I recently spoke to THEATREclub’s Grace Dyas (and eventually Doireann Coady) about their epic-sounding Twenty Ten. Read on to see what they had to say about the company’s Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven (as well as a bit of Twenty Twelve), and why this will be the last time we’ll see their hands.
Can I ask how this gigantic idea came about?
Grace: It’s interesting because I imagine there’s a lot of different versions of it. We’ve been thinking this idea for a very long time. When we started the company in 2008 we did a workshop with the three of us together. We hadn’t done anything before together apart from in DYT. We sat down and were: “what sort of company do we want to have”? And we made a list of shows that we wanted to make. There was a list of about fifty, sixty shows that we wanted to make. And a few of the shows that we’ve made since have been on that list. And Twenty Ten was one of them. The other one was Heroin.
This list sounds really exciting!
It’s since been lost. We don’t where it is now (laughs). We just remembered that that one was on it. We brought the list to DYT and left it there and it got thrown out.
So it’s gone now. Anyway, there was a list and we wrote things on it. Twenty Ten was on the list. And the idea was that Shane [Byrne] wanted to ask a group of people a question every day for a year, and that could be the text then. So then we asked what the question would be. And then we left the idea for a while and we made shows. Then at the end of 2009 we were like: “okay, we’re getting into a new year now. We could do it now”. We left it then again for a while and went back to it when I was looking up … there was this movement in London at the time about education. That formal education doesn’t need to happen and actually we can teach each other things. There was a college set up in a building off Downing Street, a kinda posh part of London where all these guys were setting up classes. So you go in and you’re like “I’m going to teach about journalism”, and I go and I teach about drama. And then I’m going to go to a journalism class or whatever, and we can swap over. And the only requirement to be part of this institute of learning is that you are going to teach.
I thought this was really cool because it’s demystifying knowledge. There was a lot of talk of redoing the Leaving Cert at that time as well. There was a lot of talk about learning and memory. Basically that the Leaving Cert is a memory test and it shouldn’t be. So I was like “what if we ask them: what have you learnt today”? It’s cool because it means we get responses that are facts and if we don’t put a definition on what the answers should be we’ll get really interesting stuff. So, we went out on St Stephen’s Night and we were like “will we do it?” and I told them about “what do you learn?” and it was “yep, brilliant”. And I set it up through Google Docs and we put out a call for people who wanted to play, and people came back to us.
We started off with fifty people on the list and we sent the first question on the first of January, and then we sent it every single day for the whole year. And as it went along people sent it out to their friends, and sometimes we’d put a personal message like “we’re tired from Electric Picnic. What did you learn today?” or “We’re on the homestretch now. Stay with us guys. What did you learn today”? We got so many people who e-mailed and said “put me on the Twenty Ten list’. People we didn’t know. Then we went to Washington and did a scratch performance for Project Brand New, and in Washington loads of other people starting playing as well. By the end we had a lot of people from Washington, a lot of people from London, and we had such a broad spectrum of different people. Different age groups. A really important thing was that they were anonymous as well. So people felt a freedom to say whatever they wanted. So that’s the broad genesis of the idea and how we got to this point.
So you had a group of people who were Dublin-based and then it started to grow across to London and Washington. You have this entire population of people who have written this play. That’s kind of unique.
Totally! And I think that’s really interesting as well because it demystifies learning. It shows that anybody can be a writer. Anybody has the ability to write things that are good enough to be said on a stage. We really believe in that, that everybody’s stories are equally deserving of being heard.
It’s also interesting to think, although this already is a rule in theatre, that you’ll never have the same show each night because each night of the performance is different focus.
Yeah, totally. It’s mad because in a way our other work is much more unpredictable night-by-night. Say in Heroin, the show can go a whole different way if the actors change something or if they decide to do something different. Our shows are structured like that. If Barry and Connor fight at the start of the show and Connor wins, ‘this happens’ (laughs). That’s about keeping it alive for the actors and keeping it interesting. With our other work it’s easier to keep that alive whereas with Twenty Ten the things already on the page are the things that we have to say. So it’s much harder for us with this one to actually do it. So even though it’s a different show each night, it’s still hard for us to get that kind of energy.
Who’s in the cast? I saw from the images there’s a few from Loose Canon’sMidsummerNight’sDream?
There’s Barry O’Connor, who was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? and he also was inHeroin and The Family. Louise Lewis. She is the only member of the cast who has done a durational performance the same length as this one’s going to be. Louise was in DruidSynge. She’s got the experience (laughs). Then, Connor Madden, who we’ve worked with a lot before. Lauren Larkin, who was in Heroin and The Family as well. Natalie Radmall-Quirke, who has done a lot of work with and is a founding member of Randolf SD. She’s also worked extensively in the Abbey and places like that. And Shane Byrne, who is in our company. Everyone in our cast is someone who we’ve either worked with before or worked on with us on Twenty Ten for a long time. Natalie Radmall-Quirke played the game Twenty Ten every day for the entire year of 2010. We did a lot of scratch readings and she was involved in all of that. Natalie is the anchor of which the thing has grown from. She got really invested in the game and also really invested in bringing the text from the game to the performance. The other actors are all people we’ve worked with an awful lot and we’re very much about the idea of ensemble. So there’s a shared history in the room. If I say “it’s kinda like this thing” everybody knows what I mean. Which is the only way to get a six hour long show done in a four week rehearsal (laughs). We need a common language.
One thing I’ve also been interested in seeing is Doireann’s design work. What kind of ideas does she have for Twenty Ten?
Very exciting things. I’ll give you a hint because I don’t want to tell you what’s going to be on the stage. I think that’ll take away from the experience. It was a game that people played so we are borrowing from ideas of games. As with all our shows it’ll have a very strong colour pallet and a very strong concept that … There she is there. Doireann!
Grace: Chris is just asking about the design and he wants some spoilers.
Doireann: Oooh! It’s gameshow-infused. Yes. So think Seventies game shows.
One in particular or …
Doireann: No, just Seventies inspired. So it’s tacky. I won’t say what colour. It’s just what the piece needed because it’s such a mad thing that we’re doing. We needed to heighten it because it’s such an eccentric piece of text and it’s so long and unending and perpetual f*cking day-after-day-after-day. Mundane from depressing. There’ll be some cool lights.
Grace: Yeah, our lighting designer Eoin Winning worked on all the Clubhouse shows. He’s amazing. Doireann and Emma and Eoin are an amazing team. Do you know Emma Fraser?
Doireann: She runs 9 Crow Street in Templebar, which is a vintage clothes shop. She does all our costumes for our shows. She gets some of the stuff from her shop but also sources stuff. It has got amazing clothes. It’s like a little pub in Templebar and all the well-dressed people hang out there. We’re not there though. We’re making shows.
Grace: We’re not well-dressed (laughs).
Doireann: Look at me. I’m wearing a f*cking woolly hat.
Lastly, moving on to Twenty Eleven, what kind of year has it been for ye?
Grace: Really good. Bit of an amazing year really. We made a new show at the start of it:The Family, which we’re bringing back at the beginning of Twenty Twelve. We think it’s a nice top and tail to the year. And that’s a very exciting show which is a polemic of the Irish family from the foundation of the state. The set for it is kind of a Pleasantville 1950s vibe. The style of it is so domestic and so immediate and really kind of Dublin. And there’s a very interesting thing going on where they’re all swapping roles all the time, so there’s no father, son, mother, daughter. It’s all swapping around all the time. It’s a barrel of laughs.
Doireann: And all these archetypal roles.
Grace: Yeah. And there’s loads of dance numbers in it and there’s cameras, TVs, things like that. Kitchen …
Doireann: Lawns, deck chairs …
Grace: It’s really exciting. And I suppose a lot of  has been about Twenty Ten and developing this show. And as well we’re excited to be included in the [Ulster Bank Dublin] Theatre Festival. So it’s been a good year so far. The stronger we get as a company the more things we have to look at, and we’ve been doing a lot of fundraising and stuff like that. That’s all going very well. We’re having a good year. We’ll see how we’re feeling now on the 18th of September, with eight days off before the 26th when we’re doing Heroin. We’re doing them back-to-back. So those two weeks will be the making of us now. We’ll let you know after that (laughs).
Doireann: Check in with us then. I’ll probably have no eyes and no hands.
Grace: Yeah, I won’t have any hands either.
Doireann: Her hands will have fallen off. You normally stay like that for a week or two after Fringe but this time we only have a week and then we have to do it all again.
Grace: So probably no chance of the hands growing back.
Doireann: This is it Chris. This is what we’re up against.
This will be the last time I’ll see your hands!
Doireann: Well, I mean enjoy them. They’re kinda black from having my hands in my pockets.
Grace: Mine have miscellaneous problems. I don’t know really what they are.
Doireann: On my hand is written (reading) “one metre”, “tyre” and “sun strips”.
Where will you write them when you’re gone?
Grace: We won’t have anywhere to write anything now.
Will you write?
Grace: We won’t write. Writing gets you into trouble.
Twenty Ten runs Sept 10-16 with a 6 hour durational performace Sept 17.