Archives For Carlingford

The Magic Carpet

October 29, 2013 — Leave a comment

A year ago this week I hopped on a train and spent a few days in the quiet town of Carlingford, just shy of the border of Northern Ireland. We were off school that week, so I took some schoolwork with me and took walks and worked on a play and read some books on theatre theory. Made this video to document the trip, for those that never came across it, and like shots mostly filmed out a train window:

One book was buy a guy named Peter Brook. Now, most serious people will have heard of him, and I remember learning a bit about him back in my undergraduate theatre courses. But when you spend a dozen years or so doing youth theatre you don’t talk much about famous European theatre practitioners. You’re more concerned with just getting the kids close enough to the microphones so the audience can hear them.

But a big reason I took all that time off was so I could go study Serious Theatre, and that’s certainly what I had the chance to do. And Brook was brought up over and over again in class by multiple professors. The big quote I remember came from Patrick Mason, about how Brook knew “how to cut to the heart of something, and strip everything else away.” I heard firsthand accounts of his famous productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Cherry Orchard, and after reading two of Brooks’ books, I’m starting to get an idea of what he was after. When it comes to teaching, at least, I too prefer to get rid of anything that isn’t essential.

Brook could have taken over directorship of any of Britain’s (or even Europe’s) most famous theatre companies, but instead he spent part of the 1970s wandering Africa and the Mid-East with a small troupe of actors and a bare carpet. They would lay the carpet down in a public space and begin performing different works of theatre. He was trying to distill the magic of theatre down to its essence, and along the way reinvigorate himself and his love of the craft. After his travels, he settled into a run-down theatre in Paris called the Bouffes du Nord and there produced many of his legendary productions.

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Carlingford, Ireland. October 2012.

Many people ask me what I’m up to, theatre-wise, these days. Some want to know if I’m going back to Limelight. Some wonder if I’ll take over a junior high program, or go to a high school, or start a new company. And I don’t really have an answer for any of that. I suppose at this point I’m traveling on my own magic carpet, working with different groups of kids here and there, studying overseas with some lovely and talented people, watching and learning from the different productions I occasionally attend. I applied for, but did not get, a high school position that was open. There were some certification issues I can’t really overcome at the moment (it’s a bit tricky to jump from elementary teaching to a high school scenario), but part of me wasn’t really sure it was the job for me. At a high school, theatre is about The Spring Musical, and in my final interview I told them that I wasn’t really a musical guy. Sure, I’d do a great job, but I didn’t have the passion that others have for that particular kind of theatre. If they really needed me, I was their man. Whatever’s best for the program and the kids at that school. But if they were interviewing someone that loved musicals, I told them that they should hire them. And so they did.

You see, I’ve done that already. I’ve directed a few musicals in my day, and produced many more, and I just don’t see any challenge in it. Limelight offered an infinitely more interesting canvas on which to paint. You could do a kids’ show one year and write a personal story with high schoolers the next. And while I miss it, I’ve also done as much as I probably could do with that organization, at least in its current form.

So for now I’m just spending my days with the fifth graders, and taking it easy in the evenings and weekends. The short theatre class I taught at Northwestern this summer was a lot of fun, and gave me an idea of where I can go with all of this talent, old and new, I have stored up in me. And so I’m following Mr. Brook’s observation he gives in his essay “There Are No Secrets”:

“We prepare ourselves by the options we reject until the true solution, which was already there, suddenly comes into the open. One lives within a pattern: to ignore this is to take many false directions, but the moment the hidden movement is respected, it becomes the guide, and in retrospect one can trace a clear pattern that continues to unfold…As always, one has to go into a forest and back to find the plant that is growing besides one’s own front door.”

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Writing in Carlingford, Halloween 2012.

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The Fjord of Carlinn

November 5, 2012 — 1 Comment

The Lovely Bleakness

It was time to put the books away, to step away from the seminar room and the rehearsal room, and to see some new places.

It was time to get on a train and stare out the window and watch the world pass by. It was time to get lost in thought, and perhaps discover a new story or two along the way.

It was time to see mountains.

Last Tuesday I woke up early, loaded up my backpack, and headed for the train station. Bought a cheap ticket (thanks to my student discount!) and went north.

I ended up in a small town named Carlingford, located on a fjord right on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I’m not going to take the time (for now) to explain the history and reasons why there is an “Ireland” and a “Northern” Ireland. But you need to be aware of the fact that they are two separate countries, and “regular” Ireland is NOT part of the U.K., while Northern Ireland is.

I may try to explain this in a future post, but for now I recommend heading over to my favorite travel blogger, The Everywhereist, and allow her to explain the difference.

Carlingford is named for the fjord (or inlet) the town sits on, and has something to do with Viking settlers. Going further back, it’s name in Irish was Cuan Snámh-AighneachSnámh-Aighneach or Cuan Cairlinne. (Don’t ask me to pronounce that.)

Viking mural next to the primary school in Carlingford.

But I’m not here for a history lesson. I’m here to talk about the joys of wandering, of traveling to unknown parts, of being completely alone and having that be the best thing in the world.

Sometimes.

When I’m working on a new play, I like to get away from familiar places, from my shelves of books and DVDs, from the usual streets and faces I see every day. And now that I “live” in Dublin, I had to get away from my small Blackrock apartment as well. There’s something about going to a new place, the way your mind drifts while you watch the landscape rush by while you’re on the train, that has always been very helpful for me as a writer.

Or it could just be that you have nothing else to do BUT write. Most of my really good ideas came to me while sitting (alone) at dinner, or in my Bed and Breakfast, after a day spent walking the town and the hills, or up the Slieve Foy as far as I could go in my non-waterproof sneakers. (Really wish I had packed the hiking boots, but they’re sitting in my parents’ basement at the moment.) Sometimes you have to get to a certain point of loneliness and/or boredom for the words to start flowing.

The Slieve Foy Mountain. Highest peak in Co. Lough.

And so after a couple of days in Carlingford, I had the outlines for not just one but two new plays. One’s a dark satire about marriage (I think), and another’s about a fifth grade music prodigy. And I think they share some of the same characters, and even some of the same events, but I haven’t gotten that far with them. Sometimes when you write, the story leads you into directions you didn’t expect, so we’ll see where these end up.

Came back to Dublin in time for a friend’s 40th birthday, and it was wonderful to be among good friends in my temporary home.

Take THAT, 40! (Photo blatantly stolen by me from Elisa’s Facebook page.)

And today I read the opening scene from that new play to our guest professor, and he thought it was great stuff.

Ahh! I almost forgot the best part! I made a video, kids! It’s a little travelogue of my trip to Carlingford and back. Check it out!

You can also see a lot more photos of Carlingford and the rest of my trip here. It’s a public Facebook album. Hopefully I did it right.

Four weeks of classes left.

And whither then? I cannot say.