Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Exciting times at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

November 4th 2015.
Los Angeles.

 I'm a little giddy.
 I was angry. Not for long, I did have Twitter to vent a little. And I talked to some people. And I made little decisions and plans . That made me feel good. I don't like feeling angry. It's usually a lonely place. Even now with our "social" platforms it seems futile letting ones feelings be revealed as there is usually someone with  as strong opposing feelings with much more time and faster typing skills to contend with. You know those anonymous cowards.
 But this time I see something happening. Out of anger mostly, initially at least. Heads are popping around corners, curtains are being pulled back. The unmistakable sound of shackles being dropped. Something is afoot. Someone has said the Emperor has no clothes. The murmor has started. A shout is heard. Soon , very soon, this will become a roar.
 I'm a little giddy.
 The most moving political moment in my life so far was the legalization of same sex marriage in Ireland. The journey ( in the end) to get there seemed lightening fast. It was joyous and exuberant, hopeful and free of cynicism. Of course it was overwhelmingly embraced. But where did the spark come from that set the tinder alight and burned so bright, it was seen around the world?
The Abbey stage!
A friggin Theatre! But listen ... it wasn't even part of the play that night. It was a speech afterwards. A call to converse.
It gets better; it was a man, dressed as a woman, being honest about horrible discrimination in his life.   And we all got to see it on "social" media. Millions of us, in Ireland and around the world. Of course the great thing was the Abbey , our National Theatre, got behind it all. No doubt it's proudest moment. It led, almost by accident, and the country followed. It was glorious. It was needed.
And now it's time for the really, really, big change. Once again the Abbey has allowed a space for the spark to be lit. Unknown to itself it seems. But the burn has started. We must collectively fan this flame and once again show it to the world.
Women in Theatre are not second class citizens.
Women in Ireland are not second class citizens.
Women in the world are not second class citizens.
My mother and my sister have not been given the same chances as my father or me. Thats a fact. A fact I disagreed with, and was cognizant of , but did not do enough to rectify. When organizing any arts events I strove to have parity in gender, I thought I was on the front foot with this "issue".
I was wrong.
I'll share my moment of enlightenment. I have a depressing addiction to following the exploits of Celtic FC. I try to watch games, on my computer at ungodly hours. For a middle aged man, I have a worrying amount of Celtic Jerseys taking up closet space. My two young daughters (7and 5) are aware of my affliction. I don't watch sports on TV though. That's their domain at weekends, and family movie night. But, when the last world cup came around, I decided to liberate said flatscreen to a few games.
Then it happened. At the beginning of some first round game, Molly turned to me and said "why do you only watch men playing sport ?"
I looked at my daughter , I didn't know what to say. Because she looked disappointed . Disappointed that her Da (that tells her she can do anything , is equal in every way to every other human being) doesn't care about girls sports. I was jolted. How could I be so blind.
The only tv show I watch regularly is "Later with Jools Holland". When I discovered it on a cable channel here, I thought , I must get the girls to have a look at this. Some amazing musicians, an eclectic mix, be good for them to witness.
The girls took to the couch. We watched, and then they immediately  started doing it. The thing they always do  now. They count the girls in the band. First thing each new group comes on. The girls start ....'One, Two .....". they decide who they'll be. Then they rock out. Or not.

My girls look to see if they are reflected. In everything. My other sporting passion is the NY Mets (who played in the World Series last week). I haven't had to watch them for a decade because they've been so bad, but watching recently, Molly became distressed that she could never become a baseball player. She could never become a member of the Team I was leaping and screaming passionately about.
I remember when I fell into Drama School in Dublin, I started to go see some theatre. I had made it to 18 having seen just one professional Play ( at the Abbey) and only a few movies in the cinema . I never really thought I was going to become an actor. I mean a real one. Gracing the Abbey. How could I ? I was from Cavan. It seemed only Dublin people were on the stage. It was the 80's , culchies were culchies. And then one night I watched Brendan Gleeson stick his hand out from a toilet door (on stage , the Olympia or maybe Gaiety ) and introduce himself in a broad Cavan accent . His name was Valentine. The play may have been called House, it was great etc .... but all I still really remember was there was a Cavan character. And I still remember the feeling the quiet voice inside me that said , I could do that. I'm from Cavan.
What must it feel to be a female playwright in Ireland? When our National theatre says you're not important. We don't need to hear you. And it does so with the best intentions at heart. It does so unbeknownst to itself. It does so being run by enlightened people.
It is a profoundly difficult, lonely job being a writer. A playwright perhaps even more so, because your chances of seeing a production of your work is tiny. And it's a life of poverty for many. How about that? Why would one want to do it? Well of course there's an awful lot of reasons why! Which I'll not get into, as it would demand a discussion on Theatre (which I believe is broken almost beyond repair yada yada ).
But if one did want to become a playwright, and you spent your time being poor and you have your manuscript . You finally look up , and you have a play that is extraordinary, about , say ,The Easter Rising ... And if you are a female Playwright,  you have a voice , and you have a story .... who do you give it to? To celebrate it. To celebrate your voice? Well obviously not the Abbey Theatre.
The same Abbey Theatre that wrote to the son of Irish immigrants in London 20 years ago  to give him advice to stop writing ( literally stop) when he submitted a play called the Beauty Queen of Leenane to it. Because he thought maybe his voice would be welcomed there. But it wasn't. Now it wasn't welcomed at any other theatre either btw.
 This year female Playwrights weren't programmed into next season at The Manhattan Theater Club in NYC. There was , thankfully, uproar. So this is not a peculiarly Irish phenomenon.
But maybe we also have a history of crushing female voices across our ( Irish )society. Maybe this can  be about playwrights and more.
Maybe the Abbey can, within a year,  cause another storm. I encourage them. It should happen. It will happen.
I assume an apology is being typed up to be issued to female playwrights. I assume corrections will be made. I assume this is a moment to be seized by them (Abbey), and embraced . Embraced fully , spectacularly. Other wise it should cease to exist.
And the rest of Irish Theatre should pause, and reflect. It is long past time for change all across Irish Theatre. Its long past time for change in Irish society.
Finally something that would honor a rebellion for independence in 1916 ; a rising of women in 2016 ! Given voice through theatre and the arts. Now that's exciting. Throw the doors open. Let everyone see and hear what Irish women have to say. I want it. I need it.
This is an exciting time.
I'm a little giddy.