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Blog 2 – Muireann Ahern, Joint Artistic Director Theatre Lovett

Muireann Ahern Actor Training at The Gate Theatre

Muireann Ahern is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. For Theatre Lovett she has directed and designed multiple shows. Muireann has over twenty years’ experience working in theatre for young audiences. Previously, she was Theatre Programmer and Producer at The Ark. She programmed the Family Season of the Dublin Theatre Festival and The Dublin Dance Festival. Muireann has worked with The Abbey Theatre’s Outreach Department, TEAM, part time lecturer at St Patrick’s teacher training college, and is a regular guest speaker on theatre for children at other third level colleges. She has led several Professional Development courses and was a member of the core working group on the published Artists~Schools Guidelines: ‘Towards Best Practice in Ireland’. She has been guest speaker at national and international conference focusing on ‘quality’ in theatre for young audiences. She is a graduate of the Samuel Beckett Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies, Trinity College Dublin and also holds a HDip Education from TCD.

She will next direct Theatre Lovett’s production of FRNKNSTN at the Abbey Theatre on the Peacock stage.

Theatre Lovett make theatre for all ages, child and adult, young and old, chicken and egg. They were nominated for a Judges Special Award at The Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017. If you seek theatre that can amuse, involve and sometimes scare, we offer you theatre as adventure

Muireann Ahern, Joint Artistic Director Theatre Lovett

As we hurtle towards another new production with a new creative team and endless days of rehearsing, ‘teching’, and sweating the small stuff (each and every grain of it), I ask myself again why do we do what we do? Why do we need theatre at all? Do we need to create meaning through stories? Whether a child or an adult? The oldest of societies have had theatre-like rituals where meaning has been communicated through story. I do believe theatre can give children an arena to stimulate creative paths within their growing brains, paths on which they might meet themselves coming and going, carrying new skillsets with which to enhance their understanding of the world. And perhaps change it too.

The live exchange of theatre is increasingly important as children are more and more ‘face down in screen mode’. However, let us not demand their attention. As audience members, they have the right to switch off and tune out if they so desire. Also, if they are engaged by the piece, let’s gift them the choice to be alone in their experience or to share it with fellow audience members and like wise with their connection with the onstage players.  As theatre-makers we hope our work will attract and hold their attention and win their engagement. Of course, we hope and work hard for this but again, let’s not force the issue. We concentrate on ensuring that what we create for the stage is different each time. And we hope – full of moments of wonder, skill and surprise. Our audiences might be wowed by the work asking themselves “How did they do that?” The “Why?” can come later but for now “How?” is good. It rhymes with “wow”.

Let us hope that children and young people, whether on an outing with their class or with their families, can come to think of the theatre space as a place separate from expected outcomes. Rather, let it be different to their norms. Different from the classroom or kitchen. Different possibilities emanating from the actions of the players up there on the stage. Different synapses firing in different parts of the brain. Different outlooks on a world that, once we leave the theatre, might look different.

Playing for your Audience

There are many fine theatre artists working today with a focus on children and young people. Younger theatre-makers are turning their heads towards work for children too. More people becoming involved is a good thing.  When we invite artists from the ‘adult theatre world’ to bring their craft to work for young audiences or introduce younger practitioners to this audience, we must ensure they are supported in the process. If misguided or misdirected both audience and artists can end up at sea or up the proverbial creek. Most important here is accuracy in terms of the age pitch of a theatre piece.

At Theatre Lovett, we run our actor training courses entitled Playing for your Audience. Our underpinning philosophy is to encourage actors to address where their egos are in this process. Walk hand in hand with your ego, bring it with you, leave it at the door, teach it to “Sit!”. Yes, like puppy training for the Ego. Give it a cuddle but remember who’s the boss.  In our training, we focus on ‘making the person next to you shine’ and strive to create work that will shine from the stage.

Happily, we have a healthy interest from artists, with all levels of experience, wishing to participate. There is definitely a growing desire to know more about this area. I love to see actors bridging the divide between playing for young audiences and playing for adults. It is, however, a particular joy to find actors who are at ease interacting with their audience and who are at ease with what children might offer them during performance. It concerns knowing when to engage and when not to, yet at all times with that lovely sense that every child’s offering is wholly, yet subtly, embraced. My Co-Artistic Director, Louis Lovett, is known for this kind of interaction. He has a real desire to upskill other actors in this area. He surfs his audience beautifully and his audiences are rarely left unheard or with their contribution left hanging in the air. This is a very skilful thing to be able to do effectively and as a director, this is a very satisfying component of the shows I direct (thanks to the actors’ skills). There is a whole methodology behind if or when an actor acknowledges or includes offers that come spontaneously from a young audience. To be able to do so, without putting the brakes on the momentum of the show, is what can really set theatre for children apart from the grown-up variety.

Muireann will direct Theatre Lovett’s next production of FRNKNSTN an adaptation of Mary  Shelley’s classic novel FRANKENSTEIN at The Abbey Theatre. Pitched at 16+