Struan Erlenborn and David Trimble,
Even though some may claim to love theatre, I think it is very difficult to truly fall in love with theatre until you have attempted performance. The same way a school child watches his football loving dad screaming in the stands, he is not going to understand it fully until there is grass under his boots and a ball flying towards the opposing goal. I started performing at five, far before I could even comprehend a theatrical study. I stood before the audience before I could even read lines. It is easy to fall in love that way.
Now this is not to debase the importance of theatrical study. I could not honestly sit here at my computer as a theatre editor and say that the only way to love theatre is to do it. Theatre performance was my defining childhood occupation and it was not until I took a break in St Andrews that I spent any real critical time with the art. Thank God for Phillip Parry and the curiosities of the St Andrews English department advising process for putting me in both his drama classes. Until then, I had never been forced to analyse theatre as I had with novels and poems. Just sitting down, reading the damn pieces, and listening to Parry’s inquisitions was invaluable. Study put words to the way theatre made me feel as a young boy. Until then, the page was just a rule book of where to go and where not to go. The character was your creation. I was too young to realise the importance of the thought that goes into every detail of dialogue and scene. Theatrical study taught me the preciousness, and preciseness, of the piece, its fragility, and the magic that came from the attention to that detail. And now here I am, sitting at the computer eager and determined to keep my flame alive with investigation into the art for The Tribe magazine. Here goes nothing.
It disappoints me that coming from a country that has such a rich theatrical tradition, has created some of the most daring playwrights of the past two centuries, and has often laid claim to the quip that it taught the English their own language, I never really encountered Irish drama until I searched it out myself. Instead my first proper encounter with drama, if I am barring the Christmas panto (and I am), which almost put me off theatre for good, was the most quintessential English playwright in the most quintessentially awful arena for it to be discovered – Shakespeare at school. I was lucky to have a fantastically expressive teacher who made Julius Caesar exciting. Upon re-reading the play, it appears the f-word does not appear as much as it did when my teacher read it in class, but he did make a lasting impression that has me still a little bit obsessed with the bard. And from that, a love of the theatre in general.
But why do I enjoy theatre? I can name ‘old Will’ as my jumping point (which is just embarrassing for an Irishman) but what is it that makes the stage ‘magic’? It is because, to me, theatre is the most natural form of expression. People talk about ‘found poems’ but is not everything around us ‘found theatre’? I think in a way we can view theatre as distilling the stage that is all around us (Shakespeare said it better of course, ‘All the world’s a stage, etc.’).
And its unique selling point is its immediacy — it opens up a dialogue between the stage and the audience. And it does not belong just to the Ancient Greeks, nor to Shakespeare’s lot, and not even to the Irish; it is universal. Actress Fiona Shaw expressed it well when she described the theatre as ‘a fantastic whore and could be anything. If a thousand atom bombs drop, somebody will stand up in the ashes and tell a story.’
So that is me, David, one of your theatre editors for this year.