By Maeve Fitzgerald, Actress.
This article was commissioned by The Northside Partnership
We’re all trying to avoid drama in our lives. That’s understandable. But sometimes, a bit of drama can be a good thing.
What exactly is drama? Well firstly, I want to separate drama from ‘hassle’ or ‘being famous in the movies or the West End’. Theatre and ‘drama’ as we know it was first recorded as religious ritual in Ancient Greece and very quickly evolved to become a necessary tool that their society used to satisfy a human need to within us all; to tell the truths that we can’t tell.
By hiding behind masks, whether it be physical masks as they used in Greek theatre or the mask of a character that is not you, we can tell stories that we otherwise might not have the ability or bravery to tell. Corruption, power, jealousy, love were all themes that were prevalent in the first recorded plays from that time. Drama was used as a form of expression and exposure; using the power of the story or fable or allegory to make sense of the world around us and to take ownership of the shared human experience.
So what does this have to do with us here on the Northside? What does drama have to offer young people today who literally have the world at their fingertips? Simple; self-expression and self-confidence. Drama can be cathartic, therapeutic and transformative.
A quick Google search of drama schools Dublin yields 17 results on the Southside and 10 on the Northside. I broke down the biggest cast I have ever been in and leaving out the people from outside Dublin there were 9 Southsiders and 2 Northsiders. There are 6 third level institutions that produce the majority of working theatre practitioners in the city. 1 of them is on the Northside. These statistics don’t need to be elaborated on. They speak for themselves; that we simply do not have the same opportunities for children on this side of the river to explore the benefits of drama.
Several colleagues who work in the arts on the Northside mainly echoed the same theme- that they were able to have careers in the arts in spite of rather than because of being from the Northside. This is slowly improving and support schemes are being put in place and it will be interesting to see what great work this yields in the future. But let’s talk about now.
Not everybody who does drama wants – or rather needs – to be an actor. But the holistic benefits of drama far outstretch the dramatic arts. A friend of mine who teaches children speech and drama told me of the simple but life-altering effects it has had on her students. She has watched children too shy to speak their name aloud in front of their peers blossom into young people who are chomping at the bit for their voices to be heard. Taking part time courses in the Gaiety School of Acting in Temple Bar as a young teenager gave me, a very shy child, the confidence to make decisions about what I wanted to do to the rest of my life, and to recognise that the hierarchy of secondary school, where I was not one of the glossy girls, was temporary and that there were other possibilities beyond those occasionally repressive walls. It’s not just that drama is for those of us who don’t fit in, it’s for those of us who occasionally feel that our voice is not heard. In short, it’s for everybody. Drama for children should be a safe space where children can discover themselves. It enables children to articulate the inarticulable. It can be a magical space where that rarest of rare things is true- whatever you create, it’s impossible to get it wrong, because it’s yours.
How would having easier access to this have benefited me growing up on the Northside before I reached my teens and was allowed ‘into town’? Simple. I would have reached these conclusions sooner. I would have read more. I would have mixed more. I would have dipped my toe outside my comfort zone more. As an only child, I made up a lot of stories in my head. My parents broke up when I was seven and like a lot of young children do, I suspected it was partly my fault. Speech and drama classes would have provided an outlet for me to explore what was going on inside me.
There were none in Kilbarrack. And at that time my parents didn’t drive.
I can only speak from my experience. Would I have been a happier child if I had that space to create stories with other children and would I have been a more confident child if I had the knowledge that making up stories does not just have to be child’s play? That it is a worthwhile way of telling the world how we feel? Yes I would. We need to give children on this side of the city more space and freedom to explore this, and it has never been more important than now. Snapchat, Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram are blinkering young people’s view of the world. The world indeed, now exists in a screen that is 4.5 by 2.3 inches. And from an early age, children are exposed to what societal and peer pressures dictate what they ‘should’ be, not what they ‘are’. Being at a friend’s house with her two young daughters recently my heart was broken to see them going from being engrossed in a board game to engrossed in their screens because a familiar jingle notified them that Kylie Jenner had uploaded a new make-up item on Snapchat. Nobody looks up anymore. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. And it is a kind of natural progression, no doubt. But it would be naive to think that it is not having an impact on the imaginations of our children.
This is why we need a place where phones and self-consciousness are put aside, even for an hour and children are told- ok, this is your space to dream, and to turn those dreams into stories and none of those stories are wrong because your stories are enough because YOU are enough.
If young people aren’t given the opportunity to fly beyond the bounds of what social media dictates then we can forget about churning out Brendan Gleesons, Liam Cunninghams, Roddy Doyles, Damien Dempseys.
There’s beauty and inspiration all around us on the Northside. We have the nicest coastline, the most impressive Georgian architecture, the two best theatres, we have the main music venue in the country, the main sports stadium; we should be the ones to fill them.
The great work that Dublin Youth Theatre, the Billie Barry School and our other Northside drama schools are doing should be more locally available. Not everybody can afford fees. Approach organisations like the Northside partnership and community centres, community leaders, even politicians and ask for an investment. Because an investment in children’s confidence and creativity is an investment in the future of this country. We are known globally as the great storytellers of the world. It would be an amazing testament to the already well-established resilience of the Irish spirit if, in spite of our digital age, we continued to be able to produce the creative, artistic and brave minds that have ensured that in spite of our size we globally still bat with the big boys of literature, art, drama, music. But that responsibility does not lie with someone else, it starts at home. In our communities. It is up to us to see the value of giving a child a voice through play and creativity.
How can a child who is being bullied at school articulate the pain of being singled out when all you want to is fit in?
How can a child make sense of the muddled up feeling that come with the simple yet often traumatic experience of simply growing up?
Giving children the chance to play and let go is damage limitation. It is through play and creation that children make sense of things. It is not going to solve all of our societal problems but it is a step in the right direction in dealing with where we are a nation and what impact and residue that will leave on our children. We all suffer from the ‘it’ll be grand’ mentality when it mightn’t ‘be grand’ at all. If we give our children a place where their voices and their games and there confusions and their joys and their dreams can be played out in a safe space the world for them becomes a much less scary place. And going into adulthood it provides them with the knowledge that being themselves is an ok thing to be.
I’m proud to be a Northsider. And we are as well able to be just as conscious of the value of creativity in our children’s lives as our friends on the other side of the river. And I don’t just mean drama. Art classes, music classes, dancing classes; anything that gets the right-brain juiced up.
Talk to your children’s school or your local community centre or library about bringing in a drama teacher once a week, even once a month. It does not have to break the bank 3 euro each from 30 students would more than cover the costs of an hour or two’s work. All you need is a venue, a qualified and of course Garda vetted teacher and a few willing participants. Bring your children to plays, trust me, it’s way more exciting than the cinema. We have the Viking Theatre just down the road if you don’t want to travel into town. Or look into one of the drama schools that is already in operation here.
For those of you whose children are already doing speech and drama or music or art or dancing, you have made in invaluable investment in your child’s future and self-expression. They mightn’t know it now but they’ll thank you for it. And it does not have to stop with children. Every now and again, adults need to chance to play aswell. An hour a week of letting go of the desk, the phone, the car, the family can renew your relationship with yourself. So let’s give it a go here on the Northside and let’s not be afraid of having a little bit of drama in our lives.
The Gaiety School of Acting delivers classes in Malahide on the Northside of Dublin every Saturday for kids aged 4 – 18 years. New term begins in January. See here for more information!