Each week, Stage Door Live’s Associate Producer Janice de Bróithe takes a look at theatre Beyond The Pale.
Time is moving on, restrictions are easing, bit by bit, yet the world seems more upside down and confusing than ever before. I have found the last few weeks troubling, upsetting and difficult. The need to act, to do something positive has been very real. The craving to return to my normal job of making theatre has never been more intense. I believe it’s one of the reasons I got so incredibly excited to hear about Corcadorca’s Contact as part of the Cork Midsummer Moments. To know that real live theatre, with a real live audience is happening gives me such joy and hope, that even though I can’t witness it myself, it’s happening, it’s real, and, in theory, leads the way for more of the same. You can read more about it in LAST WEEK’S BLOG.
This week, in the midst of the overwhelming hopeless feeling that the world is falling apart, and struggling to find a theatrical escape, I reached out to a friend for some ideas. Dear readers: she did not disappoint, for she pointed me in the direction of the incredible, marvellous Little John Nee.
For those of you who don’t know, Little John Nee is a world class storyteller, writer, performer and musician. Now settled in Galway, he was born in Glasgow, and moved to his parent’s hometown of Letterkenny at age 12. He cut his musical teeth from early on, performing in bands, touring dancehalls around Donegal before spending a stint in London honing his poetry and writing skills while working building sites. Moving back to Ireland, he delved further into performance and has performed in so many places with so many incredible people and has created so many wonderful shows I couldn’t possibly list them all. (If you want to know more, you can always check out his website). Needless to say, the man’s a bit of a legend.
So why this lovefest for Little John Nee? Well, every Thursday for the last number of weeks, he has been performing a one man show, live, on Facebook. Lads, to tell you the truth, I fell down an absolute rabbit hole watching back all the shows and I wish I’d come across them sooner. With his garage decked out like something you’d see in a cosy fringe venue, the man himself performs a plethora of songs and stories and it is quite honestly the most joyous and uplifting thing I’ve experienced online this entire pandemic. Maybe it’s the staging, maybe it’s the intimacy of the space, his easy going and relaxed nature, but you almost believe that you are in that garage with him and he’s performing just for you. It is astonishing that through the power of Facebook Live and John Nee’s brilliant performance, you can, for a short space of time, almost believe that you’re actually at a late set at a festival, sat on a beanbag, drinking wine or beer as the moon shines and a fire pit crackles nearby.
It all started when the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny commissioned their first ever Virtual Artist-In-Residence in a bid to support artists during the Covid Shutdown. Little John Nee was the first of these monthly residencies and so for three weeks straight the world was treated to the joy of Little John Nee Live On His Telephone.
Evidently, the shows were a huge hit, and following on from his three weeks with the Regional Cultural Centre, Nee announced his new job as ‘general manager of a small virtual venue, The Tullyglen Scala aka The Kilaloonty Colosseum, aka [his] garage’ on his Facebook page. Of course he would have to figure out the logistics with regards to rotas for the technicians, and production manager, never mind the marketing department and how ‘to get bums on seats’ but judging by the number of views which appear to increase week-on-week he’s making a fair whack of it too.
I have so many highlights from all of these shows, but I don’t want to post any spoilers because for me, a part of the joy watching was having no idea what might be coming next! I will say that in the first show of the series he leads us in a singalong of a song called ‘Dystopia’ and I couldn’t tell you which bit was the most brilliant – the fact that I started singing along all by myself at 2am, or seeing all the comments rolling in the live chat with DYSTOPIA! In fact, the live chat is a huge part of the enjoyment. To see the banter between viewers, many of whom are clearly regulars, is hilarious and heartening. It really does feel like a proper shared experience.
Now I come to a very important part of this story: donations. Little John Nee, like so many of us, found himself quite suddenly out of work. We are all aware of the various ‘supports’ or ‘incentives’ made available by the powers that be to artists to create online content. Ahem. Regardless, the internet has been flooded with free content which is both brilliant and concerning. Brilliant because I, like so many, found myself very suddenly without income, and to be able to access such brilliant work for free has been great. Concerning because I, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, worry that this will perpetuate the belief that our work should always be available for free, and that it doesn’t need that much support or money to exist which is so, so far from the truth. Our news-writer Hilary touches on this topic in a bit more detail in her latest blog which you can view HERE.
Some theatres have started charging for their online performances, to replicate a true theatre-going experience – there are even limited tickets and pricing tiers. I understand the inclination and the appeal – who doesn’t love to brag about seeing THAT show that sold out and everyone’s talking about? Not to mention: these theatres need to survive. Many others, simply ask for a donation, whatever you can afford. Nee is doing the very same.
This is fairly sound of him, as his performances are genuinely worth the price of a ticket. Along with donations, he also offers you the chance to become a proper old school ‘patron’ by supporting his Patreon. Do that, and you can wander around likening yourself to Lorenzo de Medici as a fancy pants ‘Patron of the Arts’ along with getting loads of cool perks like unreleased music, updates and specially created patron items.
Little John Nee On His Telephone is storytelling at its finest. Through music, spoken word, easy chat and some genius (and most often hilarious) audience interaction, it is sublime. I watched last Thursday night out of curiosity. Several hours later, having dived into all the shows I’d missed, I felt uplifted in a way I hadn’t for weeks. It was glorious.
So go on, do yourself a favour: make it your Thursday night routine and in the meantime catch up on all the shows you missed HERE.
This week, I really needed Little John Nee, and I’m so grateful to have found these shows. I’d really like to find more gems of performance happening now all over Ireland, online or otherwise. Wherever you’re reading this from, if you’ve got something going on, or you know something that is/will be going on, please let me know and I’ll feature it here.
Until next week folks, be safe!