Volunteering for Galway Fringe Festival 2019

The Galway Fringe Festival ran for two weeks from 15th to 28th June 2019 alongside the Arts Festival as it has for nine years, promising to give emerging artists, productions, demos and plays from here and abroad a platform and support, as part of over 200 Fringe programmes all over the world. This year there were some award-winning shows and local debuts. There were creative writing readings, music and film incorporated into one-person theatre events, visual arts and pottery fairs.

What is surprising is that, although the Fringe usually provides a mix of appealing, intimate events without the pressure of the mainstream, more commercial festivals, this year saw some cancellations and it appeared that there was not enough attendance by the public. This is a shame as we should support the acts that come to town, even the lesser known ones, and give them an audience. The rather smaller variety of 2019’s line up compared to previous years can only be improved by continuing to support the festival with ticket sales, public volunteering and contributing acts. The acts who do get in have a role in advertising their own events in conjunction with the Fringe doing their best to get the word across. The added competition of NUIG’s 2019 Summer Drama festival being held at the same time did not help attendance numbers.

I was given the suggestion to volunteer my skills in helping with the Fringe festival behind the scenes by a fellow volunteer for Galway Film Fleadh TV. After a three-week stint of training, undertaking interviews, filming and editing for the Fleadh week, this was a more relaxed duty of posting on social media, thinking of ideas for sales, taking door tickets and getting to watch shows. It was nice to meet the Fringe festival artists, such as writer Niamh Nic Aodha Bhuí, whose first-time offering to the Galway Fringe was her piece Unveiling which deals with life, existential questions and suicidal thoughts. A former secondary school student of Dominican College, Taylor’s Hill like myself, she has tried her hand at various art forms since studying in different third-level fields.

At the Fringe, there were a group of work placement students from GMIT studying Tourism, but anyone from any background could and were encouraged to apply as a regular volunteer. Most events took place at Seven bar’s The Loft, De Burgo’s and The Cellar, with some of the visual arts and photography scattered around county Galway. The main office space was located above the Bank of Ireland near Lombard St. The Fringe ends each year with an Awards Ceremony in different categories.

One particularly emotional play was Prodigal by Andrew Carney which depicts an estranged son’s reunion with his father after the funeral of their elder brother and son. The son partakes of a drink, which his father declines as a reformed alcoholic. He makes his son talk to him and they go on to discuss their past life, relationships and family, the effect of the alcoholism on them all and the brusque son’s struggle in the shadow of his late brother.

There was a higher turn out for plays such as Runaway Princess: A Hopeful Tale of Heroin, Hooking and Happiness, and the jaunty literary recap Strolling Through Ulysses! The award-winning Velvet Determination: A Young Pianist’s Journey to New York could have seen more of a crowd despite its delightful recital and true-life account. The Galway Fringe Festival will continue to have sporadic events until later in the year so make sure to follow them online and be ready to do it all again and more next year.

“HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr” at the Galway Town Hall Theatre

Photo Credit Al Foote III

Sprightly and humorous, Heather Massie’s one-woman show documents the life of Austrian Hollywood and inventor Hedy Lamarr (1914 – 2000). After having appeared at the Galway Fringe Festival previously, the international production was staged again in Galway in the Town Hall Theatre on the 29th May 2018 at 8pm with a Q & A at the end. It is part of a planned trilogy by Massie highlighting women in science.

It opens with an exposition of video footage of Hedy and the show features a recording of her voice. She is presented as reappearing from the dead to tell her story which has often been misrepresented or forgotten. This is all done with gracious, affectionate address to the audience without a hint of bitterness. She often comes directly into the crowd to interact with them as herself, although at other times Massie switches to impersonate different characters in the story. The props are simply two tables, some chairs, an old-fashioned telephone. A version of the flip cell phone she helped create makes an appearance. It’s all decked out elegantly, much like Hedy herself in a bejeweled dress.

Hedy fostered a self-taught interest in applied science, first encountered while growing up with her parents, although her mother encouraged her to learn music and performance as a young lady. After marriage, she came up with the idea to change the squarish shape of aeroplanes for efficiency. Her joint patented idea of The Secret Communications System with composer George Antheil to evade the threat of torpedoes being jammed in the Allied effort during WWII could have saved many lives if taken on board by the US Navy against the Nazis. After initially rejecting the idea from an actress, the US Navy used it during the Cuban Missile Crises.  Her intellectual ingenuity is boasted of via comic responses to award recognition her invention finally gets. Also referred to as Frequency Hopping or Spread Spectrum Technology, her invention is used today in cell phones, WiFi, CDMA, GPS, Bluetooth and other wireless systems. She continued to doodle inventions into her later life.

Massie captures the style of a bygone era in manner and voice, telling the story of the ugly duckling who would be later dubbed The Most Beautiful Woman in the World and inspire the creation of Snow White and Catwoman, as well as many woman who copied her look with dark hair parted in the middle. This  notoriety did her no favours, however, when it came to being taken seriously. One man admired her beautiful mouth which he said prevented him from listening to a word she was saying.

The behaviour towards women in the film industry during the 1930’s – 50’s is outlined with ironic light-heardedness. While Lamarr is known for acting in many films such as her role in Samson and Delilah in 1949 and produced a few films herself, she featured in the controversial film Ecstasy in which she was duped into being filmed nude from afar without being aware of the high-power telephoto lenses. The film was banned in America for being overly sexual, and by the Nazis because of Lamarr’s Jewish origins just after her escape from mainland Europe from a stifling husband who tried to buy the film outright out of jealousy. Hypocritical American producers critically evaluated the actress’s body behind the facade of family-friendly censored film standards.

This theatrical biopic deserves the acclaim it has been awarded at various festivals around the world. It brings to life this intriguing lady and the individuals she engaged with, including her three children and some of her six husbands. It positively highlights her achievements as well the ups and downs of her life; a celebration of her scientific prowess without renouncning her graceful charm and arts background.

Heather Massie as Hedy Lamarr - by Al Foote III (1).png

“Apoptosis” in the Galway Town Hall Theatre

The play for you “if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t have a five year plan.” (Director Rebecca Spelman)

Directed and written by Calamity Theater’s founder, Rebecca Spelman, what started out as a one act play at the Galway Fringe Festival has now developed into a full length comedy drama three times the original size. It was now performed from 25th to 28th February 2019 in the Town Hall Theatre by Claire Ahearne, James McKenzie, Lucy Pollock, Sean Gandolfi, Joe Bohan and Tim Meaney. Its 80 minute run time packs in some big themes on the meaning of life as it relates to past, present and a bit of the future. Particularly, the options available to Baby Boomers and Millennials regarding work, love, society and religion are explored.

_DSC5468

Its depiction of modern friendship includes an adult coach squatter who doesn’t pay rent, can’t hold down a relationship and doesn’t have a job. His working friend, Claire, however doesn’t fare much better, having to deal with a skiving boss and unclear duties. We see her fending off the unreasonable customer entitlement of of an older woman and the inappropriate attention of her husband. The latter could have been better dealt with in my opinion. It is laughed off later on and those in charge do not properly hear this part of her account, something she reports only after the couple apparently make a complaint and she is called in.

In this scene, she tries to explain the rest of the affair and the hopelessness of her life situation. Trying to secure retail jobs without the unattainable “three years experience,” rejecting the dole as inadequate, compromising her ideals and barely surviving are things many young people today might relate to — right down to living off apples and pasta packets. It’s no wonder that she and her mooch of a friend come back to the emotional safety and moral simplicity of childhood TV shows and the nostalgia they evoke.

_DSC5417

The disruptive older couple have problems of their own as the traditional marriage-and-kids formula doesn’t pan out. The wife doesn’t work and “contributes” to the household, but cannot have children. The husband has cheated with an affair that lasted years and doesn’t seem to listen to her. They are clearly estranged yet for some reason still live together in bitterness. In the past, meta narratives were supposed to provide purpose through life’s trials, but it’s evident they didn’t always work.

Between scenes, we are in the hands of an indefatigable narrator with slides, a poster boy for Powerpoint presentations. He introduces and addresses the various topics, providing commentary on cultural trends and expectations. The treatment of religion is not completely objective, rather toting the secular side. That said, the comedic narrative maintains its distance from the plot, except when the narrator himself breaks down on the topic of loneliness. Cue, the annual get-together with the two Millennial friends where they drown their sorrows, knock back pills and blare nightclub music to reach a state of stupor and oblivion. It also seems the concept of a dystopian, fictional future is more comforting than the present.

The play doesn’t provide immediate solutions; it simply tells you to do whatever makes you happy. It’s the message that the narrator feels is worth dying to tell. The production has been called nihilistic, but perhaps Apoptosis is really about nipping destructive paths in the bud and living in the now.

Rebecca Spelman
Playwright and director Rebecca Spelman studied BA Drama & Theatre Performance Studies in NUIG before founding Calamity Theatre.

Apoptosis cast
The cast of Apoptosis at the Town Hall Theatre. All photo credits Piotr Łyszkiewicz.