Archives For Conor McPherson

Moon’s Day

November 20, 2012 — Leave a comment

On Moon’s Day, I started finding the limits of my universe.

In the morning I worked on this composition piece for the movement class. I keep telling myself that it’s not dance, it’s not dance, but we had a professional choreographer come in to help us fine-tune the piece, and he kept saying, “Make your dance come alive. Make your dance come alive!”

Now kids, just picture Mr. Fauth trying to do that, and you’ll know what Reaching the Limits of Your Comfort Zone looks like.

My set-up for my composition piece. Of course, it’s a classroom.

In the evening I worked on a director’s project I have for a different class. A 20-minute one-act that we presented to a professional director last week. He gave me some notes, and they were all about pushing it further, to its logical conclusion. As I worked with the college-age actors, and even a “pro” actress, I realized that I wasn’t directing them enough. Yeah, they’re older and more experienced than the younger actors I usually direct, but in the end, all actors still need a director. So we pushed that out to be as big as it could get (it’s a farce), and hopefully I found new places to go with it.

The afternoon class gave me the biggest revelation, though. I presented the next scene in the short play I’ve been working on for the writing class, in a roughish form. (We get feedback and then bring it back in a week with revisions.) “All the pieces are there”, I was told, which is a nice compliment. But McPherson noticed that I was doing the same thing as with an older piece I showed him: I have a tendency to have my characters always heading towards resolution, and that’s the last thing you want to have happen in drama.  It’s great advice, and it’s true, I noted. Then the lead professor said something even more illuminating:

“It’s probably because you’re a teacher.”

And that was dead-on. In a classroom, I’m always trying to push my students towards greater understanding of something, towards the beginning of wisdom, and to be the best possible people they can be. You don’t want your characters in a play to do that! You want them to contradict themselves, create conflict, and move towards irresolution.

They’re two completely different skills, and not very compatible with each other. And they probably lie at the heart of a character I call The Two-Headed Mr. Fauth. We’ll come back to him another day. Right now, I’ve got to put the pieces of this scene in the right order, and head up to the main campus for the final presentation of my director’s project.

The main campus of UCD, dusk.

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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.

Catching Up

September 14, 2012 — Leave a comment

So, I haven’t been a “real” student since Bill Clinton was president.

If you’re one of my students reading this, that means its been a while. I did my undergraduate and first masters in the ’90s, but aside from a few classes here and there (that weren’t anything to write home about), I have spent the last 15 years calling the shots in a classroom or on a stage.

Now I’m back to having assignments given to me, and it’s a strange experience. The toughest part has been catching up on all of the “classic” works of theatre I had never gotten around to reading before. I’ve spoken of “the stack” in previous posts, and just when I think I’ve got it done, they assign more plays for me to read. Because my directorial career has strictly been in youth theatre, I never read much Chekhov or Ibsen or Brecht. Shakespeare was my exclusive go-to guy for the Big Stuff.

So now I’m brushing up, and being exposed to newer playwrights I had never come across before. I’m embarrassed to say that I never read any Frank McGuinness before, but he’s really something, and he’ll be teaching me how to analyze The Merchant of Venice for the next few weeks. I’m also participating in a Writing for Theatre course that’ll be co-taught by Conor McPherson. I read his play “The Weir”a long time ago, and that was the beginning of my interest in contemporary Irish theatre. Little did I know that I’d be learning how to write from him ten years later. (Technically the class isn’t open to the MA in Directing students, but they’re letting me participate in a not-for-credit capacity.)

So I’m pretty lucky, and I’m regretting not taking the literary side of theatre more seriously, since it’s been a month of heavy reading and contemplating. Reading plays is hard, man. When you think about it, it’s only half the story, in a sense. For me, it isn’t complete until actors get up on stage and perform it, and even then, you’re only watching one version of it. Another director, another production, another interpretation of the work. And I guess that’s what’s great about theatre, as opposed to film, where everything is fixed and permanent.

So…sorry for the lack of updates. I have plenty of stories to tell, but I just wrapped up the first week of classes, and I’ve been pretty focused on that. Hoping to get my homework done in a timely manner, though, so I can get back to writing the “forty tales” or so on here. (Hmm, 40 posts is a nice goal to set for myself…)

More soon…I’m going to see an opera about Ikea this weekend!