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Hildy Tales 6: Céim uile an domhain ~ by John Valters Paintner

Hello, gentle readers! This series of 12 essays were composed during John & Christine’s Jubilee Year (which began pre-pandemic, but some of which was written during varying degrees of lockdown). They were dictated to John by the Abbey’s mascot, Hildy the Monk-ey. Hildy is a bit of a free spirit who likes to entertain and doesn’t normally feel constrained by conventional story structure . . . or grammar, in general. She lives by the motto that “all stories are true; some actually happened.” We wanted to share them with you, our wider Abbey community, to give you a small monkey-sized window into life on the wild edges of Ireland. They will take the place of our Monk in the World guest posts until May when those will return.

Céim uile an domhain

Dear monks, pilgrims, and artists . . . lend me your ears (or eyes, since you’re reading this). It’s me, Hildy – your online monastic mascot – again to share with you a week+-in-the-life here in Galway City, Ireland.

Today’s Irish quote is actually a translation of William (he wished he’d been Irish) Shakespeare, “all the world’s a stage.” I chose it because of all the theatrical shows Christine & John took me to last week+, including ‘The Scottish Play’ in Gaeilge (in Irish) . . . but more on that later.

The week+ started on Monday when John and I went to see The Theatre Room Galway’s “Best of the Year” show in 126 Artist-Run Gallery. John had been a long time and active member of Theatre Room, as a regular script contributor (even winning Best Script and Best Play in previous years) and even served on the committee (including chairperson) for several years. He hasn’t been active this past year, having stepped down to work on longer pieces. OH! Let me back up. The Theatre Room Galway is a monthly showcase of one-act plays written, directed, and acted by local theatre-makers of all levels of experience. Every month, after the show, scripts are pitched, directors selected, and actors auditioned for the following month’s one act plays. It’s AMAZING! But as I was saying, John has been to a lot this year. However, several active members suggested that John attend this month’s show and he let me tag along. The space wasn’t a traditional theatre (as most Theatre Room performances aren’t – It started in people’s living rooms and spread out to be done in pubs and restaurants and even a furniture store . . . twice!!), but a big open-space art gallery with a lovely open-beamed ceiling that was perfect for a little monkey like myself to watch the proceedings. There were seven different short one-act plays: one about Death going to therapy, two childhood frenemies meeting as adults at the doctors (John’s favourite of the night), a monologue by a dragon, a dramatization of a Lenard Cohen song, a story of two adult sons visiting their ailing father, and a musical spoof of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (my favourite, because of the dancing). It was a ton of fun and nice to catch up with some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

The following day (Tuesday, Nov 26th) John & Christine took us to see “Selvage” in the Town Hall Theatre. John had seen this show before last year in a smaller venue, but wouldn’t shut up about how much he liked it and wished Christine and I had seen it. (We were out of town; separate trips.) It’s essentially a one-man show by Brú Theatre Company (but there was beautiful live musical accompaniment by Anna Mullarkey – whose brother is a popular busker – and some stage hands that helped with a few props and a puppet.) The story is about a young teenager who lives alone with his grandmother who loves to knit and cause revolutionary trouble. When she burns down city hall (no one was injured in the blaze), granny is put in jail and the young boy is sent to foster care. And even though the lady looking after him is very sweet, Anxiety (personified by the writer/performed by James) follows him everywhere, whispering doubt and worry in his young ear. It was a charming representation of the inner struggle so many of us have with self-doubt and the overwhelmingness* of life. (* — Yes, John. I know that’s not a word. But we’ve already mentioned Shakespeare, and HE made up words all the time. But nobody gives out to ye olde William about it; they praise him for it. Besides, everyone knows what I mean and I think the word/phrase will be trending before ya know it.)

Now on Wednesday, we split up again. Christine drove her friend Susan to Athenry where they both read poetry (Susan was a featured poet and Christine read at the open-mic at the end). But John and I stayed in town and went to Little Cinema Galway at the Roisin Dubh pub around the corner from our flat. Little Cinema, which was the inspiration for Theatre Room Galway, is a monthly “open mic-night for filmmakers.” Every month, 8-10, short films (comedy sketches, documentaries, music videos, dramas, and action/suspense) are showcased. Anyone can submit a film (John has written for and worked on a few over the years). They just have to be under ten minutes and someone working on the film has to be present to introduce the short. It’s a lot of great craic and you can talk to and hang out with the filmmakers after the show. (Even fellow Roscommon native, Irish actor and Hollywood leading man, Chris O’Dowd is a fan and patron of Little Cinema.) This month’s showcase of short films included a funny documentary about some friends of John who are doing a charity swim for a great local charity, a few comedy sketches, a couple of other documentaries (a really moving one about tattoos and one about Hungarians living in Ireland), a Canadian remake of a script written by an Irish film student John knows, and a really cool music video (also made my some people John knows and has worked with on other short films).

On Thursday, John & Christine just ordered some food delivered and watched shows on the couch, while Sourney and I played cards in the back office. (I don’t think they noticed.)  It was a quiet night, but we’d had a couple of late nights and a few more to go over the coming weekend, so it was nice to relax a bit and get to bed early.

Back out again on Friday to a show at the Connaught Tribune Print Works. It’s a big open space behind the local newspaper’s offices. As, I’m sure you can tell by the name, it used to hold the print works for the paper. But they started outsourcing the printing to a larger paper in Limerick years ago. (With so many people following them online, it wasn’t worth printing it themselves anymore.) In recent years, the space has been used for all manner of art installations and shows. Last week, it was transformed into a punk rock venue for “Mac an Bheatha,” an Irish language version of MacBeth by the Fíbín theatre company. We were all a bit nervous about going. I’ve never seen any Shakespeare before (always seemed a bit too “highbrow” and British to me) and neither of my human companions have a word of Irish. But we know a few people involved in the show, behind the scenes (producer Caitríona, artistic designer Yvette – whose sister was interviewed in the short-doc about tattoos from Wednesday . . . We’ll have to ask her about that later . . . and set-builder Damian – who is our go-to small-job handyman). And they all encouraged us to go. So . . . John gave me a great summary of the story before the performance and I whispered translations to the two of them (not that they really needed it, as the action and acting spoke volumes). But the whole show was amazing. The entrance to the Print Works had a “burned out” car. We were all subjected to fake metal detector wand-ing and the inside of the space was artistically/thematically graffitied*. (* — See my earlier comment about newly created words that everyone understands immediately.) There was a punk band playing music when we came in (that turned out to be the Witches from the original play) and took our “seats” on either side of the stage in make-shift scaffolding. John & Christine grabbed a couple of folding chairs, but most people stood throughout, and I (naturally) swung about! (Best. Theatre. Space. Ever!) I won’t spoil the story for any of you, like myself until just recently, haven’t seen it yet. But John & Christine both really loved this version; they said it was one of their favourite Shakespeare performances, ever. (I’m definitely giving old Willie a second look, as I’ve clearly misjudged him. Life lesson, learnt.) It was dark, but also whimsical and funny (in parts). Not a show for children, but a great one for the rest of us.

But speaking of whimsical and magical . . . Saturday (after “Prinks” – that’s pre-drinks or drinks before going out, usually drinking) we were back at The Town Hall Theatre for “Tea Dance” by the man, the myth, the legend which is little john nee! John Nee is a friend of ours who has performed for a few of John & Christine’s pilgrim groups here in Galway. He grew up in Scotland, but his family is from Donegal (which he calls home). He writes songs (and poetry, he has a book of haikus which is really quite lovely) and theatrical shows that are sometimes autobiographical. This one is about a small, fictionalized town in Donegal where a woman opens a new tea house and holds a dance to help promote it. Little John normally performs alone, but had two back up musicians this time around. But like James at the beginning of the week (it seems like weeks), he performed all the parts. He has such a wonderful way with his voice and subtle mannerisms to embody everyone in the village, with all their quirks and charm. It was another amazing show and I can’t wait to see more of his work, even if it’s something I’ve seen before. We’re all big Little John Nee fans, the three of us.

Sunday we had dinner with a couple of friends (Susan, the poet I mentioned earlier, and her poet husband Kevin). Susan’s mom is from Belfast, but she was born and raised in the States. (We don’t hold it against her, even if John teases her about it; he teases everyone about everything. I often join in/encourage him.) But instead of Prinks, we went to St. Nicholas Collegial Church for their Compline service. (Don’t tell my folks I went to a Protestant service, but . . .) Christine and I really love the music they do and this service is always beautiful. Our celebration dinner with friends consisted of duck breast (instead of turkey), with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and Brussel sprouts, with bacon. (John doesn’t normally like Brussel sprouts, but sliced and sautéed with bacon . . . who could resist.)

Monday night, John went across the street to Aras na Gael (an Irish language centre) for the AGM (that’s Annual General Meeting) of Threatre57, a theatre advocacy group. Christine and I aren’t members, but Christine might sign up next year, seeing as she’s working on a play about her cousin Ludwig Wittgenstein (an Austrian philosopher who goes straight over my head – no short jokes, please) and her dad. But it’s theatre-related and so I’m still counting it as part of the theatre week+.

And finally bringing it all home (you’ll get the pun in a moment) . . . on Tuesday, John had some actor friends around to our gaff (Get it? Bringing it home? The last theatre thing was here at home? I feel like I’m explaining this too much) for the first read-through of his play “Guilty Pleasures.” The whole thing was almost cancelled at the last minute. John had submitted the play to the Galway Theatre Festival as a work-in-progress. He got the rejection email just hours before the cast was scheduled to arrive. It was poor timing, to say the least. But I talked him into going ahead with it. He’s good friends with two of the actors (and it’s always nice to have friends around) and it was really great to hear the play read aloud by professionals. It really turned his mood around and he’s more determined than ever to put it on next year. Now if only I can get him to write something about a monkey from Roscommon . . .

I’m sorry for the longer-than-normal story. But as you can tell from having read through it all, we had QUITE a week. Normally, we’re fortunate to get out to a show once a week (even though there’s always a ton of stuff on in Galway). All the theatrical stars just happened to have been aligned and so we went for it!

Now for a week’s worth of naps . . . Maybe even sleep ‘til the New Year’s Eve fireworks wake us up.

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