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.

“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.

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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.

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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.

“Jungle Door” Preview: Interview with Rena Bryson

“A visual delight Jungle Door invites its audience to indulge in the joyous, disheartening and hopeful moments over a year shared by Michelle and Louise. Their problematic relationship as friendly ex-lovers is challenged by marriage, jealousy and the housing crisis. Smiling through the Botox, Michelle plans her perfect day unaware her bridesmaid is hiding a dark and dangerous secret.”

On the 29th of April 2018, Eva’s Echo Theatre Company is celebrating one year in business with the final rehearsal of their play “Jungle Door”. Rena Bryson has taken up the pen in order to write their contribution to the “Where We Are Festival” hosted by The Rabbit’s Riot Theatre Company in the north-west. She stars alongside her co-founder Hazel Doolan in a piece that will take them back to their home stage, the Sligo IT Black Box, on the 3rd, 4th (8pm) and 5th (2pm) of May. It’s directed by Elizabeth Flaherty and set designed by Sabrina Kelleher, with beautifully photographed projections and promotional shots by Piotr Lyszkiewicz.

On the 28th of April, I caught her for an interview on what we might expect and what they hope to achieve with “Jungle Door.”

“Jungle Door is a really fun piece in that it moves between the natural and into more abstract; a lot of use of digital media. I feel that it really reflects modernised Ireland and the focus is the relationship between the two characters, Louise and Michelle. It’s a very digital media based show in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of projections and seeing that live contact between the live body on stage and the digital representation. We’re kind of playing with how people represent themselves on social media through that.”

It’s been described as a “visual delight” brought into being by their director and new set designer. It also has some previously shot projections and elements of modern folksong. It can be seen as a comment on modern culture which is very much what Eva’s Echo tries to do in its ethos.

“Jungle Door looks at the housing crises and how this can have such an effect on people, especially younger people who are moving from rural communities and the jobs just seem to be in urban settings for them and the prices of the houses are just so ridiculous and just what can happen to people through that and dangerous situations that young people and especially young women can get themselves into. And it also looks on the expectations of our kind of generation, just societal pressures. So, one of the characters is getting married and she wants to live alone with her partner in the house even though they can’t afford it because it seems like that’s where they’re supposed to be at that stage of their lives.

“It also looks at beauty standards towards women. Michelle, especially as it’s come up to her wedding date becomes more and more obsessed with her looks and is eventually drawn towards plastic surgery to try and create this bridal look of this ridiculous idea that you’re going to look the most beautiful you’ve ever looked on this one particular day and that nothing should go wrong to affect that.”

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As regards the connection between the two main characters, she says

“Michelle and Louise are ex-lovers and Louise is definitely still inclined towards Michelle and it comes very much from a focus on what life was like when they were together and really wanting to hang on to that phase of life and to their memories and to their relationship and to the way that is was and not the way that it is anymore. But underneath all that, what ties them together is the friendship that was present in their relationship and it really holds them together and helps them support each other in the struggles that they face in modern Ireland.”

She feels happy with the progress they’ve made as a company over the last year and with “Jungle Door.”

” I feel that in the last year that we have achieved putting modern Ireland on a stage. We want to … bring in more younger people to the theatre. It’s not kitchen sink dramas all the time, it’s something that a modern generation can see themselves in, empathise with and a discussion of the issues that are affecting them.

“It’s been a great experience putting this play together and I’m just absolutely, ridiculously grateful to have worked with such an amazing team. It really is a very strong team and it’s the first time because we’re such a young company that we’re working with all the people that we’ve worked with before and its so great to see all those people back and in the same room together working towards the same goal. It’s been a really lovely experience. I’m excited for people to see the show.”

The “Jungle Door” team from left to right: Hazel Doolan, Elizabeth Flaherty, Sabrina Kelleher and Rena Bryson. Photos courtesy of Piotr Lyszkiewicz

For more information and tickets, be sure to check out the “Jungle Door” Facebook event page https://bit.ly/2KlWPiD as well as follow Eva’s Echo Theatre Company on social media.

Interview with Rena Bryson: “The Way It Is”

It’s been pleasure getting to know the projects of the Eva’s Echo Theatre Company. They’re part of the new, upcoming theatre scene in Galway, having won “Best Emerging Artist” at the Galway Fringe Festival with their debut production. This month, on the the 22nd February at the O’Donohue Theatre during NUIG’s Theatre Week, their newest drama, “The Way It Is” is expected to make audiences think about the complexities of human nature, relationships, male victims of domestic violence and the dilemma of women’s life choices today.

Among the budding talent to be found at this year’s NUIG Theatre Week will be an incisive one-hour play, aptly entitled The Way It Is, written by American playwright Donna Hoke, adapted for a Galway setting and staged through Eva’s Echo Theatre Company. It promises to deliver a complex, many-layered exploration of the problems in a couple’s relationship that can come to light after a break-up. It will be held on the 22nd February 2018 at 8.00 pm in the O’Donoghue Theatre, University Road. Tickets are €8 at concession or €10 general admission and can be purchased at the SocsBox and on their website http://bit.ly/2BLj00D

In an interview on the 1st February 2018, director and co-founder of Eva’s Echo Theatre Company, Rena Bryson said that out of nearly 100 submissions, The Way It Is stood out as quite a meaty script with many twists and turns, chosen for its compelling emotional drama which fits in with the overall themes the company tries to address. They aim to “express the modern soul of Ireland,” voicing the challenges present in modern Irish culture today. They also strive to help other emerging artists through involvement in their shows and by always crediting and paying everyone committedly.

“The play focuses on the relationship between two characters, Yasmine and Cane, and they’ve been together for eight years, they’ve been engaged for four and Cane leaves Yasmine and then has to go back to the house they both shared together to collect the rest of his things. The drama kind of ensues from there and in real time we get to explore the issues that were in relationship and really kind of look at issues through that, like the pressure on women to, you know, have the career and the ring and everything by thirty and that there’s that kind of ticking clock thing. We get to look a lot at domestic abuse towards men, verbal and physical and sexual abuse towards men.

“What I’ve been kind of looking at through the lens of is a lot of media, especially sitcoms and television, and the stereotype of the nagging girlfriend or the nagging wife and where that can go from a stereotype, a fun comedy character into something that people think is okay to do because it’s a woman doing it.

“I do feel that those issues do speak to that age group, like, student age group and that people of this generation are looking at those kind of things that were never looked at before. We’ve been in contact with Amen and with the Galway Rape Crises Centre so we’ll have information and support numbers there on the night in case anyone’s affected by anything they’ve seen in the play.”

The male lead Cane will be played by Michael Reed, a professional actor for 13 years and the voice behind Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon and Speed Racer in Croatia. He’s written a few things too and is expected to appear in the new Irish film Black 47 and Red Rock.

It will also star the company’s second founder, Hazel Doolan as Yasmine. She is very much influenced by the works of Shakespearean drama in her acting. She featured in The Big Wall with Bob Kelly and Pygmalion. She and Rena Bryson graduated from IT Sligo where they studied Performing Arts before coming to Galway and setting up Eva’s Echo. The upcoming production company is best known for their debut Match, a romantic comedy that earned them Galway Fringe Festival’s ‘Best Emerging Artist’ award in 2017.

Rena is now a student in NUIG and started the MA programme in Drama & Theatre last September where she learns theatre directing. She has nothing but praise for the quality of drama coming out of NUIG. In particular she’s looking forward to the Jerome Hayes one act plays as well as “Dead Set” by Cathal Ryan during Theatre Week.