More than just lying in public: 4 things I’ve learned about theatre

This week on everyone’s favourite Youth Theatre blog we have Andy McLoughlin telling us what exactly he makes of the mad world of theatre!

Theatre is one of those cultures like hip-hop or orgies that you don’t really know about until you’re actively involved. Generally, people have some images and ideas in their mind of what it and the people who are part of it are like, but you can’t be sure until you make that leap and find out for yourself. With theatre it can be easy to make generalisations based on a small, but no less real minority (as with hip-hop). It can also be a daunting task to look too closely and find out what the experience is really like (as with orgies). So in this blog post I’m going to do my best to clear the mist and correct some misconceptions. To sort the Lil Waynes from the Tupacs and the bath houses from the key parties.

4. It’s hella cheap to make
A low budget movie these days costs more to make than most people will earn in 10 lifetimes. You know Carnage? That film set in one room with four actors? $25,000,000. Avatar cost at least $232,000,000: almost twice Ireland’s entire arts budget for 2014. The movie Reservoir Dogs was a directorial debut featuring mostly unknown actors, with a run time of under 100 minutes and it cost $1,500,000. I recently starred in a production put on by my friends that cost around 500 euro.

So why is theatre so inexpensive? Well there are a lot of reasons. First of all, there are a whole lot of expenses you just don’t have to worry about with theatre. From shooting on location, to marketing, to providing your movie stars with a plentiful supply of cocaine. With theatre you can ask so much more of the audience in terms of expectations. The One Man Star Wars show is exactly what it sounds like: a guy in black clothes with no props jumping about a stage and enacting the entire Star Wars Trilogy in an hour. If you tried to do that with film, people would ask for their money back.
What’s more, the low budget nature of theatre gives you way more room to be creative and innovative than most of what’s happening in the movie industry right now. It costs $6,000,000 in prints to distribute a movie to 3,000 screens (there are 37,000 in America alone), so big time executives aren’t likely to invest if they don’t think it’ll sell. In 2014, that usually means the movie poster has to contain the words, “Adam Sandler is back. And this time Batman’s also involved.” With theatre, funding usually comes from the government, who apparently aren’t as concerned with earning money. In fact, and don’t quote me on this, I think you could go your entire life and not see a single play featuring either Batman or Adam Sandler.

Finally, this creative freedom is what allows you to skimp on the budget. You don’t have to show a ship travailing an entire ocean, rendered in such gloriously expensive high definition that it puts special effects studios out of business (1). Instead, you just make a bunch of extras stand next to each other in a sort of V-shape and Bam! You’ve got the bow of a ship. Everything can be made more abstract on stage to meet practical purposes, which can make it easy to forget that…

3. Theatre people aren’t pretentious (at least the good ones anyway.)
There are a lot of great people who work on the shows we see in theatres. Many of them are funny, or talented, or passionate, and at least one of them can make you a damn fine puppet out of sponge. What almost none of them are is cool.
To be cool is to be above the situation. To seem effortless, usually at the cost of putting any actual effort in. I have no patience for this kind of pretentiousness. Cool people are never wrong because they’re too busy not having to justify themselves to ever say anything of substance, good or bad. To contribute anything to a project, you risk falling flat on your face. It’s so much easier not to make that leap, and expect people to assume you would’ve said something smart, than to take that fall and pick yourself up and jump again.
The people I know in drama (they’re the good ones, I’m sure other youth theatres are full of smelly poos) are never cool. They’re always willing to say something stupid on the off chance it might actually be something smart. The next time you hear about a pretentious piece of performance art, where sixteen people cover themselves in paint and wail, all to represent the theme of loss of innocence, remember this: somebody had to have that idea. Then they had to show that idea to fifteen other people, and those fifteen people had to agree to perform that piece in front of a bunch of strangers, knowing that one of those strangers could just dismiss all their work, simply by using the word “pretentious”.

2. Drama’s a thing you can study in college, and people will take you seriously if you do.
This isn’t like a huge misconception that people have about the theatrical community or anything, it’s just something I knew nothing about until I started doing drama. I was doing it for like a month and someone from drama turned to me and went, “so do you want to do drama in college?” as if he wasn’t asking me about one of the biggest decisions of my life or anything. Seriously though, why the hell do people think that’s small talk?
But I digress. The point is that people see this as a genuine academic field worth spending years of your life studying and won’t bat an eyelid if you do too. I don’t think anybody can know for sure whether or not any college course is worth the time, but it’s definitely worth noting that there’s an entire subspecies of humanity (drama people) who genuinely believe this one is.
I’m not qualified to make a case for or against arts degrees. I’m still telling people I want to be a fireman when I’m older. But when most people ask you what you want to do when you’re older, nine times out of ten they’re not just asking you that question. They’re also asking you about what your economic ambitions are, how well you think you’re going to do in your leaving cert, where your academic talents lie, and a million other questions you couldn’t possibly answer. When people ask you specifically if you want to study drama, they’re asking you completely different questions. They’re asking how much you want it. They’re asking you if you’re willing to make a hobby into a lifestyle. They’re definitely not asking you if you have any economic ambitions, that’s for damn sure.

1. I still don’t know what theatre is
It seems obvious right? It’s in the title of this blog. Just a bunch of people on a stage performing a script with words and actions that tell a story, right? So what the hell is mime? That doesn’t have a script or a stage. You can also have site specific productions like “The Street,” or audience interactive shows like “Fused”. And that’s not even getting into improv or stand-up. But isn’t the whole world a stage? (2)
Not to go all “theatre is what you make of it” on your ass or anything, but theatre totally is what you make of it. So maybe it’s not so terrible that I don’t know what theatre is. Going into theatre with no expectations seems to be the best way to go. If you can do what you want with theatre, and do it cheaply, and do it with a bunch of other people serious enough to do it in college, then that’s just fine. Then again, if you replace the word “theatre” with “recreational drugs” in that last sentence it still makes sense. Act responsibly kids. (3)
(1) http://www.npr.org/2013/03/19/174703202/visual-effects-firms-miss-out-on-a-films-success (case in point).
(2) It definitely isn’t. I learnt that the hard way when I did my one man rendition of The Lion King in my local library. I got kicked out about halfway through the opening lines of The Circle of Life.
(3) Get it? Act? I’m sorry.

Smock! A review

This weekend, in preparation for the commencement of Droichead Versus Theatre, an optional DYT programme in which we enjoy going to see plays, discussing them and working out where they fit into the larger theatrical map, a gang of us trekked up to Dublin to go see Smock! a new play by Martin Maguire. We’re all looking forward to discussing the play further at our first seminar, but there were a few things we could all agree on. This was not the slow moving, three man historical piece we were expecting. The play was whimsical and fast paced until the curtains fell, and miraculously comprehensible for the amount of content being delivered. A play that’s earned its exclamation mark if ever there was one. Check out what some of our members thought below!

 

“Well what can I say, seeing Smock! was an experience to be sure. I felt, while watching it, that I was in a dream like trance, I was captured so it would seem, from start till finish. Simply put, Smock! was both brilliant and clever, the method of history told through theatre was captured perfectly in this play and they made it both insightful and funny which is a tough combination to execute. I didn’t think, coming into this play, that it would be half as entertaining as it was. The actors were just pure class in Smock! They brought the whole history and the set- mustn’t forget the set!- completely to life. It was a shockingly good play, that is all.”

-Aoife Gallagher

 

“The fact that this show was in any way comical is what came as the biggest surprise to me. When the show started I genuinely expected to see a man older than time walk onto stage and ask us to cast our eyes back to a simpler time when infant mortality was at 75% and we didn’t have to worry about things like civil rights or democracy. It was so refreshing to see a kinetic and hyperactive comedy where they could make use of the huge time scale by adding recurring jokes and showing all that’s changed as well as all that hasn’t.”

-Andy McLoughlin

 

“It was really good. My favourite part was when the girl read a story and the others pretended to be children. I thought they were all fabulous actors they worked well with the accents. The way it was written was funny but still family friendly. All in all I give it 5 stars.”

-Ella Coyle

 

“Most history lessons can be sombre, melancholy affairs that usually result in involuntary napping or tears or both. Smock!, however, was something special. A rare gem that was buzzing with energy, injected with a well-needed dose of youthful electricity that provided the audience with enough laughs and insight to last until their next trip to the eponymous theatre. The three actors gave wonderful performances and really made it their own production, making excellent use of the space, lights and acoustics of their stage. The show is whimsically written, and delightfully performed. A real treat for all ages.”

 –Aaron Finnegan

 

“The idea of a play, aiming to tell the story of Smock Alley’s 350 years as ‘Dublin’s oldest newest theatre’ in 47 minutes, may seem ambitious and risky; however, writer and director Martin Maguire does it brilliantly. The incorporation of movement and props in the show, audience involvement and the actors’ enthusiasm, humour and energy onstage makes Smock! a terrific piece of theatre. Often historical or period theatre can be long, tedious and monotonous and often rich, complex language is used; however, Smock! is told so naturally and in a way that everyone can understand it and the idea of the actors playing both the narrators and the variety of characters worked well. Smock! is a wildly imaginative and creative show and definitely a new favourite of mine!”

-Louis Flanagan

 

 

“At first, I was not sure what to expect. Yet, the three actors worked well together in the most imaginative ways. The set up was simple, making the focus on the actors much more manageable. It was fast paced, switching between accents, simple costume changes and different props to mark the settings. Overall, it was very enjoyable to watch.”

-Kerri Walsh

 

  “I was intrigued about the show upon hearing about it as I was interested in knowing more about the theatre and its vast history. Surprisingly enough, I wasn’t anticipating the show being sugar coated as not to be too monotonous. I genuinely wanted to leave the theatre with a better knowledge of its past, and the show didn’t disappoint. I can say that I know more about the building having seen it.  The actors performance ranged from frantic racing across the stage to meaningful monologues, and then to spontaneous Irish dancing, all within a matter of minutes. This left me baffled at the amount of emotions that I was subjected to, which I immensely appreciated. But remaining with the fact that I walked in wanting history, I’d have to be critical in saying that I wanted more. There were moments where I feel like there was a joke just to keep the audience interested, and I can understand that. However, I think, that yes the comic element is important but, also as a historic play; the history is paramount. My personal opinion would be that I would rather learn something, than laugh and be confused about it. However overall the play was so much fun to watch, and I loved the fact that the actors seemed to be enjoying themselves as well. A great see.”

-Jack Rogers

 

A Night at the Opera- by Andy McLoughlin

This week’s review is a little different, an opera no less! Andy McLoughlin fills us in on his evening and shares his thoughts on The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny!

In as much as it’s impossible to write a blog post about going to the opera without sounding like a twat, that’s what I’m about to attempt. I had gotten my hands on two free tickets to “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” by Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht. Although the most appealing thing about those tickets at first was that they were free, I got very curious about the show while researching it on the bus ride over to the Olympia. Brecht was known for this thing called Verfremdungseffekt. It’s a mouthful but it basically meant that the audience were never supposed to get too immersed in the show. He hated melodramas that gave cheap emotional thrills so he did all kinds of things like flooding the theatre with lights or having the actors rearrange the set to make the audience more alienated. By the time I arrived in Dublin I had no idea what I was going to see.

When I took my seat at the Olympia theatre I was aware I was lowering the average age of the room considerably. With a full orchestra just a few feet away from where I was sitting it felt like I had snuck into a show for proper grown-ups. I had just started feeling uncomfortable when the show started. Not on stage, but behind me. A cast of thirty depression era workers walked down the central isle of the theatre as the orchestra built to a crescendo and I knew we were in for a treat. Over the next two hours we were treated to a sensuous and sensual banquet of music and mayhem.
The opera tells the story of the founding of the City of Mahagonny by three fugitives on the run. As the city flourishes, people come from all over the world seeking prosperity including our protagonist, Jimmy Mahoney. As the opera progresses, the city becomes a hub for prostitution and Jimmy gets more and more carried away by the pleasures of the city he found himself in. Far from the tales of weeping fat ladies and their lovers that I’d expected from operas, this story is more like Sodom and Gomorrah for the Andrew Lloyd-Webber fan.

With both an orchestra and a cast of opera singers, music was no small part of the experience. Apart from a surprising appearance of “Alabama Song” which I had previously known as a Doors tune, the music was the only thing that sounded like I expected it to. It was an English language opera but with the orchestra and singers competing to be heard, I found myself struggling to hear what was going on. I can’t fault the musicians or the performers on their own merits but, for an inexperienced opera goer like myself at least, they each served more as distractions than compliments.
By the time the huge cast took their bow however, even the bombardment of music seemed to be just another part of the gloriously spectacular production of the show. True to the theatrical epic, they seemed to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, with actors hanging from wires, audience members being pulled up to join the parade of cast members, and flashing neon signs to boot. To say this is not what I was expecting when I walked into the plush auditorium of the Olympia is an understatement.
Ultimately while this probably wasn’t the experience to give me the best impression of what opera’s like, it certainly showed me that a night at the opera can be an enjoyable experience, even if you don’t own a monocle.

Ernest and the Pale Moon

This week we have a review of Les Enfants Terrible’s Ernest and the Pale Moon, which went up as part of Collapsing Horse Theatre Company’s ILLUSION at the Samuel Beckett Theatre last month, by member Jack Rogers! Enjoy!

 

Upon entering the Samuel Beckett Theatre, I was excited about the play Ernest and the Pale Moon, as the premise (a man who has become obsessed with a girl in the apartment opposite him. When he sees her with another man his jealousy and infatuation drives him to murder) interested me as I have only witnessed subject similar to this in literature, so I was intrigued as to how they would portray madness. The set looked like something you would see in a gothic castle. There were three main pieces to it but my attention was drawn to the man sitting centre stage on a set piece with only enough light to make out his silhouette. It was eerie, and a nice image to look at. The house lights came down and everybody settled in their seats. While the chatter died slowly, everyone was abruptly brought to silence when a loud bang and lights up notified us of the mysterious man (Ernest) who was now standing and watching the audience with a menacing expression on his face. This shocked me, but my attention was hooked. The story began with a nurse and psychiatrist who speak about Ernest and comment on the tragedy that brought him into a mental institute, those two characters are referred back to, every once in a while. We then are shown Ernest once again, and the story of his “tragedy” unravels for the audience. The actors divided themselves into different parts and did so smoothly with an immense amount of talent, but to differentiate character from actor, and to make it easier to distinguish one character for another, I wish I could have seen another actor, to alleviate some confusion. But I can understand why there was not another…

The play featured a wide scale of theatrical techniques, including, mime, live music and soundscape to name a few. Many things I enjoy about theatre. The musical theme for the show really embodied what the audience felt about what was happening, and the cello and accordion gave it the Victorian sort of feel which I really loved. I witnessed a character emit a scream, (oddly something I’ve never heard in theatre) but in Ernst and the Pale Moon, I revelled in the bloodcurdling scream which terrified me to the point of shivering. It was scarier then any horror film you could watch nowadays. I loved the play but only two things about the show didn’t sit well with me. One. I feel the whole point of the play was to submerge you in the horror and illusion, that these were real people. However (and there is nothing he could do to prevent this) the actor who played Ernest began sweating profusely towards the end of the play which effected his white face make up. I wouldn’t have minded but the paleness of the characters face was a large physical attribute to Ernest, and upon noticing this, I was drawn back to reality. However I congratulate Anthony Spargo on playing such a manic character. Two. The plot was very fast paced and toward the end, there was a very big reveal regarding the murder in which Ernest committed, and I was so immersed in the beauty of the show that I must have missed a very important line that twisted the story in a surprising direction. However, the plot relied heavily on one particular line that if missed, you would be confused as to what had just happened. While this would have been a big blow to the show for me, I didn’t mind too much as I can remember that they revealed it gloriously, but what it was I could not say. That is it. All in all. An excellent show that I would kill to see again. Comically tragic. And tragically beautiful. A great show from Les Enfants Terribles

-J