Keeping drama alive during challenging times
Rathfarnham Theatre Group (RTG) didn’t let Covid 19 curb it’s enthusiasm - we took the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions in our stride and simply moved online!
This new virtual drama world presented us with many challenges. We grappled with the basics of downloading the Zoom App, joining a Zoom meeting, turning on and off our videos, and muting our sound. Once we were comfortable with this and had overcome our initial ‘screen fright’ we started reading monologues and two-handers, which were ideal for Zoom. As we got more confident, we started experimenting with virtual backgrounds and discovered they were a lot easier and cheaper to put up than our usual sets!
We had ‘Wildcard Nights’ when anyone who wanted to perform could do a piece of their choosing - a poem, a monologue, a song, a reading. Some performers really got into character and got very creative using whatever they had to hand at home to assemble some very imaginative costumes. A white hairband and black blouse was transformed into a nun’s veil; a black pillowcase became a headpiece for one of the witches in Macbeth; a scarf was ingeniously twisted into a hat for Richard III; and we even had a barrister’s wig crocheted complete with curlers wrapped in wool for the sides! The beauty of Zoom is of course that you only need half a costume - so the three witches in Macbeth could happily wear their leggings and runners in the knowledge that they wouldn’t be seen by the virtual audience!
Our next venture was a Writers’ Workshop facilitated by Gavin Kostick, from Fishamble Theatre Company. Gavin outlined the basics of how to go about writing a script and participants were asked to write a short play of no more than 600 words and submit it to be critiqued at the second workshop. This proved hugely successful, with twelve of our members putting pen to paper and submitting a play. These tiny plays provided us with fantastic material to work with. We read a few of the plays each week, giving other members an opportunity to act them out, and we had a discussion about the play afterwards.
We then embarked on another venture to give members a chance to develop their directing skills. Carmel Cullen, who has been directing plays for RTG for many years, facilitated a Directing Workshop for the group. Carmel’s workshop was hugely enjoyable and informative and succeeded in giving some of our members the courage to try their hand at directing at our Tiny Plays Festival later in the year.
In November we did a rehearsed reading of The West Clare Railway -v- William Percy French. The reading was performed by kind permission of Tish Dunleavy, founder of Leitrim Percy French Society, who wrote the play to commemorate the centenary of the death of Percy French. The online performance was directed by our very own Phil Fitzpatrick and we were delighted that Tish was able to join us on Zoom for the rehearsed reading. We thoroughly enjoyed performing this very entertaining piece and hope that we brought Tish’s writing to life with our interpretation of her very lively court setting!
In December we performed The Excise Man, a three-act comedy by one of our stalwart members, Cass Guinan, and directed by Carl Lusby. Great fun was had both in rehearsal (all on Zoom) and on the night, with the ducking and diving of the men in the Ferris family, trying to escape detection by the Excise Man on the lookout for illegal poteen stills.
Both these plays were produced and performed for our own RTG members. However, in March 2021 we were delighted to succeed in performing a full-length online production of Eugene O’Brien’s wonderful play Eden for a public audience. The play was directed by Maria Burke King and performed by Helen O’Brien and Columb Casey - all members of RTG. The play was recorded and viewed online by friends, patrons and supporters of RTG. Subsequently the recording was made available to dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum as a fundraiser for the theatre and was viewed by an even wider audience.
Back on Stage
While the virtual world of Zoom has kept us going through these strange times, there is really nothing to replace live performance. Like all drama groups across the country, we can’t wait to get back on stage to perform for live audiences. But, in the meantime, we’re using our time to learn new skills, keep drama alive, and most importantly, to connect with all our members.
Subject to public health advice, we hope to be back in dlr Mill Theatre from 17 to 20 November 2021 with our production of The Approach by Mark O’Rowe. This production will be directed by Anne O’Connell and performed by Deirdre Shanahan, Claire Parkes and Deirdre Dunlevy. A wonderful production to get us back on stage and to bringing live theatre back to our community.
Tiny Plays Festival
Following on from our two writer’s workshops with Gavin Kostick (Fishamble Theatre Company) and a director’s workshop from our very own Carmel Cullen our members wrote, acted, directed and produced a Tiny Plays Festival. A great night to end a very enjoyable zoom season.
It amazing to realise that we’ve just had our first anniversary of Zoom workshops. It's not live but we’re still going strong, Zoom comedy theatre night ahoy.......