This spring Fishamble: The New Play Company, in partnership with ESB, invited writers to submit a 600-word play imagining what a brighter energy future means to them. Over 350 submissions were received, and ten shortlisted plays were selected by an independent panel of judges.
We speak to some of the protagonists involved for their perspective on the project.
You can read the final ten Tiny Plays at www.esb.ie/tinyplays and also see the three which were filmed on their YouTube channel.
main photo: Our Turn by Niall Murphy. Photo: Ste Murray
Artistic Director of Fishamble
How did the association between Fishamble and ESB come about?
Fishamble had met Bevin Cody from ESB a number of times, following an introduction by Business to Arts, the organisation that helps create connections between arts organisations and businesses. Bevin was keen to do a theatre project that highlighted issues around sustainability and climate change. She had seen previous iterations of Fishamble’s Tiny Plays initiative, which included productions following the economic crash, which toured to the US, and a Tiny Play challenge which we ran last year during the first wave of the pandemic. We also collaborated last year with Dublin Port Company and Irish Rail on a project, which Bevin had seen. So, she approached us about working with them, and we were delighted to do so especially as the issues involved are close to our hearts as well.
Can you tell us about the challenge you set entrants and how you went about selecting the final ten?
We asked people to think about what a brighter future meant to them, and what they felt passionately enough about in relation to issues of sustainability and climate action. Then we invited them to create a play of no more than 600 words for submission. We had about 350 submissions, with lots of fascinating perspectives on the challenge. The Fishamble and ESB team were joined by a selection panel including theatre directors Annabelle Comyn and Jeda de Brí, and writer and environmental writer Manchán Magan. We created a shortlist of ten plays to share on the website for people to read, and then chose the final three for staging and filming.
How important was it to be able to strike a balance between the printed word and filming three of the final selection in the O’Reilly?
We wanted to make sure the ten shortlisted plays would all have the impact that the playwrights wanted, when they were read. So, we chose ten that we felt were provocative, funny, engaging, and informative. The choice of just three of these to stage and film was very difficult, as we loved so many of the shortlisted ten, as well as many which were not shortlisted. Ultimately, we chose three that we felt would work well in performance and provide a range of perspectives on the issues. A written play is only a blueprint, of course, as plays are meant to be performed, so we tried to pick ones that we felt would most benefit from the energy of theatre performance and demanded to be staged.
Is there any overriding takeaway for you based on the submissions and selection?
My colleagues at Fishamble and I were really blown away by how creatively and imaginatively people responded to the challenge. We live in a country of huge creativity and artistic energy which has not been diminished by the pandemic. On the contrary, the pandemic has highlighted how crucial the arts and culture are for people’s lives, and generated so much artistic activity, which is reassuring.
One challenge we set ourselves was to try and stage the plays in as sustainable a way as possible. We used recycled costumes and LED lights as much as possible and, rather than building sets for each play, the designer Maree Kearns and myself decided to stage the plays in different parts of the theatre, to use locations within the theatre as the backdrops. This worked well, I think, and I hope viewers enjoy the fact that the first play begins on stage, the second moves to the auditorium, and the third one happens up in the gantry of the theatre.
“One challenge we set ourselves was to try and stage the plays in as sustainable a way as possible.”
What is in development with Fishamble at the moment?
We are continuing to work with artists and connect with audiences through the pandemic, mainly through online and digital work. We just livestreamed Before by Pat Kinevane at the Clonmel Junction Arts Festival, and are about to film a bilingual version for the first time, in Gaoth Dobhair. This English/Irish version will be streamed on July 24th as part of Earagail Arts Festival. Then we are presenting three productions – Silent by Pat Kinevane, On Blueberry Hill by Sebastian Barry, and Mustard by Eva O’Connor – online at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, in partnership with Summerhall, Traverse Theatre, and Dance Base. Then we go into rehearsals for Duck Duck Goose, a new play by Caitríona Daly, and The Treaty by Colin Murphy, both of which we hope very much we will be presenting live, in whatever way is safest later this year. We cannot wait to be back performing to live audiences again!
Corporate Reputation Manager with ESB
How did the association between ESB and Fishamble come about?
The energy sector is going through a massive transformation. Over the next decade, we’ll see low carbon and renewable electricity replacing high carbon sources of energy across society, particularly in the home heating and transport sectors. For many, this will bring huge benefits in terms of health, convenience and economic opportunities. But it will also require trade-offs, both at a national and individual level. Whether it’s the cost of replacing an old car with an EV, a new wind farm in your community or the closure of an old thermal power station, practically everyone in society will have a personal perspective on the transition as it unfolds. When Fishamble came to us with the Tiny Play concept, we saw an opportunity to use theatre as a means of engaging people in a conversation about climate change and the future of energy. As an internationally recognised play company, they have done an absolutely outstanding job of both selecting plays that reflect the key themes that emerged across all of the entries, and in bringing these to life on the stage.
What was the criteria you established to make a connection between your stated goals and the artistic community?
We intentionally kept the criteria broad because we wanted to provide a platform for a wide range of views and feelings to be expressed. All we asked was that people used the medium of theatre to explore the world of energy, climate change and the environment, and that they kept within a 600-word limit. Ultimately, this was about starting a conversation about climate change and how ready people are to make changes in their lives to enable a more sustainable energy future.
How important is the leap between imagination and realisation when it comes to climate goals and our responsibility to play our part?
Theatre and the arts provide a platform for people to explore ideas and imagine a different world, which, ultimately, is a key element of problem solving and realising the changes we need to see in society. Over the years, ESB has engaged with the arts in many different ways and for many different purposes, from supporting projects to address mental health issues and educational disadvantage through our Energy for Generations Fund to documenting the social changes brought about by electricity in society. A huge part of our commitment to the arts today stems from an understanding that imagination and creativity are drivers of innovation, which is why we are involved in projects like ESB Science Blast and TechSpace that give young people the skills to combine science, technology and the arts to solve problems in the world around them.
Did any overarching message chime with you having seen and read the Tiny Plays?
The 350 tiny plays we received covered a wide range of issues, but a number of common and very relatable themes emerged. Inter-generational relationships, a sense of being overwhelmed or not acting fast enough, feelings of optimism, guilt and nostalgia all come through in the shortlist, and are a good reflection of the broader themes. For ESB, this has given us a valuable insight into how people are feeling about the energy transition and the steps we need to take to bring people on the journey to a more sustainable energy future.
“For ESB, this has given us a valuable insight into how people are feeling about the energy transition and the steps we need to take to bring people on the journey to a more sustainable energy future.”
Director, writer and actor whose play A Journey was one of the ten selected Tiny Plays
Can you tell us about the starting point for A Journey? What went through your head when responding to the brief? What was your starting point?
When I saw the brief for Tiny Plays for a Brighter Future I thought it was a great opportunity. A great opportunity for someone to say something powerful about how hard it is to be sustainable and green and eco-friendly when it feels impossible to even get a grip on a sense of stability. I thought about the call out for weeks and I remember hoping that when the winners were announced, there would be a piece that said what I was thinking. I’ve never seen myself as a writer so I didn’t think that person could be me. One evening I wrote A Journey in a burst of bravery and submitted it within the hour. I had written things to submit to other call outs before but always decided against it at the last minute, but pressing send on A Journey is something I’m delighted I did. Although I had been a huge fan of Fishamble’s work for many years, I had never worked with the company, so I think that sense of anonymity helped me in building up the confidence to hit send on the application.
You address a sense of exasperation and being overwhelmed by our times and its messaging, the fact that “we’re all focusing on making this brighter future for ourselves and it’s making the present really dark.” How do you feel this chimes with your generation?
I feel like this sense of exasperation is now spanning much wider than just my generation, I know people ten years older and ten years younger who feel the exact same. The pain and rejection of going through mortgage applications and rental biddings is really hurting people now. I know so many friends and colleagues who have been paying rent for years and have never once missed a month of payment on a sum much larger than what they would be paying on a mortgage, but still they can’t get one. It’s very frustrating and disheartening for people. I did also want to play with comedy within the piece, the sense of brightness and positivity in ads for funerals and life insurance is so eerie. I loved writing those commercial pieces, they gave us all a good laugh on set. “Die, for less!”
Was a bi-lingual approach always intentional?
I didn’t make a conscious decision on whether it was going to be a bi-lingual piece or not, it naturally happened as I was writing and then I hit submit! I do love to speak Irish and I try to incorporate it into my life as much as possible, even if that’s just saying oíche mhaith instead of goodnight. I like to encourage people to speak whatever Irish they know and not to feel afraid of speaking the language no matter what level you’re at. It’s such a beautiful language; if you have a cúpla focal please use them!
What are the benefits of a challenge such as creating a Tiny Play with word restrictions?
To be honest, the word restrictions were what gave me the confidence to submit a piece. If it had been a full-length play callout I really don’t think I would’ve considered submitting, but this felt like a great way to ease myself into the world of writing. The short amount of words was what gave me the confidence to take part, I got a clear message across and I didn’t feel I had to add anything unnecessary to hit a quota. I’m so proud of the piece and so happy that Fishamble and ESB connected with my words, it’s been an incredible experience for me from the start.