been busy too. The play was written last year but these final weeks, with the energy of the upcoming production looming, sees the text being interrogated pretty intensely. Are there too many words there? Would anyone ever say that? Why is she doing that, why? There is no other moment when I feel more like the ‘wright’ that is included in the word ‘playwright’. This part is always more like a physical job of building than a pensive job of creating. There is cutting and paring and slipping things in and easing things out and moving around the room and talking aloud to oneself. The sheer excitement of knowing that, for better or for worse, the words you are currently ‘wrighting’ will find an audience and will have to connect to them in order to succeed. 

This play would not have been written if it weren’t for the energy and joy of Donna’s Acting For Fun Company. Last year, in performing ‘Midnight at the Theatre of Blood’ and ‘Fine’ at the Linenhall, they forged such bonds of friendship, creativity and performance and they won the audience each time they did it. It would have been a crying shame if I could not have written myself into a place where I might be allowed to witness it all again this year. In the way a force can sometimes be, the force of this group has become a sort of a muse for me, giving me a reason and a motive to get my wrighting work done.

On top of that, my quirky little play ‘Conception, Pregnancy and Bert’ is currently being rehearsed by Wild Swan Theatre Company in Gort. I’ll be driving down to see that in a couple of weeks. Also there is another new, adult, play in production, to be seen in March , but I can’t really say too much about that because it’s not all out in the open yet. 

It’s fun though. It’s all the best of fun.

Today, I’m continuing to print scripts. Twenty two of them. At eighty three pages per script. The machine will be running hot. Then, on Tuesday, we’ll all meet in the theatre, turn the first page, and read it aloud. 

I wonder how it will be?

I’m hoping it will be pretty good.

Booking for 'Deb's Night' here.