Last month, we went to Mullagh in county Cavan for a theatre workshop. Most of us had no experience with theatre and I was incredibly nervous for the weekend. However, Liam, Catherine and Alice, who were leading the workshop, were immediately welcoming and excited to have us. After making introductions, we played some warm up games to get us moving. Then we played a game in which we had to convince the king or queen to spare our life but we couldn’t speak to or touch them. The first round we had fun and most people did not take it too seriously, but Zoelle did a really convincing job and the king spared her because she gave everything she could give. The purpose of the exercise was to show us that we had to commit to the performance. We had to give it our all and make it believable. The next round of the game was much more serious and people tried very hard to make their facial expression believable and honest to the role.
Next we played an improv game and we had a slip of paper with a sentence we had to work into the conversation. My group’s conversation ranged from squirrel beards to invisibility cloaks to pregnancy announcements. We all had a good rapport and worked well to include everyone into the conversation. We also played a game in which we were given a person, place and thing and had to create a short scene to perform. My group had Charlie Chaplin, a rusty spoon, and Moscow and we set the scene at a pub called The Rusty Spoon in Moscow right before a Charlie Chaplin convention. We played the game again with new groups and this time my group had Obama, the moon and bananas. In the scene, Obama and the Martians were meeting on the Moon. Obama gave the Martian leader a banana as a peace offering and the Martians struggled to pronounce banana. Obama and the Martians argued over how to say banana then the Martian leader bit into the banana peel. Liam gave us tips on how to improve and we ran the scene a couple times before the other groups performed their bits.
Later we broke into small groups to perform scenes from various plays. Madi and I were playing a mother and daughter from the west of Ireland for our scene. Talking to Liam was really helpful because he explained that the mother was pretending to be needy to keep her last daughter around and that she would speak very slowly because she was from the West. I really enjoyed reading that scene and I found the performances when it was just a couple people on stage to be more interesting. When too many people were on stage, it was easier to get distracted and fall out of character, but when it’s just a two person scene you have to pay more attention.
Then the workshop leaders broke us into two groups to prepare a scene from The Black Pig’s Dyke. My group worked with Liam and it was really fun to read through the text and to start throwing around ideas of how to play the scene. We incorporated a lot of rhythm and movement into our scene. We kept a beat during most characters scenes unless the scene called for silence for a more ominous tone. We really played around with noise and dance and everyone was willing to try things that might be embarrassing. We turned the text into raps for certain characters and tried to create a constant flow throughout the performance. Then both groups took turns performing and it was cool to see how the other group had incorporated music into theirs in a different way.
After dinner, we got to watch a run through of The Black Pig’s Dyke with the real actors. They were only a couple weeks into rehearsal but the performance they gave was amazing. There were things that needed improvement so we gave feedback, but I was really impressed with a lot of the performances especially the main characters Tom Foole and Miss Funny. After their performance, Liam asked our groups to perform their scene in front of the audience and cast. Several of us were hoping he would change his mind and we were scared to act in front of a room full of strangers. I was dreading it, but afterwards I was really glad that we had had that experience. Liam also told us that it was helpful for the cast to see how we had incorporated rhythm and the constant beat into our performance because it gave them ideas to work on in rehearsal.
The next day, we began with warm up games again. For a game called Fruit Bowl, we sat in chairs in a circle and everyone was assigned a fruit and when that fruit was called you switched places with another person who was the same fruit. Chairs were removed from the circle and whoever was left standing when a fruit was called was eliminated. It’s amazing that no one died during this game. We played that game like our lives depended on getting a chair. People were pushed and fell on the ground, but we all made it out in one piece.
We broke into small groups again to run through scenes from new plays. Erik and I were working on a scene from a play called Isolation and we were playing mother and son. We ran through the lines several times and then broke for lunch. When we returned to the hall, we played more games to warm up then went back to reading through our scenes. Erik and I talked about how each line should be read and how we should use the space on stage. When we regrouped to perform our scenes, there was a noticeable difference between everyone’s performances compared to the previous day. We all moved more in our scenes, we kept in character even when it wasn’t our turn to speak, and we performed our scenes rather than just reading the lines. I was very impressed with every group’s performance and I thought we had all learned a lot in just a day.
The final game we played was a river dance game. The point was to try to upstage everyone else on stage and draw the most attention to yourself. There were ten people on the stage and people were eliminated every couple minutes. People really committed to the competition and pushed and shoved their way to the center of attention. Then we played the game again but the intention was to draw as little attention to yourself as possible. The point was to show that good actors can do both. They can draw focus during appropriate times but also blend into the background and not upstage the other actors.
Overall, the trip to Mullagh was incredible. I felt completely out of my comfort zone and nervous during every activity, but I loved it. After each performance, I was glad that I’d had the experience. Liam, Catherine, and Alice made the room a very comfortable and safe space to express ourselves and to try new things. I was always too scared to try any theatre before this trip, but having this experience made me want to join a community theatre. I had so much fun doing improv, reading scenes, and playing games. It felt really good to just play and use our imagination and experiment. We learned how well we work as an ensemble and the degree of comfort and trust among us. The experience was thrilling and I would love for us to start an improv group so we can continue to play and be creative with each other.