I live on the ground floor of Trinity’s Front Gate, which means that I am not secluded behind the white stone walls, nor am I outside in the mess of buses and tourists on College Street, I am in between these spaces, living, literally, in the wall. (Whenever a passerby sees me sitting on my windowsill, a confused and somewhat unsettled look crosses her face as she attempts to reconcile the grandeur of a national monument with the sight of a young man reading Beckett in a bathrobe.) While this intermediary space is a bit noisy at times, it’s become an appropriate image for what I see going on around and inside me.
From a theatrical standpoint, arriving in Dublin this September was an opportune time to witness the community in a state of flux. Arguably the turbulence began months earlier when the recession started taking its toll on the arts sector–the Arts Council cut funding from four mid-sized theatre companies (each having around twenty years under their belts), the Fringe Festival turned to Absolut Vodka to sponsor its events (tagline: Absolut Fringe), and the Abbey announced it must cut 26 of its 113 full-time positions. The money crunch has sparked a debate over what kind of theatre should be funded and what the face of “New Irish Theatre” will be. From my limited point of view, two prominent camps have emerged: the New Kids and the Established Companies. The New Kids would likely claim that the Established Companies are predictable, relish in their own cliches, and have the sex appeal of tweed thong:
(Two old men sit in a cottage. It is raining.)
Patrick, your father was a good man.
Aye, he loved his field.
Aye, but he beat your mother.
Aye, but he loved that field.
The Established Companies would most likely say that the New Kids are flashy but essentially vapid:
(Two skinny hipsters dance to youtube clips while spreading paint on the floor. Later, they make out.)
I find this scenario to be exciting because as the theatre community heads deeper into the recession, there is no option but to keep making work, which means that eventually the Established Companies will stage something more experimental and the New Kids might explore something more traditional. The walls in this scenario are always shifting. (For those who read Calvin and Hobbes, the rules of theatre are the same as Calvinball: the only permanent rule is that you can’t play it the same way twice.)
Which brings me to the topic of my studies.
Studying theatre theory, as opposed to studying theatre history or actually creating theatre, is a bit like taking a field trip to the zoo only to spend all day listening to a zookeeper tell you what Orangutan books she’s been reading, why she prefers those Orangutan books over the others, and why you should never waste your time with Bonobos. I realize this is an unfair statement in several ways. One: it might seem to indicate that I disagree with the nature of my program (which is not true) and that studying theatre theory is not what I want to be doing (it is). Two: I don’t think I should equate academics to zookeepers so much as Jane Goodalls, crouching in the foliage, furiously scribbling notes as their subjects mate, fight, and fling their feces about (not far from the truth in some cases, google “Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca”), intentionally keeping themselves as removed from the mess as possible. This analogy is also unfair because there are plenty of hybrid academics/art-makers in existence, 2005 Mitchell scholar Nick Johnson to name one. The point is: personally, I have found it tricky to balance my identity as an apprentice-academic and an apprentice-theatre artist.
But “tricky” is the wrong word. It’s damn frustrating. While I feel enriched by the theory, I find that after I’ve spent all day in the library trying to express how semiotics, despite its biases, does acknowledge the phenomenological happenings of a stage production, I feel it’s harder for me to sit down and create honest work that deals with my own tiny fears and trivial joys. In addition to being steeped in this world of theory, I’ve recently realized how hard it is to be away from my base of social and artistic support in Seattle. No longer can I grab a coffee at Victrola, work on a new play while watching the baristas flirt with the bike messengers, and then spend the evening drinking cheap beer with people I love. I’ve finally admitted to myself, that in Dublin I am in a state of flux. I am not in my boisterous world outside the academic wall, nor am I completely hidden behind it–I am living in the wall. And while it’s not as easy as I’d imagine, I know this intermediary place is leading me to growth.
Last night I went to mass at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church. During the Prayers of the Faithful, the priest said a special prayer for the souls of the departed parishioners. “All those people who used to be sitting right where you’re sitting just now,” he said, waving his hands over the pews. He continued: “And don’t worry. Your number will be coming up too.”
I have three roommates. Two of them are named Stephen and are both pursuing PhD’s in physics. Every morning they trade off who wakes up first to make tea. Since they have the same name, I wake up to the same thing every day: a brief knocking, then a groggy voice: “Stephen. Tea.” (My third roommate is named Oisin. He eats a health-conscious brand of cereal called “Especially You.”)