DAVE, MARY, and Sean are paid to be heroes, but who are they being heroes for? The massive heroism outsourcing corporation they work for, or the needy clients who ring their call centre because they have no one else to turn to? And how can they help either of those when they cannot even help themselves?
With a bit of divine intervention, our three heroes discover for themselves what being a hero is really about. This is the premise of a delightfully inventive and funny new play, The Heroism Hotline, which The Galway Actors’ Workshop are staging in the Town Hall Theatre studio next week.
Devised and performed by members of the workshop, and scripted by Donnacha Bushe and Sarah O’Toole (who also directs ), the play satirises corporate culture and call centres and its cast of characters includes Jesus, Saint Peter, and a transgendered Sigmund Freud.
Sarah O’Toole, who also acts in the play, takes up the story.
“I gave the class the theme of heroes and they spent four weeks devising the scenario and the play emerged from that,” she tells me. “We came up with this idea of a call centre with reluctant heroes. There’s this old woman whose cat is stuck up a tree and these people are taking advantage of her and being encouraged to rip her off by the call centre and charging her huge commissions.
“Then we have Jesus and St Peter commenting on the action and they have a big debate on what exactly is a hero. Jesus decides he wants to re-incarnate a hero to send down to Earth to sort out people’s problems as The Heroism Hotline isn’t cutting the mustard.
“So they have a big discussion about who they should send and they end up sending Sigmund Freud back even though St Peter is against it because Freud was a cocaine addict, a misogynist, and an atheist, but conversely our own three heroes have their own comparable personal problems.”
Having chosen Freud to return to Earth, the fun is just beginning, as O’Toole reveals:
“They take Freud out of Purgatory and send him back down but on the proviso that he addresses his cocaine problem and that he has to go back to Earth as a woman,” says O’Toole.
“In the meantime, the boss of the hotline is trying to motivate the heroes by getting this evil corporate motivator over from America, a ‘heroism orchestrator’, to teach them how to rip people off with a ‘smart and sustainable attitude’.
“She describes suicidal callers as a lucrative market because they stay on the premium lines for a long time. Eventually the Freud character comes along and go he starts getting to the root of all the heroes’ problems’.”
While there is no lack of gleeful satire in the play, it also poses some serious questions on the themes of heroism and work.
“A lot of the satire stems from the fact that quite a few of the cast had worked in call centres and it can be a horribly soul destroying job,” O’Toole observes. “So the play asks how can you be altruistic when you’re just trying to keep afloat - you’re paying the mortgage but hating yourself at the same time.
“Ultimately our protagonists are heroes because they have to become more true to themselves and make a brave leap and let go of what they think they want. So there’s that idea that you have to be true to yourself to be a hero so it’s about learning to help themselves as well as helping others.
“And because they’re on a phoneline all the time there is that idea that when someone is just at the other end of a phone they’re not fully real somehow whereas when you meet them face to face then it’s possible to develop empathy and I think the play suggests that empathy is the ultimate superpower.”
The Heroism Hotline runs at the Town Hall studio from next Thursday September 13 to Saturday 16 at 8.30pm nightly. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie