By Mairéad Folan, Different Bodies Lab participant
24 March 2020 was a bittersweet day for me. It was the day that I found out that I was accepted onto the PUSH+ Different Bodies Lab but it was also the same day that An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that all theatre venues in Ireland would be closed due to the Covid- 19 crisis. I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from delight in getting to go to Stamsund, Norway to being terrified for the future of Irish theatre. I could spend the rest of the blog detailing how difficult it is to be a disabled theatre maker during a lockdown but we hear enough depressing statistics on a daily basis. As a result, I have decided to focus on a few silver linings that I have noticed in the past few weeks.
I was fortunate enough to decide in late 2019 that 2020 will be a year of development for NoRopes Theatre and I. This led to the dream collaboration of having performer/playwright Little John Nee as dramaturge for my debut as playwright – Meet Luke. Luke is a 2 foot and 11 inches tall walking frame with sass, scruples and a hatred of cobble stones. Meet Luke tells the stories of Luke’s journey through life, from surviving the Irish educational system to the perils of dating. Little John’s style of storytelling has inspired me since I was a young theatre-goer. I wanted to be him when I grew up…actually I still do. We may be at the very early stages of writing the script but already I can see a glimmer of what has the potential to be a very special show. I like to think of writing a script as the theatrical version of creating a sourdough starter. Both the starter and script need constant feeding and being on lockdown allows the writing to breathe and take form at a natural pace without deadlines rushing scripts before they are ready for public viewing.
Since venues closed, there has been a surge of online theatre content ranging from recordings of past productions to live performances via Zoom or social media platforms. While this can never replace the magic of live theatre, it has made theatre more accessible. In ‘normal’ times I was limited to the amount of productions that I could see a month due to the financial constraints of living in the countryside with the added bonus of being disabled. This was problematic as one of the responsibilities of an Artistic Director is to see a lot of work. Now I see up to six works a week between live and recorded performances on social media platforms. The closure of venues has opened a lot of conversations between artists over our personal artistic future and the future of Irish arts industry. These conversations were always present but separated via geographical locations but Zoom acts like a virtual bridge that connects us all. There’s already talks amongst Irish theatre artists that Zoom will continue to be used to connect with their peers post Covid – 19. Zoom also allowed me to network with international disabled artists – an opportunity that wouldn’t have risen prior to the pandemic.
I really hope that the PUSH+ Different Bodies lab can take place this September – only time can tell. The future of when the worldwide restrictions are lifted is unclear but one thing is certain. Our personal pandemic journeys will subconsciously seep into our explorations within the lab and, as a result, colour our work in public spaces in ways that we could never have imagined pre-2020.