Here are your stories!
We feature the stories which our DLI members have sent in following our appeal - thanks for your contributions!
Special thanks to Frances Blackburn, Maurice O'Sullivan, John McDwyer, Brian Garry, John P Kelly, Helen Kilgannon, Anne Mekitarian & Helen Knightley the authors of the stories below.
Keep those drama anecdotes coming to Willie O'Brien, and we will include more in our next newsletter!
Late Arrivals!! by Maurice O'Sullivan, Torch Players, Limerick.
About 9 am on a March morning in 1986 our Lighting Man, Joe, and myself set off from Limerick for the West Cork Festival in Rossmore, and, as usual, took a number of wrong turns as we approached Rossmore. We eventually arrived about 12 noon and set to work immediately on the lighting before the set’s arrival which was scheduled for about 1 pm.
1pm, 3pm, and 5pm went by and no trace of Michael who was transporting the set. No mobiles in those days of course, so we rang his mother in Limerick who told us that he left home about1 0 am!
It is now 6 pm and the cast, who are coming by bus, should be here shortly, but we have no set and no means of communication with Michael. Eventually he coolly saunters into the Hall about 6.15 to say he can only get within 500 yards of the Hall as the road in front of it is closed off because of the West Cork Car Rally. On enquiring why he is so late he says he got a puncture and when I suggest that a puncture could not take that long to fix he responds with I had to have my dinner, didn’t I !!
We now have the bigger problem of how to get the set onto the stage, so, with the help of some very willing Committee members we race across several fields and ditches between the Hall and where the car and trailer are parked. If there was a prize for the fastest set construction we would have won it, though sadly there was no prize for this theatrical feat!!
However, before our production of Moliere’s Imaginary Invalid could go on, we were to encounter another type of non-arrival.
To be continued.......
John McDwyer , Leitrim, remembers a 1981 mixed grill!
My first year on the festival circuit was 1981 when I played Gar Private in Philadelphia, Here I Come with Phoenix Players, Tubbercurry, and my first festival appearance was in Ballyshannon.
Now, Ballyshannon was and is renowned for its hospitality and Dorrian's Imperial Hotel was famed for sending well fed actors into battle. I was delighted to see a magnificent mixed grill set before me and did it full justice, my background being of the plenty of babies in Africa would be glad to get it variety. When I had cleaned my plate, the late Rita Gannon, being older and wiser in festival terms, offered me some of hers which was gratefully received.
On to the Abbey and I offered my usual brilliant, bordering on the definitive, reading of Gar Private. Unfortunately, when I opened my mouth, the mixed grill had its vengeance as my mouth was a dry as Lent on Lough Derg and only the first four rows were privy to my extraordinary tour de force performance.
Now the adjudicator was one Doris M Day (no, not that one) and Rita and I stood in the wings listening to her judgement. She said there was an audibility problem with my performance. I have studied this actor closely, she said, and he has a lazy muscle in his upper lip - at which point Rita whispered And two mixed grills in his belly!! It all worked out in the end as we won the ADL All Ireland in Mullingar at the end of the season.
Frances Blackburn, Limerick, shares another Mickey Murphy tale !
Remember our new group member Mickey Murphy and his hare brained schemes? Let me tell you another story....
Festival time again and accommodation had to be secured for five women and one man. Everyone had their tasks allotted and Mickey volunteered to book the B& B. I was uneasy but he assured me that he would do it ASAP and we could relax.
He gave a lovely performance that night and the adjudicator mentioned Mickey’s perfect Dublin accent - she had no idea that he was born and reared in Camden Street!!
All was well, so, where had Mr Murphy booked us in for the night?? ‘Nuff said...he had completely forgotten to do it. A mad checking with anyone local confirmed that there wasn’t a room to be had in the area.......
I will remind you all that it was mid-November and it was now approximately 12.45am....when we set out in search of a room for the night. Eventually the magic ‘Vacancies’ sign loomed - the house was in front of us in a blaze of light. Every room had lights on and the hall door was wide open.
We stepped into the hallway ...Can I help you? We turned around to see a tall grey woman. Grey is what she was. Tall and willowy, grey hair and wearing a full length grey dress. We quickly told her our story, all talking at the same time. She merely said Follow me. Up the staircase and on to the widest hallway I have ever seen. The six of us walked abreast as we moved along it. She opened a door and said Would this be alright? The room was massive...
If the young gentleman would come with me I will show him his room. As he was leaving, Mickey looked back and begged Someone come with me,PLEASE!!! We got on with preparing for bed amid Betty’s occasional moaning.....We’re gonna be murdered in our beds tonight, girls.... Finally there was silence.
We all settled down. Then the door knob turned and a slight creak as the door was pushed open. Betty screamed again Told you, we’re gonna be murdered! Just then Mickey’s head came around the door. Jaysus, girls, I can’t sleep over there. Can I bunk in here instead? And in he came.....
I must tell you that I may have been more traumatised than I realised because since then I have no recollection of having eaten breakfast, paying the bill or of ever seeing the grey woman again and sometimes I wonder...Did it really happen?!!
We have enjoyed sharing our DLI members' reminiscences with you over the past weeks. Any more anecdotes? Send them to send them to Willie O’Brien: firstname.lastname@example.org
The New Group Member
Frances Blackburn, Limerick
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on a train.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
I don’t always travel with my diary. Even if I did, you’d be hard pushed to find something sensational between its covers. These days I seldom travel by train. A mobility scooter is more my style. However, I love that quote!
Wilde had the ability to make the most mundane seem extraordinary, so I thought I’d begin my story by introducing you to a young man who walked into our rehearsal room one September evening many years ago.
I’d like to introduce you to Michael (Mickey) Murphy. I know....but that was his name! A good looking young man of about 20, no more. Tall, black hair slicked back, neatly dressed and an almost overwhelming personality.
Sorry, did I say walked in? No—more like fell in the door. Flat on his face, spreadeagled. Seconds later he was surrounded by every female in the room. They were putty in his hands. Offers of plasters and coffee abounded but were gallantly refused with the air of I’ll live through this, thank you’.
As he spoke, I was immediately transported to O’Casey’s Dublin. He had the purest and most original Dublin accent that I had ever heard. He was born, he said, and still lived in Camden Street, Dublin. He had a van, so distance or travel would not be a problem, nor would timekeeping. Plays were distributed and we held our auditions.
At our next meeting everyone seemed happy with the roles they were offered and accepted. We decided to make application for entry into four of the One Act Festival venues. The excitement was palpable. As we left that evening, I noticed that Mickey walked down the corridor taking on the mode and manners that any decent Dublin Gangster would envy. We were on our way.
The day arrived for our first outing on the one act festival circuit - the Grand Hotel in Balbriggan. We were third on the performance list that evening, and had to be there by 7pm. Our new group member, Mickey Murphy, was bringing the set, which consisted of a large rug, table, two chairs and a free standing window with net curtain attached.
The first play went up - no sign of Mickey....then at 8.10 he pulls up in his van, jumps out, and takes out the window with the net curtain attached - in ribbons.I put everything in my Mother’s garage overnight and the dog ate it he explained..
Of the rest of the set, there was no sign!
Undaunted, Mickey continued, I know a guy who only lives ten houses away. He’ll lend us what we need. We’ll go down to him now.
The second play was coming to an end. They had a rug in their play and when they were striking their set, I asked them would if they oblige us by leaving it behind for our use which they very kindly did.
When it was our turn to set up, I saw the lads coming up with the table and chairs which we required and with the window bearing a very nice, if slightly longer, net curtain on it. And so it would seem that All’s well that ends well.
We retired to the bar afterwards for a well needed drink. The two tech guys were still very quiet. So, I asked Mickey
Did your friend mind lending us the table and chairs?
No, he answered, he didn’t know anything about it. He wasn’t in.
Then, where did they come from?! I said, feeling myself going weak at the knees.
Well, when we got no answer, I had a look around and I noticed the front downstairs window was just a tiny bit open so I sort of encouraged it a bit until I could climb through it. I let the lads in by the hall door and that’s how we got everything out.
I could feel myself going pale. But what if he came back and found it like that? Ah no, that’s alright.....I wrote a post it note for him and put it on the floor where the table was.
It was at that point that I fainted.......
Going Cuckoo for AmDram
Brian Garry Trim Drama Group
My story begins in 2006 when Trim Drama Group staged One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Dale Wasserman, and I was cast as Mr. Ruckly. I was relatively new to the stage and was alongside some of the best actors Trim DG has ever produced.
Fast forward to opening night - Danny O' Brien was playing the part of Mr. Harding. Those familiar with the story will know that there is a scene where McMurphy leads a game of basketball, using Mr. Ruckly as a net. Well, Danny decided he was going to test my acting abilities by throwing the basketball straight at my face. Mr. Ruckly had just had a lobotomy which meant I couldn't react, but my eyes started to water up and I could feel my face getting redder , but yet, somehow I didn’t move!! The audience ate it up. So much so, that our director came backstage and told us to keep that in for the rest of the run!
However, the fondest memory of the performance was Danny coming up to me after that scene and saying Congrats, kid, you passed your audition.
Three Short Stories
From John P Kelly in Canada
How to Handle an Adjudicator
It was in my own amateur days competing on the very competitive circuit. Blood-thirsty it was then! No matter what I may preach now, those who knew me then will attest I was a pot-hunter of the worst kind.
I won't mention the year, nor the location, nor the play... there are too many still alive. But I swear it's true!
We were on the last night and we badly, badly needed a win to get to Athlone. We had a couple of seconds in a time when one first and one second place would guarantee qualification. Our problem seemed to be one particular scene, which no matter how I twiddled it, just did not seem to satisfy the adjudicators.
Well, it was mid afternoon pre-show when one of my cast told me the adjudicator (long RIP) was sitting in a bar nearby reading our script. Hmmm.... I got two of my backstage team together with orders to go to the bar, sit near the adjudicator and have a loud chat. The subject of said chat was to be along the lines that Kelly was near a breakdown over 'that' scene. They were worried for John's health if the adjudicator tonight brought it up. But it should be fine because John had, in the last week, got Joe Dowling from The Abbey in to re-work the scene. It was totally different now.
All's fair in love and war. Probably had nothing whatsoever to do with it, but we won!
We got nowhere in Athlone! I guess we couldn't find the adjudicator's favourite bar.
And then there was the time I organised a noisy walk-out from one of my own shows. But that's another story!
The other story…
…well here I can tell you the festival was in Navan and the adjudicator has now also passed on. Our play was an ancient Greek comedy and again, we needed one win. There was one particular scene which was quite crudely written by modern standards, but honestly nothing too strong the way we played it. For all that, the PP in Scariff warned parishioners against attendance. There was a queue outside on our night.
In Navan, as a 'Kelly last resort', I arranged for 2/3 people to storm noisily out of the hall during this scene. Well, the adjudicator was shocked. He tore into the audience about the way people in Ireland, 2,500 years later could not accept and respect a great classic.
We came second in Athlone, - to what old drama historians will acknowledge was one of the greatest shows ever to hit the Dean Crowe stage, Sundrive's The Voices of Shem.
Ah, but it was great fun......
And then there was Kildare! You know the hall? Is it still the same? I bet they have a beautiful theatre now.
In those days the ceiling over the stage was 11 feet 10 inches high. How can I be so certain? Unfortunately our set was 12 feet! We laid it out on the floor in the tea room and brought the adjudicator, John Knipe, in to see it. He was a pleasant British guy who had been around for yonks, but at this point, he was quite old. I explained our conundrum. He suggested we do the show against the cyclorama, which of course we did. Well, the man proceeded to tear strips off us, even having a go at the creases in the cyc. We were on somewhere else on Kildare's final night. Normally, we would ensure we had a group rep present, but after that hammering??? You can imagine our shock the following day when we discovered we had got just one award... wait for it... I swear... BEST SET!
Notions of Upperosity with Sean O'Casey
Anne Mekitarian, Moat Club, Naas
These days of enforced incarceration (I HATE the word ‘cocoon’ with a passion!) prompt reminiscences of the good old days when you and I were young, Maggie! Sometime in the 1980s, we were travelling to festivals with The Plough and The Stars, in which Moll Fullam and I played Bessie Burgess and Ginnie Gogan respectively. Festivals were always great fun. Venues could be, at times, less than ideal, to put it mildly, but that was all part of the experience! Nothing was taken too seriously, apart from winning, of course! We had a number of incidents during our festival tour with that production, not least of which was being stopped crossing the Border, by too-young- to-shave soldiers who looked askance at our realistic-looking ‘rifles’. Rosie’s ‘glad-necked’ blouse was left behind, on another occasion. A tour of local shops ensued, in unfamiliar towns, in search of a replacement!
My story, however, involves an old-fashioned pram which was an essential prop – an enormous, cumbersome thing with a low-slung belly. At our first festival, the prehistoric item was too large for the available wing-space. Nothing daunted, two stalwart males in the cast held it aloft until Ginnie was ready to launch it onto the stage, with Bessie following close behind. Whew!
Our adventures were only beginning! A near disaster occurred two weeks later at another festival – culprit: the redoubtable pram! The venue, originally a cinema, had a high stage, with plenty of width but with a considerable rake on its shallow depth. All went well, initially, as Ginny & Bessie argued over the pram which of course belonged to neither of them. Then Ginny gave it the required shove, to propel it further. With a mind of its own, the wretched pram, which was inordinately heavy, took off down the slope with Bessie & Ginnie wrestling for control. (I draw a veil over what may have happened to the lines at that point!) At the very last moment, Moll managed to halt it before we all three tumbled from a height into the laps of the front row! The audience seemed to think it was all part of the act and enjoyed it hugely. But I still shudder when I remember it today.
Never a dull moment! Stay safe!
The Adventures of Brother John
Helen Kilgallen, Skreen/Dromard DG
We have had some very funny and interesting scenarios during our performances. The one that stands out most in our memory happened last April while we were staging a three act comedy Holy Orders by playwright Martin Donohoe.
It was the second night of the show and we knew the playwright was in attendance. We had a packed house and cast and crew were anxious to carry off a real good performance. This play was set in a monastery where three monks lived and the oldest monk had taken ill. Brother Luke and Brother John tried to run the monastery in his absence. In doing so, they had encountered some very difficult situations which they were not sure how to deal with.
In the second act of the play, two members of the parish council come onstage to find Brother John in a distressed state after a visit from the good time girl Vera. Patricia and June convince Vera to go, leaving Brother John in a trance and unable to speak. Patricia had heard that the only way to deal with this scenario was to give Brother John another shock and it would counteract the previous alarming experience that they felt he had had with Vera. Patricia persuades June to grope Brother John by putting her hand under his robe.......she gets a shock as she did not realise that brothers wore their robes like kilts! Brother John faints and on this night the actor in the role misjudged the edge of the stage and rolled off stage into the audience (approx. three feet). Patricia and June turned to help Brother John but he had disappeared! They looked at each other, not sure what to do, and, as they did, Brother John just rolled back up on stage and the scene continued as if it was all part of the script!
Somebody in the wings later described it as looking at a film being played back in slow motion. The audience thought it was all in the script, but the biggest problem was for the cast to continue without breaking a smile!
Turn Off The Master Switch!
Helen Knightly DADS, Galway
My first time on the Circuit with a full length play and what an experience to say the least, but what happened in my own home town left me a little flustered......
Videographer set up and ready to record the performance for posterity - The Factory Girls by Frank McGuinness - it's a great play - I loved directing it and really wanted everyone to see it and to enjoy it as much as I did. Actors on stage, MC has introduced it and given the health and safety details. One last time the curtains will open on this performance and on these brilliant actors. I sit at the lighting desk ready to begin. Curtains open and I put up my lever but nothing happens, nothing, total darkness, I am sitting wondering What the hell is happening? and the next thing I hear the actor speaking - in the dark...they go ahead in the dark!! Am I dreaming or is this for real? I check my cables - nothing wrong, still in darkness though. Oh, Mother of God, what is happening, of all nights when I arrange for it to be recorded?
I catch the eye of a friend and ask her to run around the back and go in to see what the hell is going on. I wait with bated breath. She comes back after what seems like ages, but is in fact literally two minutes and the next thing, lo and behold, the lights are working.. Play goes ahead with lights and everything is running smoothly. Then it happens again, no lights, total darkness, but thankfully just for a split second. Phew, back on, my heart is in my mouth - I cannot WAIT for the break to find out what the hell is happening back there. Eventually we get to the end of the first act and I chase around the back to see what the story is. I am left with my jaw dropping to the floor as I hear the words He told me to turn off the Master Switch! WHAT????? WHY????
Go and have a cuppa and a ciggy, calm the nerves which are well shot after the last few weeks, as it is. I speak to the guy who gave the instruction, trying to make sense of it, and I can only laugh really (no, I don't laugh, I am nearly in tears). My instruction was to switch off the house lights as soon as the MC was finished talking and then I would put up the lights on stage but somewhere that got lost in the ether and all my best laid plans went with them. A lesson learnt - as a Director you can do all you can, but you just cannot foresee what someone else can do. Well, one good thing is that it wasn’t on the Circuit being adjudicated!!