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Passion for drama ensures that young theatre companies stay centre stage

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: {J}

Ever since Druid made history by becoming Ireland’s first successful professional theatre company to be based outside Dublin, there has been no shortage of groups in Galway trying to find the elusive recipe for success.

Between now and the end of March, there’s a host of young – mostly Galway – companies staging work in the city’s Town Hall 55-seater studio theatre. Late last year, some of these same groups took part in the second Galway Theatre Festival which was organised by Galway Arts Centre.

There’s no lack of enthusiasm among these companies, but the reality is that it’s tough to survive in a world where there’s precious little money and very little opportunity. Yet the companies keep on coming and some do survive, waiting for the day when they will get national recognition and reach broader audiences.

One of the recent arrivals is a group simply known as The Company, Productions which is staging Playing at Plays in the Town Hall Studio from January 18-23. This group came about over a year ago when its founders, Jack Kavanagh, Jack Kirwan and Pádraic Harley met at NUIG.

Before that Jack Kavanagh had worked with various theatre groups in Sligo, most notably Blue Raincoat, while Jack Kirwan was head of the writers’ society in college. Pádraic is currently societies’ chairperson at NUIG.

“We all love what we are doing and decided to try and make some money out of it,” explains playwright Jack Kirwan about the decision to invest their energy and money in this group. They have put on several one-act plays and Jack recently decided to write a drama based on their experiences.

Playing at Plays is directed by the other Jack and features a larger cast than would be normal for The Company.

“It’s a funny piece about the madness that happens when you put on a play, says the author, adding that it goes behind the scenes to include the writer, director, set designers and builders as well as actors. That’s why a large cast is required.

The Company isn’t about making money for its members – at least in the short term. “We put on a couple of shows and put the profits into the next show, making sure we have paid all our bills and that we never spend more than we have,” says Jack Kirwan.

The three of them work on other projects outside of The Company Productions – in film, TV and general production – and this extra-curricular work helps them to survive. They are currently setting up a limited company and they intend to be around for a long time yet.

Mephisto

Mephisto Theatre Company which was established in 2006, with its first production being Glengarry Glen Ross in Spring 2007, is showing that it is possible to build a reputation slowly and steadily.

Again, the members met in NUIG. Some were studying the Masters in Theatre programme and others were students in the MA in Writing degree.

All work elsewhere, with some of them teaching drama, or taking other acting roles, explains Emma O’Grady who is taking part in Mephisto’s forthcoming production, The World’s Wife, by British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. That’s being staged from February 22-27 in the Town Hall Studio and has a cast of three – Emma, Zita Monaghan and Caroline Lynch.

“When we get funding, we pay ourselves,” says Emma, but adds that the priority is to pay those people who work with them and who aren’t company members. Last year Mephisto received €2,400 from the City Council for a new work, Wrecked (staged at Galway Theatre Festival) and got a small amount from the Arts Council for Tom Murphy’s The Morning After Optimism, staged in August.

Nonetheless, being part of a company like this is a hand-to-mouth existence.

“It is difficult starting off and it takes a while to get established,” says Emma. “Nobody gets paid during rehearsals and the hope is that once a production goes on stage, it makes money.”

But the company has a strategy and with productions such as The World’s Wife and Wrecked, is trying to establish relationships with venues countrywide, and to earn a reputation outside Galway.

The World’s Wife is based on Carol Annd Duffy’s book, which tells of historic events from women’s perspectives. So Queen Kong tells her story and instead of the Kray twins, it’s the Kray sisters, explains Emma.

“We have done it in a strong ensemble way, with no director and that [approach] worked very well, with the three of us directing each other as actors.”

They performed it last year at Cúirt when Carol Ann Duffy was over for the festival and toured it to venues around the country, including to the new theatre in Temple Bar, where Metro awarded them a five-star review, and to the Electric Picnic. They will bring the show to the UK in May for the Brighton Fringe Festival.

“It’s a steady process getting recognition from the City Council and the Arts Council and now we are getting known in Dublin,” says Emma who feels that their approach is paying off.

However, there are a lot of young companies in Galway and it’s difficult to see how they can all survive.

“It’ll be the survival of the people who don’t give up, I suppose,” feels Emma. “There are other companies who are brilliant and doing great work and it’d be great to see them thrive, but I don’t know if that’s possible in a small place like Galway.”

Mephisto members co-operate with other com

panies and groups don’t tend to compete with each other when staging shows.

Enthusiasm doesn’t flag because “the work is good and we all have loads of ideas about what we want to do next. We are an ensemble but are also individuals and we have gazillions of ideas about what we want to do”.

Ultimately, Emma is pragmatic. “If it all falls apart, we’ll deal with that then.”

For more, read page 27 of this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Ruby ready to rock again and Bob is worth a big flutter in Gold Cup

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 06-Mar-2013

New edge to Galway hurling championship title pursuit

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A battle of talent and the ability to pull in public votes

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 11-Mar-2013

Here is a question. And there is no holiday or grand prize for getting the answer. But can anyone name the people who have won The Voice of Ireland and what has become of them?

Over across the water in the UK they have The X Factor and while I hate the concept of it, it has produced a few stars even though they don’t last long in the whole scheme of things.

But The Voice of Ireland seems to generate false excitement with the winner ending up become more anonymous than they already were. And it is costing families a fortune in the process.

While the programme is a ratings winner, strangely, it has resulted in those getting through to the final stages investing huge amounts of money in the hope that they will receive enough votes to get through to the next stages.

So, suddenly, it is not about the voice or the talent involved, it is all about votes and who the participants can convince to pledge their support for them. So it is obvious that talent goes out the window.

It means that someone with half a talent could realistically win the whole thing if they generated enough support behind them. From now on, the judges will be taken out of the equation and it will be left to the public to generate income for some phone operator.

Those who get through to the live performances have to engage in a massive publicity campaign in an effort to win votes which makes this whole effort a pure sham. It is no longer about their ability and just an effort to win appeal.

While the initial process does involve some vetting of the acts, now it becomes a general election type exercise in which the most popular will win the competition and the judges will have no say whatsoever.

It is a bit like the recent Eurosong in which the judging panel across the country voted for their favourite song, which incidentally was the best of a very bad lot, but then this was overturned by the public who chose a relatively crap song to represent us.

But again, this was all down to convincing the public about who to vote for rather than having any bearing on the quality on offer. There are times that genuine talent becomes overlooked because of the need to extract money from the voting public.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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