Exploring equality in Ireland, past, present, and future
Flaming Inspirations used Bertolt Brecht’s adaptation of Antigone as a catalyst to explore equality in Ireland’s past, present and future. This original multi-disciplinary performance incorporated theatre, spoken word, movement and film to explore feminism and gender equality and raised questions of how far we have gone and how far we will go for what we believe in. A collage of encounters took place with a focus on issues facing Irish women both past and present. Through abstract movement, original scenes and poetry, the ensemble created characters ranging from the female hunger strikers of Armagh prison to women fighting for bodily autonomy in Ireland today. The piece aimed to open a discussion for the audience on where we are today in relation to equality, and what are we doing to challenge this position. The performance was followed by an engaging post-show discussion with members of Smashing Times Youth Arts Ensemble and guest professional artists.
Smashing Times Youth Arts Ensemble is made up of 15 young artists aged 18 to 23 who devised and created the piece. The performance was directed by Róisín McAtamney, and premiered at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin on 27 October 2017 as part of the international project Women in an Equal Europe. The show also featured in the Women in an Equal Europe International Creative Arts Symposium earlier the same day. The performance is supported by The Arts Council Young Ensemble Scheme.
The performance was presented as part of Women in an Equal Europe, a transnational project involving four European partners from Ireland, Spain, Croatia and Serbia co-funded by the Europe for Citizens programme of the European Union. The project uses a feminist framework and creative processes of theatre, film and online digital resources to explore and reflect on the experiences of women living in Europe and the power of EU policy to promote gender equality, human rights and diversity, highlighting positive changes that have come about in relation to gender equality as a result of belonging to the European Union. The four European partners are:
- Smashing Times Theatre and Film Company, Ireland, smashingtimes.ie (lead partner)
- Iniciativas de Futuro Para Una Europa Social, Valencia, Spain,
- Mirovna grupa mladih Dunav, Youth Peace Group ‘Danube’ (YPGD), Yukovar, Croatia, ypgd.org
- DAH Theatre Research Centre, Belgrade, Serbia, dahteatarcentar.com
Director: Róisín Mc Atamney
Producers: Mary Moynihan and Freda Manweiler
Assistant Director: Jordan Begley
Stage Manager: Eva Walsh
Assistant Stage Manager: Ruth Dempsey
Videographer: Ebhan Loughlin
Composer: Ken Tuohy and Ellen O’Malley
Image And Concept Design: Louise Brady
Camera: Jon Barton
Lighting Designer: Sheila Murphy
Guest Mentor Artists
Mary Moynihan, Theatre and Film Maker, Artistic Director, Smashing Times Theatre and Film Company
Chrissie Poulter, Head of Drama, School of Drama, Film and Music, Trinity College Dublin
Dr Eric Weitz, Associate Professor of Drama, School of Drama, Film and Music, Trinity College Dublin
Peter Sheridan, Writer, Actor, Director
Dagmara Jerzak, Choreographer, Contemporary Dance Artist
Smashing Times Youth Arts Ensemble Blogs
The Importance of Theatre in Promoting Equality in Today’s Society
By Megan O’Malley
Member of Smashing Times Youth Arts Ensemble
What role does theatre have in promoting equality in Ireland today? In my opinion it holds a great deal of importance. Maybe this is because I’m an Actor and have idealist notions of changing the world through my craft; or maybe it’s because storytelling is ingrained in us as a powerful tool of communication.
On my first day of actor training I was asked ‘is theatre to affect change or entertain?’ Now, already having these notions about changing the world I immediately thought, affect change! But it then dawned on me that at 18 years old the sole purpose of any of my theatre trips to date (outside of mandatory school trips) was for entertainment. So here I sat, baffled on my first day; how can theatre change the world if I’m only going to be entertained? I quickly copped on and realised good theatre was doing both, so well in fact it was making me question the world I lived in and had me thinking it was my idea to do so.
In a country where ‘sure, it’ll be grand’ is our motto, theatre is, in my opinion, the best and most effective way of highlighting important issues. Why, I hear you ask? Firstly, because the majority of the audience have spent their hard-earned money on the tickets, there’s a good chance they want to be there, so they will be open to investing in the story. Secondly there is an immediate and intimate connection between the audience and the performers that is unlike any other art form. It is this connection, along with the actor’s ability to play the truth of their character, that forms bonds between us and allows us to empathise with, understand or even hate the characters on stage. Once we begin to form these options you have us, we’re invested.
To further explain how this is an effective communicative tool I’m going to talk about the current production I’m involved in: Flaming Inspirations by Smashing Times Youth Arts Ensemble.
We have devised a show highlighting gender equality with the question ‘how far would you go for what you believe?’ To do this we used Brecht’s Antigone as our foundation. Antigone was willing to face death in order to give her brother a ‘proper’ burial. Her life was not as valuable to her as her morals and this is how we got our question. We then looked to Irelands past, present and future, to form our stories for this production. We remain mindful not to commend or condemn the actions of our characters, thus allowing the audience to form their own options. We aim to create a discussion about the lengths people have gone to for what they believe are their rights, and the lengths people are going to now, and how they compare.
Theatre is a reflection of society. Without directly asking the audience, the action of a play can have you wonder ‘what would I do if that were me?’ It is through this questioning of ourselves and our world that we may seek to change it. Looking at a question raised in Antigone: if a member of your family died and you were told you could not bury them would you accept that or would you fight it? Let’s take a real life Irish example: say you are Catholic and an infant was born in your family but died before they was baptised. You go to plan the funeral and are told you cannot bury them in the local graveyard because it is consecrated ground. This is a reality many Catholic Irish families have had to face.
If I’m walking along the street and someone stops me to tell me about the tragedies taking place in the world and for the price of a cup of coffee I can help change this – I’m a) not listening because I’m trying to come up with an excuse to leave and b) convinced this person and everyone else in the company is just getting paid with the money I give them.
If I sit down to eat my dinner and a Trócaire ad comes on – I’m going to switch it off because I want to eat my dinner without feeling guilty or having to acknowledge how privileged I actually am. And for the most part if a homeless person asks me for money, I like countless others before me, will give an apologetic smile and walk on.
In writing down these truths, I could beat myself up over appearing so heartless, or I can accept that these are actually socially acceptable responses in these situations and go about living life in my blissful ignorance. These are socially acceptable responses because someone is asking for my time, money, or even personal space, and I am choosing not to give it to them. This is where the magic of theatre comes back in. As I’ve said we’ve paid to be there, we’ve set an evening aside to go. By doing this we are asking to be engaged, we are choosing to listen, we want to be invested in the story you’re going to share. So if this story is about the marginalised, about bodily autonomy, war, starvation, homelessness, we are going to be more open to hearing it. We may even get to that place where we wonder ‘if that were me’, making us more likely to empathise and wish it weren’t a reality for anyone. We might even be inspired to fight for equality for others – but if we don’t know of the inequalities that others face, or we’re closed off from hearing them, we will remain ignorant.
In conclusion, theatre is an effective and important tool for promoting equality in today’s society because it is one of the only places we actively choose to listen to someone else’s story.
Megan O’Malley is currently a ‘Masters in Theatre Practice’ student in University College Dublin. Previous to this she graduated from the Gaiety School of Acting’s two-year full time course in 2015. While training she took on many roles, including: Runt in Disco Pigs, Ophelia in Hamlet, Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, and Mags in The Spinning Heart. Megan also played Melissa in The Full Moon Hotel by Philip Doherty. Since graduating she has played Queen Elizabeth in ‘Gráinne’, and has worked on several short films including ‘Rising’, ‘The Nest’, ‘Lilith’ etc . She also stared in Kerry Gold’s latest TV commercial and We Cut Corners music video ‘Of whatever’ by Stoneface Films. Megan was awarded the Gaiety Theatre Bursary, 2014. More recently recently Megan won the F.A.B. bursary award for Best Actress 16-21. Megan is also a passionate writer and was the first in the school’s history to premier her own work ‘MJ’ for the GSA graduation industry showcase. She also worked alongside Paul Meade for her Manifesto piece ‘The Mourning Seat’. From there Megan worked with Paul Meade over 2016 in developing her idea for ‘Home’, and was thrilled to present it as part of Smock Alley’s Scene and Heard festival for new work in 2017. Megan has since expanded ‘Home’ to a full length production and it will be premiering in The New Theatre in 2018.
Smashing Times Youth Arts Ensemble Blog
By Ruth Dempsey
Member of Smashing Times Youth Arts Ensemble
23rd August 2017
The Smashing Times workshop in preparation for the Women in an Equal Europe Arts Symposium started off in the way only theatre projects can: with stretching out on the floor and harmonising a song. Once we were finished warming up, Chrissie Poulter (Head of Drama, School of Drama, Film and Music, TCD) led us in exercises that required us to focus and to familiarise ourselves with being watched by an audience. One of these exercises was called ‘Spot the Difference’, which required us to split into pairs and take turns creating a picture and making slight changes which need to be figured out by the partner. We also performed several improvisations and linked them to the Greek play Antigone which will be used as a guide and inspiration for this project. These were simple and fun ways to visualise what we had read – even someone with little acting experience like me could easily join in (the longest I was ever in the spotlight was when I played a mannequin in Primary School). Personally, the exercise I enjoyed the most was when we were given the description of an object that is important to someone else and we had to create our own stories based around it. This allowed us to learn interesting and personal stories about each other instead of the usual ‘interesting facts’ you are asked to share to break the ice, such as your favourite animal or food. Discussing these objects allowed us to truly get to know each other and form connections. The storytelling side of it was also enjoyable as we got to explore the possibilities of how an object could be important to someone. My partner and I told the story of her object to the group by taking turns adding a sentence which meant that we had to listen to each other and build on the last thing the other person said to create an improvised collaborative story. By the end of it the atmosphere was considerably more relaxed and comfortable as everyone had a chance to work together. At a glance, you would not think we were a group of strangers who had only met hours before. We concluded the workshop with an open group discussion on the pivotal moments of Antigone and how the issues portrayed could relate to the issues faced in Ireland today. Everyone was given the opportunity to speak and we used the topics mentioned to already begin developing ideas that could potentially be included in the final production.
24th August 2017
The second workshop we took part in focused on writing scripts which was led by Peter Sheridan (writer, actor and director). We spent the first half of the day discussing what the world was like at the time Antigone was written and how aspects of this Greek play could apply to the modern world. We also delved deeper into the lives and personalities of the characters by asking questions such as did Antigone prefer one sibling over the others as she was willing to die in her fight to give Polyneicês a proper burial. Even though the conversation split off into several tangents (including a break to listen to the classic song The End by Jim Morrison), it was interesting to develop the characters outside the scenes that are provided. This led to each person being given characters to explore and an hour to come up with a short script based on them. The time constraint made it difficult as we had little time to develop our ideas but this exercise actually inspired several key components which will be incorporated into the final collaboration. For example, one pair wrote a short piece between Antigone and her sister Ismene where everything they said rhymed. Thanks to this creative twist in their script it was decided to include spoken word and poetry in the final performance in the form of a chorus, which was often a feature in Greek plays, and multiple writers will be able to give input to it. Another script that will help shape the final show was a comedic argument between Antigone and Polyneicês after he lives every brother’s worst nightmare of accidentally walking in on his little sister and her boyfriend during an intimate moment. We took time to discuss each script that was produced and openly gave feedback as he deliberated what aspects to keep and what should be left aside for the moment. As a writer I enjoyed the workshop and getting the insight of a distinguished writer was a great benefit to the group and our collaborative writing.
26th of September
During this rehearsal we tried out several movement and spoken word pieces to see how they might work on stage or fit into the performance. We tested at different emotions, tempos and actions to find the best way to convey the topics each piece focused on. The topics we covered spanned from past events such as the Armagh hunger strikes to the importance of consent. The piece that I felt was the most powerful involved one person standing in the middle of the circle with their eyes closed. Everyone else then proceeded to touch different parts of their body causing them to flinch and back away. After a few minutes we all took a step back but the person was still expecting to be touched again and they jumped at every noise until the only sound we could hear in the room was their panicked breathing. This piece was about consent and how the aftermath still has an echoing effect on the victim (as they continue to be afraid and untrusting of others after the initial abuse). The acting on the part of the victim was very powerful as we only lightly touched them but they reacted as if they were in great pain and the sound of their panicked breathing resonated with everyone in the room. The topic of consent is a major issue in todays’ society as many victims are afraid to speak up about the topic due to a common mindset which leads to blaming the victim or even ridicule; especially male victims of female abuse. Young girls are raised to fear men and to take extra measures to protect themselves (or to ultimately ensure that another, more careless girl gets targeted). Meanwhile young men are raised to believe that they are entitled to take every opportunity that presents itself to them. This mindset is ingrained at a very young age and pieces like this are so important for spreading awareness. Theatre has always been a platform to inform the public about social issues and show different sides of these issues. When we were rehearsing this piece, we tried it with a female victim and then with a male victim, but I feel the male victim helped highlight what the piece is trying to represent as it was a grown man cowering from the touch of others which stresses how this can happen to anyone, and that no matter who it is having your body touched without consent, it is a violation that has lasting effects. I felt strong sympathy for the victims in this piece as I could understand their feelings and put myself in their place. As a woman in modern day society I have been put under pressure in relationships and have grown accustom to strangers touching me without consent when I go out for drinks with friends. I hope this piece will help teach the importance of consent and possibly discourage this kind of behaviour in the future by spreading awareness.
Ruth Dempsey is a 20-year-old student from Walkinstown who is studying English and Sociology in UCD. She is a writer and has had several short plays performed in the Civic Theatre as a part of the Aois Nua theatre group. Her monologues ‘A Letter to Her Ex’ and ‘One More Minute’ have also been recorded for the Big Picture TV website.
Other Smashing Times Youth Arts Ensemble Biographies
Saoirse Planella is graduating this year with a 1st Class Bachelors Honours Degree in Drama (Performance) from the D.I.T. Conservatory of Music and Drama. She has also done the one week training I A Clown in The Lir Academy facilitated by Raymond Keane. She is currently training in combat – Unarmed and Rapier and Dagger. Saoirse has performed in The Rover as a thief, a masquerader and as a soldier; in a Midsummer Night’s Dream as Titania; in Conservatory of Clown as Saoirse Clown; in a Terrible Beauty as Nora; in Antigone as Antigone.
Robert Downes is graduate of DIT’s Conservatory of Music and Drama, with a First Class Honours degree in Drama Performance BA. He is an actor, writer, director and drama teacher. He is also a founding member and assistant artist director of SQUAD Productions. A company that has mounted several original productions and published work. Robert’s work with SQUAD includes ‘Removed’ the companies début production, which he wrote and directed, ‘Gulp’, which he directed, ‘HashtagRelationship Goalz’ which he produced, ‘Ranting and Raving’ which he is a core writer and performer in. Most recently Robert performed in Devious Theatre Company ‘s Little Deviations Festival with his and Aoibhinn Murphy’s new play Welcome To Ireland a farce about young artists living in squalor in modern Ireland.
Killian Filan trained at D.I.T Conservatory of Music and Drama, recently graduating from the BA degree in Drama Performance, receiving first class honours. He played the part of Willmore in his graduating production of The Rover by Aphra Behn which took place in the Samuel Beckett Theatre in Dublin. Earlier in the year Killian played the part of German Music composer Robert Schumann in the The Schumann Letters, directed by Peter Mc Dermott and also performed in The Conservatory of Clown directed by Raymond Keane. In 2016 Killian was selected to train at Columbia College Chicago theatre department as part of a scholarship programme. While in the US, Killian performed in several productions including plays and short films as well as an Improv Comedy show at the world famous comedy Club, The Second City. Since graduating from drama school, Killian has worked on several projects including new Irish feature film ‘Dub Daze’ and short film ‘The Long Wet Grass’. Killian is currently in rehearsals for the ‘Crisis, Trauma, Hope’ festival in Bielefeld Germany which includes a collaboration between Smashing Times Theatre and Film Company and German company, Theatre Labor.
Jordan Begley is a Dublin-based actor and writer, hailing from the Midlands. He started acting at the age of 11 and went on to study Theatre Performance at Marino College. He was then accepted into the first class of the Foundation in Acting diploma at the prestigious National Academy of Dramatic Arts, The Lir Academy.
Since graduating in 2015, Jordan has been involved in a multitude of exciting projects. He has three nationwide tours under his belt with Talisman Theatre Company, as well as a multitude of performances in Dublin. Most recently, he featured in ”The Events” as part of The Lir’s Grad Fest and Hounds hotel as part of the Galway Fringe where he was commended for his portrayal of Herman the bell boy.
Conor Ryan (18) is a secondary school student currently attending Belvedere College. He is a member of Complex Youth Theatre and Young Irish Filmmakers. His most recent work includes the short films ‘Grow a Pair’ and ‘Beggar’s Banquet’.
Féilim James is an award-winning writer from Dublin, Ireland. His poetry and prose through both English and Irish have earned a number of awards and publications. His work has been published in A New Ulster, Icarus, Tales from the Forest, Rant + Rave, Trinity Journal of Literary Translation, Comhar, Feasta, Comhar Óg, Tuathal, and An Scríbhneoir Óg. His work through Irish (under the name Féilim Ó Brádaigh) has won seven Oireachtas literary awards from 2011-2016, including one for a collection of poems. Additionally, he has twice been selected for Fóras na Gaeilge’s Tutor Scheme, through which he developed his poetry and prose with the award-winning children’s writer and poet Áine Ní Ghlinn. Féilim is a graduate of English Literature and Psychology in Trinity College, Dublin, where the short stories he produced for a Creative Writing module were awarded a high first-class honours mark by novelist Deirdre Madden. Féilim read his poem ‘Pandemic’ for Smashing Times’ Youth Ensemble’s multi-disciplinary performance, Flaming Inspirations, at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity, in October 2017. He is close to completing his debut novel, Adam. His website can be viewed here: http://feilimwrites.com/