IT IS, as Stephen Fry noted at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, “a very dark time for the performing arts”, and just as venues re-opened and shows were taking place once more - albeit on a small scale - Galway stands on the brink of a county wide lockdown.
Yet, Andrew Flynn, one of Galway’s leading theatre directors, and the director of Galway Youth Theatre, has been here before. Throughout the original lockdown, GYT did not cease, but adapted to the ‘new normal’ ensuring young theatrical talent in the city did not stagnate, but instead had a place to thrive and develop.
No matter what happens, even a second lockdown, Flynn and GYT are ready. “It is frightening, but this is also something we’re going to have to live with,” Flynn tells me during our Tuesday morning interview. “We’ve had a session with everyone involved and we feel we just have to keep going.”
Indeed GYT have big plans for coming weeks and months, including classes and workshops, residencies at Nuns Island Theatre, and the production of a new play by Jarlath Tivnan, examining young people’s experiences of the pandemic.
Keeping active during lockdown
Andrew Flynn and actors in rehearsal in pre-Covid times.
When lockdown kicked in, GYT moved quickly to work with young people online, facilitating weekly classes and training sessions, such as Andrew running a class which saw participants perform a theatrical monologue through Zoom; and GTY tutor Eilish McCarthy hosting classes on writing characters for theatre.
“We didn’t know how it was going to go, but the members loved the Zoom classes,” says Andrew. “There wasn’t anything else for them to do, so this was a way to keep active and meet other people. Nothing can beat an in-person meeting, but it was still social.”
'We are encouraging young people to get involved. It’s a great way to meet others who are also into the arts'
Last month saw GYT begin recruiting for new members, ahead of classes to run from October to December. Again, regardless of what decision the Government makes about Galway this week, GYT is prepared.
The current plan is that classes will take place in-person, in a dedicated space, with 12 participants, socially distanced, and more than likely wearing face-masks. Should a lockdown be imposed, classes will move online.
“A second lockdown is a scary prospect,” says Andrew, “but it’s the reality and it’s what we have to get used to. So we are encouraging young people to get involved. It’s a great way to meet others who are also into the arts. GYT is flexible. We are determined. We will stay active and involved, and we will continue to work.”
Walls - the lockdown experience
One of the most significant outcomes of the lockdown Zoom classes will be Walls, a new play by local writer Jarlath Tivnan [pictured above].
“When lockdown came in, we had to rethink our whole programme,” says Andrew. “It also struck me that this situation was something completely different. Artists were seeing their opportunities for work disappear completely, so I commissioned Jarlath to write a play.
'My promise to GYT members has been that "You will get to perform on the stage of the Town Hall"'
“The brief was it had to do with young people’s experience of Zoom and the lockdown, so he had sessions with young people, talking to them, and they filled out questionnaires, and what has come out of that is five stand alone pieces linked by the same theme - young people and how they have been affected by lockdown.”
Currently, 15 GYT members are in rehearsal via Zoom, while one to one, socially distanced rehearsals, in a dedicated room at the Galway Arts Centre, are also taking place in advance of Walls run at the Town Hall Theatre on November 19, 20, and 21, with Andrew directing.
And no matter what guidelines are in force by then, GYT is ready. “If lockdown comes in, it won’t last as long as the one in March,” says Andrew, “and my promise to GYT members has been that ‘You will get to perform on the stage of the Town Hall.’
“We will either play to a socially distanced Town Hall audience of 50, if restrictions stay as they are - and to play to even that many people will feel like a gathering - or else to an empty theatre with the show recorded for streaming, or wait until restrictions are eased.”
‘Animating’ Nuns Island Theatre
In June, Andrew and Galway Arts Centre manager Tara O'Connor, met with Theatre57, the collective of independent theatre artists in Galway city and county, to develop a relationship and provide artist support and space to develop work via the use of the Nuns Island Theatre.
“Nuns Island is a beautiful theatre, and I wanted to animate the space,” says Andrew. “There are periods throughout the year were it’s not much in use, and Covid was a catalyst for us to say ‘Let’s just do this!’”
This led Andrew, and Theatre57’s Emma O' Grady, to invite independent artists to apply to use the space. The result was a four month programme with 12 artists/companies working from the theatre, with Covid-19 guidelines and safety procedures adhered to and overseen by Siobhan Singleton.
'The plan is to continue working with Theatre57 and next year, run another residency series. It’s about bringing Nuns Island into the centre of things'
So far the space has been used by Ollie Jennings, Róisín Stack, Orlagh De Bhaldraithe, and No Ropes Theatre Company individually in residence in August and September.
The next series, restrictions permitting, takes place in November and December with Maria Auletta (November 2 to 6 and December 7 to 12 ); Alice Keane (November 2 to 7 ); Orla McGovern (November 9 to 13 ); and the TULCA Festival of Visual Art (November 7, 14, 21 ); Eimer Finan (November 16 to 20 ); Roisin Stack (November 23 to December 5 ); and Minnow Productions’ Mags Keohane (December 14 to 19 ).
“The residencies have gone very well,” says Andrew, “people loved working there. The plan is to continue working with Theatre57 and that, next year, we will run another residency series. It’s about bringing Nuns Island into the centre of things.”
For more information see www.galwayyouththeatre.com