For theatre companies such as Fishamble, an upheaval as virulent as a pandemic raises some big questions. Who is best fit to tell the story of this time? Can a few polished plays really represent the diverse range of Irish experiences of lockdown – a crisis that disturbed every facet of modern society?
Fishamble’s Artistic Director Jim Culleton and Literary Manager Gavin Kostick faced these same questions at the onset of the 2008 banking crisis. Kostick recalls a shared “lightbulb moment” when the pair decided to invite the public to submit “tiny plays” that spoke directly to the significance of that moment for Ireland.
The response was incredible. Fishamble received over 1,700 plays, 50 of which were later published in two volumes. Others were featured on junior certificate exams and a handful progressed into full-length plays.
“Our beginnings never know our ends”, Kostick smiles in retrospect, quoting T.S. Eliot. As the latest generation of Tiny Plays – due to launch online this Friday – reckons with lockdown-related challenges including restriction-compliant rehearsals and the online format, Kostick’s choice of quote is poignant.
Over the course of the pandemic, the company once again returned to the public seeking 600-word scripts. Given the global nature of the coronavirus pandemic, the company also decided to open their final call-out to international submissions and further broaden the range of artistic perspectives coming in.
Kostick says that the format of Tiny Plays 24/7 satisfies the public’s upsurging desire “to express themselves through drama” during lockdown. The popularity of the project has allowed the company to curate a mosaic view of artistry in isolation, and avoid the singular view of a commissioned playwright.
“We deliberately have a mix of styles to reflect the different artistic styles that people tried during the lockdown phase”, Kostick says, giving credit to the cinematic eye of Jeda de Brí who is working alongside Culleton to direct Tiny Plays 24/7.
Although calls for submissions closed in early May, Fishamble has championed T.S. Eliot in taking the work one step further. This Friday, 10 of the 25 published plays will be streamed online – brought to life through a combination of performance on the O’Reilly Theatre stage and pre-recorded content.
Casting for this project, Kostick says, required careful consideration. Being able to cast actors who lived together, such as Aaron Monaghan and Claire Monelly or Gill Buckle and Kwaku Fortune, helped to ensure that intimacy could be played out on stage even with social distancing, he tells me. Additionally, the use of recorded content allowed the company to cast actors overseas and rehearse remotely, widening their pool of potential performers.
When selecting the plays within a team of readers, Kostick was careful not to “get locked into the best plays” as if judging a competition. Instead he looked for plays that had value as stand-alone works that could also contribute to the overarching picture of the production and ensure that a plethora of perspectives were platformed.
One of the plays chosen is “Before the Storm” written by final-year Trinity drama student Lora Hartin, whose inspiration sprung from a “very surreal party [she attended] the night before lockdown”. With the buzz of uncertainty thick in the air, Hartin wanted to explore “an undefined relationship in those last few moments”, she tells me. “It’s basically two people in a kitchen talking about whether or not they should kiss and be together before they both have to go home and possibly not see each other for a while”, she adds.
For Kostick, Hartin’s play sets up a clear timeline for the showcase “by setting a date the night before Varadkar’s announcement”, whilst Ryan Murphy’s play “Ragnarok” bookends the production with an “end of the world” feel.
Working remotely as the project’s dramaturg, Kostick admits to “really missing” the buzz of the theatre in action. But this Friday’s online show will offer a “taste of theatre moving back to the theatre” for those yearning for a theatrical escape, he affirms – taking the form of an hour-long medley of tiny plays.
Tiny Plays 24/7 premieres online on Friday July 24th at 7pm. You can register for a free ticket at eventbrite.ie. The performances will be available to watch for the following week on Fishamble’s YouTube channel.