On March 18th, on the Collins Barracks lawn, as part of the St Patrick’s Day Festival Dublin Big Day After, we debuted ‘A Snail’s Tale’ for our first performance of 2023. Warmly received and wonderful to perform, it was the culmination of work that started way back in 2018, with my Artbank Bunclody exhibition, ‘Mo Bhaile Fein,’ a collection of large and small snails that clung to the walls and floors of the site.
The first sketchy notions of a snail based, street piece came to me during a week-long intensive session at the Brighton School of Puppetry. The true story of Jeremy the left-coiling snail caught my interest, and melding with a fascination with weird and wonderful creatures in the margins of medieval manuscripts, A Snail'sTale began it's slow emergence in my thoughts.
It has been a slow but sure journey from there.
In 2020 I tentatively put together some sketches and ideas for Pitch 2020, presented from Spraoi festival Waterford online with ISACS and Culture Ireland. Though the pitch went well, I did not have a fully developed idea for a show and instead it was suggested I seek funding through an Agility award to let me develop and test the idea.
Anyone who has followed it through knows the application process for many of these funding schemes can be overwhelming and stressful. Personally, I struggle with putting to paper words that describe myself and my work, preferring instead to present visually. Application forms are a
kind of academic, torturous attempt to justify and describe things that seem so visual to me. But it’s all the more rewarding when you are accepted.
The Agility award allowed me to bring in my partner, Dominic, as a co-devisor and performer, and to work with street theatre creator Nick Kavanagh of Curious State and Simon Thompson, aka Clown Noir, over several separate sessions, curated by and at Spraoi under their 2021 mentorship programme, to begin to realise what up to this point had only been a kernel of an idea. At the same time, it allowed me to spend periods of time in the Spraoi workshop, under tutelage from Mike Leahy and his team, creating and building Mishelle, the left-handed snail at the centre of my original idea.
We all brought different visions, Nick focussing on something we hadn’t even considered, the notion of music and song being part of the performance; Simon on the visual and performative aspects of the show, detailing us through clowning workshops and exploring mask; Dominic on the storytelling; and myself on the look and feel of what would ultimately end up as A Snail’s Tale. These sessions, and working with both Nick and Simon, proved invaluable, sometimes for reminding us not only what we wanted the finished article to be, but also where we didn’t want it to go.
What the Agility award started for us, combining an Arts Council Project Award and Artlinks Bursary award allowed us to develop. Working with Simon once again, in 2022, this time as our dramaturg, we began to solidify the show. I was able to work with Roy Gallagher Leather and costumer Frances White, creating apparel and costume for our characters, Sir Babosa and his trusty scribe and minstrel, Isabeau. And, finally, after much discussion and many false starts, we named our snail - Mishelle!
Simon put us through our paces, laughing joyously at our routines when they worked, patiently seeing us through our sometimes exhausted meltdowns when they didn’t. He first put us out on the road outside Spraoi HQ, drilling us through our routines to sharpen them. He then took us out into the streets of Waterford, fully dressed, to work through through a live rehearsal in a town that was not expecting us.
After this, as Dominic and I began to work behind the scenes to finalise the show itself, I was given the opportunity to present ‘A Snail’s Tale’ at Pitch 2022 - this time to a live audience! Nerve wracking, but thrilling.
And so, finally, we had our show. We had the thrill and privilege to present our debut performance as part of Spraoi 2022, from which we were then offered the opportunity to return to Waterford as part of the Waterford Food Festival.
Recognising that we still needed advice on how to sell our show, Spraoi offered us space and time with several professional mentors before Christmas 2022. Our time with festival programmer Miriam Dunne was invaluable and an online conversation with St. Patrick's Day Festival Artistic Director Karen Walshe, led to an oppurtunity to present A Snails's Tale at the festival this year!
After all of that we set to work in January creating our current ‘trailer’ for the show with photographer Michael Duggan – a constant companion of the show since its inception and 'Friend of the Shell' – with a full day shoot directed by Dominic, at the Wexford Heritage Park. The perfect setting.
And so, from a collection of snails on a wall in 2018, to our performance at The Big Day After in 2023, it has been a slow, trundling, sometimes agonising, but always thrilling journey to where
we find ourselves now.
I’ll finish this blog by thanking everyone who has helped us and advised us along the way, from TV Honan for his incredible faith in the show right from the off (as well as all the support from everyone at Spraoi), to the Irish Street Arts, Circus & Spectacle Network, to Nick and Simon for those initial sessions, and especially to Simon as our weird and wonderful dramaturg. A Big thanks to Mick Duggan for not only turning up at far flung destinations to photograph us, but for adding so much experience and consideration to the show itself.
And to the Arts Council of Ireland and Artlinks, a big thank you for funding support and for giving us the time to bring A Snail's Tale to life.
And thank you to all who have listened to me talk about this show that's been floating around my head for so long - I've had Snails on the brain for quite some time. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to realise it now.
A Snail’s Tale is available for bookings, is suitable for family audiences as a walkabout performance or static show.
Thanks to Dominic for helping put my thoughts into words!