The evolution of Quick Bright Things’ By Moonlight project began as few arts projects do, ideally and organically, almost ten years ago. Many of the participants have been attending weekly workshops since that time, with an emphasis on skill building and establishing the core components of performance—physicality, presence etc. Our ‘process into product’ journey was slow and deliberate—initially after one year’s work, inviting family and friends to an open workshop, then, a year later, showcasing devised fragments of original material. Over the next five years, we offered increasingly ambitious distillations of our weekly work in contextualised end-of-year presentations.
Four years ago, the group presented a bare-stage, 45-minute, largely-physical re-telling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as a response to a series of visits from some final-year acting students from the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama. Herein lies the germ of By Moonlight.
My own belief about the slow growth of a culture of performance emerging from the context of communities of people with intellectual disabilities in Ireland is that it is a product of two factors historically—the absence of funding and lack of clarity about approach routes to possible funders, and, perhaps more significantly, the impoverishing impact of a charity-based culture of low expectation where this community is concerned.
Three years ago, Arts and Disability Ireland, in partnership with community the arts organisation CREATE, approached us with the possibility of supporting our work. They were particularly interested in our avowed ambition to mainstream our work and take it to the widest possible audience, moving away from the self-ghettoisation of center-based, ‘in-house’ presentation. The principle of cultural democracy was and is inherent in our practice.
This intervention culminated in the development of By Moonlight—a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which has been seen by capacity audiences in Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, Sligo’s Factory Performance Space, and Belfast’s Old Museum Arts Centre. Each of these performances has been framed by workshop/seminars and outreach initiatives.
The development of By Moonlight was a synthesis of all our previous approaches to date, but with the added challenge of using considerably more spoken text than previously, as part of the group’s development. From oral storytelling inputs around the narrative, the group devised a 21-image freeze-frame story board of the unfolding action, adding their own guide dialogue. Writer Annie McNamara, working from storyboard photos and a synthesis of the group’s own dialogue, and the original text, drafted a working script which continued to evolve in rehearsal. Visual artist Susan Farrelly worked closely with the group to conceptualise and design a unified costume and set motif for the piece. Lighting designer Dave O’Leary worked closely with the creative team to frame our inquiry.
Two final performances of By Moonlight were offered in the group’s Glenageary base as part of St John of God Week, on 13 June 13 2005. The group is already working on choosing a new project which will not be seen publicly until 2007. Most importantly, in addition to the sophisticated anarchy which has become Quick Bright Things’ signature, is the culture of consistency and continuity of practice which informs their work. Acting up! Speaking out!