2020: the year that was….

We’ll let you fill the blank yourself. It might be an expletitive, it might be ‘locked down’ or maybe – if you are a glass half full kind of person- ‘reflective’. For us it was a year in which, despite the pandemic, an awful lot happened. So since we havent posted in a while, we thought we’d each write a little about what’s happened in 2020….

Vittoria Cafolla

I started the year watching the play I had collaborated on with Big Telly try to tour (As Nicky Harley said later – it was strangely prophetic -the actors at one point give out masks, protecting the audience from the fallout of a cloud, there’s a travel ban, you aren’t allowed in ‘cafes’). Mary and I finally signed off on the stage rights of The Lonely Passion Of Judith Hearne (an epic 7 year journey involving scores of phone calls, emails, hollywood screenwriters, George Harrison- not even kidding- an epic tale deserving of its own blog post ) l was also working on a commission for Kabosh Theatre Company- and was going full throttle at it when the pandemic and its attending anxieties hit: homeschooling, washing down groceries , controlled exercise the lot. While it seemed that everyone was writing a lockdown monologue or putting a bit of work out there, I can honestly say that trying to be creative in March 2020 was like…. well…watch this short cartoon….

Don Hertzfeldt’s Wisdom Teeth. I love it so much. THIS IS A PAIN OF UNREASONABLE PROPORTION!

It was honestly- the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’m still re-writing it! Writing at the best of time is, as Taika Waititi said on twitter recently ( I’m paraphrasing but watch the full clip, creatives, it’s very funny) ‘lonely and filled with crippling self doubt’, and to be honest 2020 made that much worse.

Anyway. the pandemic also gave lots of us thinking time. (worrying about money time too) and with the lack of taxiing small children to school, brownies etc it also meant I had time to watch more shows online and even do a 6 week female only -playwriting course with Donna Kaz of the Guerrilla Girls NY (it was fantastic- I’d highly recommend it and I think she may be starting another one soon, if you are interested) Thanks to the Arts Council Northern Ireland for that! I wrote and rewrote a screenplay for Belfast company Boomclaplay, based on the legend of Sedna- which is in the process of being animated. I can’t wait to see what Andy and David come up with – seriously talented guys.

I’ve also been working on a commission for the Lyric – a piece that will be a response to the formation of Northern Ireland in 1921. Hugely thrilled about that, and nervous (the unbelievably talented Meghan Tyler is also writing one!) that I’ll mess it up, but mainly delighted to have the opportunity.

The play for Kabosh – The Shedding Of The Skin was due to be performed in The Belfast International Arts Festival. Sadly, as it was online that didn’t happen. And here’s where things get weird – the funny thing about this pandemic that it feels like it’s actually been good for new writing. Small zoom productions, readings of new work have been popping up everywhere and with budgets being repurposed ( I assume!) when big shows are unable to run in our national theatres. And theatre companies jumped and rose to the challenge. So two of the most wonderful experiences I have had – ever – working in the theatre happened as a result. The first was Verge: New Northern Irish Plays with Prime Cut (who were on my bucket list to work with)

Working with Rhiann Jeffery and a cast of absolute stars was a joy. I thought possibly it was the relief of being in an -almost- rehearsal room, but I just loved listening to these people telling a story… which is odd for me (see: crippling self doubt above)

The second was thanks to the Abbey Theatre Engine room project, in which I got to spend a day in an covid-safe actual rehearsal room with Rhiann Jeffery, Mary Lindsay, Richard Clements, Marty Maguire, Nicky Harley and Maggie Cronin. I was one of 35 artists selected to spend some time (funded by the Abbey) to work on a show- in my case it was a play I’d submitted a couple of years ago. It was a wonderful opportunity to revisit it, and to chat about all things theatre in between (though the fear of C-19 gives everything an edge, even when you’re social distancing and being extremely careful.) It was a pretty amazing and affirming way to end 2020. Well that and the fact that Paradosso got funding from ACNI for a very exciting project……

Mary Lindsay

I have to say …I find it very difficult to sum up in coherent sentences what I have been doing and what life has been like over the last year. Ummmmmmm…….. January and February of last year were a bit of a blur …….and then March came, and with it lockdown. 

What do you do? Where do you go? Stay in bed? YES, Watch too much TV….YES…Eat too much, drink too much, worry too much, stress too much, share endless memes…..YES YES YES. 

Thinking back to lockdown in March I was a bit of a fan of walking up and down the stairs a lot, trying to get my steps in, thinking that would make everything alright but actually driving my husband, dog, neighbours CRAZY! Oh and I did make a very tasty green lentil shepherd’s pie…sign up to the mailing list for details.

Once life had settled I realised that so many people were feeling exactly the same…thanks to their get up and go and inspirational creativity I started to watch the amazing online content being offered & and book onto free information sessions and training. It was a way to stay connected and stay sane.  

I started to watch online plays from Big Telly, National Theatre, amazing initiatives from Lyric Theatre with New Speak: Reimagined, Abbey Theare – Dear Ireland, Tinderbox Theatre Solo Art, helping artists get through this weird and difficult time by creating funny, joyous, poignant and moments away from 2020 content, online rehearsed readings of new plays by Vittoria Cafolla, Amanada Verlaque through VERGE with Prime Cut, free training sessions with Spotlight, Bow Street Academy, Equity NI and Backstage, and then it dawned on me that the place I had always wanted to be able to visit and train with, HB Studio in New York, might actually be offering online courses as well.

And so they were…. Thanks to the Arts Council Northern Ireland this dream came true. I studied for 15 weeks through 2020 and just recently in January 2021 (inaugural and intensive Hagen’s Actors lab). These courses allowed me to connect, not only with the amazing HB Studio tutor Carol Rosenfeld (Acting and Living in Discovery) who was a student of Uta Hagen, but also Mark Nelson and Theresa McElwee. These 15 weeks of focus were a haven for me –  to delve into the teachings of Uta Hagen and connect with an acting community across the world who strangely enough were experiencing the same emotions as I was during lockdown (and extended lockdown). That in itself was enlightening and reassuring and it also felt like the world was a smaller place for once! It’s okay to be worried, it’s okay to be anxious, it’s only natural when the entire world turns upside down. I was introduced to a wonderful film on you tube called “Broadway’s Dreamers: The Legacy of the Group Theatre, from “American Masters”, about the Group Theatre collective in New York formed in 1931. If you have time please watch, and if you ever wonder what is the point? …. fast forward to 1:20:48 to Shelley Winters empowering speech:

“The theatre should be a factory of thought, a prompter of conscience, an elucidator of social conduct, an armory against despair and dullness, and a temple to the Ascent of Man.” – George Bernard Shaw 

Although I think it strange, I am very thankful for this period of quiet (in amongst the horror) as it has given me the opportunity work with writers, directors and artists across varied and worthwhile projects, with Shannon Yee and Queens University Renal Arts Group to develop a play by William Johnston – The Starman, The Superhero and The Wizards, perform a monologue by Holly Anna Furey called ‘What Would Medusa Do?’ directed by Nuala Donnelly for No Touching Theatre Festival, and be part of a workshop for the Abbey Theatre Engine Room to develop Bloodlines by Vittoria Cafolla, directed by Rhiann Jeffrey with Nicky Harley, Richard Clements, Martin Maguire and Maggie Cronin, and work with director Lucy Baxter and Hanna Slattne on a virtual reality film, Mental Health Matters with Roisin Gallagher, Patrick Buchanan, and Colin Ash. 

Throughout this time Paradosso has been a simmering constant, getting ready to pounce….about time I hear us say …. 

2021 is a big year, It’s the centenary year of Brian Moore.