Smashing Times and troubled lives in theatre

Mary Moynihan, artistic director of Smashing Times
Mary Moynihan, artistic director of Smashing Times

For the past two decades, Dublin theatre company, Smashing Times, has engaged with social issues.

Next week, it presents Witness, a week-long season of plays in the Project Arts Centre, in Dublin. The pieces are Testimonies, a series of monologues that reflects on suicide and mental illness; Thou Shalt Not Kill, a multidisciplinary set of performances that examines conflict, trauma and hope; and, finally, Uprising, a fusion of text, movement and dance that examines fighting for a cause.

“All three centre on stories of individuals who have gone through difficult situations,” says Smashing Times artistic director, Mary Moynihan. “They address what has happened to them as human beings and how they’ve emerged from those situations to move forward with their lives.”

All of the plays are the result of Smashing Times’s community-oriented methods — they work hands-on in communities to address issues of concern, producing theatre directly from that interaction. “The stories are fictitious, but they’re based on a series of interviews we did with people and their stories were adapted into the performance,” says Moynihan. “It’s what we call ‘true fiction’.”

With patrons such as Brian Friel and Tim Pat Coogan, and a range of sponsors that includes Dublin City Council, the HSE, and ESB ElectricAID Ireland, the company’s policy is to use theatre as a tool for dialogue and social justice, while maintaining an identity that is committed to artistic excellence.

“We see ourselves, first and foremost, as a company of artists,” says Moynihan. “And, as an artist, I am interested in going into those dark areas of human experience. But because we’re also interested in the world we live in, and in trying to make the world a better place, we’re combining our artwork with the real experiences of people.”

The company was founded by Moynihan, and fellow actors from the Focus Theatre, in 1991.

“We decided we wanted to bring the theatre outside of the traditional theatre space into communities and so we, literally, got on the bus and went out to places like Tallaght and Ballymun and presented plays by international writers, like Franca Rame and Dario Fo. The post-show discussions became so big that we started to devise workshops, where the audiences could directly engage with the issues. And that’s how we started working with communities and started bringing their stories into the space.”

Each of the shows in next week’s run will feature the customary, post-show discussion. The issues are difficult ones, Moynihan says, but she believes that theatre empowers people to address them and, at heart, to bear witness.

“What we’re always interested in is the human relationships and the resilience of the human spirit, and the way people can reach together and rise above what has happened to them,” she says.

“And we’re not saying that’s what everybody does, or that is what you should do. But there is a strong sense that these stories cannot be forgotten. How do you find a way to reconcile the past into the present, and then into the future? How do you find a way not to forget what’s happened and to remember people’s stories, while finding a way to move forward?”

* Witness — A Season of Smashing Times’s plays, readings, and performance runs at Project Arts Cube, Nov 5-9.

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