Posted on Mon 6 Feb 2012 by Ciaran McConville
I cycled into a stationary car the other day.
The driver was fine about it, at first. I guess she realised she was dealing with a freak. I smiled and tried to make a self-deprecating joke, but the fact that I was laid-out on her bonnet with my face pushed up against the windscreen must have been disconcerting for her, because she turned on her wipers and hit the accelerator.
At the moment of impact I had been preoccupied with work. Things have changed a lot at the Rose since the arrival of our new chief exec, Robert O’Dowd. He is, rightly, challenging many of our old practices and pushing us to be more efficient and to account better for our various parts of the business. Because that’s what we are, a business.
Unfortunately, I become all flappy and hysterical when asked the simplest question about numbers. I am terrible in meetings – and we’ve had a lot of them lately – I take every criticism as a personal attack and feel immensely inadequate around grown-ups who can make business-speak sound natural.
Just when I think I have mastered Excel, someone will point out to me that I’ve put the decimal point in the wrong place. Apparently that’s important. And my response to forms is akin to some people’s reaction to spiders; I grab my face and shriek and run around like there are things crawling over my skin.
It’s a miracle they ever gave me the job, really.
That morning, as I cycled into the nice lady’s hatchback, I was contemplating the horror of my tax return and anticipating the emotional minefield of a management meeting at the Rose.
To be absolutely honest (and that’s probably a bad idea when writing a ‘customer-facing’, ‘e-marketing’, ‘brand-driven’ blog), I really lost the joy this month.
I miss my youth theatre groups. I’d never say it to their face, obviously. But I do.
And in the time spent searching for the managerial language to hold my own in meetings, I’ve rather mislaid the spark and creativity that I was originally employed to bring to our community programme.
Ciara Morris, the actress who is currently rehearsing the part of Abigail in The Crucible, approached me a few weeks ago with some questions about her dissertation on community theatre. I tried, and struggled, to provide her with a quote that might sound clever in an essay.
What is the role of a theatre in its community? Well, um, to inspire and unite and, um…
You see, it’s hard to talk about art without slipping into cliché, whether it’s the language of corporate management or fundraising applications.
Years ago, when I worked for a multinational marketing company, I remember we used to bandy about words like 'creativity' and 'passion' like they were punctuation marks, and consequently they lost all their meaning. Now, a theatre director responsible for 'learning' and 'participation', I often feel a worrying detachment from my work as I write copy for the Rose brochure, or talk through my action-plans at a meeting.
My two and a half hours of The Crucible rehearsals on Thursday nights have been keeping me sane. Last week, we worked on the end of act one, as the terrified slave, Tituba, is whipped into a hysterical state and begins making accusations of witchcraft. Paloma Kekana is playing Tituba. She is a lovely young woman, very polite, a little shy at times. On Thursday, we swung her around until she could barely keep her balance, prodding her, chanting over her, and by the end of the evening she had really nailed it. I worried that I might have over-worked her, but it looked to me like she had a big grin on her face as we finished the rehearsal. And that was nice.
Those moments of discovery are key. Acting is about getting out of your head and reawakening the other parts of you; your visceral, emotional self.
Our previous marketing manager, who sat next to me in the office, used to tease me, saying that my work was ‘all the fluffy stuff’. But those discoveries in the rehearsal room feel anything but fluffy. They feel raw and hard and very, very exciting. Great plays, in the context of community theatre, become a structure in which to explore the full extent of yourself, from the intellectual to the animal, the invincible to the vulnerable. I got home from The Crucible rehearsal full of thoughts about Paloma’s amazing work. I opened my laptop and started up Excel, but somehow I couldn’t turn my attention to that much neglected tax return.
On Saturday, I watched Original Theatre Company’s production of Our Country’s Good. I thought it was excellent; strong performances, impactful design, clever direction. I hope it does very well on tour. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s script about a colony of convicts and officers is extraordinary. It is a study of the role of art in a nascent civilisation, as enabler of language, empathy and hope. On one side the cruel injustices of the officers, on the other the infinite desert of Australia, and in the middle a small group of people creating the first spark of a civilised society.
On Sunday, the Rose Plus Choir met for the third time, braving the cold and snow to rehearse a full programme of songs in just one day. My role with the choir is purely administrative and this time I managed to rope in most of our front-of-house department to copy, staple and collate. Eamonn O’Dwyer led the choir from scratch to a really engaging concert. Despite a small audience turn-out, the atmosphere in that giant auditorium was tangible. About two thirds of the way through the programme I realised I was filling up with tears. I suppose it was watching all those people, most of whom had been strangers just a few hours before, express something human with one voice. And this is where the marketing manager would say it’s all fluff, but I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. That is a terrible cliché, I know, but I think it’s often said and rarely achieved. In the cold and dark of a quiet Sunday night in Kingston, it seemed to me that those voices soared and, in the audience, we went with them.
I chose not to cycle home after the concert, on the basis that there wasn’t the space in my tiny head to recognise any large, stationary objects that might lie in my path.
Walking through the snow, I thought again how I have lost the joy this last month. I’ve become weighed down in a language that bears little relation to the experience and ambition of great theatre. But working on a small section of The Crucible, watching a fabulous production of Our Country’s Good, and listening to a hundred voices singing songs of love, I think I found it again. And while I can’t provide Ciara Morris with a good quote for her dissertation, the feeling those experiences left me with seemed perfectly to articulate what I believe the role of a theatre should be in its community.
And, to top it all, I got my tax return in on time.