Interview with Ross Gaynor – I Am A Bird Now – Theatre Upstairs
We had the chance to talk to Ross Gaynor, the writer and star of ‘I Am A Bird Now’ which is now running at Theatre Upstairs. He talked about his new production and his other project; the Silent Treatment. You can see the results below.
I Am A Bird Now – at Theatre Upstairs until June 17th
Is this your first one-man play? Does it feel like a rite of passage for an actor, to face an audience alone?
It is my first one-man play, yes. Regarding the rite of passage, I don’t know really. There are plenty of extraordinary actors who have never done one-man plays and vice-versa. But the idea that it’s something an actor has to do at some stage, I don’t agree with. I AM A BIRD NOW is a one-man monologue because as a writer I thought it was the most effective way to tell this particular story, but it was never about me being on stage alone. If the story was better told with a cast of two or ten, then that’s how it would’ve been written. However, it is a massive learning curve. My great idol Owen Roe used to do stand-up comedy and he said that’s how he learned how to hold an audience. Similarly, when it’s just you up there you can gauge how an audience is responding and react appropriately. The onus is on you to make sure you don’t lose them and that they stay engaged. So it’s a massive education.
Tell me about the play, what topics does it deal with?
It is with a very heavy heart that I say the play is perhaps more relevant now, as a result of the recent Manchester and London terror attacks, then it ever was before. In the wake of those attacks, the writing was eerily prescient, a feeling which I’m not exactly comfortable with. It deals with terrorism, hate crimes, and gender theory. My idea was to equate different oppressed peoples, and see how they react differently to oppression. Also, to put the audience in a position of judgement to say “this happened because of that” i.e. the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. But if you can explain why something happened, you can justify why something happened and obviously there is no justifying crimes of this nature. Thematically, that’s where the plays lives. But in reality, it’s one-man’s story of falling into a spiral of self-destruction as a result of some traumatic experiences. It is just one bloke, standing in front of you, telling you his story.
As a young actor, do you have to be a jack-of-all-trades? Willing to do anything and everything?
I don’t think anyone should be willing to do anything and everything, actors or otherwise. It is important to pay the rent (very bloody important), but I think everyone has to hold onto some artistic ethos and to only do something for money if you agree with it and are comfortable doing it. In terms of jack-of-all-trades stuff, there are some amazing actors creating some incredible pieces of work at the moment – because actors are amazing creative artists (the revenue may not recognise that, but they are). From studying and performing scripts, actors have a subconscious understanding of plot-structure and writing that means it can translate into amazing playwriting. The current wave, I think, was started by the inimitable Pat Kinevane and the torch has been carried by fantastic artists like Emmet Kirwan and Clare Monnelly. The key is to have a story that you believe NEEDS to be told, rather than you trying to give yourself a gig. That’s the difference between swimming and sinking. As Stanislavski said: “love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.”
Tell me about ‘The Silent Treatment’?
The Silent Treatment is a treatment writing and copywriting service for commercial and film directors. It was born from me being sick and tired of working in bars. I had worked in pubs for years, but took three years off when I went back to study in The Lir. After graduating, I went back to bar work and it nearly killed me. I’d lost the knack for it and couldn’t handle the hours, but needed to pay the rent. I have friends who work in advertising, who are constantly writing treatments and don’t have the time to do it. So we had the idea to create a service that allowed them to outsource that to us. So we meet with directors, discuss their proposed piece with them and a couple of days later they have a fully written, fully designed treatment on their desk, with bespoke illustrations. Starting out, it’s nearly impossible to pay the rent just from acting work, so everyone has additional jobs. But I wanted one that had decent hours, some freedom and was still creative – so I made one.
For those outside the world of film, what exactly is a treatment?
It is essentially a proposal for how you would direct a piece. Under headings around theme, tone, casting etc…you have a document that gives producers and advertising agencies a clear idea and vision of how you would do the job and why you are the right person to do it. Almost like a specific audition for directors.
You have a legend of Theatre Upstairs working with you, in director Karl Shiels. What is his style of direction?
Karl is a wonderful director, with some incredibly innovative and different ideas. He brought things to the table that I never would have thought of (and I’m the one who wrote the bloody yoke), and they made I AM A BIRD NOW 100 times better. He works in short, intense blocks, followed by mulling time. You do things in extreme, word-by-word detail, until you have the most comprehensive understanding of what you’re saying and once you have that, then you throw it out the window and lash into it. The play deals with some pretty heavy subject matter, so we were both pretty exhausted from it sometimes, but Karl has the eye and the knowledge to bring levity to it and allow it to be humorous, so we’re not just beating the audience over the head. He brought fascinating textual insights and a great aesthetic eye for the design, as well as being able to use his acting expertise to guide me in the right direction and I think we’re both very proud of what we’ve made.
Ross Gaynor / WRITER & PERFORMER
Karl Shiels / DIRECTOR
Naomi Faughan / SET DESIGN
Eoin Byrne / LIGHTING DESIGN
Derek Conaghy / SOUND DESIGN
Maria Guiver / PRODUCER