Thank you 193 – The 39 Steps

I meant to do this earlier and now the guys at Cues & News have got in ahead of me. Their version is infinitely better than mine but what can you do.

Back in the early days of September I found myself helping out at auditions for the fifth play of the year at Williamstown Little Theatre. I had just finished a four week stint in Sydney after a four week stint in Europe and had managed to costume the fourth play which was opening in the early days of September. I’ll do the auditions, I thought to myself. That’ll wrap up the theatrical year nicely, I thought to myself. If I can’t give my friend Barbara a couple of hours on a Sunday and a couple more on a Monday, then what kind of friend am I.

So we did the auditions. Lots of them. And we laughed. Lots of times. Loudly. I got home on the Sunday night and downloaded an e-book of the novel the play we were holding auditions for was based. And I read it. That Sunday night. When I should have been sleeping. All of it. To The End. It was all right. Not filled with humour. But okay.

By 7pm on the Monday, I was back at auditions. I thought I was tired. I had no idea what tired actually meant.

In our heads we had cast three-quarters of the play. We were still missing the hero. There were options, some really good options but we knew we hadn’t hit gold. Auditions were winding down, we were main-lining dark chocolate Maltesers and it was cold. Way too cold for September.

The last auditonee entered the room. He wasn’t auditioning for the hero but Barb, in her indomitable fashion, talked him into it. And we knew. We had him. We had the play cast.

Two short days later – and the night before The Seafarer was due to open, just when my theatrical work was done – my phone pinged. The depicted conversation ensued.

IMG_0576

I didn’t faint. I should have. We had no idea how we were going to do it all. But we did it all. And then some. These are my takeaways from The 39 Steps.

  1. Printing and compiling 27 A1 (look it up) maps uses a lot of ink and magic tape.
  2. If you need the Scottish Moors hand painted on a stage curtain, Loraine Callow is your only woman.
  3. Period costumes have to be designed by Tony Tartaro.
  4. And Tony has to have a team of dedicated, enthusiastic, talented sewers.
  5. No idea is impossible.
  6. If you’re going to need a stage crew, call on The Nancey Boys.
  7. You don’t need a trick bow-tie when you’ve got Liam O’Kane.
  8. No idea is too silly.
  9. With the right team in place, you can achieve everything.
  10. There is no such thing as too much laughter.
  11. You will find paint in the most obscure parts of your body.
  12. Organise your space well and you can fit a bridge in it.
  13. And a train.
  14. If you need a BBC Received Pronuncioation Voiceover, Patrick Slee is your only man.
  15. Somebody nearby always has a trombone. You just have to ask.
  16. Cast well and all will be well.
  17. It is really easy to fold a map.
  18. Dion Sexton is a genius.
  19. Moving portraits are far more believable than moving statues.
  20. It’s the old jokes that get the most laughter.
  21. And the most groans.
  22. You can sleep in a box bed. Even when it is an actual box.
  23. Audience participation doesn’t have to be cruel.
  24. Get it right and you will be rewarded.
  25. But that is not why you do it.
  26. People who can play multiple characters are amazing.
  27. As is the person who has to play opposite them.
  28. Sometimes you need a nightly prop audit.
  29. And a room for wigs and props.
  30. The weather will not co-operate.
  31. But everything else will.
  32. Laughter is cheaper than therapy.
  33. You find yourself explaining how an older lady’s boobs go south.
  34. Then positioning them.
  35. If you sprinkle paint on the floor incorrectly, be prepared to remove it. Immediately.
  36. Wind (weather) and wind (coil) are easily confused.
  37. Excellent lighting and sound add so much to a production.
  38. You will always want to do front of house with Kerry Drumm.
  39. And you will always love to work with Barbara Hughes.

Roll on, Play one 2018 and

Thanks, The 39 Steps

 

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Thank you 192 – The Seafarers

These are some of my favourite moments.

That quiet time when the audience is settled in their seats, the show has begun and you can sit in the foyer. On closing night. Hearing the lines you know too well emanate from the stage. Lines that cut through you in their clarity, their brilliance, their humour. Lines delivered in accents that are almost familiar. Words that you don’t often hear in a September spring. Words more suited to when and where they are set. Words like Howth and Jaysus and Santy. Cold words for a cold place.

And you hear laughter. For even if the words are cold and the place is cold, there’s a humour to them that warms you. That makes you smile. A Dublin humour. Cut through with wit and bitterness and that rhythm of speech you find on,y in those few miles that circle the Liffey. And even if the stage accents may not be as bleedin perfect as they could be, they’ve found the rhythm and the humour. And the bitterness and the wit.

It’s almost interval. When the crowds will come out looking for wine and tea and sweets in a box. There was a run on the red this evening. Which was unexpected. Given that it was the first warm day in months. But they all wanted red wine. God knows what they’ll want at interval.

Then they’ll go back in for the second act and it will get quiet again. For another hour or so. Til it’s done. After all the rehearsals, all the costume fittings, all the prop gathering, all the set building, all the set dressing, all the line learning, all the dialogue training, all the performances. It’ll be done.

And we will gather the props to return them to their homes. Wash the costumes. Dismantle the set. And start again.

It’s been a blast this one. A motley crew of men coming together for a show. A brace of women to dress them and manage them into some sort of shape.

These are some of my favourite moments. These ones where it is almost done.

Thanks, the Seafarers.

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Thank you 191 – her

I blame Williamstown Little Theatre. Back in the mists of 2016 I said I wasn’t doing theatre stuff in 2017. Said I didn’t know what the year would hold so I couldn’t commit. Thought I’d maybe get serious about the future and get the hell out of dodge. Thought I’d maybe get serious about the writing lark and get this blog into some sort of publishable state. Or finish that bloody book. So no theatre.

Yet, here we are. Started the work on the 5th play of the year. Committed to some sort of involvement in the first two for 2018. Still no book. Still not much of a blog. Nothing since April. Not even a thought of it.

Except today. For if there is nothing else you do today, you remember.

There was a time when you remembered only what happened on this date at that time. There was a time when you remembered all the years that came before. There was a time when you imagined what happened in all the years before you. There were all those times.

And now there is only this time.

When you sit in a cab, on a plane, on a train, in a workshop, at a lunch, in a meeting, on another train, on another plane and in another cab. When nobody around you knows that this day has a resonance only you and yours understand. When you go through the motions and laugh at the jokes and roll your eyes to heaven at the blue sky thinking. Because that is what you do. Because that is what you learned. From your mother. Who took her last breath. On this date. Almost at this time.

You can’t say you’re exactly sad although you may be. You can’t say you’re exactly happy although you may be. You can’t say you’re grieving although you may be.

But you can say you’re grateful. For being lucky. For having had what a special person described as a “lovely Mammy”. Because she was lovely. And funny. And smart. And fair. And annoying. And beautiful. And cranky. And kind. And shockable. And afraid of heights. And a really bad singer. And a daughter, a sister, an aunt. A friend. A bridge player. A letter writer. A bloody good cook. A frenzied knitter. A lover of snooker and tennis. A fan of the team who was doing better. A stamp collector. An ironer. A wife. A prober. A wearer of embarrassing hats. A difficult person to argue with. A nurse. An actress.

And a mother. My mother.

So, on this day, on this date – fraught with memory and emotion – I am grateful. For her.

Thank you – Her.

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Thank you 190 – Tony

Well it’s been a while. There have been days when I’ve thought about another thank you. But it just seemed too hard. In a world as crazy as the one we currently find ourselves in, sometimes it is too hard to find the gratitude. Or the news is too interesting or there are dishes to be done or meetings to attend or visitors to entertain. And finding five minutes to write is a challenge.

But there are other days. More auspicious ones. Where you can only be grateful and remember. A feast of memories. And so it begins.

An Intermediate Certificate mock history paper. Eight sections. You completed three. C – Renaissance and Reformation. D – 19th century. F – Modern History. You didn’t do the other five sections. Unless you did. You recalled facts on history you’d never learned. And your error was shared with the class. To great hilarity. But you didn’t make the same mistake when it came to the real exam. And you dropped history immediately thereafter.

You made other choices after the Inter Cert. And the choices you made were polar opposites to some of your classmates so you ended up in a group of 26 who spent varying amounts of time together. So we shared only the non essentials. Like Civics and Religion. You knew yourself better and chose wisely. Art and Technical Drawing. I chose less wisely. History and Accounting. 

I don’t recall too many conversations in that old classroom on the rare occasions we were both there at the same time. It seems there were brief moments where I remember a quiet comment coming from a far corner. A comment that made me laugh. Made me notice. Something somewhere. A connection.

I do remember sitting on my parents’ kitchen counter trying to talk someone out of taking my parents’ car the night we over celebrated leaving school. 17 and 18 and 19 year olds in a parent free house too early in the morning. I don’t know if I ever told you that the keys were in the drawer under where I sat. That I knew they were there though I’d sworn they weren’t. I remember the start of tension brewing in that kitchen and, I don’t know how you did it, but you read the situation and diffused it. And I don’t remember ever thanking you.

I remember Joanne being born and a quiet conversation in the loudness of a Charlestown disco. I remember Aengus stretched out in a hospital bed and you in another one. Two future professional cyclists knocked out before they had a chance to shine.

I remember friendship growing between two families and nights out that still make me smile. Or cringe.

I remember a quarry. 

And being hungover at Mass. And Elaine Kilcoyne’s wedding. When we thought we were all grown up because one of us had gotten married.

I remember us seeing Tony Burke and Anne Ryan together for the first time.  In Toffs. That was the night of the quarry.

I remember more weddings. And nieces. Lots of nieces. 

I remember the week the Germans came to Tubbercurry. And sitting round the table in the back of Nathys on the Thursday night of music week with Maureen and Clare Duffy and the Germans and you arrived in with a Donegal woman. She was quiet. But I remember liking her.

I remember another wedding. In Moville. And the piss being taken out of most people. And the news breaking about the imminent arrival of another niece. 

I remember walking down The Rocks in Sydney and hearing a laugh that makes you feel good emanate through an open window in a nearby pub and turning to Kai and saying “he’s in there.” And Kai didn’t know how I knew. Not then he didn’t. He would now.

I remember nights in Germany.

 I remember years of story telling.  And jokes half told. Where the punchline gets lost in gales of laughter. 

I remember nights in Donegal. Four of us squeezed into one hotel room. And nobody sleeping. Just laughter and more story telling.

I remember sadness being eased by your presence. And joy being accentuated by it.

I remember 30 year reunions and the questioning looks of some who didn’t know we’d found each other just as our schooling ended and our lives began.

I remember most of it. But especially the quarry.

Thanks for being my friend and happy, happy birthday, Tony

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Thank you 189 – Ríonach

It was cold in that hallway. Always cold.

You’d stand there with a coat or two on. And a scarf. Your gloved fingers fumbling with coins and A buttons or B buttons. You didn’t make many calls. You didn’t receive many either. You were easier to find in The Palace Bar where your mother could leave a message and John or Liam or David would tell you to call your mum or your mother or your Ma when you’d invariably drop in.

But you got one call in that hallway that you still remember. One you were expecting. One you’d hung around that hallway waiting for. And when it came on the 19th December 1995 you didn’t care that it was a cool, wet miserable day with an easterly wind and no sunshine recorded. Anywhere. On the entire island. Except maybe in that cold hallway. When the news came that a child had been born.

It was cold that December in New York. Always cold.

You’d need two or three coats. And a scarf. And a hat or two. Your gloved fingers fumbling with coins but no A buttons or B buttons. You didn’t make many calls that trip. You’d emailed lots. Long, rambling emails about the things you saw and the thoughts you had. Phone calls though? You weren’t making any of them.

But you found yourself on the 19th December 2002 with a pile of quarters in a phone box. Shivering. Until a seven year old voice came down the line and agreed that yes, today might be her birthday and yes, it would be Christmas next week. And when you told her how lucky she was, she told you, in no uncertain terms, that yes, she gets one good week and the rest of the year is shit. And a little ray of sunshine warmed through your layers and you laughed until the tears froze on your cheek.

It’s warm today in Melbourne. Not exceptionally so but warm enough. The clock has ticked over on the other side of the world where a now 21 year old is probably sleeping. It’s a little too early to ring. But there will be a call. There will be no fumbling with coins and certainly no A or B buttons.

But there will be laughter. And there will be warmth. Here where it is warm. And there where it isn’t. Lots of warmth. And laughter. And love.

Thanks, Ríonach.

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Thank you 189 – Ríonach

It was cold in that hallway. Always cold. 

You’d stand there with a coat or two on. And a scarf. Your gloved fingers fumbling with coins and A buttons or B buttons. You didn’t make many calls. You didn’t receive many either. You were easier to find in The Palace Bar where your mother could leave a message and John or Liam or David would tell you to call your mum or your mother or your Ma when you’d invariably drop in. 

But you got one call in that hallway that you still remember. One you were expecting. One you’d hung around that hallway waiting for. And when it came on the 19th December 1995 you didn’t care that it was a cool, wet miserable day with an easterly wind and no sunshine recorded. Anywhere. On the entire island. Except maybe in that cold hallway. When the news came that a child had been born. 

It was cold that December in New York. Always cold.

You’d need two or three coats. And a scarf. And a hat or two. Your gloved fingers fumbling with coins but no A buttons or B buttons. You didn’t make many calls that trip. You’d emailed lots. Long, rambling emails about the things you saw and the thoughts you had. Phone calls though? You weren’t making any of them.

But you found yourself on the 19th December 2002 with a pile of quarters in a phone box. Shivering. Until a seven year old voice came down the libe and agreed that yes, today might be her birthday and yes, it would be Christmas next week. And when you told her how lucky she was, she told you, in no uncertain terms, that yes, she gets one good week and the rest of the year is shit. And a little ray of sunshine warmed through your layers and you laughed until the tears froze on your cheek.

It’s warm today in Melbourne. Not exceptionally so but warm enough. The clock has ticked over on the other side of the world where a now 21 year old is probably sleeping. It’s a little too early to ring. But there will be a call. There will be no fumbling with coins and certainly no A or B buttons.

But there will be laughter. And there will be warmth. Here where it is warm. And there where it isn’t. Lots of warmth. And laughter. And love.

Thanks, Ríonach.

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Thank you 188 – Sligo Central Library

Once upon a time there was a world filled with magic.

It was unexpected, that world. Hidden on a busy street behind an iron gate. In my memory, the railings of that gate were painted white. Not a pristine white. More grubby from years of manhandling and exhaust fumes filled with lead and other things that do you harm. Flaking paint that might rub off in your hand as you touched it. But you didn’t care about the gate. 

There was a path leading to a door. A big door. You’d skip up the path with your pigtails swinging as you went. Your scuffed shoes kicking up the loose gravel as you went. Your heart thumping with excitement for you knew the treasures that lay just through that door.

You didn’t stop to appreciate the architecture. You didn’t stop to think that the building had stood since the 1790s. You didn’t gaze at its stone or its high arched windows. You didn’t think of the many thousands who had walked this path before you. Or the many thousands that would come after you. You didn’t care about any of that. You didn’t know that a hundred years earlier some smart thinking people had made a decision to put a public service in place for the people of your county. That they were only the second smart thinking people on the whole island of Ireland to decide this might be a good thing for the local people. You didn’t care about any of that. You just knew that someone somewhere had stocked this magical place just for you. 

So you’d get to that big door. And you’d stop. Take a deep breath. Walk in. Turn. Into the magic.

The things you learned there. Practical things. Like how to tiptoe. Or how to stretch . Or to step on one shelf and hold your balance on another so that you could stretch further. How to be quiet. Really, really quiet. How to make a decision when you were faced with a thousand choices. How to pick things perhaps a little inappropriate. How to visit faraway places. Just by turning a page. How to be responsible. How to treat public property. How to queue. How to understand you’d grown. Just a little bit but enough that you didn’t need to stretch so far this time.

And when you’d grown as much as you would ever grow you found yourself back in that magical place. Smaller than you remembered but just as magical. And you watched a new generation learning. Just as you had and just as you hoped many thousands yet to be born would also.

You haven’t been back there in a long, long time. Twenty something posts ago you remembered another magical place that was threatened by closure. But what you didn’t say then was that there was another magical place. Your first one.

You never forget your first one. Your once upon a time. You hope it lives happily ever after.

Thanks, Sligo Central Library

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