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spectacles? How about combining these imported influences with the rich, native Zoo Station remains one of the highlights of my own career. I subsequently
storytelling tradition of the rural Irish fireside, but jazzed up with of-the-moment developed a Masterclass module in Collective Writing and Devising for Community
themes, fun visuals and – as the titles of the plays reveal – popular soundtracks. Theatre, which I teach to international graduate students of New York University,
based largely on what I and the Macra people learned together that year. In 2009,
Week-by-week, we explored themes from the time and place we now inhabit: the
Upstate Theatre Project hopes to adapt this masterclass as an open, modular
small traditional town near Dublin as new dormitory satellite; the lunatic world of
training programme for Irish artists and community activists.
work and commuting; the unwanted pregnancy in a time of easy contraception; the
issue of infidelity (an odd favourite with that group of apparently upright young All of this from one Artist in the Community grant! The only shame is that the
people!) and so on. Somebody gave me a CD by Bentley Rhythm Ace. The frenetic overall funding for the Scheme remains so tight and the grants so few. A participant
fun-beat of that CD became our process soundtrack for dance and movement in a recent project said to me, “Imagine if every townland or parish in Ireland could
improvisations. We became a crowded train; a station full of frantic, running people; have a project like this, telling their own story”. Imagine indeed!
a human zoo where somebody had unlocked the cages. One day I blew a whistle.
The imaginary train stopped suddenly in mid-Meath to see what would happen
A five-minute extract from the 2003 Upstate Theatre desktop-documentary film,
and the spontaneous response of the actors was to reach instantly for mobile
Shadows on our Doors, documenting the Termonfeckin Macra experience can be
phones. “Sorry love, I’ll be home late”; “Come and collect me, Ma!” and so on. We
viewed on www.upstate.ie.
built images and atmospheres.
At the same time, we discussed human narratives in small and large group exercises.
And gradually we threaded together a cohesive, episodic play with – yes – elements
of soap opera, but airlifted away above this by the magic of visual theatre – the big
train and station set pieces and so on; and then transformed it further with an
existential ending whereby the station master passed away on his final working day,
Macra na Feírme
only to be visited in a moving tableau by what looked like a procession of hundreds
Macra na Feírme is a voluntary organisation for young people between the ages of 17
of saddened commuters taking time out to condole and grieve.
and 35. The organisation consists of a nationwide network of clubs with six key areas of
The play was performed in the Droichead Arts Centre, just a few miles from
activity: agriculture, sports, travel, public speaking, community involvement and
Termonfeckin village. We raised additional funds and engaged the up-and-coming
performing arts. Macra na Feírme is committed to the personal development of
(and now famous) set designer Paul O’Mahony to construct a towering set of
members and puts emphasis on social interaction and participation.
railway station columns. We sold out for three nights and in the words of John
The local Macra na Feírme branch in Termonfeckin was founded in 1948 and is one of
Leech, the most experienced group member: “We touched a few chords. The whole
the oldest Macra clubs in the country. The club prides itself on its sense of belonging to
community was talking about it”.
the community and on the full and active programme which it provides to encourage
Declan Mallon conducted a thorough evaluation and I proceeded the following
the development of its members and to remain attractive to new generations coming
year to do one final, more modest project with the group, before we all eventually
through. Termonfeckin Macra enjoys a formidable reputation within the national
said our goodbyes. Zoo Station was revived and became the first ever Community
network of Macra clubs, in particular for its competitive success in Public Speaking and
Theatre piece to feature on the Dublin Fringe Festival, gaining a warm, four-star
Drama. Travel opportunities have allowed members to travel to Russia, Germany,
review in the Irish Times. Declan Mallon and I jointly authored and edited a book
Switzerland, Austria, Japan and North America among other places. The club enjoyed a
entitled Way Out in the Country documenting the Macra experience, which reflects
fruitful collaboration with Upstate Theatre Project from 1999 to 2004 which led to the
on the aesthetics of community drama and includes the script of Zoo Station along
production of three significant plays and a published anthology of scripts and essays.
with two other collectively written Macra plays from that period.
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