“We wanted to have some sort of a go at representing the population, as it is, of Dublin 15. We wanted people of all ages and genders, and from all areas, who reflect the socio-economic and cultural diversity of the population”
Statements like, ‘Fingal has the third biggest and fastest growing population in Ireland,’ and, ‘In Dublin 15, 26% of the people are under 15 years old and almost 25% of them are described as the “new Irish”, sound ill-fitting. While the facts in them are undoubtedly backed up by research and are a useful basis for important things such as public policy, they are not by themselves a satisfactory way of representing people. Statistical data is too narrow, too ungenerous, and cuts off blood circulation. You can’t always squeeze a human being into skinny jeans. There is not much room for grace.
When the 39a crossed the James Joyce Bridge one Friday afternoon, the bus was standing room only. The skinny guy in skinny jeans who had made a show of disputing the fare with the driver – he had always paid €1.20 and can’t see why that’s no longer enough – had disappeared up the stairs. The loud children in the back made the loud odours in the bus louder, the loud colours in the bus louder. We were all supposed to play the role of sensible, non-disruptive passengers. There is implicit consent to the contract upon entry: that is part of the fare we pay. But people were forgetting their lines, if not breaking character altogether. “You’re in a little mini-community of people you don’t necessarily know. It’s not too personal or insightful – there’s a kid jumping around, you’re throwing balls at each other, you’re calling each other names, you’re telling stories,” says Richard Dixon. He is not talking about the bus ride: fortunately for him, he had not been on it. He is describing what generally went on in the monthly theatre workshops he had been taking part in, in preparation for his role in Home Theatre (Ireland).
The idea behind Home Theatre was conceived by Marcus Vinícius Faustini, a theatre director and writer from Brazil, and Kerry Kyriacos Michael, the former Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Stratford East, in London. The project has been shown in Brazil and the UK, and is now being brought to the country by Emer McGowan, Director of the Draíocht Arts Centre in Blanchardstown, and Veronica Coburn, who was Artist in Residence at Draíocht from 2012 to 2015 and is the Artistic Director for the Irish incarnation of the project. Home Theatre (Ireland) involves pairing 30 ‘Home Hosts,’ who are Dublin 15 residents, with 30 theatre artists. After spending time with and getting to know the Host, the theatre artist will create a 20-minute play that will be performed on the evening of October 6, in the Host’s house, for the Host and his/her family and friends. An ‘Ambassador’ will also be involved, a Dublin 15 resident who will act as support and an usher on the night. A selection of the 30 plays will be shown at Draíocht on October 10-13, as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Performed in one place, the plays make one image. “We wanted to have some sort of a go at representing the population, as it is, of Dublin 15. We wanted people of all ages and genders, and from all areas, who reflect the socio-economic and cultural diversity of the population,” says Veronica. “[The project] is a fantastic little map of the area.”
Richard is 51-years-old. He has a wife, Maura, and three ten-year-old triplets, Ellie, Molly and Mia. He works for Concern, on its Public Engagement programme. He has been living in Tyrrelstown, Dublin 15, for fifteen years. He had seen the open call for Home Theatre (Ireland) one day and decided to participate, as one of the 30 Home Hosts. He will be paired with the writer and performer Sonya Kelly. “I want my kids to grow up with an exposure to all aspects of life,” he says. “To have theatre hosted in their home – isn’t that wonderful?” He has invited family and friends, neighbours, ‘some parents of the kids’ friends, a couple of people from work,’ to come to their house and watch the play along with his family. He will need to move some furniture around to make room. “We’re bringing together people who are consistent in our lives, but who don’t know each other. They have us in common, and we will all have the play in common.” But what will they watch? I ask. Richard doesn’t quite shrug his shoulders. “I’ve got the easy bit,” he says. “We just have to make our sitting room available and give out a cup of tea after. But the playwrights, I’m traumatised on their behalf – my God! How can you turn a conversation into an interesting piece of theatre, in such short period of time?”
Bryan Burroughs, one of the theatre artists, is up for the challenge. He is an actor, director, writer, and teacher at The Lir Academy. “I essentially have two days to write it. My hope is that I get a room somewhere and just throw myself into it and start finding the characters and the story. I think this process will be very conducive to getting the best work out of all of us. The time pressure is good.” He will be paired with Alec McGinnell, a secondary school student from Carpenterstown. “I know not for a second to presume to know anything about young people today,” he says. “I’m 41, and I’m fascinated by where they are at, their concerns and worries.” But what work will he make? I ask. Through the phone, I tried to see if I could hear him shrug his shoulders. He doesn’t quite know yet. “Usually I’m expected to use my body a lot to transform into characters, using these larger-than-life antics. But my feeling is that this piece will be much smaller, more reduced, more intimate. Intimacy will be key. To have Alec and his family have a stake in a play that is being created for them – you couldn’t ask for a stronger connection with your audience than that.”
“What you’re doing, really, is having a conversation,” Veronica says. “A conversation that wouldn’t otherwise happen, among a close group of people. And then you start having new conversations that will start to include neighbours. And then conversations with people further afield, people you’ve never met.” In this way, Home Theatre (Ireland) not only represents people but also provides an occasion to come together, as a community. What else is a community after all, if not the stories we tell, the roles we play and the promise we make to look out for and do good by each other? “What I love about the project is that it shows a glimpse of a life, side by side with another glimpse of a life, side by side with another. And they are all valid and true,” she says. “I suppose if we can enjoy each other’s company it means there’s hope in us moving forward.”
Still, I couldn’t wait to get off the bus. I had taken the 39a to Blanchardstown to see HOME, an art exhibition at Draíocht that explores its namesake idea. The exhibition is a parallel event to Home Theatre (Ireland), and I had thought I would mention it in this article to pinch its cheeks, give it more colour. But I did not have time to see it properly. I had made a mistake and thought I had more time than I did. After having only just gotten off the bus, I had to get on it again. It started to rain. The bus looked like it was going to be full, but nobody cared. We were all just relieved to be inside. I found a seat in the back and waited for our next performance to begin.
Words: Olen Bajarias