There are many areas in which Ger FitzGibbon has been prominent in theatre in Cork city–-as one of those responsible for setting up and becoming the Head of Department of Theatre and Drama Studies as a director and writer for theatre in Cork.
We focus a lot in this discussion on the city and how the theatre scene has evolved over the past 50 years–-the struggles, the achievements, the politics, the Arts Council––we discuss his involvement in Dramat in UCC, in CTC, the Ivernia, Meridian, the Everyman, as well as the many actor and designers he has been influenced by and created with.
Ger has been described as the father of theatre in Cork; he is well known for his generosity and support to the many actors he meets.
Another enduring legacy is his participation in Graffiti–– the specialist theatre company for young audiences and which has survived nearly 40 years at this stage. As well as being one of the founding members, Ger has served as Chair and as a regular board member for about 30 years. Graffiti has made a significant difference in Cork to the possibilities for theatre-makers––the actors, designers, playwrights, etc.––by providing professional opportunities, seasonal work and, for some, long-term employment. And of course to the thousands of children in Cork city and county that have benefitted through outreach projects or programmes such as the Beag programme, or Fighting Words.
In this podcast we discuss what excites him for the future of theatre in the city as well as his take on collaboration, design, mask-making, his secret passion as a bricoleur, and the Captain’s Chair. He also quotes Shakespeare beautifully!
With twenty-five years experience in the film and writing business, Jeremy Massey gives an oversight of his creative process in working through many screenplays, one novel, published by Penguin US, The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley, an historical novel in writing, Isolato and another in progress, Paddy Buckley’s Dance with the Devil.
He discusses his use of structure and form; how he came to the different voices for his characters; how his career in writing has evolved over time; working in collaboration with others, particularly on a documentary addressing child sex trafficking; and how to write with a plethora of ghosts for company. He generously speaks of the writers he revers, for their ability to bring the mind of a reader on an incredible, unexpected journey.
As the interview progressed, we moved from sunlight to darkness, and it seemed like this was metaphorically how the interview progressed also. Hence, the ‘dark’ photograph that features at the top of this page! As the son of a funeral undertaker and having worked in the business in his early 20s, themes of death permeate Jeremy’s writing and we discuss how these present themselves to the viewer.
In choosing to listen to the podcast, you might note that, while the conversation is never depressing and is always entertaining, the language is regularly very colourful!
A long-term co-creator with me, this chat with Terri Leiber is the third in the Series, and the final conversation with the PlayActing Theatre team. As well as acting in classic plays where I was the director, we have collaborated as writers and actors since 2011 in The Eileen and Marilyn Experience on six different comedy / cabaret shows and other one-off performances. We were ‘big’ in west Cork!
With this podcast format that is new to me, I consider regularly the delicate balance of interviewer and contributor to the conversation. In this chat, because of our longstanding working relationship and the particular chemistry between us, I believe that this podcast has far too much of me in it and far too much laughing! I apologise now!!
Terri speaks about being a creative person as a writer / actor, and as a teacher and director, she talked about writing novels and the pleasures of collaboration (especially with me!!).
(Photo credit, KM)
(Opening and closing music features Camilla Griehsel, Singer and Justin Grounds, Violinist.)
When did I notice that I was interested in this idea of collaboration and collective creativity?
I’m not entirely sure. I know that when I applied to UCC in 2015 it was established as an idea, following a lifetime of involvement in productions as actor, street performer, director, teacher and facilitator. When I prepared my application for a post-graduate degree I was using this terminology and seeking to explore it further in an academic context.
What do I mean by the phrase: collaboration and collective creativity? The dictionary definitions are:
collaborate 1. work jointly, esp. in a literary or artistic production.
collective 3. of or from several or many individuals
creative 1. inventive and imaginative
2. creating or able to create
The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 8th edn. 1990
Before I give you the definition I use as it currently exists, I will explain further to you in 12 words.
1. Connection and 2. Freedom
I had done a few drama courses in the 90s, especially with the Drama League of Ireland, which involved much analysis of plays and systems of learning with the other participants in the evenings. A lot of the thinking came from that learning. Despite working in industrial-type school rooms of Gormonston College, Co Meath, with little style, comfort, set or costumes, we created moments of magic through the performances and embodiment of the actors as we worked through the week and learned of various techniques and exercises, now commonplace for actors.
From then on, whenever I directed, I took a note of what I wished to do and to achieve, whatever games and exercises I used. And what my aim for the session was.
Increasingly, a sense of bringing people together was part of that planning—how to focus on the individuals in front of me so as to create a joint energy that would seem to come if we could access the sub-conscious.
I aimed each time to reach a connection where a sense of freedom permeated the work, building a collective feeling, where creativity flourished and moments of magic happened.
Because freedom is fundamental––freedom to play, to disregard judgment, the freedom to fail.
This expression, the freedom to fail requires a longer explanation. For now, I’ll explain it simply, I wish to give everyone participating the freedom to get it wrong, to feel no pressure to be right, so they (and I) can believethat they can explore and have no negative consequences.
It is tricky for people to accept (why, I wonder?) and I wonder too about the negativity within the message…I am open to finding a positive perspective on it!
It is a whole life process, in my view. I can’t separate my life from my work. Each learning in one area imbues the other with understanding.
Part of the evolution has had to do with being around others with whom I talk about the things of life. It could be my friends or colleagues, strangers or artists. We could be discussing work or how our creativity expresses itself. I speak to friends who are counsellors, therapists, coaches, foodies, friends who are really good at parenting.
All people who continuously explore their lives.
And I speak to a lot of teachers, especially when I was working as a drama teacher. Plus, teachers abound in my family!
For about a year in 2017/18 I organised a casual group of people to talk ‘creativity’ for an hour on a Monday morning. There was no other agenda, whoever came came––writers, artists: full-time, part-time––the conversation started without an agenda and it always flowed.
For example, I particularly loved the discussion on when ideas come to creatives. One woman had to sit instantly wherever she was to capture the words (once in the loo!) or they would be gone. Another just worked and worked, consistently, determinedly.
Whenever I meet people to converse in this way, with one person or many, I always leave having exchanged links to sites, poetry, artists, music… Invariably, one creative idea borrows another, the atmosphere increases in excitement and my work has a new impetus.
The common thread is that I am learning from those conversations and so when the time is right, they inspire me to act in a different way.
So, there was the kindergarten teacher who meditated on his class every morning before beginning his day and I began to do this too.
There was the midwife who spoke of learning to horseride in middle-age and spoke of using a system which applies a ratio of 51:49 to the relationship between rider and horse––as close to 50:50 as is possible. I endeavored to bring this 51/49 system to my teaching, my directing, to facilitating. I retain a ‘holding’ role, for safety and respect, but otherwise, the sharing––the learning––is equal between students/ participants and me as the leader.
5. Courage and 6. Openness
While the ultimate aim is the work of the group, the collective, I believe that one begins with oneself…as an actor / student of acting…
The renowned theatre director, Peter Brook, commenting on the theory of Jerzy Grotowski says,
An actor will continue to explore themselves on many levels right through their performing life and presumably in their personal life also. The success of any rehearsal process will depend on the openness of the actors and where they are in the personal development of their talents.
It takes courage to open oneself on this emotional level. It takes self-belief and a willingness to be vulnerable.
Speaking of vulnerability, I couldn’t explain to you what the feeling is like post-performance or post-reading my own work. I don’t have the words to describe it. It is tortuous really. Personally I act through receiving the responses and there is no point in getting a critique at that time. I will only hear the negative feedback and hardly take on the positive.
Yet, there is nothing else like the experience of being on stage performing or creating those experiences as a director––the exchange of energy with an audience, the constant searching for that one moment where that audience and you are in perfect symbiosis and the audience is in your outstretched palm.
Many of the exercises I choose when preparing group workshops involve the actor becoming more sensitive to themselves, searching for a greater degree of quietness and stillness within; the aim being to bring an added awareness to their training and exploration.
Through the exercises, I spend time concentrating on making the actors more aware of others around them and how we humans interact with each other; bringing attention to the subtle means by which we interrelate, the subtleties that make performances credible.
The aim is to make the participants more comfortable with each other. It often involves an acute mental focus or physical contact, which develops in intensity as the weeks of work move on.
Planning how this progresses will depend on the particular group I am facing, their temperaments and stages of learning. Consideration of this plan is fundamental to any work. The choice of exercises and the intention for any class is an instinctive response to those involved and requires a consideration––a meditation––on the group. The exercises I employ, exploring the relationships with other actors as they work together, are very familiar to drama students.
As theatre-makers, we are obviously always considering movement and the body in performance. Practices such as yoga, pilates, dance or other fitness regimes are essential elements of that work. Increasingly, I am becoming attuned to embodiment in a deeper way, through self-awareness that comes with yoga over many years and other practices such as Somatic Movement or Feldencrais.
The mind / body / energy axis brings a different awareness to me, makes me more at ease. And in a group, the more at ease each of the participants is, the greater the opportunity for collective creativity to emerge.
9. Space and 10. Spaciousness
I have become fascinated with these words and the various layers of understanding and meaning that comes with investigating them.
This idea of space and spaciousness requires a consideration (in a future post) of how to unpack our experiences and understanding of these concepts that includes considering music, stillness, quietness and connection between actors, and between them and an audience. Even the amount of space I allow between paragraphs in this post!
From a theatrical point of view, what I also need to consider and allow is sufficient space––here I mean time––for our learning to settle and be absorbed by the participants; for the learning to take place with gentle energy in the execution of the actions requested in any rehearsal process.
An acute awareness of the physical space that actors inhabit is also an intrinsic quality for me. When actors find their place in the setting, explore it for themselves and for the characters they are playing, this knowledge is enlightening and useful for the play development.
This is linked too to an awareness of an artistic and architectural space in terms of the design of the set and the overall production, which should complement and be part of any process of exploration of the play in rehearsal.
I couldn’t find the place for the word ‘fun’ before now. But that shouldn’t belie its importance. Fun is intrinsic to my nature and essential to the way I work. It’s like an overarching principle of working for me.
With the strong desire I have to work in a communal way, encouraging communication between participants through fun and laughter can bring a sharing that can break down barriers immediately. Finding a way to be playful is an essential key to the work.
In fact, I have found that in writing for my own performances, though I like to consider poignant and difficult topics, my work is most effective when it is balanced equally with humour.
The ultimate intention with this process of collaboration and collective creativity, is to create room––a space––where all of the foregoing elements brought together result in creating a synergy of creativity and connection that is encouraged to bloom and grow.
So, to the definition of collaboration and collective creativity that I have eventually adopted:
It is a quality of cooperation in a creative context that I mean by collaboration and collective creativity. This process creates a working environment of close connection between people and that results in the minds and bodies of those involved to be free to play and create. It often happens in improvisation and can even happen in simple conversation, where parties are so open and aware that the sharing becomes a symbiotic flow of ideas and inspiration, one to the other. And a space is made where a synergy of co-creation occurs.