Portrait of the Artist is a new feature where I focus on artists from around the country who are doing interesting things deserving of your attention. First up is Saoirse Siné.
Saoirse Siné is a performer and director based in Dublin. As well as performing Saoirse has directed various shows such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Romeo and Juliet, and Grizel. In 2018 she established ‘Scream for Ireland’ which focuses on ensemble, absurdist work and has performed on the Smock Alley Main Space with Scream with Us. She regularly performs comedic improv at Mob Theatre Dublin, and teaches Creative Drama classes for ITW.
Tell us about your background
I come primarily from an actor training background. I always wanted to be an actor and took to speech and drama lessons quite naturally. I was an extremely anxious child that found somewhat of an anchor in performing so it was only natural I went on to do a Drama Performance Degree. I attended DIT (now TUD) and was fortunate enough to get accepted for an exchange in Columbia College Chicago.
After graduating, I did my best to make it as a performer and tried to see as many plays as possible. I was involved in a few productions and tried my hand at directing (To which I surprisingly enjoyed). But my thirst for knowledge never died and I found myself doing an MA where I really found my niche in theatre creation/direction which is where my focus is now. The MA gave me the confidence to start my own theatre company Scream For Ireland.
Tell us about your work
I love the ridiculous and the absurd. I call myself a theatre artist with the main goal of acting as a gateway drug for people who wouldn’t normally go to theatre. I think we live in an age of TV glory which is fantastic. Many theatre artists I know view film as a competitor but personally I feel theatre just needs to evolve to focus on what makes it special – and that is the liveness of it.
Scream for Ireland most recent show was an adaption of Romeo and Juliet that I directed. We placed this Shakespearean classic in the basement of J.W. Sweetmans in the heart of Dublins City Centre. There was no stage and the audience were free to move as each scene happened in different areas of the pub. My actors were encouraged to directly interact with audience members. We presented it as a comedy (still original Shakespeare dialogue) and worked on strong voices and character work. I didn’t know what to expect from audience reactions but the positive feedback we received was overwhelming proving now more than ever individuals are craving the live experience.
Scream for Ireland
With all my shows I like to workshop themes/ideas with a group of performers creating various physical and vocal improv that I curate based on my prior research. I often will constantly be generating new material and then spend the time piecing it together like a collage rather than working start to finish (this probably has something to do with my dyspraxia). If working with a large cast I like to use them to help develop the show in order to gain a wider range of styles and energies. I often start off with a couple of workshops and then from that give the performers a break as I put together the script. Once I have a script it is workshopped further and I always allow for change if it’s not working. I call this process ‘Semi-devising’. All my shows focus on the live performance with no fourth wall. We try and use material we have gathered from social media and even have a Reddit page that worked as a huge source of inspiration for our Scene and Heard show last year.
Who are your influences and why?
My main influence would have to be the Neo-Futurists in the United States. When I first saw their show in Chicago it blew my mind as to what theatre could be and planted the seed in my head to want to create this kind of art. In their shows they practice the art of the 2 minute play. Their hour long shows attempt the goal to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes with the audience deciding the order. I know what they do would not work for Irish audiences but I have since spent my time trying to come up with my own version that would. What I love about the Neo-Futurists is how important the audience is the work, the excitement of leaving things to change, and the excited feeling you have when witnessing their work. Even before shows start you are drawn in with ticket prices being 9 dollars plus whatever you roll on a die! They try to leave their audience with a gift each performance, and I do too. I recommend to everyone to see them if ever in Chicago or New York. I could actually talk about them for hours but I’ll stop now.
Other influences are Ionesco, his absurd plays just make me so happy as well as the energy that they contain. What I love about his plays is the serious undertones that they have as while remaining ultimately hilarious. Rhinoceros is the perfect example of this.
Anne Bogart’s books are incredible as well as the way she works. All her shows are very ensemble driven that work with the actor as a whole being who can contribute rather than an empty vessel to mould. I feel incredibly lucky to have trained with her and I often use tools and exercises that she developed for her theatre company.
Here in Ireland I adore BrokenTalkers and have not seen a show by them that I haven’t completely adored. Their shows focus tremendously on the live experience and I always leave feeling like I really experienced something deep and real. I love how they work with very intense themes that are very relevant to Irish residents.
And finally, Jim Henson and the incredible work he has done with the muppets. To this day The Muppets just make me immensely happy and the comedy and energy is on point. The sheer joy Muppets create in people (myself included) is something I strive to achieve.
Are there specific themes/issues you try to address in your work?
The majority of Irish theatre (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Irish arts in general) is highly depressing, which is not surprising given our history. However, I strive to have people leaving my performances with a sense of agency and an excitement for the future. We try to channel frustrations into a cathartic live performance. We often ask the audience to join in with us in a form of venting (once it was collective screaming for 30 straight seconds).
Mental Health will always be a theme addressed in my work in some form or another. It is only recently that Ireland is willing to talk about these themes and I want to scream about them, with particular reference to modern day anxieties. I really wish my shows to encourage healthy conversation around mental health.
I truly believe the age of social media has completely shifted the world we live in and also our perceptions and changing psychology, this too is always in my work, but even through society may have faced huge change recently, at our core we still remain absurd. I try to find real life little known stories of the past and interweave them into modern stories.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field?
My main advice would be to see as much work as you can and support other people attempting similar feats. Ireland is a small country and you never know when you’ll end up working with someone who’s show you saw three years ago. By seeing a lot of work it gives you the opportunity to figure out who you want to work with as well as what kind of work you want to do. I often find I learn more from shows I hated that shows I enjoyed. Ask for help from people you admire.
Follow your instinct. I think as artists there is always going to be a degree of insecurity and self doubt. However, if you feel a pulse towards something you will be doing yourself a disservice by not following it. All great art has a degree of risk and that’s where the excitement is. Generally speaking though, your impulse is there for a reason. This is a lesson I have only recently learned that I wish I could have followed earlier.
I would also say be very careful of what you choose to give up your time for. Starting off a lot of projects expect free work which is just an unfortunate reality of the arts world. If it’s not money, just be sure you are gaining something. I have been involved in countless projects where I learned a lot and worked with some amazing people. Unfortunately, I have also been involved in projects where I was taken advantage or was simply a complete waste of my time. Always inquire and don’t be afraid to say no.
What can we expect from you in the future?
At the moment I am focusing on building my company and creating a network. I am currently in the early development stage of two shows. The order of which they happen depends on a variety of factors but one I’m very excited about ‘Bunch of Zuckers’ a show that Examines the psychological effects and distress of the past 10 years of incessant social media and what it means for future generations. I want to develop a show that will ask the question does the pros of social media outweigh the cons? The real life evolution of Facebook, from sexist dorm room to helping with inciting genocide in Myanmar, will all act in driving the story arch forward. The absurd show acting as a backdrop for exploring the central question ‘has the Internet made suckers of us all?’ Detecting what’s fake in images and video is only getting harder. Misinformation is part of an online economy that weaponises social media to profit from our clicks and attention. A kaleidoscope of monologues, scenes, music and movement. Quick high-energy scenes that change genres catering to how the incessant social media has shortened our attention spans. Paralleling flipping between apps and websites on phones and computers.
This is only the beginning for Scream for Ireland and I am so excited to keep creating and seeing what the future holds but rest assured there will be plenty of shows. I want to team up with more creatives and experiment more with multimedia. I myself have dyspraxia which affects the way the brain organizes movement and thoughts. I used to see as a hindrance in my acting. However, now that I’m creating and directing work I have learned to embrace how my brain takes the scenic route. I now love how my chaotic brain can create exciting theatre and constantly pushing myself. After my previous shows I now feel I have found a way of working that best suits me. I am now confident in my abilities and the contacts I have made. I feel like I am ready and determined enough to take it to the next level in future shows.