Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 6

Midterm Break is over, and we’re now beginning the section of our program set in Belfast. We were able to travel independently over the break, so I traveled within Ireland. I was able to see the Frank McCourt museum and take the Angela’s Ashes walking tour in Limerick.

Just riding on the bus to reach places on the Dingle Peninsula was absolutely beautiful. Tralee has a very nice town park where I practiced some of my watercolors, and Dingle Harbour also had some amazing views, although it would've been easier to watercolor if the rain would stop drizzling or me every fifteen minutes or so. It was nice to take things at a bit of a slower pace, although I wish I had done more work while I was at it.

I was traveling by bus, which gave me plenty of time to do some reading. Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark and Glenn Patterson’s The International are both books on our Belfast reading list. I enjoyed The International the most, although both were good books for trying to get some idea of the experiences of The Troubles. I did find it interesting that Patterson’s narrator Danny, a barman at The International Hotel, identifies as neither Catholic nor Protestant, although one of his coworkers does identify him as Protestant based on his educational experiences. Meanwhile, Seamus Deane’s young narrator is decidedly Catholic; his book is definitely about the Catholic experience living in such a violent environment. It seems that Danny is intended to be a more generally relatable narrator, although I'd be curious to know if he would seem to be Catholic, Protestant, or neither to a native of Northern Ireland.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 5

It's been a long and busy handful of days in Galway. I really enjoyed the size of Galway; it felt manageable enough to get a handle on location. I know where all my favourite coffee shops are by now. The Arts Festival has been great, and we've seen lots of shows: Irish Shorts 6 from the end of the Film Fleadh, Yellow Moon, Bathroom, Pumpgirl, Dún na mBan tri Thíne (The Fairy Fort is Burning), Woyzeck in Winter, Crestfall, and a staged reading of Bir Tawil.
We also met with the author of Solar Bones, Mike McCormack. I really appreciated that he talked a lot about the publishing side of being an author and how he was rejected so many times. I'd like to try reading some of his other books, particularly Notes from a Coma, if I can find the spare time someday.
We also spent a day at Cliffs of Moher and Coole Park, as well as a day on Inis Mór. I wish we'd had more time to spend at Coole Park; there were a lot of trails I wish I could've walked, and views I would have liked to have attempted to draw or paint.
A lot of the performances we were able to see were quite good; I personally think I enjoyed the reading of Bir Tawil the most, even though it was only actors reading a script rather than a full production. You could see a few of the actors tearing up on stage during the reading. Afterwards, there was a Q&A session so the playwright could get feedback on his work. Crestfall, on the other hand, has mostly left me very unsettled. While the production itself was strong, I'm having some difficulty understanding what purpose was served by putting that type of graphic violence and brutality on stage.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 4

We've arrived in Galway to catch part of the Galway International Arts Festival. We've got a lot of things to see as well as excursions to the Cliffs of Moher and Inishmore planned.
Our last handful of days in Dublin were relatively slow-paced. We met with Claire-Louise Bennett (insert link here), author of pond. She was also a very interesting person, as most of the creative types we've met with have been. These people seem to have so much vitality and vibrancy of character; no wonder that people would pay for their work.
We saw The Great Gatsby at the Gate Theatre last night. I'm not too sure what my feelings about it are. All of the seating was removed and 20's dress was encouraged. The audience were the invitees to one of Jay Gatsby's famous parties. Attendees might learn to dance the Charleston or follow various characters into backstage areas of the theatre to learn secrets. All of the main plot points occurred in the large main room, ensuring that every audience member viewed that much of the story, regardless of where else they wandered. However, I'm uncertain if the thread of events made any sense to anyone who hasn't read the book or seen the film. While people enjoyed it, it felt a bit like a costume party for those people who had read the book. Of course, there may not be very many people who aren't at least vaguely familiar with the story of The Great Gatsby. I did find the depiction of George Wilson to be far more sympathetic than I had ever found him to be in the book. His physically locking up his wife Myrtle is quickly skated over in this performance, and there's a good deal of focus on his motivations and his love for her. The scene in which he mourns his wife provides a direct contrast to Gatsby's death: while Myrtle's body and George's grieving is shown, Gatsby's corpse is not seen, and Nick Carraway recites a quote about how no one shows up to Gatsby's funeral.  Overall, the performance was a more multifaceted view of the world and the story of Jay Gatsby than the original text, which is filtered through Nick Carraway's perceptions.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


This is a final project I did for one of my classes last term, an illustration of Charles Baudelaire's poem "Correspondances". (Click for an alternate viewing experience.)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 3

The last two weeks have been very busy. I've attended several plays and performances: To Hell in a Handbag at Bewley's Café Theatre, Futureproof at the Project Arts Centre, Room at the Abbey Theatre, and Totems at the National Gallery. Futureproof was my favorite show, and we even had the opportunity to meet the director and one of the actresses afterwards. I was also very impressed by Room. I had just read the book and had no idea how someone would put it on as a play, but the set design and the choice to have two actors playing Jack seemed to work well. I think To Hell in a Handbag probably would've been a better experience if I had more exposure to the works of Oscar Wilde, and while Totems was interesting, I don't think that I really know how to understand it, or modern dance in general.
We've begun practicing with watercolors in art class, which is fun. Patience is, I believe, still the most difficult part of all this for me, particularly while I'm abroad, and time seems so expensive right now. We had a field trip day to County Wicklow, which provided some prime opportunity for field practice. Glendalough is absolutely beautiful, as well as being a historic site.
One of the highlights of the trip so far was the tour of the Abbey Theatre. We learned a lot about the history of the Abbey Theatre, and were able to see backstage: pieces of the set for Room, and the hair and makeup department. That sounds like a cool job. Currently, the acoustics in the Theatre (partially due to the wood used on the walls) is good enough that actors do not need to wear microphones, although mikes were used for Room to help with the songs. Apparently the Abbey is going to be renovated soon, which may take multiple years, but will increase capacity.

I went looking in a couple different comic book stores nearby to see if I could find any Irish comics. I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but I haven't found it yet. Mostly I've had Garth Ennis' Preacher recommended to me, but I don't think that's really what I'm interested in, and it's somewhat mainstream. I'd be more interested in something independent. I've also heard that The Hound by Paul Bolger is based on legends of Cúchulainn, which sounds interesting, but I haven't been able to find the first volume, so I'm not sure if that's what I'm looking for. Most of the information I've been able to find online about comics in Dublin and Belfast seems to be from a few years ago, which is frustrating. I did run across a few Irish-language comics while I was looking, which is pretty neat, but ultimately unhelpful for me. Of course, it's quite possible that I've just done a poor job in my research, and somewhere out there the comics are waiting for me. It probably would be best for me not to add to the weight of books I have stuck with me for now; it does make travel inconvenient.
In my dejection, I picked up the first trade for Injection by Warren Ellis, drawn by Declan Shalvey and colored by Jordie Bellaire, with lettering by Fonografiks. Ellis is an English writer, but Shalvey and Bellaire are both based in Ireland. I didn't really know what I was getting, but now that I've actually read it, I quite enjoyed the first five issues. It's an interesting mix of science fiction and folkloric influences, and the main characters each have very specific backgrounds: Dubliner Brigid Roth, English Robin Morel, Scottish Maria Kilbride, and the more mysterious Simeon Winters and Vivek Headland. I'm not really sure what's going to be happening with the plot; I have more questions than answers. Nonetheless, it seems exciting, and I wouldn't be averse to picking up future issues, perhaps when I'm home and won't have to carry them around the rest of Ireland with me. The narration lettering is particularly striking: yellow all-caps text that floats on the page rather than contained in a box, as is common. It seems very computerized, and it is unclear if the text is intended to be the interior monologue of whoever is the current protagonist or is the observations of someone else. The coloring is also particularly effective. There are no labels to explicate a change in time or place, but the change is instantly obvious. Pale yellows or purples are used in scenes of the past, when the five first began work on their project, while gloomy and intense reds and greens dominate for most of the current (rather eerie) action scenes. Meanwhile, Robin's present day wanderings through the English countryside have beautiful natural backgrounds that can vary in mood from light, golden, and hopeful to menacing and isolating.
There isn't much time left in Dublin. We depart for Galway on Friday, which is exciting, but it's disconcerting how quickly the time has passed. I believe there will be a comic book shop three minutes walk from where we're staying, so maybe I'll have better luck there.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Futureproof: THINK AGAIN

“THINK AGAIN” is angrily scrawled across the back of the stage, and Lynda Radley’s Futureproof demands more than just a single thought. At once enthralling and sickening, Futureproof, directed by Tom Creed, raises questions about identity, conformity, and modern living. At the Project Arts Centre in Dublin, the production dares audiences to consider themselves and their own participation in the spectacle.
Futureproof’s characters are the attractions in a traveling “freak show” fallen upon hard times. The audiences that previously paid to stare at the exhibition of their bodies are increasingly bored and even violent towards the group’s show, and some way to make money must be found before everyone starves.
As the play begins, a group of society’s rejects cuts open chain-link gates, trespassing on forbidden space to perform for us. The actors assemble Paul O'Mahony's entire set, a temporary living space which reveals everything except the thing itself: the performances of the traveling show. This backstage pass into the characters’ lives invites the audience into a more intimate relationship, creating a feeling of closeness and sympathy before the first line is spoken.
The actors glare directly at the audience before the lights are finally lowered, creating a moment of unease: “Can they see me? Am I making a weird face? What type of face is it appropriate to make when I have paid to watch someone, and they are now staring back at me?” These stares remind us: we, too, are an audience; we, too, pay to see a show; we, too, must consider the ethics of our own gazes.
The first casualty of their ringleader’s crusade to secure their livelihood is Tiny, the fat man. Gerard Byrne’s performance, particularly in his eating scenes, successfully creates profound discomfort for the viewer, as Tiny is forcefully persuaded to embark on a weight-loss routine. His new act as the “Incredible Shrinking Man” is wildly popular. Supposedly, he is an inspiration to others, a neon-lit example of how to become closer to society’s ideal. As the group’s manager, Riley sells narratives of self-improvement, change, and “hope” to crowds, while sacrificing the individuality of the performers. It may at first seem unbelievable that audiences are paying to see a man who is no longer fat, a man who is well on the way to being just like everyone else. However, one need only look to reality television shows such as The Biggest Loser to see that people already pay with their attention to view exactly that. Riley claims he is selling "hope," and the crowds certainly pay for what he’s selling, but “hope” seems a dubious motivation for the desire to watch another person’s pain, humiliation, and tragedy. The struggles Riley markets to his unseen audiences remind people to be constantly dissatisfied with themselves as they are; contentment does not sell. These entertainers sacrifice their selves, attributes that are as much a part of their identities as their names, to become just like everyone else and to feed the economic machine.
The money that these characters need to survive becomes another division within their group. Much as financial stresses can fracture homes today, the interactions between the members of this traveling family reveal how money destroys relationships. At first, the members of the troupe look out for each other’s wellbeing, sharing what they have and caring for each other. The financial stresses of the troupe have altered Michael Glenn Murphy’s Riley dramatically from the person that these performers originally chose to follow. He is an inconsistent character, sometimes seeming to feel shame, but never admitting doubt or listening to others’ concerns. As he becomes increasingly egotistical, the family that Riley fought to protect from starvation is ultimately destroyed by the money that was intended to preserve their way of life.

This performance invites viewers to care intensely for its characters--Karen McCartney's mute mermaid, Amy Conroy's intergender George/Georgina, and the rest of the troupe--while providing plentiful fuel for thought. Whether inspired to reconsider ideas of individuality, conformity, profit, the entertainment industry, or something entirely different, Futureproof demands that its viewers think, and think again.