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Surreal take on rural life from Little John Nee at Town Hall

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Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Sparkplug Callaghan, vintage mechanic and blues man, comes to the Town Hall Theatre next week, courtesy of the one-man powerhouse that is writer, actor and musician Little John Nee.

Sparkplug is a surreal comedy featuring original blues music, which Little John was commissioned to write by the Earragail Arts Festival in 2012. The central character, Sparkplug Callaghan who lives in Tullyglen in rural Donegal, also appeared in Little John’s previous show, The Mother’s Arms.

Sparkplug, which was a highlight of last year’s Dublin Fringe Festival and won an Irish Times Theatre award in February, was in gestation for a while, Little John explains. He’s had two radio plays on RTÉ based on the same character – Sparkplug and Wee Black Bees.

Sparkplug lives in his dead uncle’s disused barn and has got a bad dose of the blues. Everyday there’s another funeral, Joe Duffy is on the radio and the banks are putting people on the side of the road. But across the meadow he sees a vision of a better life. He falls for a bohemian Belfast artist, living in her late father’s dry-docked boat, but discovers he has a rival in the form of an ex-cop.

Little John, who has a great ability to write surreal comedy, loves the notion of exploring a contemporary rural life that’s every bit as culturally rich as city life, but, at the same time, is in touch with the rural landscape, “where the past meets the present”.

He loves developing ways of telling stories, using contemporary narrative techniques and looped music alongside the tradition of the seanchaí or storyteller. 

Because Sparkplug is a blues man who is into vintage cars and machines, he marries the past and present perfectly.

“For years I’ve been doing shows and got to wondering what would have happened if I’d stayed on the one theme and focused on developing one character?” Little John says of this show. “That way you can really spend a lot of time developing their world.”

Tullyglen is a place with many eclectic characters and John describes the show as “a rural blues comedy, because there are lots of comedy elements in it. But the music might be more melodic than in others of my work”.

Little John has composed and performs all the music and songs on an eclectic array of instruments from cigar box guitar to harmonium.

He also designed the show’s unusual set. Niall Cranny, of Earragail Arts Centre who previously worked with Druid, lit Sparkplug. Otherwise Little John did everything.

“It was a really low-budget sort of job and a challenge getting it to every stage it got to.”

It got excellent reviews from The Irish Times and Irish Theatre Magazine when it played at the 2012 Dublin’s Fringe Festival and was the subject of an article in The Irish Times by writer Michael Harding, who compared the piece to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magic realism style of writing.

Then Sparkplug was nominated in the Irish Times Theatre awards for Best Sound Design – and it won.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune

CITY TRIBUNE

‘World in a Window’ – a unique perspective of lockdown life

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Helium Artist Chelsea Canavan, Galway-based artist and parent Yvonne Cullivan and her son at the launch of Helium Arts’ ‘Our World in a Window’ exhibition at Galway City Library. PHOTO: ANITA MURPHY.

A new exhibition, Our World in a Window, which is currently running in Galway City, focuses on the experiences of children who have been living with long-term health conditions during lockdown

Facilitated by Helium Arts, the national children’s arts and health charity, the exhibition features animations and mechanised artwork produced by young people from across Ireland who took part in Helium’s remote programme ‘Distance Creates’.

Our World in a Window can be seen until August 4 at Galway City Library before it goes on tour to Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick and Longford.

Since last February, children aged 9-12 who are living with long-term health conditions have been exploring the world of animation, guided by Helium artist, Chelsea Canavan. From tinfoil and claymation characters to foam sculptures and hand-drawn illustrations, these young creators have brought their stories to life in unique and imaginative ways.

The origins of Our World in a Window date back to the beginning of Covid. That was when Helium Arts began adapting its usual in-person programmes, moving to digital and postal formats to allow vulnerable young people to be creative from the safety of their homes. The goal was to offer respite during a time of social distancing and to support the youngsters’ mental health, which is part of Helium’s brief.

In non-Covid times, Helium Arts supports sick children via arts-based projects in hospital, community and public settings. More than 5,000 children and their families have availed of its service since 2010.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

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Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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CITY TRIBUNE

126 Gallery fundraising for new studio spaces

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126 Gallery and Studios, based in St Bridget’s Place in Galway City

The artist-run 126 Gallery and Studios, based in St Bridget’s Place in Galway City, has established a satellite studio space on nearby Saint Francis Street, in response to members’ need for working spaces that are affordable, secure and easy to access. The new Barton Studios will host four studio spaces and the artists using them will have access to 126’s main facilities.

Submissions for Barton Studios and any further spaces are open to current members of 126, in recognition of those artists and creatives who have supported the members-run gallery over the past 16 years.

The group is currently raising money to fit out the studios and because normal methods such as table-quizzes and its ‘drink and draw’ nights are out of bounds, the 126 steering committee has turned to GoFundMe to try and raise €2,000, which is what they estimate it will cost.

If any extra money is raised, it will be used to subsidise the rest of costs for the studios to artists for the remainder of 2021. Some €1,800 would be needed to lower the rent to €50 per week for each artist. A breakdown of all costs will be posted on 126gallery.com and made available to donors.

Initially, the studios will have a communal computer, a private workspace with wi-fi, and access to all resources at 126’s main facility, just six minutes’ walk away. Active studio members will have free 126 membership.  The mission of 126 is to support its members to work and to access opportunities, supports, and spaces. With that in mind, the gallery team is available for one-to-one conversations to facilitate group engagement between both facilities, or with other organisations in Galway.

To contribute, go to www.gofundme.com/f/barton-studios-2021. For more information on how to get involved, email contactg126@gmail.com.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Film Fleadh enjoys its day in the sun

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Dónal Ó Héalaí and Fionnuala Flaherty in Foscadh with writer and director Seán Breathnach in the background. The film won Best Irish First Feature at the Fleadh.

The winner of Best Irish Film at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh, which closed on Sunday night, was Here Before, a psychological thriller set in Northern Ireland. The feature debut of Belfast television writer and filmmaker Stacey Gregg, it stars Andrea Riseborough as a bereaved mother whose new neighbours stir up uncomfortable feelings of grief.

The award for Best Irish First Feature went to Foscadh, an Irish language drama set in the mountains of North Conamara, based on characters from Donal Ryan’s novel, The Thing About December. This delayed coming-of-age story about a bereaved young man, an only child, who inherits the family farm was written and directed by Seán Breathnach and stars Dónall Ó Héalai.

Pure Grit, directed by Kim Bartley, won best Irish documentary. It explores the male-dominated world of Native American bareback horse racing and the impact of a young woman, Sharmaine, who is determined to break the mould.

Galway Film Fleadh is an Oscar-Qualifying Festival in three categories: Best Fiction Short, Best Short Documentary and Best Animation Short.

The Tiernan McBride Award for Best Fiction Short went to Saul & I, written and directed by Jon Beer.

The Best Short Documentary Award was won by Nothing to Declare, directed by Garrett Daly.

The James Horgan Award for Best Animation Short was won by Memento Mori, directed by Paul O’Flanagan, written by Paul O’Flanagan and Laura O’Flanagan.

The Fleadh’s Pitching Award for 2021 went to Athenry man Giles Brody for his teen caper, Top Marks.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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