Can you tell us about the origins of Turas Theatre and why the approach of a collective was decided upon?
Turas Theatre was formed after myself and Helen Gregg spent three weeks touring refugee camps in Lebanon with the organisation Clowns without Borders – we were very moved by the experience and wanted to create a show in response to our experience and the people we met there. I asked Jonathan Gunning to be involved, as he has worked and toured extensively with the organisation and I asked other freelance artists I had previously worked with who I felt would bring integrity and authenticity to the project. I have always been a big supporter of the cooperative business model and I wanted the company to have a collaborative ethos where everyone has input into the process.
How does this collective work?
The term collective comes into play during the creative process more so than actually as a business model, as I don’t have the funding to run the company full time, so we work on a project-to-project basis. With each project, we devise the work as an ensemble – we make shared decisions, and we all input into the idea.
How would you describe the collective in three words?
Experimental, soulful, explorers.
What do you enjoy most about working collaboratively? What, in your opinion, lies at the heart of a successful collaboration?
I resonate very much with this quote from Joan Littlewood;
“I do not believe in the supremacy of the director, designer, actor or even the writer. It is through collaboration that this knockabout art of theatre survives and kicks.”
For me, devising collaboratively is an eclectic process requiring innovation, invention, imagination, risk and commitment. As the artistic director of the company, it is my responsibility to create the space for a collaborative method to emerge, one that enables innovation, exploration and fun, yet still delivers high quality performance.
This process involves everyone and enables us to work together intuitively and instinctively. What lies at the heart of a successful collaboration is that we all have to be invested in the idea. It has to resonate with us all and we have to be able to answer the question, ‘what is it for?’ together. This makes the work rich and exciting to watch and perform because the level of communication and teamwork is so high.
Your own experience of theatre and performing arts is quite diverse – can you tell us about your path thus far?
I studied Community Theatre Arts at Rose Bruford College of Performing Arts in London and then, feeling quite disillusioned with the theatre world, I headed to Europe and spent many years playing music, busking and travelling. I loved the freedom and diversity of the street and in the late 1990s, I returned to performing and toured with contemporary circus company Turbozone; an ensemble of travelling artists from multiple disciplines living and working together. This ignited my love for festival and outdoor arts and in 2001, I settled in Ireland and began working with street arts, parade and spectacle company, Macnas. I have worked and toured internationally with them for the last 20 years, working in all areas of production and performance. I programmed and produced a music, outdoor theatre and cabaret venue at the Electric Picnic festival for six years and now, I am artistic director of Turas Theatre Collective and work freelance with many different companies and festivals in many different roles. As a young artist in the 1990s, there weren’t many funding options and so you just learned to do everything yourself – you had to if you wanted to make work. The street and festivals are great teachers and I learned to wear many hats.
What is a typical day like for you?
It really depends on who I am working with or what is happening with the company. If we are in rehearsal, touring or if I am in more of a producer/admin role, the days are very different. That is what I love about being freelance – no day is ever the same. The only stable daily routine is my morning cup of tea. After that, I usually check emails, eat breakfast and either get on the road or open the computer. The road can lead to different places and the computer may open different spaces, but they all eventually lead to the same thing – a show – on a street – somewhere.
You have been touring internationally with Turas, how do you find that the production differs when taking place in different countries/ counties in terms of energy, audience reaction etc?
It’s always refreshing to perform in different countries; touring internationally opens your mind to new ideas. It’s inspiring to see new international work, meet different people, experience different playing areas, weather and audiences and hear different stories. There is a lot to consider when performing outdoors, whether here in Ireland or abroad. Weather is always a big one. Rain or shine is equally challenging. We have to be adaptable – that is part of the process. I think culture and how much exposure to street arts an audience has had can affect the way an audience responds to performance, but generally, it’s down to whether they like it or not.
Last year, we did our show Remnants to an audience of three people here in Ireland– it made the performance really intimate and we deeply connected with them. It was quite a profound experience, whereas we have performed to much larger audiences abroad and the reaction has been varied. That’s what’s great about the outdoor theatre space – there are no walls and you are always free to walk away. It’s the most accessible form of theatre and the most democratic.
Do you think that Irish and international audiences differ in terms of their attitudes to street art and spectacle?
Similarly, I think it’s a matter of how much exposure to street arts an audience has had. For example, an audience from Waterford who is used to the annual Spraoi International Street Arts Festival is a very educated street theatre audience. They may never have been to an indoor theatre venue, but they know what they like on the street. It’s the same with Galway and the annual Macnas parade. There’s a sense of ownership and thus, a sense of belonging. I think the more the public space is used as a performance arena, the more people will feel the benefit of these playful shared experiences. In some countries in Europe like France, they have a long history of street arts and so it is a more integral part of everyday life. I think Ireland is really embracing the proliferation of the sector.
What would you like to see happening in the street arts and spectacle sector in Ireland?
I think the formation of ISACS has really helped the sector to coerce and gain exposure and recognition both nationally and internationally. It is a vital support and resource. I would like to see more young companies emerging, more festivals programming street arts and spectacle, more international exchange, more training opportunities and stable financial support for artists and arts workers in the sector.
What are your aspirations for your own practice and for Turas Theatre?
I have a few more shows up my sleeve, so hopefully we’ll get funding to be able to make these happen. For my own practice, I’m really interested in researching different aspects of the sector and have some writing projects in mind. Also, to continue touring the work we have already made. In 2017, we made a show called Remnants that is about displacement and homelessness. It was a response to our experience of performing in refugee camps in Lebanon with Clowns without Borders, and now, in the current global crisis, that show seems more relevant than ever. It is really important to keep provoking and interrupting our daily lives with street arts, to keep asking questions of ourselves and our audiences.
Your greatest learning in your performing life to date?
You’re always learning on the street – it’s such an unpredictable environment. Each show, company, tour, country, landscape and audience always teach me something, but my first experience of working with a true ensemble company that was creating radical, new and innovative work had a huge impact on me and prompted a significant turning point in my life.
Turbozone was an ensemble of travelling artists from multiple disciplines living and working together. Trapeze artists, acrobats, pyrotechnicians, engineers, sculptors, motorbike stunt riders, filmmakers, DJʼs and actors made up the troupe that were part of the ʻnew circusʻ movement in the 1990s. We lived, worked and ate together travelling in caravans and trucks – the lifestyle reminiscent of the traditional circus. We all had multiple roles within the company. We were performers and technicians; makers and acrobats; makeup artists and stage-managers, actors and pyrotechnicians. The style of work was exhilarating, physical and edgy. It was demanding theatre and required the whole company to be totally focused and physically fit. It insisted on an investment from every one of us to the performance, the company and the lifestyle. This experience showed me a more open and accessible theatre. It combined my love of travelling with theatre, it introduced me to the wonderful world of festival arts and it was deeply rooted in the community.