Open Theatre Practice
Open Theatre Practice (OTP) was established in 2017 by Outlandish Theatre Platform, theatre company in residence at the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital. Participants from diverse communities in Dublin 8, the hospital community, performing arts colleagues and other theatre practitioners are invited to take part in the process of making new work in response to a theme.
Outlandish Theatre Platform, founded in 2010 by Bernie O’Reilly and Maud Hendricks, creates new experimental performances through a theatre of enquiry. OT Platform creates inter-community dialogue in Dublin 8, where there is no independent theatre or common cultural hub, and finds innovative ways of overcoming barriers to accessing arts in Dublin.
Since 2016, OT Platform is the first theatre company in residence at the Coombe Hospital, based at the Rita Kelly Theatre.
OTP is open to all community participants living in Dublin 8 who have an interest in performance making. No previous arts experience is required. So far we have enjoyed contributions from 60 diverse participants from the Dublin 8 area.
Through experimentation in form, content and collaboration, Maud and Bernie shape new theatre landscapes through the lens of ‘theatre of ruins’ in collaboration with local community participants.
Open Theatre Practice encompasses the following aims:
- Engage local communities in a weekly performance-making workshop
- Develop new work in the contexts of ‘arts and health’ and ‘place’
- Ensure the representation of social-economic and cultural minority voices in both the performance and the audience
- Create a continuous live stream of fresh artistic responses, reflecting our constantly changing physical and social environment
- Reflect on our Now society by presenting a poly-vocal ensemble performance, emanating from the ruins of our physical landscape of Dublin 8
- Present the found human sense and suffering in uncanny theatre experiences for a diverse local and wider arts audience
- Create a safe and open creative space where people with and without previous experience can create work, developing a performance language based on existing skills and experiences.
OTP workshops take place at the Rita Kelly Theatre in a national hospital environment, offering a neutral space within the wider community of Dublin 8.
One in three babies at the Coombe Hospital are born to non-Irish born mothers. This statistic is important in our reflection on Dublin’s diversity and informs our methods of engagement of community participants.
Open Theatre Practice is advertised widely through a poster and leaflet campaign in Dublin 8’s sub-communities, online through our web of community contacts developed over time, as well as in the hospital. We actively engage with local community groups and key figures to ensure the call out for participation reaches as many sub-communities as possible. Hospital staff members have taken part in one off workshops, but generally speaking, long-term engagement by staff is hampered by irregular and long working schedules. We are now in talks with the health and wellbeing committee to develop activities inside the hospital sphere with easier access.
Our workshops are structured to enhance the productivity of each participant’s output. Each participant receives a notebook and pencil. After an introduction in which the theme we are working on is discussed, each participant has 30 minutes to develop a mini performance.
The notebook is used to write an instruction manual for each performance. There are four facilitators in the room to provide individual literacy and language support.
All participants present their mini performance and through a structured feedback session the audience responds to the performance.
Each week the participant develops their performance further, until we settle on the final piece at which point the artists have developed a master structure for performance in which the performances are integrated. All participants are welcome to take part in the public performance.
Each week a live stream of performance material is generated as each individual participant develops his or her own piece in response to a theme. The themes are catalysts for the making process and also become the focus for the master structure for performance.
Bi-annually the artists curate the newly developed work into one public performance to share with a diverse local and arts audience.
June 2017: ‘Systems’ at CWIUH: The individual performances responded to mental health, signage on the hospital grounds, forced migration, housing and languages.
March 2018: ‘Nothing’ as part of the Five Lamps Arts Festival to an audience of 65. In 'Nothing', performances focused on eye contact, talking as nothing, unsounds, loneliness, institutional walls, leaving your parental home, memories, buying dresses and the universe.
December 2018: ‘Patterns’ as part of a symposium in relation to the ‘theatre of ruins’ and the ‘urban sublime’ with Maud Hendricks and guest visual artist Laura Hopes (UK). 'Patterns' will be performed on 1 December at Trinity College Dublin with a workshop / presentation on 2 December by Laura Hopes.
Peer to peer feedback is structurally incorporated into each session, so that participants get a chance to listen to peers’ experiences of their work.
Audiences are invited to respond to the work they witness and this is documented both on film and photographically.
Each season participants are invited to respond to the process through individual and group evaluation sessions.
As part of the process, the work is evaluated through the leading artist’s reflective documentation and through ongoing reporting. Peer evaluation is initiated through witness reports which will accompany a publication by Hendricks (see below).
OTP offers an inclusive space in which a newly formed group of socially, culturally and ethnically diverse people can come together and explore a chosen theme to express their perspective visually, textually or otherwise. Participants’ responses indicate that the “no-pressure and flexibility” method is positive and allows for varying commitment.
OTP creates a unique platform for participants to share and listen to diverse experiences though performance making, building understanding and relationships.
Reflection by participant Rebecca Ryan:
'I have been attending Open Theatre Practice on a Wednesday evening for over a year now and it is the highlight of my week.
We always start with a fun warm up which gets everyone in the mood. They can be physical, sometimes we only do mime, sometimes we use props and other times we use prompts to warm up together.
What I really like about OTP is that we all make our own work. Everyone in the group works towards a theme and at the moment we are working on the theme of Patterns. We are guided by Maud Hendricks and Bernie O' Reilly but we are never told what to do. We are our own bosses and that is what makes it really special. Each week we build on previous work. We find themes and build on them. Some weeks we only use text, other weeks we only use our bodies. Some weeks we work alone, and others we are put into pairs and groups to expand on our themes.
We give feedback to each other and it is really helpful and insightful to see how other members of the group interpret your work. This informs our work the following week and really helps to build your piece of work.
When Maud and Bernie weave our individual pieces together like a tapestry, it becomes something greater than the sum of its parts, and that is an amazing experience.'
Documentation & Dissemination
The weekly performance material is documented in writing and photographically.
The public performances are documented on film.
Hendricks has been granted an Arts Council Theatre Bursary Award to research OTP’s practice within theories of cultural and social diversity and to contextualise this practice within a theoretical framework of the ‘theatre of ruins’ and the ‘urban sublime’. As part of her research there will be a publication of her findings alongside four witness reports of Open Theatre Practice made by academics, peers and arts and health specialists.
Video excerpts of the performance and workshop process:
Date of Publication
Ongoing since April 2017
Outlandish Theatre Platform
Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital (CWIUH)
The Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, Department of Justice and Equality, DCC Arts Office, Creative Ireland, the Arts Council
Bernie O’Reilly, Maud Hendricks
Socially engaged practice, Theatre
Nature of Project
Collaborative/ participatory, Performance, Residency