Foyle Punt design slideshow

Design for performance

In the scorching summer of 2018, Róise Goan invited me to be part of a great team of artists, making another performance with and about Donegal local stories and local people. The first time was with She Knit The Roof. This show was called Foyle Punt, after a particular kind of local wooden boat. As part of the show, we commissioned a boat to be made by the famous McDonald boatyard of Greencastle.

I got to spend some magical summer weeks in beautiful Moville, in the very far north of the country, with Caitriona McLaughlin, Darren Murphy, Little John Nee, Farah Elle, Jennie Moran, Lisa Mahony, Evie McGuinness, Brian Mooney, and the boatbuilder Philip McDonald who also performed in the show.

The highlight of my time there was spending a week as an honorary member of the Moville Men’s Shed as we (they) built the few set pieces. Lakes of tea, mountains of chocolate biscuits, and endless quiet slagging of my carpentry skills. Shout out to Hubert (standing on the right of this photo) for the best sarcastic eye roll on the island. I might have been offended if I could understand a word any of them said.

I won’t lie. Touring a show with a boat to 6 harbours in 10 days nearly killed us all. And what eejit decided that stones were an integral part of the design and had to tour with us? But on the plus side, I had biceps for the first and only time in my life. At the most difficult moments, we pursed our lips and said that at some point we’d probably look back at the experience fondly, forgetful dopes that we were. I guess this is that point.

And to be fair, when it went well it was absolute magic. I’ll always remember the day at Raghly harbour in Sligo, which is just about the most beautiful place you could imagine working. The weather was incredibly tranquil. We arrived in the van first thing in the morning, quickly mapped out how the show would be set up, set it up, stopping every once in a while to look at the changing light on Ben Bulben, did the show to a full house, fed the audience, took everything down in the dark, and only as we packed the van the wind picked up a little and we realised how differently our day could have gone if there’d been even a breeze.

We finished that night in the legendary Ellen’s pub, accidentally becoming part of a kind of wake for the ashes of the local writer Leland Bardwell, who was an old friend of my father’s.

Róise set up The Local Group as a way of making high quality theatre that is rooted in local stories, local history, local places and local people, and that the team making it becomes embedded in the local community. The fact that Foyle Punt and She Knit The Roof were both sell-out successes and attracted crowds from far and wide is testament to her vision. Fingers crossed that more excellent Local Group comes soon.

Two months in Paris

Design for performance, Solo work

I’ve been meaning to post this for ages, but only getting round to it now. Even though it was months ago, I’m still dreaming of my time on a wonderful two-month residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. Firstly, a huge thank you to the CCI for giving me the time there.

When I applied, I hoped for a chance to ringfence some time to be creative – something that I find very difficult to do with a dual career as an artist and a manager. In fact, the last time I’ve allowed myself to indulge (is it really indulgence?!) in reading, drawing, thinking, seeing things, and meeting people in such a dedicated way may have been at university. I’m talking about the turn of the century here, people.

The CCI residency itself is luxuriously simple: they fly you over, put you up in the beautiful building in the fancy 5th arrondissement, and give you a stipend of €700 per month to keep you going. I was also given access to my own studio (bliss) across the courtyard.

While you have to give an outline in your application of what you’d like to do, when you’re there you are left to you own devices, which is wonderfully freeing. And does feel like a luxury. It was an extraordinary feeling to be taken seriously enough as an artist to be supported in this way. For me, it means I take my own creativity more seriously too. Which I’m normally not great at.

And what did I do? A big part of what I’d wanted to do was get to know the city a bit better – I threw away 4 new pairs of socks over the two months, worn out with all the walking.

Towards the end of my time there I had a small panic that I’d not really done anything, so I started to make a list. Phew. Exhibitions, talks (given and attended), performances, books, music, countless excellent, thought-provoking chats. And lots of time in the studio, sitting staring out the window, writing, drawing, and (a little surprisingly) painting.

One result was a series of simple portraits on cardboard. Not sure where it’s leading me, but it was really, really refreshing to just try things out with no ultimate agenda. Another small revelation for me was to understand the imperative of safe-guarding the time I need to transition from the ‘admin’ way of thinking to the creative way of thinking. A hugely valuable lesson for me. Now the trick is to find a way to transpose some of the creative, relaxed, invigorating Paris energy into Dublin life. Fingers crossed.

Prague Quadrennial 2015

Design for performance

Thanks to Travel and Training support from the Arts Council of Ireland, I was able to attend the Prague Quadrennial earlier this June. PQ is the world’s largest exhibition of design for performance that takes place in Prague every four years. In 2007 Ireland was represented officially for the first time, and as Exhibition Coordinator, I was lucky enough to get to go, also for the first time.

‘The Submission’ – Vladislav Nastavshev – Latvian national exhibit

A lot has changed in the intervening 12 years. The big, beautiful Výstaviště Palace, which was used as the exhibition space up to 2007, was badly damaged in a fire the following year. This forced the PQ to stretch across multiple venues in 2011, and even more so this year – insinuating itself into the daily life of the city centre for a couple of weeks. The tone of the exhibition has changed too. There is less of the stall-to-stall ‘best of’ of each country’s design, as national curators now tend towards focusing on specific designers or companies, or stand-alone (kinda) artistic installations – with very mixed results. This one by a Latvian designer was one of my favourites.

Russian potatoes

Detail from the Russian exhibit

Then again, I’ve always had an ambivalent feeling about the exhibition. I think it partly comes from how unevenly curated it can be – each country having a hugely varied capacity and budget for their exhibit. Each year I’ve come with high hopes and am often struck by the amount of work I really dislike, or consider bad design. It takes me a long time to root out things that I connect with aesthetically, and often that truffle hunt feels like too much effort. The exhibition is huge, and just navigating the city centre Prague mid-June tourist hordes is exhausting. That said, I know no other opportunity like it to see such a breadth of international design work, so I really shouldn’t grumble.

This year, for the first time, I signed up for two day-long workshops at DAMU, the Theatre faculty at the Academy of Performing Arts – partly to meet people at what can be a lonely event where you sometimes feel everyone else is having more fun that you. In one, a group of us spent a day building a giant two-storey Rube Goldberg machine, and in the other we worked with UK artist James Leadbitter aka the vacuum cleaner to design our ideal asylum, as part of his Madlove project. Highly recommended. Nothing like playing with ideas to cheer you up.

Daily flags

Idea of running up daily flags to tell the world how you feel

It’s all go.

Design for performance, Event coordination

A bit of an overview post of the past couple of months. It’s been busy.

2015-04-22 10.16.28– A Girl is a Half-formed Thing won a Fringe First and the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award 2015 during its run at the Traverse this August. Aoife Duffin also won the Award for Acting Excellence from The Stage. The London run at the Young Vic for early 2016 has been announced.

– I designed for performances in more dusty disused spaces: a doll factory in Crolly, Co. Donegal, and an unused shop unit in Smithfield, Dublin. More to follow on these.

– My photo (right) was used for the front cover of the Earagail Arts Festival brochure.

– I’ve been selected to take part in the Theatre Forum/Dublin Theatre Festival Next Stage programme later this month – aka theatre bootcamp.

– I was invited to take part in a lovely Dinner and Dialogue event to talk about good design in a beautiful Georgian house in Dublin’s city centre, as part of the year of Irish Design.

– Moonfish Theatre’s Star of the Sea is fitting up again this week for its national tour, including a few days as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

– Thanks to grants from the Arts Council’s Theatre Artist Development Scheme I’m developing a pilot initiative with Mermaid Arts Centre called Gap Days for freelance theatre workers to take paid days to think, dream and plan for later this year, as well as preparing for year four of the Pan Pan International Mentorship programme.

Like I said, all go.

Design for Stage and Screen Ireland website

Design for performance

Earlier this year I worked with Ewa Segner and Siobhán Bourke of Irish Theatre Institute to compile a website to highlight stage and screen designers coming from and working in Ireland.

You can access the website here. It is in Beta mode for the next few weeks, and the content is being updated and added to every day – an ever-growing catalogue of the work of costume, set, lighting and sound designers/composers who design for the stage, and production, hair, makeup and costume designers who design for screen.

A Girl is a Half Formed Thing horizon ideas sketch

A Girl is a Half Formed Thing horizon ideas sketch

Most exciting (for me) is the chance to see some of the sketches side by side with the final production images – it’s always a treat to see the development of ideas, and the idiosyncratic ways that designers approach their work.

The timing of the website going live in June was to coincide with both the year of Irish Design and the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space. However, it is a resource that will be kept up by ITI, along the same lines as their Playography and Irishtheatre.ie sites.

Sometimes we break (again)

Design for performance

In March this year I got to work with junk ensemble again for the first time since Drinking Dust. Another manky disused space transformed into something a little magical, if I do say so myself.

They were reprising Sometimes We Break, a performance they had originally made for the (much cleaner) Tate Britain in 2012. The original version had been designed by Jo Timmins, and made for family audiences – they asked me to take elements of her design and work with them to re-construct the piece in a (literally and figuratively) darker space. We had the use of two connected warehouses on Barrow Street in Dublin, and the performance was part of Mind Your Step, a walking tour-type season of Irish contemporary dance.

Some before and afters:

We had two days to clear the warehouses, install all technical and design elements, and to tech the 20 minute performance. Sarah Jane Shiels managed to light the place beautifully. But all thanks are due to the stalwart Mags Mulvey (our stage manager) and her team, who spent a full day moving all the disgusting junk from the two warehouses into one corner in a bid to make something aesthetically pleasing/not harmful.

Most of my work focused on the set up of five doll house in diorama-type environments: