Coronavirus, Gratitude, and Stage Beyond

Nobody needs me to tell them that we’re living in a very strange time. Many of my fellow Mitchell Scholars have left Ireland and returned to their homes in the US, and we’re all taking classes virtually now that social distancing protocols are firmly in place across the Ireland and the UK. There are certainly a lot of downsides to a global pandemic, but I’m trying to stay focused on the things that make me grateful to still be in Derry.

I am grateful for my health and the health of my housemates here and my family back home. I am grateful for a cozy wee house (see my previous blog post for details), my cat, and the fact that my fiancé is holed up with me here. I am grateful for occasional drives along the north coast when we desperately need to get out of the house.

I could talk at great length about all of these things, but I want to spend this post focused on my gratitude for Stage Beyond Theatre Company, with whom I have been working since January. The shape of that work has changed significantly in the past few weeks, but the community and joy attached to it remain.

Stage Beyond is a theatre company made up of adults with learning disabilities. My first day with them was the day they auditioned company members for a new video game inspired adaptation of Hamlet, written by Colin Murphy, that was scheduled to tour around Ireland this May. (Unfortunately, the tour was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak).  I’ve been working with the group on Hamlet: Call of Duty for ten hours a week since auditions, and have been blown away by the ensemble’s enthusiasm, adaptability, and raw talent.

Two actors goofing off with the prop scull during a Hamlet: Call of Duty rehearsal. Their scripts are open on a table in front of them.

The group welcomed me with open arms, lots of questions about New York City, occasional chocolate bars and sausage rolls from the Centra around the corner, endless puns and riddles, caricatures drawn in Sharpie, Fortnite flossing lessons, and serious excitement about the American drama games I taught them. When I missed one day of rehearsal because of a class, every single company member approached me the next morning and asked me whether I was feeling alright and told me they missed me. I felt so at home with the Stage Beyond company, and that feeling only grew when the coronavirus scare began. The company’s director offered me a spare room in her house and the actors checked in every day to see how everyone was feeling. On the last day of rehearsal before programming stopped for social distancing, we spent the day reviewing games we’d learned together and shared impressions from movies over tea. We tossed around the idea of doing a radio play version of Hamlet – stay tuned; it might happen! And while we all wanted to hug on our way out at the end of the day, we tapped elbows and wished each other our best instead.

I miss my Stage Beyond pals every day I’m in isolation, and hope I’ll be able to work with them again this summer before I head back to the states. I’m so grateful to have been welcomed into their community and for their support during this bizarre and scary time.

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