Ross Gaynor talks to us about how the recent lockdown has impinged on life as an actor, and new projects including The Lock Inn, a Covid baby, conceived as a means of continuing to run events despite the global shutdown.
“It is a case of Adapt or Die. Innovation is integral and The Lock Inn are trying to lead the way in that regard. But no matter how innovative we are, until the government at least match the European standards for arts funding, rent caps, and a living wage, we are in a position that starts with an F and ends with a D.” – Ross Gaynor The Lock Inn / Reboot Live
What is The Lock Inn and how did it come into existence?
The Lock Inn is a live, online, and interactive events venue found at thelockinn.io. We operate exactly the same way any other independent venue does: shows come in, set up, the audience buys tickets, and the show goes live at 7.30pm – only there is no physical venue, it all happens online. This is greatly assisted by our technical partner, Conference Services.
The Lock Inn is a Covid baby, conceived by James Stafford, a freelance events manager, as a means of continuing to run events despite the global shutdown. I came in initially just to oversee the theatre initiative, but our relationship flourished (despite the fact that we are yet to meet face-to-face, as James is based in Toronto) and I am now Artistic Director.
The current incarnation of The Lock Inn is our brainchild – designed as a beacon in culture’s darkest time for many years. We wanted to provide artists, of all disciplines, the opportunity to freely create work, a platform to show said work, and the opportunity to get paid as a result. None of us are getting rich, but everyone who has worked with us has left with more money in their pocket than when they came in, and we are very proud of that.
How was your professional life as an actor impacted by the lockdown?
For the first time since I graduated from The Lir in 2016, my year was fully booked up with acting work from January to December, with enough time for a holiday in the middle. I was thrilled, my bank account was healthy (by my standards, rather than any normal human standards), I was busy, and I had exciting work to look forward to. That vanished in a puff of air on St. Patrick’s week. But I am not feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes, in this game, you can take rejection or unemployment very personally. I am bolstered by the fact that every single person in my industry is weathering the same storm and if we can acknowledge that unity, it will save us. I am very lucky to have been doing regular voice-overs throughout lock down, which has kept the wolf from the door (he’s currently at the gate, but I don’t think he’ll come much closer).
Reboot Live is a tentative return to live theatre – what does it entail?
Reboot Live is the first step towards how I envision the near future of theatre, a live-streamed event, in a venue, with a live audience. It was conceived by Peter Reid and AC Productions, with a determination that an audience must be present. It will be a small audience of ten, upstairs in the International Bar, but an audience none-the-less. Peter has done an amazing job, gathering a huge ensemble of some of the best artists in the country, to mark this return to live theatre. We have over 50 artists and 18 plays, all 25 minutes long. They are all written to feature only two actors, and will be performed at a safe social-distance.
It will operate in six different blocks of three plays, over three weeks. For example, in Week 1, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday will be one set of three plays, and Wednesday, Friday and Sunday – will be a different set of three plays. So on and so forth for three weeks from August 25th. One night of each block will be live-streamed, with the assistance of Conference Services, on The Lock Inn.
How have you found the concept of streaming theatre as a stop-gap measure? What have you watched and been impressed by?
We were determined that every show we put out is fully live, and I believe that essence of liveness does come across and enthrall the viewer. I have no interest in watching pre-recorded theatre for that very reason (and no, I haven’t watched Hamilton yet – I will, I will), unless you can confidently acknowledge that something is pre-recorded and bring an element of cinema and film to it (as Nick Cave so wonderfully did with his Idiot Prayer, Alone in Alexandra Palace).
I don’t think this is the answer, nor do I think of it as simply a stop-gap. I think our future will be somewhere in between. It will be a long time before theatres operate at full capacity, and an even longer time until everyone feels fully comfortable sitting in a crowd. Moving forward, we are hoping to live-stream live events, with limited audiences in a physical venue. That way, those who still don’t feel comfortable going out, won’t miss out on anything, but the theatres will still be active and buzzing. Reboot Live is the first step towards that.
With major players such as The Gate suspending their programme until 2021 and most places still in the dark, what are your hopes and concerns for the theatre scene?
I was devastated to hear the news about The Gate. They are the single biggest employer of freelance theatre artists in the country, and to lose that at a time when the industry is on its knees is a scary concept. Particularly with their bold and innovative new programme.
I am trying hard not to be a pessimist, but I would consider it foolish not to be a realist. Despite our Taoisigh quoting Seamus Heaney, or commending Normal People, artists are nothing but low-income workers to them, and the current (and previous) government’s disdain for low-income workers is, unfortunately, palpable. Dublin is the cultural hub of Ireland, yet rent is impossible to pay for those who earn under a certain amount, and mortgages are extremely difficult to get as a freelancer. The problem with the arts is intrinsically linked to the problem with housing, the problem with a living wage, and the problem with social welfare. One cannot be solved without solving the rest, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.
It is a case of Adapt or Die. Innovation is integral and The Lock Inn are trying to lead the way in that regard. But no matter how innovative we are, until the government at least match the European standards for arts funding, rent caps, and a living wage, we are in a position that starts with an F and ends with a D.
What have you discovered about yourself and society during this pandemic?
Re: Society, I think this pandemic made it very clear that when we think about others, we can achieve anything, but when we only think about yourselves, people die.
Re: Myself: I touched base with exactly why I pursued a career in the arts in the first place – my love of creating. The sourdough fad is getting a lot of slagging, but only from people without a creative bone in their body. What is not to love? You start with nothing, and you end up with something. It is innate creativity incarnate.
I have used my time (in abundance) to explore that creativity. We plan early in the day what we want for dinner (Nigel Slater and JP McMahon have been getting a lot of love), we shop for the ingredients, we select the appropriate wine, and when I have finished work, we cook. We try to plan it so that everything is ready and cooking away about an hour before we eat, which gives us time to have a drink and chat about our day.
My “work” through the day, is often plotting, planning, and organising upcoming gigs with The Lock Inn and when that isn’t a priority, I write. Namely editing and fixing my new play, due next year. But I have also written 19 short stories since lockdown began. They may not be any good, but they are something – and something is always better than nothing, which is the philosophy The Lock Inn was born out of.
Reboot Live starts on Wednesday August 26
Words: Michael McDermott