Wednesday 19 December 2018

Local actors fulfilling their creative potential

'Sligo Acts' gives everyone a taste of acting, taking them out of their comfort zone. Jessica Farry reports

This Sunday, 40 local actors will take to the stage of the Hawk's Well Theatre as part of the 'Sligo Acts' programme.

For some, it will be their first ever time stepping on stage in front of an audience. For others, it will be their return to the stage for the first time in a while.

The Sligo Acts programme was inspired by the great success of the Sligo Sings programme at the theatre and the positive feedback from the ongoing Acting for Adults courses which have been running at the theatre over the last three years (hosted by theatre artist-in-residence, Bob Kelly and more recently, by Sligo Youth Theatre director, Jean Marie Perinetti). The Sligo Sings programme has encouraged singers of all abilities and levels to come together in a non-competitive environment and focuses on participation, inclusiveness and, most of all enjoyment. In the same vein, Sligo Acts is a fun acting programme suitable for all levels of experience - those with plenty of performances under their belt and those just starting to tread the boards.

An introductory workshop took place at the theatre on Sunday the 19th of November 2017, from which the cast of forty were picked and slotted into their various groups working under the direction of Jean Marie Perinetti, Julie Sharkey, Isabel Claffey and Patrick Curley. An intensive period of rehearsal followed with participants exploring old-time radio plays, comedy satire and plenty of improvised fun, all based around the theme of Husbands and Wives.

"Many people were up for doing something because it's good to learn acting but at the end of the day, you must do it in front of an audience. It's not like a painter or a sculptor who can work in the studio without any contact with the people," Jean-Marie told The Sligo Champion.

Each scene on the evening will explore an aspect of the relationship between husbands and wives.

Jean-Marie continued: "It's comedic so people will have permission to laugh. It's great because we don't have that many rehearsals but we get the best out of it. Fun is at the core of it. It doesn't mean that it's easy, people think because it's fun that it's a walk in the park but I believe that you can improve and learn more skills with fun than with a sense of pain. You don't need to suffer to make art. We work very hard, but fun is at the core."

For one group, though, the nerves have not yet been settled, Jean-Marie jokes.

"The group doing the mime scene, god they're sweating. You need to get the movements right so that people understand what you're saying, you have no words, they're sweating but they're laughing a lot. It's very exciting because we had Sligo Sings, and the theatre is different because you need sound design, costume, props, you can't just come with a music script and sing."

Although similar to 'Sligo Sings' in many ways, 'Sligo Acts' has been a far bigger undertaking for the Hawk's Well Theatre and everyone involved.

Maeve McGowan, Marketing Manager, explained why the theatre limited participation to 40 actors.

"It's been much easier to organise Sligo Sings. There are far less people in this, I think we had about 240 people on stage for Sligo Sings when you take all the choirs on stage for the finale. It was an awful lot of work but we were able to do it through workplaces so people could rehearse at lunch in their workplace whereas here we're bringing people together that had never met before and put them into groups so they have to rehearse in the evenings.

"The maximum number we decided when we met to discuss this project, that we could work with was 40. We put a call out and an awful lot of people who had been doing the acting classes were straight away saying that they wanted t do this, also a lot of people who hadn't acted for years who wanted to get back on stage and also people who had never acted before. It's a real mixture."

Jean-Marie added: "You can have 25 people singing 'Let it Be' by the Beatles, you can't have 25 people in one scene. Most of the scripts are written for seven or eight people so it was a matter of finding scenes with many actors in it. In Fawlty Towers there are 13, and that's the biggest scene and you need to rehearse because a song, everyone knows the songs."

The show will be hosted by Sligo actors Bob Kelly and Nichola MacEvilly and starring locals Anne Brennan, Amanda Martin, Andrea Best, Anna Durkin, Bea Schmid, Ben Flood, Blathnaid McGauran, Catherine McGlinchey, Christine Braithwaite, Deirdre Gaule O'Grady, Elaine Doherty, Elisabeth Wagstaff, Fintan Gallagher, Geraldine McGloin, Helen Cantrell, Hugh O'Neill, J McManus, Kate McGoldrick, Katherine Lenehan, Leslie Hill, Killian Glynn, Loro B Tylor, Mabel Chah, Maeve McGowan, Majella McMorrow, Margaret O'Connor, Marian O'Callaghan, Marian Sullivan, Marie O'Connor, Nels Puthoor, Nigel Gallagher, Pamela Devaney, Patricia Hegarty, Paul O'Regan, Sinead McGourty, Tiffany Budd, Tom O'Sullivan, Tony Comiskey and Val Robus.

Two groups participating in the event are improvising and devising a theme, so they have not been working with scripts, although they will eventually.

Jean-Marie said improvisation can often work better for some people.

"It's out of their comfort zone but they love the process so much that they are willing to give it a go. You can get results if you work that way instead of learning your lines."

Hosts Bob Kelly and Nichola McEvilly will introduce each scene, taking their inspiration from John and Mary from Father Ted.

The radio plays, along with the Fawlty Towers spin-off and the mime performance, are among the highlights on the night.

The mime scene explains the rules of flirting in the stone age, while the Fawlty Towers spin-off depicts the divorce of Sybil and Basil.

"We've introduced this new style of radio plays, it's a group run by Paddy Curley and Isabel Claffey. They pick up an American radio script from the 1940s. It's hilarious, it's so well written. We asked them to come on board with two groups with radio scripts. They play with the cliches, you always have the silly young girl who is very flirtatious, or you have the older, evil rich woman so it's very limited but they play with them."

Working so closely with the local community, and having so many locals involved in such a show is a crucial part of running a theatre in a community.

"I think it's a really important part of being a theatre in a local community. We provide opportunities for people to participate and not just to go and watch. We have lots of touring professional productions that come and put on the best that's touring. And then there are all the local groups that put on great productions as well, the local amateur groups.

"There's definitely a need for something else and I think that's what we're addressing here is for people who aren't already with a local group and want to try out acting. We produced 'The Big Wall' a couple of years ago and as part of that we put out a call to the actors, there's some of the same people coming back again for this and they're saying 'thank you so much' because it's a great opportunity for them to be part of something that's fun and that's good for them creatively and also it's part of the Arts Council strategy now that each person should be able to fulfil their own creative potential so it's part of that strategy that we're doing that. It's an expensive programme to run, it's an awful lot of work because it looks like it's just one night but there's so much organisation, even just the logistics of organising rehearsals and setting up a space for that. We were hoping that people wouldn't drop out. I think people don't realise the work that goes in. We're lucky that we've been partially funded by the ETB. Hopefully it would be something we could do again next year. There's been a great buzz."

Jean-Marie, who is from France, has been impressed with the enthusiasm for drama in Sligo.

"It's a big deal to work with the community here because the drama tradition here in Sligo is so strong. I don't think you would find a lot towns of Sligo's size with so many local groups, and a lot of groups that have a long history plus the professional group the Blue Raincoat Theatre, many theatre venues and also we are creating the audiences for tomorrow."

'Sligo Acts' focuses on physical theatre, he says.

"Classical theatre relies heavily on scripts, whereas physical theatre scripts are only the surface of the iceberg. With physical theatre we work with what is under the surface of the water, the passions and the energy, that's why it's so much fun. "

Maeve added: "I think some people who have come from that background, say amateur drama or any local productions where they're handed a script and off you go, they're kind of threatened by doing things differently. They find it challenging but really it's just a different way of working. I think if you were to talk to some of these people who were involved in acting classes will tell you that it's been a breath of fresh air."

Kicking off this Sunday at 8pm, you may even get to play a part in the action.

Tickets are €15 & €1 renovation fee and are available from the box office on 071 9161518 or

Sligo Champion