The walls are drenched in gold, subversion and sub-text, we’re underground in the mainstream... We’ve boiled over and you can’t see through the crowd for all the steam. Welcome to the revolution. WERK, Issue One: We Buy Gold. The sky has fallen in. The city above our heads is a dirtier Dublin than we’ve ever seen. We can’t trust our leaders. We can’t quite buy the papers. What the fuck is going on? Where has all the money gone? How are they getting away with all this?
2010. The year of the new. We are dancing in the basement of the Abbey. And we can’t quite believe it's true. Neil Watkins takes the pulse of the room: “Feast your eyes on the emerald city. The song of the street traders isn’t 'Molly Malone'. And the feeling I’m feeling is you feel alone.” And we did. We felt alone. We were afraid and we didn’t know to do it. What do you do when you feel alone? When you need to talk, but you need help to say what you need to say. Find people to talk to. And make sure you are heard. When you’re angry. When something changes. You need to be heard.
THISISPOPBABY knew what theatre could do, so they got the keys to the basement of the Abbey Theatre and they gave the city a space to scream. There are no simple terms to describe WERK. A space full of people from all the edges of the city. Who now, for the first time, have a reason to all be in the same space together. A crowded room, all pointing in one direction. Hearing and bumping into each other. Oh and one more crucial thing: there’s no shushing. We don’t do the shushing. Here was a space where art and people and life and stories and screams and destruction and invention and collaboration all met in the dead of night to fight and win and start again.
There are definitely no simple terms to describe theatre. Theatre is … people talking to other people. Theatre is not about you. It’s about other people, people you don't recognise. It’s about reverence. And cryptic mystique. You’d better be in your Sunday best. The Theatre is exclusive, and elitist, and you can’t do it. The Theatre is cleverer than you are, and you better read up to understand. I think that’s what a lot of people in our city thought (and still think) theatre was.
But for me, it seemed that in 2010, theatre started to lose its bad reputation. This year at the Absolut Fringe Festival, I sat in theatres all over Dublin that were full of people, and together we watched work that was made for us, that was about us and we started to think: this could be us. Work that was about the space outside the walls, made by artists who looked us in the eye and talked to us about what we needed to discuss.
The whole city was focused and engaged. We were ready to sit and watch what had happened. We were facing it all head-on. We as artists came together and made work; we translated, we interpreted, and we tried to make sense. We couldn’t just look at ourselves anymore. And we weren’t just talking to each other. We were talking to the city, and the city turned up, in their droves, in their masses. The edges collided and conversed and converged, and collectively we rearranged the pieces to try to make sense.
We achieved something huge. We broke apart the simplest of terms, and we put them back together again. This is a movement. “Here’s what I’m telling you – we’re just tasting something new”. In The Company’s latest show, As You Are Now So Once Were We, which opened this week on the Peacock stage of the Abbey, there’s a moment when Brian Bennett is trying to clear the stage: “Oh here’s a box from earlier on in the show – that’s ok. I can adapt”.
As the theme for Absolut Fringe 2011 so accurately suggests: this is a brave new world. And it’s hard to know how we got here. Places and people like Project Arts Centre, Absolut Fringe and the Abbey Theatre gave us room to breathe, and a provocation to change. We shared means, tools, time and resources. We weren’t shoved to the side and told to work it out for ourselves. We were nurtured. And supported. And left to our own devices. We praised possibility. And we started all over again. And most importantly, we started talking to each other and to help each other talk to everyone else. We couldn’t fit in the structures that existed. They couldn’t tell our stories. So we had to find something new. The scale adapted, and something moved. This is a movement.
Something stopped. Or ended or changed. And then we came. This was the year when we danced in basement of the Abbey. We tried to find out what might work. We got to a point where we had to do things ourselves. “The crisis was always there around the corner", “The sky was always gonna fall down.” Sometimes when we are making shows we get stuck. And we go back. And we just change the order of things. And sometimes that’s all it takes. Sometimes when the sky falls in, you just have to watch someone as they show you that your city is actually made of cardboard to find the sense.
Grace Dyas is one third of THEATREclub, and is a writer and director. She is currently working on 'The Theatre Machine Turns You On: Volume II', at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, next month.
As You Are Now So Once Were We, by The Company, continues at the Peacock until 5 February. Read Fintan Walsh's review.