Actors traveled from as far away as Tullamore, Wexford and Kerry to attend the theatre’s weekly rehearsals in Dublin. On other days, the group met via Zoom.
“Some travelers don’t have a broad experience because they haven’t had a chance to practice or engage in the arts,” said producer Mary McDonagh, explaining the novelty of an art project that s came to fruition this week with a performance at Dublin’s Carmelite Centre.
McDonagh has a background in community development and Traveler advocacy, and is also a Traveler herself. With an Arts Council grant, the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown native has launched acting and development workshops, exposing Travelers to the performing arts.
Nine weeks of theater workshops culminated in a Thursday night performance attended by industry representatives from the Abbey Theatre, Moonfish Theater and Movie Extras, among others.
McDonagh pointed to the number of plays and films that cast non-travelers in traveler roles as an incentive for his workshops.
“We are here. We just need to be seen and heard,” she said.
Sarah McDonagh (no relation to Mary) from Rathfarnham modeled a bit when she was younger but had never acted before. With Mary’s encouragement, she decided to give it a try and found it enjoyable.
Although nervous for last Thursday night’s performance, Sarah hopes it will provide opportunities for her and others. “It’s a great group of people I’ve been with and they’re absolutely brilliant. The talent we have among us is incredible.
By connecting Traveler performers with professionals, Mary McDonagh hopes future productions will include Travelers both as talent and behind the scenes.
“It’s kind of sad that in the Traveler community and other communities, there isn’t enough funding and opportunities for people like us. I mean people who haven’t had the opportunity or put their foot in the door like everyone else,” Sarah said.
Rehearsing on Zoom wasn’t ideal. Often there were timing issues or an actor was stepping on someone else’s lines. One woman had never used the technology before and found it frustrating. In the end, Zoom proved invaluable to a group of travel actors spread across Ireland.
Ballymun’s Tom McDonagh (no relation to Mary or Sarah) began his acting career last year when he was approached to play the role of a traveler who commits suicide. Although he had no interest in acting, he accepted the role of shedding light on suicide within the traveler community.
“For me, because it was a suicide and it was a personal message, I was happy to put it out there,” Tom said. “It was a roll off from there. I take whatever comes to hand and try my luck. »
The suicide rate among Travelers is six times that of the general population, accounting for approximately 11% of all Traveler deaths.
Recent suicides in the community have caused some participants to drop out of the workshops. Others had work commitments that prevented them from continuing. The small size of the cast decided to make three short scenes to better showcase their talent.
Amy Murphy from Co Offaly is the only non-traveler in the group. Driving his girlfriend Kayleigh to and from rehearsals, she was soon invited to join.
“I had no experience and no interest in playing, but then I came in with Mary and since then I’ve had so much interest,” Murphy said. “I can’t wait to be on stage and give it my all.”
In addition to developing acting skills, the workshops helped build confidence and gave attendees the opportunity to have fun.
Rather than stressing over the process, says Mary, “it’s even more important to laugh, be yourself, and be comfortable around other people who have the same interests as you.”
Co Kerry’s Martin Mahon had a theater background, although he admitted it had been a while since he had acted on stage.
“It was an opportunity to work with Mary because she’s doing a lot of things that are going to make a big difference in the years to come for the community,” he said. “We catch him at the right time and we’re going to meet a lot of interesting people. The group has been an amazing opportunity for me and everyone else to build their credibility and find out if they are for acting or not.
To teach a theater workshop, Mary had brought in Thomas Connors from Wexford. Connors, an accomplished actor who has starred in films in Ireland and the United States, is producing a short film in addition to directing a play in Galway which will run from September 28 to October 3. But after several actors quit, he agreed to fill in as an actor.
“Mary helps everyone in the community, so I was happy to do that,” Connors said. “There’s nothing quite like it for travelers to Wexford.”
Despite the workshops’ success, Mary wants something more permanent, so she starts the Triple-T traveler-led arts group “The Traveler Theater.”
“Because it’s a traveling theater, I hope to make it travel all over the country. But I would also like to have a central location for rehearsals and workshops,” she says.
She is looking for funding and other theater groups to partner on productions. She adds: “Once in a while someone makes a project and asks travelers to participate, but I want it to be a permanent fixture so that it becomes a daily thing.”