Out back in the darkness, back beyond the velvet and the drapes and the flats that hold up the set, there are the steep stairs, bounding down them, throwing your lines together in your head, rubbing makeup into your neck, the smell of sweat and talc and panic and calmness. Up here, you can hear nothing, ‘cept for the occasional applause. And as you exit that far flung dressingroom, with your costume change completed, you struggle not to be distracted by the lane outside. Up here you could be anywhere, but in a minute you’ll be on stage in front of 400 souls. And when you wait in the green room and keep an eye on the monitor to see where your fellow cast members are at in the story you are telling your audience, you can feel the hairs rising and you rise and stretch and go through your routine, before completing the journey down to backstage. Back here in the darkness, you wait for your cue, you get into the mental space, you feel the reassuring squeezes of your fellow cast members. And you wait.
I remember the first time I appeared on stage in the Town Hall for my local drama company. I was entering through a doorway centre stage. Once I knocked, and once that door opened, there was no going back. No escape. And as I stood there, waiting, I thought of what a wondrous place this is. What a great venue. What space, what a buzz. Focus, focus, man, focus. And you can either sink or swim. And when that door opens and the light floods onto me and out past me killing the darkness, you inhale it all and go forth, to entertain, to tell that story, to distract people from the realities of life.
Here we were on one of the best stages in the whole country, in front of an audience who knew everyone of us, who had come to see us pretend to be someone else. And in that meeting of reality and fiction, they would pretend too. They would pretend that I was that person I was pretending to be. And in the Town Hall Theatre Galway you can feel that connection. You can feel the moment that link is made, when the audience’s belief engages with yours. That’s the magic of theatre and live performance, when you act as a travel agent for the imagination of those who have come to see you.
Such has been the precious journey for thousands of local actors and singers and performers over the past two decades. The building celebrates its 20th birthday next week, two decades in which it has become a hub of the arts and culture in Galway. Two decades in which it has been overseen by the brilliant minds of Fergal McGrath and Mike Diskin, two focused men driven, not just to gets bums on seats, but to ensure that the venue was accessible to local consumers, both on and off stage.
It is hard to believe that this city did not have such a venue 25 years ago, that dramatic performances were held in venues that were often too small or too unsuitable. The Town Hall Theatre changed all that, right from the moment the Patrician Musical Society were first to use it in 1995 and then later when The Beauty Queen of Leenane reigned over its official opening in February 1996.
The Town Hall Theatre has been at the heart of all entertainment in the city for two decades, both professional and amateur. And as such, as a sister component of the block that includes the Black Box, it is set to play an even greater role over the next two decades, when it is hoped that the Dyke Road venue will form part of a cultural campus that will embolden Galway’s drive to be a real capital of culture, whether or not it wins the accolade this July. So to all who performed in the Town Hall, who worked there, who helped shape it and sell it, a great big thank you from the people of Galway.