The Playground

October 23, 2013

Irish Times
27th of December 2012

Mark O Brien hopes to create the win-win situation with the launch of his new mentoring initiative Playground at the axis: Ballymun. As acting artistic director of the arts and community resource centre he hopes it will shine a light on the more informal mentoring that has gone on at the venue for the past 11 years.

“axis has long been a place where artists from many disciplines have been invited out to,” he tells me, “to share and develop there work in a collaborative or studio setting.” He hopes to crystalise that practice into a scheme that will pump new blood into the arts and revitalize practioners at a changing point in their early career by providing space, professional guidance and mentorship to them around their own chosen form.

“Over the last number of years we have been looking at how a venue can be a better resource to both its community and the professional arts world,” he tells me. “We’re creating another access point for people within Ballymun and beyond, letting them know that we are here, ready to talk to them about potential collaboration and artistic development. Not just about where they are at, now, but where they want to be further down the line.”

Two separate programs will be offered, in Theatre Performance and Playwriting, with director Jason Byrne and playwright Sean McCarthy working with the successful applicants. Two more strands will be offered in the New Year, in film and music and while there are no plans in place to blend the skills of those taking part on the differing programs, O’Brien notes that there is huge potential for collaboration there. “So many different skill sets, working around axis at the same time will create a hub of activity around the venue, driving creativity into the building and out into the community.”

He is keen to stress that the mentorships are not output driven. “For us it is about furthering our relationship with new artists, without the unnecessary expectation to produce their work”. It could, however, bleed into a residency such as the ones recently enjoyed by THEATREclub and PaperDolls. “Those companies were looking for space to rehearse and develop their shows for the Absolout Fringe. We were interested in having them engage with our audience, by giving workshops and putting on performances for the local community. Through that process there was time to have a proper conversation as to how we could work together in the future.”

“axis gave us space and space is really precious for what we do,” says Emily Aoibheann, co-founder of the aerial performance group, PaperDolls . “It’s fundamental. They gave us access to a venue to develop our practice, they’ve come to all of our productions and kept in contact with us about future projects they would like us to be involved in.”

Philip Connaughton has also returned to the village of his birth after 14 years in Barcelona to become the dance artist in residence, developing a new show while also engaging with local dancers. “Going around to the local schools is incredible, the stuff I’m seeing. The hip-hop dancing; the Irish dancing. There’s so much musical theatre and some wonderful ballet schools out here. Contemporary dance isn’t really happening though. So it’s important for me to promote that.”

He is doing this by facilitating a series of workshops between some of the worlds most exciting choreographers, like Kyle Abraham and Jon Kinzel and the local talent. “Letting them see how very important choreographers work so they can open their horizons and see that, not only is a career in dance possible for them but that there are also lots of different ways to be a dancer.”

The aim is to get artists to see Ballymun as a resource, to create symmetry between local people, local organisations and artists from all over the city, who’ll later hopefully work together on projects that will reflect local concerns. In recent years the theatre has played a role in developing work with young people, people with mental health issues and people from differing cultures. They have hosted conferences and held festivals investigating the Irish language, dedicated an entire week to celebrating Traveler Pride and have facilitated an early childhood creative research collaboration between their crèche and visual artist Orla Kelly.

As well as getting the space to develop their own work, the artists in residence, who include the writer Daniel Seerey and Workin’ Class Records, have access to the axis’ administrative and technical staff, as well as O’Brien’s ear. “If I want to take my residency in any particular creative direction, “ Connaughton says, “I call him up and we talk it through. And it’s a proper give and take. If there is another part of his program he thinks I can add to, he will call me and ask my opinion.”

The venue also plays a role in the career development for young people from the area also. “We have had huge advisory relationships with actors coming out of the Roundabout Youth Theatre and how they move on in their careers, many of who are working out in RTE on shows like Fair City” he says.

“What interests me is what happens when you say yes to people,” he says. “A lot of conversations on the arts centre on ‘can you book us’; ‘can we apply to you’. It’s all transactional, financial. I’m interested in looking at the practitioner bit. Besides, we learn as much from them as they do from us. And that’s where the fire is for me.”


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