Post-boom nation puts big themes on the stage

Fishamble’s Tiny Plays for Ireland project affords ordinary people the opportunity to speak their minds, writes Pádraic Killeen

LAST year was an excellent one for Dublin theatre company Fishamble. In Pat Kinevane’s one-man show Silent they enjoyed one of the most acclaimed hits of the year, and, in total, the company staged seven productions, performing almost 200 times in venues at home and abroad.

Notably, they continued to develop their Show in a Bag initiative. The latter assists writers to develop a piece for one performer, the aim being to produce a high-quality show that can tour with minimal overheads. Conceived under this initiative, Gina Moxley’s amusing one-hander The Wheelchair On My Face is touring the country, having debuted at last year’s Fringe.

Fishamble’s self-imposed remit is to develop new plays; a commitment made plain in its name — Fishamble: The New Play Company. There is something very pragmatic about Fishamble’s attitude, perhaps one of the reasons behind its success.

The company’s artistic director, Jim Culleton, describes it as “a sense of just getting on with it.”

The latest project that Fishamble is “getting on with” is an intriguing one. Last September the company made a public call for submissions of “tiny plays” — pieces with a running time of three minutes. Anyone could submit. The one proviso was that the plays must speak to contemporary Ireland. This week the first fruits of that process will see light when Tiny Plays for Ireland — a programme of 25 short pieces — begins its run in the Project Arts Centre. The programme features commissioned work by theatre bigwigs such as Ardal O’Hanlon, Dermot Bolger, and Michael West, alongside a range of work submitted by members of the public. The plays will be brought to life by a team of Ireland’s finest actors, among them Mary Murray and Don Wycherley.

Such was the response to the competition — there were a whopping 1700 entries — that Fishamble will stage a second programme of Tiny Plays later in 2012. “Evidently, it tapped into something in the Irish psyche,” says Culleton. “It pointed toward a level of creativity around the country that we were really delighted about.”

The idea behind Tiny Plays initially grew from discussions between Culleton and Fishamble’s literary director, Gavin Kostick, about generating a new play that would respond to the bank crisis.

“We feel that it’s our duty as a company to respond to what Ireland’s going through at the moment,” says Culleton. “Gavin was interested in the fact that, as late as 2005, Anglo-Irish Bank was referred to as the “best bank in the world”. So we thought about making a play called The Best Bank in the World, which would have looked at the whole crisis and the bailout. The idea didn’t really develop into a full-length play. There’s a certain responsibility that falls on one writer trying to tackle all of that, so we thought that maybe instead we would put our trust in the Irish public and ask them to submit plays about contemporary Ireland, and somehow share that responsibility as citizens.”

This mosaic effect of minute plays has permitted a more eclectic array of themes and perspectives, says Culleton.

“We received a lot of plays about what you’d expect — the recession and the banking crisis and social issues, such as homelessness and depression,” he says. “And in the final programme there are a lot of plays that are upset and angry and sad. But there are also a lot of very hopeful plays — plays that capture the switch in people’s values. And that was the challenge really. If you have three or four minutes of time onstage, what will you use it for? What sort of characters should be represented? What would you say to people if you can take the stage for three or four minutes? That’s what the plays respond to.”

A series of talks tied in to the production will take place during its run. Notably, on Saturday, Mar 24, there will be an evening reading of work sent in by young people. “We got 119 plays sent to us by people under 18,” says Culleton. “One play was sent in to us by someone as young as seven, but most were aged between 14 and 18.”

Admirably, this spirit of inclusivity appears to guide the project as a whole.

Tiny Plays for Ireland runs in the Project Arts Centre, Mar 15-31

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