Art to provoke an audience

Bruno Theodoro reports on a drama festival that wants to bring discussion of social issues to Irish stages.

A brand new art festival took place at Doyle’s on College Street, Dublin 2 in late November. Called Provoke Festival, it was organised by the Collective Theatre Company and featured acts of theatre, comedy and the spoken word.

Having provocation as its theme, the festival had the intention of “shaking up what we are used to seeing on Ireland’s stages. We chose this theme because we believe that art is a weapon. In school, teachers show you how to retain knowledge, but art shows you how to use it,” said Ian Anthony, Co-Artistic Director of Provoke Festival.

“We wanted works that are provocative and make you think, but do not scold the way that you act in society, instead making people reflect where they are and how they act,” he said.

One of the plays was co-directed by Ian Anthony with excerpts from The Cherry Blossom by Krystal Sweedman. It is about reproductive rights and focuses on a girl’s journey and the memories from when she had an abortion.

“We want works that are provocative and make you think, but do not scold the way that you act in society, instead making people reflect where they are and how they act”

“It does not take stands on pro-life or pro-choice but centres on human compassion. We prefer to shed light on the subject and let people decide what is their opinion,” said Mr Anthony.

Let’s Build a Fort by Emily Bradley approached how many refugee children disappear every year but do not get as much attention as other children.

Another play featured was Two Girls and a Bathtub by Romina Cruanas and had depression and mental health as a theme.

Better Off With a Mackerel by Gerry Grimes was about the how the lives of some of the people who joined the 1916 Rising were affected.

Clara Rose Thornton, prominent feminist, culture journalist and RTÉ broadcaster, presented a spoken-word performance, along with Noel Murphy, Caoimhe Lavelle and Ray Malone.

Willy White, who started off on The Des Bishop Show, was one of the comedians participating in the event. Others performing were Conor Duffy, Darren Conway, Diane O’Connor and Sarah Devereux.

There was also a visual-art spread around the pub. The acts were up to 20 minutes long each and were organised by themes that connected them.

“There was no central stage. The acts were all around the pub. One of the plays started at the bar,” said Ian Anthony. The pub environment was chosen to facilitate contact with a broader audience.

“The pub is a social place and connects us to the storytelling tradition. When I was growing up, people said the word ‘art’ with a posh accent, as if it was something separate and special. Even today in my area, when you talk about art, people react by asking if I am a queer or something.

“We need to break down those boundaries. I believe that art is expression and should have no separation. It should be available to everyone.

“Theatre clubs have made a lot of progress in sparking discussions about the problems in society. Also, we need a shake up in the themes and values in art. People still see artists as hobbyists. We do not get paid a lot to do it but do it out of passion because we know that it makes a difference.”

The festival is self-funded and relies on its members to support each other in order for it to happen.

“It was important that we did not dictate how every work would be. Instead, we worked together to support each other.

“I admire the companies that are able to throw out six or seven productions per year. We do not have this capability, so we have to get out there and gather people, create a community and find resources.”

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