A week at NYT Lab with NAYD and Others feat. Jack Rogers and Orla Reilly.

                  NYT Lab 2

This week’s blog comes from Jack Rogers and Orla Reilly, who tell us about their exciting week with NAYD at NYT Lab!

A few months back we got the news of NAYD hosting another NYT Lab event for the end of Summer 2014. Now, you may be asking yourself ‘What is NYT Lab?’ I certainly asked myself the same question on my first hearing of the concept. In my head I thought lab, science, experimenting and long white coats, but in the context of theatre that didn’t make much sense (although nothing is ever irrelevant when it comes to theatre.) The week didn’t exactly involve scientists and long white coats but it did however, involve experimenting and coming up with new ideas, concepts and a lot of fun. The idea of NYT Lab is to inspire a production of whatever play NYT chooses to put on annually (the cast consisting of youth theatre members from across the country.)

This year, NYT Lab had a few tricks up it’s sleeve. Instead of the week just consisting of drama workshops they introduced a ‘Design path’ which was to encourage young theatre designers and enthusiasts to get involved and show that youth theatre is not all about acting. Now, as a duo consisting of an avid puppet fan and set design enthusiast NYT Lab quickly caught our attention and we sent off our application forms in the hope of grabbing ourselves places in the small group of 6 design participants out of 20 youth theatre members altogether, the remaining number being drama participants. As you may be able to tell we got the places and were set to head off to Dublin in the last days of August. The other exciting trick NAYD had prepared for us during the event (I did use plural at the start of this paragraph, I didn’t forget.) was that the Abbey Theatre had commissioned the play and that the playwright Carmel Winters would be attending our workshops and later writing the play inspired by the material and ideas that had developed throughout the week.

So, Monday the 18th, we set off on our adventure and with a map in hand we found the Dance House, the location of most of our activities for the week. Our whole group workshops were lead by the wonderful Dave Kelly who also led the drama path workshops. Of course we began with a few ice breakers to break the tension, and I can say that after playing a rather unusual version of catch and having to bear hug practically everyone in the room, any awkward silences that were present had been eliminated and the beginning of a mighty friendship with everyone was formed. We really were very lucky to have been part of such an amazing group of people. After our first whole group workshop we were introduced to Theatre Designer and Head of the Department of Design and Visual Arts at IADT Dun Laoghaire, Liam Doona. A person whom I could definitely listen to the stories and experiences they have with theatre for hours on end.

Come evening time we headed off to the Marino Institute, our place of accommodation for the week and had dinner. Afterwards we reconvened in the common room (Yes, how Hogwarts of it all, we had a common room) and began our first night of bonding together and dare I say “Bonter!” while even managing to catch a snippet of the Rose Of Tralee.

For the week we were asked to bring an interesting piece of luggage, a random item of choice, a piece of clothing and a picture of a young person. On Tuesday we learned why we were asked to bring such a peculiar mix of things with us as we spent the day developing characters and creating a world in which these characters (who conveniently owned fabulous trunks and bags of various shaped and sizes) lived. At the beginning of the workshop we learnt the importance of personal stories by each sharing the meaning of our name and what item we would save in the case of a house fire; in doing this we then gave our characters their own personal stories and backgrounds. After lunch the whole group were asked by Liam (the design guy from earlier) to roll out long strips of paper in four rows from one wall to the far side, i.e the length of an entire dance room. Trusting Liam and his creative brain we did as we were told and then taped all 4 strips together creating one massive sheet of paper. Then the fun began, we all stood around the room along the perimeter of the sheet of paper and lifted it up, we created wave like motions so the sheet of paper looked like a large white sea, we lifted the sheet of paper higher and higher so that eventually we could run underneath it as it floated for brief periods at a time. Cutting holes in the sheet of paper we then allowed our characters from earlier to enter the picture, imagining the sheet of paper as a sea and our moving of the “sea” creating a storm. Our characters would then go underneath the sheet of paper and pop out from some of the holes creating storylines even though there was no dialogue. Eventually our sheet of paper tore naturally and there were piles of scrumpled worn paper everywhere, making the room look like a wasteland. The storm was over and our characters were stranded (thrown into the ‘deep end’ so to speak) and forced to interact with one another in various improv scenes. After the workshop we enjoyed a Chinese Buffet and made our way to our first night of entertainment, “Heartbreak House” by Bernard Shaw in the Abbey Theatre.

On Wednesday to the delight of our own Jack Rogers we began our first real Design Workshop which was a full day of learning, interacting, making and playing with PUPPETS. We made our puppets from the leftover ‘sea’ of paper that we made the previous day. We joined limbs and made joints using masking tape and discovered that even though each puppet was entirely made from the same materials, they each looked entirely different and even had their own personalities. We may have been sucked into the crazy world of the puppeteer which was described by Liam as getting far too attached and not being able to let the puppets die…We learned how to make our puppets interact with their environment using simple movements and we learned how giving your puppet a centre of gravity gives you a world of opportunities that stay within the boundaries of realism. Our interesting pieces of luggage made another appearance and we learned how to make our puppets sit, stand up and sit back down. By doing this we created a short skit involving a bowler hat and a hat box that we later performed for the drama participants. During this workshop we also learned about projection in theatre design and how it is becoming increasingly more popular. We even projected Jack’s face onto an open suitcase as if he was trapped!

After our busy day of creating and observing we headed back to the Marino and we all watched the first Harry Potter film together, which is surprisingly hilarious when you end up ignoring the movie completely and instead focusing on the quote-off and jokes occurring throughout the room. Although towards the end of the movie we did have a few heavy nappers here and there…

When we thought Wednesday was a busy day we were in for a shock on Thursday which was jam packed with moving from locations, sharing opinions and learning about new theatre-y things. Our morning was spent with the other design participants at a trip to the Peacock Theatre and the National Gallery of Ireland. At the Peacock, we visited the set of ‘Maeve’s House’ written and performed by Eamon Morissey. The set was being put together as we were there and we learned about the meaning of the different aspects of the set and the hidden metaphors and clever designs. That morning we also learned about the fundamentals of set design. We learned that the most important elements of being a designer and working with design in theatre is collaboration, time, an open mind and to be open to change and adaption. We learned that no set for theatre can be rushed and must be carefully thought out and involves many early stages such as small models and scales to eliminate any possible failures. We still had some time to use up before lunch when we finished in the Peacock theatre so we visited the NGI. With a quick fly around the building we managed to see some truly great and thought provoking pieces by Jack B Yeats and even Picasso!

After lunch we joined the whole group for an afternoon workshop and we started off by playing a fabulous new game which is very similar to our familiar warm up of ‘Zip Zap Boing!’ which I personally can’t wait to introduce to everyone in D.Y.T. We spent most of the workshop splitting the room into an Agree side and a Disagree side. Carmel Winters asked us for our opinion on various statements like “would you rather be kind than brilliant” or “I believe there is an afterlife” and we had to cross the room to a side depending on whether we agreed or disagreed. Statements then developed into telling a lie or truth about ourselves and everyone having to judge whether you agreed or disagreed with it or not and it was interesting to see how well we actually knew each other only after a few days. Later that workshop we learned about playback theatre and a ‘Jack’, no not Jack the person, a box shape on the floor that looked similar to the union Jack. We made ours out of masking tape and in 3’s or 4’s we would all walk along the lines of the Jack and we discovered that without dialogue storylines and different interpretations ensued. As Thursday was our last night together we spent the evening in Dublin City Centre and were free to roam around and have a bit of retail therapy before returning to the Marino for a rather interesting night of Hair Dyeing, ‘DMC’s’ and more bonter.

Friday turned out to be a rather emotional day towards the end but we definitely didn’t have any time to waste by being sad about leaving during the morning as we were to finish off the week by making a sort of showcase to show close friends of NAYD. We decided as a group that we worked best when we didn’t know what exactly was going to happen so we all picked our favourite parts of the workshops that happened during the week and smushed them together and managed to make a showcase that always left room for the unknown and improvisation. We created a smaller version of our paper sea, we gathered the remains of dead puppets and repaired them, we performed a slow motion race (something that the drama participants had played with earlier on in the week.) and us design students put on our “creative risk taking” caps and created large Georgian princess- like dresses out of, surprise, surprise.. paper! The showcase was a success and we had the best fun showing a handful of the public a taste of what we had been up to during the week.

After the showcase the time had come for us to bid our farewells and goodbyes to those departing different ways from the dance house. A sad experience to say the least, We can both agree that there wasn’t a single person there that we wouldn’t consider a friend now and that NYT lab wouldn’t have been as great as it was if it wasn’t for everyone involved and all the incredible organisers and facilitators. Later that day, we discovered that the Sligo train practically goes to almost every county in the country and that most of the NYT Lab population were making their way home on it and as we performed a complete Hollywood worthy moment of running after the train as it sped away with luggage in hand screaming goodbye at the top of our lungs we definitely realised that our week at NYT Lab was an experience that we are never going to forget nor are we going to forget the friendships we made during the week.

Your favourite arty duo- O +J

How to adult: a blog which explores how you can apply lessons you learn in drama class, to real adult life.

This week we have guest writer Sophie Flanagan, reflecting on the practical applications of drama class to the quest of becoming a grown up. Enjoy!

As yesterday was the anniversary of my 19th year of being on this earth, I took time to reflect on the past 365 days of being 18; a fully-fledged adult. In hindsight, I did in fact spend most of the year acting exactly the same as my 17 year old self. However, since the completion of my leaving cert I feel I have morphed into somewhat of a “young adult”.  “How do you know when you’re an adult?” I hear you ask.. well, first you must diagnose yourself.

WARNING: If you’ve more than three of the following symptoms, you could be at risk of becoming a grown-up.

-You catch yourself watching the news.. and actually finding it interesting.

-When people ask you to hang out and you can’t be like “my mam said no”, so  you just have to change your name and move to Peru.

-When you see a child under 10, and instantly become concerned for their safety.

-Contemplating that maybe Mr. Snuggles doesn’t have feelings and it’s okay to put him in the washing machine.

– Not being disappointed when you get clothes as a present.

– Your occupation on Facebook is no longer “Being a Full Time Mad Bastard”.

I, unfortunately, have developed all of these symptoms in the past three months, but for the most part still feel some Peter Pan syndrome inside. BUT DO NOT FRET! Though, you cannot be cured, you can cope. And here are a few tricks you’ve probably already learned in drama class to do so.

“Walk The Space”- You know that strange warm up, at the start of almost every class?  Well, it’s surprisingly handy. As an adult, you want as little unnecessary communication as possible. As in, avoiding small talk, people you don’t want to talk to and people who will get in the way of your busy *schedule. In this case, you literally “walk the space”. Look for the area least people are populating and use that as your route to walk from place to place. Trust me, it works. And you might even save some time than by taking the short cut, by not bumping into people and talking about how aul Rita was “never right after **”that fall”.

*schedule- adult-y word for a to do list.

**that fall- all old people suffer from that fall, and are somehow “never right” after it.

Simon Says/Simple Simon- Knocks out the one that don’t comply with what the big man says. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being different and taking risks, but for the most part, in the workplace of the adult world, you got to just do with what the boss says. I know, I know, it’ll be hard sometimes, but in times of struggle, dealing with their every demand, just think to yourself, this is just like a really professional game of Simon Says, except this time I’m getting paid for it.

Character Building –  Name, age, location. Now build a character. This is probably one of the most useful tricks you’ll read about today. As an adult, you’ll find yourself in many scary situations. You’ll feel nervous, shy, and completely clueless. But, as always, there is a solution. If you feel in anyway uncomfortable in a situation, in your mind, give yourself a new character. On your exterior, act completely casual, but internally, imagine you’re someone else who is completely comfortable and confident in whatever situation you find yourself in. I recently found myself using this trick when I discovered it was about time I opened a *bank account. I was incredibly nervous as the people in suits we’re quite intimidating, but in my brain I just took on a new character that completely knew what she was doing and wasn’t afraid to ask questions. Trust me, it helps, and makes you seem more adult-y than you might feel.

*bank account- a really big piggy bank.

Bollocks- On one hand, you learn some really good curse words, and on the other, the projection lesson really helps you when you’re trying to talk to your friends over really loud music on a night out. Which, trust me, is essential if you don’t want to have a hoarse voice the next morning.

Adulthood is scary, and inevitable. But with a bit of acting and pretending, we can all learn to adapt and live as normal civilized adults, even if on the inside we’re all still 14.

A Title You Can’t Say Around Your Parents

This week on the blog we have Sophie Cassidy and Thomas Caffrey reviewing “Sex, Drugs, and Tinned Ravioli” the first production of Saucy Merchant productions, written by long time friend of the Youth Theatre Andy Gallagher!

A title you can’t say around your parents (most opting for “Tinned Ravioli” and hoping their parents thought they were going to see a show about a supermarket) free soup and Droichead’s friends Mark and Andy, what’s not to love about Andy Gallaghers’ debut play I hear you ask. Our answer? Very little.

To set the scene; a major music festival, somewhere in Ireland, 2014. The crowds are milling, the bands are prepping, but to paraphrase a character, it’s not really about the music. Not anymore. Somewhat baser pleasures are on the minds of this particular audience. In this crowd are our three protagonists, Rick, Chloe and Stoney. Rick is a sex mad, self-centred, shallow amalgamation of everything wrong with the Irish twenty- something year olds of the world. A “Lad” one might even say. Chloe is his ex-girlfriend, left bitter and confused by their sudden breakup just days before the festival. Stoney is a recreational drug user (You probably guessed that from his name) who loves a bit of a rave. These three characters are portrayed by Andrew Gallagher, Joanna Kelly and Mark Hughes respectively. As well as portraying these characters the three also portrayed a plethora of supporting characters (in a three-man-one-man show type of way) including but not limited to; Acid crazed D4’s, a mysterious blue haired Australian girl and Chloe’s “supportive” friend Lauren.

Over the course of the festival each one of our characters embarked on their own quest; Rick hoping to hit the jackpot and get “his hole” in this “oestrogen  goldmine” (his words, not ours), Stoney (a spot on and consistently funny Mark Hughes) initially wishing to just have the craic with his pick and mix of pills which then turns into a quest to find a mysterious blue haired Australian (and enjoy the pills with her, of course)  and Chloe’s main aim is to get over Rick and enjoy some of her favourite bands (believe it or not). It would be easy to play this play off as just a piece of light-hearted fiction (make no mistake, there is plenty of that too) but the play actually strikes a lot closer to reality than I ever thought it could. One only needs to glance at the reports of the infamous Swedish House Mafia concert from a few  years ago to get a measure of the Irish capability for some music fuelled frenzy, which makes the occasional bursts of violence that Stoney gets involved in all the more believable. Hilarious in the context of the play, certainly, but it does shed more light on our throw away attitude to festival depravity. The sexual acts that Chloe finds herself pressured into by her “friend” have no such hilarity, context or no. Through just Joanna Kelly’s disgusted facial expressions and heart wrenching broken voice, the ugly reality of this sort of festival culture is exposed. But, there I go, digressing.

The only place the play seems to falter is in the flashbacks, which serve to disrupt the well-established flow of the festival. However, they are wonderfully acted, and do serve for some well needed interaction between the actors, as much of the play is acted out by one person at a time. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the play is how it juggles our emotions about as successfully as any episode of Game of Thrones can. When it starts, we have a healthy loathing for the plastic exterior, preening expression and self-satisfied smug half smile of Rick. But as the play draws to a close, we learn that his plastic exterior is just that- an exterior. In a rare, utterly emotionally bare scene worthy of the greatest of tragedies Rick explains through a monologue to the audience how he ended up the vain figure we know him as, how the monster he created ultimately engulfed him. Without resorting to outlandish occurrences, Andy admirably paints a portrait of a broken man having to put up with the pressure of knowing that he is a man who has lost sight of who he was in order to satisfy the world around him. In comparison, the other characters lack his depth and complexity, though are more than satisfactory.

The performance was slick and professional, the set (consisting of three stools with three tents of varying sizes behind) was simple yet satisfying, the acting was spot on and the dancing was even better. All and all it was a top notch show and we hope to see a lot more writing from Andy in the future.

History And Culture or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Just Make Nazis The Villain

  What do Gone With The Wind, War Horse, Call of Duty, and the Da Vinci Code all have in common?  Three things: one is that they are all some of the bestselling products in their respective media.  Another is that they are all in some way historical.  The third is that they’re not actually that historically accurate.  People have never shied away from their love affair with historical literature, whether it’s the Iliad or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and there’s no reason this should surprise us.  Our history is part of our culture and it only makes sense for it to be engrained in things like theatre and literature which are equally culturally significant.  So why do we so often get it so wrong?

  For me, the answer lies in storytelling.  We see most of the stories we know and enjoy as being completely original to us, when in reality we are taught from such an early age about how a story should look and feel to us.  We want clear heroes and villains, and hence we call Alexander “The Great” and Ivan “The Terrible”; we want an ending and a beginning so we say that World War II started when Hitler invaded Poland and ended when America bombed the bejeezus out of Japan; we want moral reinforcement so we say that the Great Depression was started by corrupt stockbrokers in 1929. We like our stories to be a certain way and we like our history to be like our stories, and we’re sure as hell not gonna let a little thing like the truth get in the way of that.

Despite this, I think story-telling, and theatre in particular, does have some value when it comes to our understanding of history. We might be bad at sorting fact from fiction when it comes to grand stories about toppling civilisations and warring nations, but there is something that fiction has always been able to help us with: empathy. We see “Carthaginians” and we understand completely why Maela is unable to grieve for her child. We watch “Quietly” and for that 90 minutes we see that two men can be so similar but go down two much different paths. We watch “The Nose” and we learn that a person can smell bad, but still be very nice (I didn’t actually see that one).

World War II is actually a great example of this. For me, a production about World War II instantly loses its appeal when somebody puts on a tiny moustache and a silly hair-do and starts yelling about Jews (unless it’s Inglorious Bastards, Inglorious Bastards was great). We don’t need our art to be history lessons and there’s really no use in pretending it is (which Inglorious Bastards definitely doesn’t). The best example of a good World War II film to me is Saving Private Ryan. We’re never told why the characters are being slaughtered on the beaches of Normandy and neither are they. The movie isn’t about World War II, it’s about the soldiers who fought in it, and how they felt about it, and what motivates them to do the things they do, good or evil.

I don’t think the question of “do you have to sacrifice historical accuracy for good story-telling?” is a fair one. If you can take history to be an examination of the lives of people everywhere and how they were affected by the world round them, then there’s really no reason to ask this question. The people we see in these plays might not have existed literally, but in one sense or another they are real. There really are people who live in a war zone who have no voice but that of a playwright who believes he can do them justice. Also, there are people who don’t feel anybody has felt as they do before. In these respects, the purpose of history and the purpose of story-telling, far from being in conflict, are the same. They each seek to give us a better understanding of lives different from ours, and to show us that we are not the first people to have our experiences. The ability to dispel this belief is one of history’s greatest strengths, but it’s also one of art’s greatest strengths.  Because ultimately, historical plays are at their best when they are not about the events or figures who make history, but the lives of the people who are subjected to it.