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.

“Once”

Is it the archetype busking film that springboarded all other Irish busking films? Above all, based on a true story, its vignette on human life and living of a certain socio-economic status is so realistic that it’s easy to nitpick on imagined faults.

Written by John Carney and starring the writers of the featured music, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, this is a poignant and lifelike music film of struggling yet hopeful artists living in the Dublin cityscape. For those of you who know his work, John Carney does low-budget, independent films of this kind and one of his most well-known productions made it into the big screen in 2013 with Kiera Knightley, Adam Levine and Mark Ruffalo. “Begin Again” featured the song “Lost Stars.”

When the leading man meets the leading lady while busking with a guitar on the street, she decidedly makes the first move. Irglová gives a charming performance as a persistent, poised and mature Czech woman. Although not an actor himself, Hansard plays off her well as a down-to-earth Irish guy trying to make living and still follow his passion. She is insicive about his past love life which he writes about in his song and invites him to lunch after happily insisting he fix her broken vacuum cleaner.

What that would mean in 2006 I don’t know, but they develop a bond over music, as they are both singer-songwriters. He asks her to spend the night and she refuses, with a “fuck this.” He’s a lonely guy and she’s a gorgeous girl; the next day he promises her it won’t happen again and they can be friends, but what she doesn’t tell him until later in the film is that she’s in a namesake marriage with the father of her child.

The film undoubtedly gets most of its traction from its performance scenes but also its very human interactions. The most famous one is the scene in the piano shop where she goes often to play and where they perform “Falling Slowly.” Whereas that is the swell of initial attraction, the surreptitious backstage ballad or her moving rehearsal of lyrics to his music give insight into the characters backstory as their relationship blossoms. The actual busking, recording and listening back of the album they work on stages the kind of access hard to find without actually being on-the-ground in music production and performance. The comic opening sequence in which a man tries to rob the hero’s busking earnings and gets chased down the street almost steals the show.  The scenario where he sneaks his dad’s bike away to take her on a ride is touching, his earnest and her playful back-and-forth are relatable. It also paints a fair representation picture of foreigners living in Ireland.

It’s hard to come to a verdict on the two young people’s relationship. We never find out the meaning of the Croatian answer she gives him as to whether she loves her husband. His ex, who he writes songs for, who he’s going to revisit and who later stands him up, isn’t mentioned when they see each other. When he asks, for what seems like the twentieth time, whether she’ll come over to his apartment and spend time alone with him, she merely comments that it will end in hanky panky and “would be interesting.” She gives nothing away, yet we have to ask, if she feels she has responsibility to her child why does she let him get close to her in the first place? In the end, it’s an understandable and affecting closing, a almost-love story of a tangential connection that ends in ‘once, I knew this girl…’