Beyond The Pale: A (virtual) journey to The Marble City reveals a new initiative.

Each week, Stage Door Live’s Associate Producer Janice de Bróithe takes a look at theatre Beyond The Pale. This week she travels further down the road (Virtually, of course) to the wonderful county of Kilkenny and a new project on at The Watergate Theatre in collaboration with Asylum Productions.

Each week, Stage Door Live’s Associate Producer Janice de Bróithe takes a look at theatre Beyond The Pale.

This week, I travelled (virtually, of course) slightly further down the road to the wonderful county of Kilkenny. As it happens, I usually spend a fair bit of my time in the Marble City and its environs. In a non-pandemic world, as I’m sure many of you know, the city is quite a hive of events, festivals and theatre and is home to the subject of this blog: the wonderful Watergate Theatre.

Like every other venue in the country right now, the stage at the Watergate is dark, and the doors are firmly closed. The ‘what’s on’ page of their website a slew of vibrant show posters, each crossed off with uncompromising banners declaring ‘postponed’ and even more depressing, ‘cancelled’.

Try as you might though, there’s just no keeping the Cats down. Choosing to view thdis time for its opportunities rather than never-ending hardships, the Watergate is knuckling down and finding ways to reach out and stay connected with its audience through its #watergateonline series. These include Story Telling with Arja and Time by Philip Cullen. The project that caught my attention, however, is the initiative they’ve set up with Asylum Productions.

Asylum Productions are based in Callan. It is a small town just outside Kilkenny City and is a sort of brilliant artistic oasis in the middle of the Irish countryside. It is home to Monkeyshine Theatre Company, Equinox Theatre Company, KCAT Arts Centre, far too many artists to start naming them and I’d be absolutely lynched for failing to mention the award-winning Fennelly’s, a vibrant cultural hub (and the best rashers you’ll ever have in your life). Asylum Productions, are quite dedicated to developing new work and new forms of theatre. The call from Joanna Cunningham at the Watergate was a golden opportunity and Write Here, Right Now was born.

Write Here, Right Now

This is a play commissioning and development initiative open to all over the age of 18. Writers and would-be writers are invited to submit a play synopsis and sample scene. The winner will be awarded a commissioning grant, support from industry professionals to complete the play and, in time, see the finished play in a rehearsed reading with professional actors.

The minute I saw this come up on my Facebook feed, I had to know more. I spoke to one half of Asylum Productions, Donal Gallagher and he was only too delighted to tell me all about it.

“We had been sitting here thinking, you know, what can we give back? What can we do to be useful as a theatre company in a community? We were watching all these shows disappearing…and then the call came from the Watergate and we started a conversation, you know?”

The Big Chapel X. Based on The Big Chapel by Thomas Kilroy
Adapted by John Morton, Medb Lambert and Donal Gallagher. Kilkenny Arts Festival 2019.

I do. Asylum Productions have always had a very socially conscious vein in their work, it’s a core part of their ethos. Their recent production, the award winning Big Chapel X saw them take over the entire town of Callan as a stage for seven consecutive nights as part of last year’s Kilkenny Arts Festival. The play, a co-production with The Abbey Theatre and Kilkenny Arts Festival, took on an ambitious retelling of Thomas Kilroy’s Booker Prize nominated novel The Big Chapel based on true events of Callan’s own history. There was no question but that the people of Callan had to be a part of it from the get go. So naturally they cast over a hundred of the town’s residents, with many more being involved in a choir, and more besides being involved as production volunteers. (Full Disclosure: I was Assistant Director on Big Chapel X.) No mean feat, by anyone’s standards. It is worth mentioning that Big Chapel X was the culmination of Asylum’s ‘Callan Trilogy’ having previously produced Six by Sundown in the Callan Workhouse in 2008 and Bridge Street Will Be, unsurprisingly, on Callan’s Bridge Street in 2015.

So to hear them asking questions like ‘what can we give back?’ is no surprise to me. The answer to the question came relatively quickly: what can people do at home with no access to a theatre and actors?

They can write.

So here we are, with Write Here, Right Now.

This initiative is all about developing and encouraging writers, providing them with constructive and helpful guidance in honing their craft, and, ultimately, writing a complete script ready for production.

For more information and details on how to submit, go to watergatetheatre.ie/writehererightnow

The blurb for the initiative states that ‘Kilkenny is the setting and your play might relate to the seismic shift in the face of a global pandemic…or it might not’ and I ask Donal if they’re expecting a rake of pandemic-related sagas.

“Maybe,” he laughs, “who knows, but it’s very exciting, isn’t it?”

His enthusiasm is infectious, and for a brief second I consider submitting my own madcap idea for ‘Pandem-onium: The Musical’ but think the better of it.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 22 May at 5.30pm, so there’s still plenty of time to get your brilliant idea in. I, for one, am very excited to see what mad seeds of genius have been sewn on the other side of this shut-down.

Hats off to the Watergate Theatre and Asylum Productions: what a brilliant, practical and useful initiative.

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