Gavin Kostick: Tiny Plays for Ireland

This guest post is by Gavin Kostick

When I started reading The Irish Economy it was partly because I had in mind to write a play about the night of the bank guarantee and particularly the inclusion of Anglo. I had a title: ‘The Best Bank in the World’, but not enough inside knowledge. I still think there’s a great play to come about that night.

As I went on though, I became more interested in the range of thoughts, insights and viewpoints and, indeed, characters, all jostling through the threads. The thought came to me that if the job for drama is to talk
about where we are now in Ireland – including how we got here and where we might be going – then perhaps instead of one big play, what was required was loads of tiny plays from loads of writers, which put
together might move, inform, challenge, provide space for debate – all the things the theatre is good at.

So Jim Culleton, Fishamble’s artistic director, and I developed things abit and went to the ‘Irish Times’ and I’m pleased to say, ‘Tiny Plays for Ireland’ was launched in the Saturday, 24th edition, and can be read here.

I won’t rehash too much what is in the article, but will emphasise thatwhat we’re looking for really is a variety of short works from writers who have something they feel passionate about saying and that they think
the public needs to hear.

As this blog is one of the starting points for the idea, it would be great to see you entering. Selected submissions will get printed in the ‘Irish Times’, a production in Project Arts Centre, March 2012, and
about as much money as PR Guy could blow in a mini-bar in one evening.

I was thinking about it, and we will accept pseudonymous entries, as long as you don’t mind your modest cheque being made out to: ‘Mr Grumpy of Grumpington Villas’.

I won’t comment on submitted entries, but if people would like tips or further info., I will answer as well as I can in comments.

You might also want to have a look at the Fishamble website

30 replies on “Gavin Kostick: Tiny Plays for Ireland”

@Gavin Kostick

Blind Biddy’s Official Entry; She plays herself; the off the cuff version of ‘Destructioning Jimmy Joyce’ ©Blind Biddy O’Nuff

The scene: small kitchen/cum sitting room – down the country – window opening to naked trees, frost covered, a vulture and two crows staring in from the nearest tree. One old woman, grey hair, wearing dark glasses, sitting huddled in front of a tiny open FIRE with just a whisp of smoke, constantly shivering, a white walking stick to one side of fireplace, a well polished bazooka on the other side, tryptich over the fireplace, crucification to the left, Eduard Monck’s Scream in the centre, and on the right a print of a beaming smiling triptych of Mick McDowell & Charlie McCreevey & Bowel Bertie Ahearn tucking into a big bash at the KKK club: total time, 250 seconds.

Scene 1: Blind Biddy … coughing continuously, shivering, staring into fire … 20 seconds
Scene 2:
[looks up at the tryptich 10 seconds turns to face audience 10 seconds; reaches for white stick with left hand, picks up and uses to locate bazooka with right hand 10 seconds
Scene 3:
Blind Biddy slowly rises from chair while again turning to face audience holding on to both stick and bazooka 10 seconds; places bazooka under right arm and using her knee snaps [loudly] the white stick into three pieces 20 seconds and vigorously tosses them into the fire
Scene 4: takes off dark glasses with left hand, throws them vigorously into the fire as well [5 seconds] turns to face audience 5 seconds [making deep growling sounds] 20 seconds, brings up bazooka into the firing position – directly facing the audience – deep silence and movement-less pose for 20 seconds
Scene 4:
Sharp change to raise bazooka in right hand ….
Audience: deep sound of pressure released exhalation only from the audience [continue for 20 seconds]
Scene 5 (final scene) Quickly adopts the firing position with the bazooka and fires [very loud bang] pointing directly over the heads of the audience. Complete darkness descends over all (stage and audience) & total silence 20 seconds. (if ESB bill has been paid, full lights now come back on); END.

The Eurozone crisis would make a great opera — sort of in the style of “Nixon in China” by John Adams. Especially the fall-from-hubris of the German, French and other core attitudes about the Euro project. In the late 1990s the Eruo project as a key part of a great destiny forever uniting the continent and eliminating forever the stains of the pre-WWII period in Europe (their parents’ world). They shouted down anyone who dared have misgivings about the Euro (e.g., Krugman, but not Eichengreen who like most prominent economists joined the cheerleading squad, and then renounced his views later). It is a bit Greek tragedy isn’t it? The Irish, Italians, Greeks, etc. are less interesting they just joined the mee-too brigade to get their subsidized treats. But the fall-from-grace of the core dream is quite dramatic. There is even some sex! DSK and Silvio making lecherous fools of themselves — but at least it adds some soprano voices! Good luck with your play — but wouldn’t an opera be more suitable? Incidentally I know next to nothing about drama — even less than Fintan O’Toole knows about economics.

Gregory Connor writes,

The Eurozone crisis would make a great opera — sort of in the style of “Nixon in China” by John Adams.

I was watching All the President’s Men, the other evening, and it opens with a scene in the house of Congress, with president Nixon and his triumphant return following a visit to China in the early 70’s I think. I also viewed the ‘special features’ DVD, about the making of the movie. What I didn’t realize before, was that Redford was the producer of that movie, and in fact had first incubated the idea, while doing a previous movie ‘The Candidate’, which involved Redford travelling across the country a great deal by train and interacting a lot with the political establishment. Redford was in fact talking to Bob Woodward while he was still in the process of reporting on the story, before president Nixon had left office. In a sense, Redford spent all of four years as a kind of embedded reporter himself, and was very close to the real story as it unfolded. In fact, Redford had never intended to act in the movie himself. It was just the way it turned out. One critical thing that Redford brought to the project – both in terms of Woodward and Bernsteins’ book, and the subsequent movie – was the change in narrative viewpoint. The Washington Post journalists had intended in the start to write it from the point of view of the Watergate burglars, and to tell the story from their point of view. But it was Redford who suggested initially, that the story was in fact the journalists themselves, and to tell it from their viewpoint. That was eventually the approach that was adopted, and what is seen on the final movie and book. BOH.

@ All,

That is a question, I would submit to the community here for further analysis. In dealing with the narrative of the bubble and subsequent period in Ireland, I believe the viewpoint it is told from, is all important. I have had several ideas about this over the past couple of years. However, my attention is focussed elsewhere than on writing at the present. I only submit that point, as I describe, for consideration by the community here. Hope it sparks a creative impulse or two. BOH.

WRT – “…and, of course, a play does not need to have any words at all.”

Will the plays published in the Irish Times include stage direction so – or should we assume that the ones with words are, possibly, more likely to be published?


Another thing…

Would it be considered bad form to write a play that mocks the ITs moneygrubbing attitude to property porn during the Celtic Tiger?

Or would it be more diplomatic to “invent” a media company that profited massively from a property bubble and then managed to blow it all on a property listing website?

Thanks for the comments.

@ David O’Donnell

Blind Biddy with her bazooka is a very stageable character.

@ Brian O’Hanlon

‘I believe the viewpoint it is told from, is all important’.

Yes, the thinking here is by putting together lots of viewpoints we might get a kind of montage of what’s going on in the country.

@ What Goes Up

Thanks for the link. The without words bit is badly phrased. On a previous project called ‘WhereAbouts’, 2007, we received and produced a play by Tom Swift called ‘The Other Woman’, which came as a CD with the Nina Simone song on it and a set of movement instructions for a lap dancer and an older female cleaner in a lap dancing club, daytime. We tried to stage it in a real lapdancing club, also daytime with an actual lapdancer, but we were firmly informed that the lapdancers earned far more money at their actual jobs than we could pay them for acting their jobs, and weren’t prepared to take a pay cut for art.

But that’s the kind of thing we had in mind for plays without words.

By all means lace in to property porn in the Irish Times.

@ All

Here’s Samuel Beckett’s mighty ‘Come and Go’ in the Gate Production.

WARNING: This may well be an acquired taste, and I’m not saying you’ll like it but it shows what can be done in under 400 words (including stage directions), and does combine movement, words costume, lights, etc to capture the lives of three anglo-Irish women who were born into a world that seemed to offer everything, especially love, only to find themselves left with nothing but each other.

Actually, just for contrast, here’s a little promo for Fishamble’s ‘Noah and the Tower Flower’ by Sean McLoughlin which is currently playing in New York.

@ Gavin Kostick

Thanks for that!

I went to see “Request Programme” in the Elysian in Cork – which was the perfect marriage of a play without words in a setting without people.

It just would be very hard to get across in less than 600 words!

Gavin wrote,

‘I believe the viewpoint it is told from, is all important’.

Yes, the thinking here is by putting together lots of viewpoints we might get a kind of montage of what’s going on in the country.

I am biased about it, but the kind of play I would write, would of course try to paint a picture from my own point of view. But equally, it would be interesting to see the narrative as described from the point of view of a banker, a politician, a builder, an investor and so on. Indeed, there are many people I have met in Ireland who asked at every stage, what is all the fuss? This whole nonsense hasn’t affected my life, one bit. There is a great one, which if I had the time, I would love to do. The builder that broke away from the property collapse in London of the 1980s, and entered at the ground floor of a whole new cycle in Ireland of the 1990s, and saw it through to a second collapse. I know and worked with several of those types in Dublin.

It is that kind of sense of the helicopter airlifting the last few citizens off the roof of the embassy builder in Vietnam or something, before it is over run by the invading armies. It appeared to me, as if many in the building industry live in that constant state of dis-possession. Always being airlifted out of danger, in the dying moments of one crumbling regime or another. I recall one particular Friday evening at the pub in Temple Bar, Dublin in November 2008, which felt very like the last hours in Saigon. Half of the company present that evening, claimed they would try to drink their way out of recession, with the help of some members of the reigning political party. It was with a sense of deja vue, that I heard our Taoiseach on the radio one morning with a hoarse voice. I realized the fellows from the pub in Temple Bar were not too far off the mark.

If you navigate to blog entries such as North Wall Quay Time Line, via the blog site available by clicking on my name above, you will gain a rough understanding of how I would create the plot line, the point of view, the main characters etc. The funny thing from my perspective, is that I knew Dublin when it was still a blank canvas, and the tower cranes were non-existent. I also knew the people who had created this ‘vision’ or that, down through the decades. A vision of a society, a vision of urbanism, a vision of an Ireland and its place within a wider cosmos. I recall what architect Sean O’Laoire said to me in an interview in 1999 when things were going well. He said, we would try to change the world. We probably won’t succeed, but we will give it a go anyhow. He had heard on the grape vine, that I was of that world changing kind of disposition, and was one of the first persons to welcome it, rather than chastise it.

I am not sure what happened to that vision, and the spirit of trying out new things. But I do recall listening to O’Laoire again in the mid 2000’s, and he used a phrase to describe Ireland before the boom, and how our mindset in the pre-boom era, was informing the way we behaved when he had greater access to wealth. He said, that Ireland had been spoiled by poverty. It was a strange expression I though. I scribbled a blog entry, of that title recently also, to remind myself of the interview. I suppose, a very useful device to present the narrative, would be like the above. The tracing of a journey in psychological terms, between an older visionary, and a young apprentice. The interplay between the two, and the changing for better or worse, of both characters, as it develops. Perhaps some folk, such as those I mention in my various blogs would collaborate in some fashion. I dunno.

A very short, simple little blog entry I scribbled about this, is linked below. I based it on the notion of Charlton’s army, and how the jumping on the bandwagon, idea was noticeable in that earlier pre-boom era. I don’t know exactly how it would work on stage, but I imagine a very minimalist scene, such as a windy terrace with some supporters, and you don’t even see the sports field, may work, for a very short piece. Again, the thing I would get at, is the dynamic of how peoples’ behaviours changed over the course of the boom era, and the subsequent collapse. BOH.

@Grumpy Gavin Kostick

“and about as much money as PR Guy could blow in a mini-bar in one evening.”

Which…. isn’t a lot!

I will put my ‘creative writing’ hat on and see what I can come up with.

Been away for the weekend. What’s up? Eurozone melted yet? Greece toasted? US and UK still blaming it all on everyone else? Has Evangelos had his meeting with the fragrant Christine today?

@ Gavin,

Here is something to consider, with regard to the point of view idea. The simple device of the helicopter on the roof of the embassy, captures pretty much exactly, the narrative as it appeared from the point of view of those working in the development industry. That is, folk who subsequently moved off to places such as Switzerland etc.

But from the point of view of the the investors in the Irish banks, the bond holders, the hedge funds etc, a different sort of image, paints the picture a lot better I think. That for instance, the scribble I wrote below on Philip’s ‘Doom!’ thread, posted on 20th Sept 2011. You take the embassy roof, the sinking Titanic, or the windy soccer stadium terrace, and it is easy to do things with very modest stage props I would imagine. How you tie it all together, is beyond what I can imagine though. BOH.

Actually, the analogy that springs to mind, is that of the Titanic. When there were too few life boats left to cater for third class below in the bottom. It is much the same thing with the Irish banks. You had the Irish ordinary shareholders who were like sectioned off into the bottom quarters of the ship, from the beginning. The debt holders were given much more luxurious cabins in the levels overhead, and special treatment when it came to jumping off the ship in the case of a disaster. I could go on and develop this analogy even further, but I think everyone here has probably seen the movie. Thinking about it now, the Irish financial regulator, reminds me of one of the stewarts on the sinking ship, appealing to the lower desk passengers to remain calm and orderly, as the upper levels are safely dis-embarking on the available life boats.

It all has a very nineteenth century, nautical kind of feeling about it. You can almost imagine it, with the gas lamps and the ball gowns, and men smoking cigars with dinner jackets.

I saw a police property application the other day that really could be staged as a short play without any changes. I wouldn’t be sure about the ethics of submitting it, though.

That’s a great idea. I mentioned it to a friend of mine who has written a few plays and he was already on the case. I hope the quality is good.

@Gavin Kostick

Glad to know that the’off the cuff’ from Blind Biddy O’Nuff has been safely received, uncut, down Fishamble way.


It occurs to me, that one solution in doing what I described above, would be as follows. I was looking for a way to connect together, all of the different ways that characters could exit the stage. That is the common element I think. You think of the builders, the bankers, the political parties and leaders. Nearly everyone who was ‘present’ as it were, and in front view for most of the boom, departed from the stage. Many of the exits were inglorious to be sure. But each ‘exit’ from the stage, had its own unique characteristics and its own set of motivations.

If you could imagine it like a scene in a bar, were some people leave voluntarily because they have run up a massive tab, and they cannot pay up. Others, on the other hand, had to be dragged out of the bar, kicking and screaming over it. Like, physically hanging onto the bar counter for dear life, has teams of people had to drag them away. That is what happened in the case of the dominant political party. They game was up, but they were the last to acknowledge it, it seemed. You often see it at weddings too, how the manner in which the breakup of the company present, is in itself almost a subject of theatre performances.

There is an order and a reason why, and how, each member of the collection of characters leave the room. That is the device, I think, could work fairly well, to tie all of my themes above together. The manner in which the departure is executed, is what serves to define the character. One could do it quite successfully with lighting, and with audio mic’s, that focus in on specific groupings at one stage or another. The ideal thing, would be to have one character left at the end of the day, to draw attention to the fact, the room began by filling up, and finished by being very empty. Just one small, forlorn figure to represent the emptiness of the final situation.

Indeed, property itself almost became a present character during the boom period in Ireland. There was one stage in the boom, in Dublin city in particular, where a typical pub conversation contained the buzzword ‘property’ in every other sentence. Mainly, it was because those who used that word often, were seen as shrewd, and being in the right circle, or the right track. It was Sir Bob Geldof who made this observation on one occasion. Of course, Sir Bob was a person who flew in from the outside from time to time. That could be a useful theatrical device also, to have someone come on stage at intervals, to comment on the situation, as it changed over the course of the performance.

Perhaps, a character, that is left in the ‘space’ at the very end, could in some way represent the idea of ‘property’. Because, after all of the dust settles, it seems to be one of the annoying items that is still left to deal with. Maybe that could be represented in some way, through a comment by the last, single forlorn character. ‘Property’ could be like the presence in the ‘space’ throughout the performance, and even though it is still not actually visible in the end, the presence of that character is still there. I heard a real estate broker on radio at weekend, telling the interviewer, that now it a great time to buy. Maybe, that could be a very good ending line for one of the last present characters? The die hard, so to speak. No matter how diabolical the situation gets, that character, just doesn’t get it.

The character of Matt Damon in Team America, World Police, springs to mind. All he could say for the duration of the entire movie, was his own name. He played a very important role, in the whole saga though, despite having such a poor line to say. That line in itself, there was never a better time to buy, is almost like a present character, through the entire story – in addition to the reality of property, which has real dimensions – there is the anti-property presence. The carousel wheel that just keeps spinning around, and avoids the reality at all costs. The reality is always the same. BOH.

@ Brian O’Hanlon

Very good thought process Brian. I particularly like the image of a bar with people being dragged out. You could call it ‘Time Please’.

Bear in mind you can have three actors – but as you note, lots can be done with sound, lighting and various digital effects.

Drama, particularly of this length, usually benefits from keeping it simple.

If you do have rich, complex ideas, try and keep them embedded in a simple dramatic structure that an audience can grasp in the first go. Again, see ‘Come and Go’ for something that is clear at first sight, but repays close attention.

@ Gavin,

I understand where you are coming from. This concept of the tiny play. It is like in art class years ago, being asked to compose a picture using only two colours. The enormous possibilities that are there, even working within the restrictions. What I had written about above, is a musing about something more epic.

I mentioned the feature length movie of All the President’s Men. Thinking about your tiny play, made me go back and spend some of last weekend, re-examine the old movie produced by Robert Redford, from the point of view, of how it tried to tell the story. I realized from re-viewing the movie, and listening to the ‘special features’ by Robert Redford, that every single detail, was used to some effect to tell the story. Redford even had thrash imported from Washington, over to the Los Angeles film studios to use in the movie, All the President’s Men.

That is, he didn’t even want the thrash that would be seen in the movie, to have L.A. Times, or San Diego Chronicle or something written on it. He wanted every feature, and every detail to be authentic. He organised for the court room scene with the five Watergate burglars to be shot in the actual court room, where it happened in real life. I must say, I like those kinds of projects, those large challenges which happen only once in a lifetime, and you get down to such detail. But of course, in order to work one’s way up to such a project, one has to begin somewhere.

Another device I was thinking about, and something that reflects a lot on the real life of the boom era here in Ireland, is as follows. It goes back to that word, property. It was used in conversation an awful lot, by ordinary folk. It was a word that got plastered all over the daily and weekly news sheets of course. In a sense, what the property boom in Ireland is about, in no small way, is the society and it’s relationship to it’s newspapers and media. Hopefully, someone will bring that across in one of the tiny plays. In fact, a huge epic, feature length, movie such as All the President’s Men, is very much about society and its relationship to the media. The first amendment to the constitution, in the United States, and it’s establishment of the free press and so on.

The funny thing about the Watergate scandal, was it brought home the point, that when all other institutions fail, it is the press is the only thing left to bring some balance back into the system. That is hardly, what happened in Ireland though. The point I wish to make though, and it is a very simple device – the real experts in property in Ireland – were the people who conversed during the boom years, without ever using the word property at all. I listened to Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects, during the mid 2000’s speak for an hour about sophisticated housing design projects, without once using the word property in the entire hour lecture. This idea about media, society and language could be woven into a tiny play concept some way.

The final point I would like to make, or vague suggestion, related to the notion of the ‘expert’, and about property – is how the property industry in Ireland – sucked in so many people, who had good careers in non-property based industries. For instance, you find many, many stories in newspaper in 2011 about children of property speculators in Ireland, who gave up entire careers outside of property – and had their lives ruined by that decision – because they assumed in some way (maybe the bankers were shilling this idea), that expertise in an un-related field, would translate automatically in some way, to expertise in property related fields. This sham was exposed in due course, but too late for many. I personally know people who fell for it, and their lives are upside down as a result.

The thing was though, that as soon as someone who was successful in another field, other than property, moved into investing in Irish property – the Irish press and media was soon on the trail – and busy hyping up the news, that so and so, was getting into property. Oh, that makes them so clever. So clever. I hope, that makes its way into some tiny play also. I imagine, there are simple ways of bringing all this in it, and telling the story in its many aspects. BOH.

@ Gavin,

I dug up some historical material online about the Irish Sunday Tribune. My search revealed one 2003 article by former editor (1983-1994), Vincent Browne. He wrote something which I found surprisingly deep, for such an otherwise pithy individual. It may be a line, that could work well some way, in a tiny play. BOH.

The media does not just set the political and social agenda, it sets the parameters of “common sense” – the way we think about issues and the criteria we apply.

I appreciate the links. Thanks very much. To build on what Gavin was talking about above, and the tiny play with the three characters – for me, the three most important characters – might be as follows.

– The reality of property.

– The un-reality of property.

– The media.

There is a scene in the movie starring Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon, which was discussed on Newstalk radio yesterday. It was a scene where Lee, is talking to his guru in a monastery. It was deleted from the movie release version. It was pretty boring stuff I guess, and was basically an outline of Lee’s philosophy.

The ultimate goal is to have no style. In a good fight, there is no opponent. You do not make a hit, the hit happens itself. Something along those lines. I don’t understand any of that philosophy. But I do understand, those who spent most of their lives working in property, end up a lot like that. They tend to rely less and less on crutches, or buzzwords, or mania to sound or look impressive. In a way, the more skilled they become, the less effort they have to use.

That is what I meant about the ‘reality’ of property. Those who really understand it, and its cycles, use very like of media-speak or hype. Those who understand it less, need all of the hype. They use the media as their crutch. The media in Ireland in the boom, served as a crutch for too many. I invite some young artist to try and make this into a tiny play of some sorts. BOH.

I was thinking of something along the lines of that scene in Jaws (the original/first one) where the police captain and the skipper are downstairs getting hammered and showing each other their scars while the little nerdy guy with the beard is upstairs doling out fish guts into the sea when he sees the shark for the first time (excuse me for not recalling the names of the various actors). He stumbles downstairs to tell the other two about what he’s seen and says, “I think we’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Police captain = Papandreaou
Skipper = JCT
Nerdy guy = the fragrant Christine IMFski (or Tim Geithner)
Shark = EZ crisis
Boat = bailout fund
Bigger boat = leveraged bailout fund
Fish guts = PR put out by Merkel/Sarko/etc.

Whaddya think?

@ PR Guy,

I do admire that level of creativity in joining up those dots, and making those kinds of connections. I have thought about it a little. I works for me. I think it could be exceptionally legible, exceptionally well received as a tiny play, and I hope you get a chance to write it up. Actually, it has a quality about it, and it is probably true of any tiny play that works – it reminds me of a good cartoon that I might see in the daily newspapers from time to time. You know the way, when an artists sometimes captures something in a couple of lines and you know it pokes right at the heart of some issue and makes you smile. I like the Jaws metaphor. It works for me. It gets my green light. BOH.

@ PR Guy

Yup. Think three people trapped in a space – could be a real space like a ship, or could be a more abstract idea of confienment. Then there is something out there. Sounds are very effective these days, and we’ve done some work where we put subsonic sounds through speakers under the audience rake – so there’s a real low level vibration and maybe sudden noises.

Then it’s about decisions – to go, or to stay, and what the reward/punishment might be.

I once saw a powerful if strange play called ‘Wedding Day at the CroMagnons’, where people trapped in a flat in the Lebanon during a bombardment tried to go through with a wedding. One of the really moving scenes was when the father tried to decide if it was worth the risk of sniper fire to go and get his trousers off the washing line so he’d look smart for his daughter.

@ Gavin

IMHO this is a great idea and I am sure some interesting works will emerge.

Good luck to everyone who takes the time to “put pen to paper”:)

@Gavin Kostick

“One of the really moving scenes was when the father tried to decide if it was worth the risk of sniper fire to go and get his trousers off the washing line so he’d look smart for his daughter.”

Powerful stuff.

@ All,

I scribbled out this quick blog this afternoon. Anyone here who is searching for a bit of simple dialogue, to fit into their play in some fashion, is more than welcome to use my language. No problem. I thought it might fit into a tiny play of some sort. It could be achieved with the use of some simple props, sound effects, camera flash effects etc. The point basically, is about all of the ceaseless rhetoric about policy shifts, new departures, structures, quangos etc in Ireland over the last decade. BOH.

The piece by Adrian Kelleher in the Economics history thread, was exceptional I thought. I will reference one paragraph of it, as a taste. BOH.

The central bankers have now filled this void by a sleight of hand, that is by insisting that the areas they’ve increasingly taken over aren’t really political at all. Ireland’s case is just an especially sharp illustration of this transformation. It’s not possible to claw back the wealth pillaged from the nation because the pillagers will simply move their money abroad and we have no more power over the new dynasties than medieval serfs. Productive capacity and human potential must lie idle for the same reason, and these policies are presented as scientific inevitabilities.

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