Sandymount Director on Her Play The Dig

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When the house you’re building is falling down around your ears, when all you’ve worked for is taken away, what will run out first: your money or your wife?

The Dig is a 21st century drama, exploring the blurred lines that define what it is to be a man in contemporary Ireland. Showcasing some of the finest new Irish writing this redemptive tale features seven characters all played by Declan Mills, and its staging coincides with the screening of his most recent acting venture, The Monuments Men film directed by Hollywood A-lister George Clooney. Caomhan Keane talks to Sandymount resident and his former youth theatre teacher Tara Derrington about the project, the first show she has directed since Our Father in 2011.

So, tell me Tara, what’s this show about?

It explores what a man’s role in the world is when his traditional role is gone. What is a house? What is a home in a society where home is a threatened people today.

So it’s about a man who looses his traditional role and way in the world and how he fights his way back and out of that. Arthur is middle management in the construction industry. He has a nice house, he is doing very well for himself and then the property bubble bursts and everything, very quickly, goes horribly wrong. We follow his descent into hell, his attempt to claw his way out of that and watch as he almost loses himself further in the process.

It sounds like it has similar themes to your previous work, Our Father. House, home, family. And it’s a one-person show like much of your previous work.

I really like working one to one. It really allows you the opportunity to support and develop a performance, which you don’t necessarily get with a wider group.

You have also worked a lot with comedians over the years – Michelle Reid, Joe Rooney?

I love working with comedians. It’s such a different experience to working with actors. They are kind of crazy and go of on their own little journeys. I love the imagination they bring and that allows me to give them a path to follow while their minds float off.

How did you choose the actor?

This project was written for Declan. He’s a fantastic performer and Mark said to him, ‘You have great talents. What you need is something that can showcase that talent for you.’ As you get older, parts get more limited. It so depends on what we look like. This is designed by Mark for Declan to use his vocal and physical skills

You have taken a step back from theatre to look after, what you call your greatest work, your daughters.

My role is first and foremost as a parent. Theatre is all consuming. It’s like being an architect, a teacher and a politician a lot the same time. You can’t really do both if you are to do them both well. Even doing two at the same time I never feel like I can give a 100% to them. So I’m picking my projects sparsely.

What draws you back?

The theatre I want to see is more event based, that is outside theatrical spaces and that has a more free form way of viewing. Which comedy, sport and music has. That you can maybe make a bit of noise while watching. I would like theatre to get a little bit more Elizabethan.

The Dig isn’t like that. But we have explored that type of the world in rehearsal. One of the central exploratory improvisations has been the male and the female, the yin and the yang. This show has been told from the male perspective but it is also the wife’s story.

The role of the Abbey and Gate is to keep the old traditions alive but as theatre makers the next generation should be moving us forward and pushing boundaries.

It’s been fifteen years since I was in the Gaiety School of Acting Youth Theatre, where you were my teacher and so many of us have either gone on to pursue a career in acting, directing or writing about the arts. How do you reflect on that time?

That’s been the work I am most proud of, to see young people having made that choice. Who have not only made that choice but also done well. I remember the spark and that’s why it is so enjoyable. The creative energy of you guys. It’s a shame we become more cynical and jaded and speak more about the stuff we don’t want to do, as we get older. In youth theatre you just get the stuff you want to do.

It was a creative introduction to the world of theatre, as opposed to the world of acting. So it makes me very pleased that some of you have gone on to have careers outside of performance. Theatre is a big spider that has lots of legs.

The arts can be quite a contentious place. Do you worry jumping back into this bed?

It’s a really risky, dangerous thing to do. I don’t know if I am up for it at times. You lose that hard shell and you need to have that great hard shell. The ‘I don’t care what you think’ attitude.

It’s different to the world of parenting, which is a gentle place. People think we are a bunch of luvies, hard nose scary tough people. But you wouldn’t want to mess with them. People are passionate and people can be hard-nosed and angry. As they should be, it’s a very important issue.

It’s difficult to be yourself in this world. I know I’ve been told to tone it down and as I get older have been more wary of how I speak my mind.

It does become harder to address things with your heart with the passion of youth. You start to see things from every ones side. Youth can have a complete lack of sense at times and age brings more balance but less passion.

You described Stefanie Preissner, who wrote and starred in Our Father as the light of her generation. As some one who has not only taught Youth Theatre but also on the GSA Full Time course you must be pretty well qualified to make that assertion. What does it take to be that person?

You have to want it very much but I think most people do. Everyone believes they are the one who wants it more than anyone else. That their drive and stickability will see them through. So you also have to have very big balls. You have to be good at networking. You need to be able to sell yourself.

There are many shy actors out there. You have to have the ability to get on with other people. If people don’t like you, you wont get work. It’s not a solitary role

I directed that graduation showcase for ten years and you would see these extremely talented actors who would have these problems. And the person who is rising is the charming, lovable, funny person who people go ‘aren’t they great, I love working with them.’ You have to have the ability to schmooze.

The Dig will run from Thursday 30 January to Sat 08 February 2014 at Theatre Upstairs @ Lanigans
10 Eden Quay, Dublin 1. Show starts at 7pm. Tickets from €8.

Image: Declan Mills in The Dig by Mark Wale

By Caomhan Keane