Eímear Noone

First Published December 2020

A BRIDGE FROM IRELAND TO THE WORLD

Part 2

It’s a rare privilege indeed to have the honour of interviewing someone who you know – without even the slightest shadow of a doubt – has already written themselves into the cultural and artistic history of your country. And make no mistake about it, Galway woman EÍMEAR NOONE, one of the world’s most esteemed, respected, and phenomenally talented conductors and composers, has done just that. And in no small way, either. 


Eímear is many things, all of them fuelled by a fierce passion, a soul that has the deep, instinctual wisdom of many lifetimes, and a creative spirit that is in constant, poetic motion. In time, when her name graces the pages of histories of Ireland, it won’t be reserved simply to the sections on culture, art, music, or entertainment, although none of those will truly be complete without acknowledging her impact on and legacy in all of those areas. 


Eímear Noone is a trailblazer. A pioneer. A leader. A teacher. A superhero who walks among us, as one of us, but as an inspiration to all of us. She is, as I pointed out when Part 1 of our chat was published back at the beginning of November, a real-life Wonder Woman. Her gift to Irish society as a whole, but especially to young girls and women of all ages, will be deep and lasting. It will, I’m sure, provide the spark that ignites passions and the self-belief and faith that weaves a fearlessness to be worn as armour around the heart for dreamers to come who will either whisper to themselves or scream at the top of their lungs: “Eímear Noone did it! So I can, too!” 


Perhaps the most brilliant of all the many brilliant things about Eímear Noone, however, is that she carries this destiny as if it were  but a feather upon her shoulder. 


Never, for a moment, believe that ridiculous myth so often rehashed that just because someone might possess a fantastic talent in some particular area, that it gives them free-license to be rude, or disrespectful, or ignorant, or arrogant in any other areas of their life. It does not. Anyone with some great talent but who is also all or any of those other things, is just an nasty human being with their talent being perhaps their one redeeming feature.


Eímear, however, from the village of Kilconnell in the land of the Tribes, perfectly balances the brilliance of her musical gifts with a generosity of spirit and a humanity so wonderful that it slays forever the myth referred to above. We’re all flawed in our own ways, but those who possess a capacity for genius that carries within it the force of a supernova, can also be human beings whose capacity to bring light, laughter, love, and kindness to others is potentially endless. And this we know in large part because Eímear Noone walks the earth, among us, and as one of us, while inspiring each of us to be more, be better, be authentic.  


Today, Part 2 of our chat begins by taking us back to 2011, when Eímear put together a St. Patrick’s Day concert in L.A. called This Is Ireland. Given the monumental amount of work that goes into putting on any ‘live’ event, I’m sure this is something she wouldn’t have done without a genuine love of her country. But Eímear has also spoken about how at the start of her career, she “couldn’t even get a chance to screw up in Ireland.” And remarkably – and somewhat disturbingly – how one lecturer in Trinity College even referred to her once as, ‘Little Miss No-One.’ If Eímear was beginning her career in Ireland today, I wondered if she thought the country had grown up enough to love her back in a far more positive way than back then? And also, did she think she would be afforded those chances – to even screw up – today? 


“Well, I’m excited to do some things at home soon. We just released a film called Two By Two: Overboard!, and we recorded the score here in Dublin, and it was just an absolute blast to do it here at home. There were players in the orchestra that I haven’t seen since music college, ya know. It was just way too much fun. It was a massive, massive dose of positivity, and I loved every second of it. And I do have some concerts coming up here that I’m excited about, but I can’t really speak about because they’re a moving target at this point [laughs]. But I see a lot of wonderful green-shoots [in Ireland]. I see a lot of old attitudes being dropped. They’re just not appropriate in 2020. And the other thing is, I’ve been very frank about these things because I feel like the younger ones coming up behind me, by me being vocal about it…it’s not a weirdness or a bitterness or anything like that. I look back on these things with a kind of curiosity at this point, because they almost feel like they’re something out of a movie. I’ve been vocal about how inappropriate those things are. When I told my brother about that lecturer saying, ‘Well if it isn’t Little Miss No-One’, my brother goes, ‘Well No-One’s perfect!’ [laughs]. And I was thinking well why weren’t you there?! [laughs]. So I can joke about it. Everything like that, I’ve always turned it into a joke or a gag, because it’s so ridiculous. I’d be initially stung by it, but then I’d go, well hang on a sec. This is just mental! So I’m vocal about it purley so that the ones coming up behind me, when they find slings and arrows coming their way, they know they can say that’s inappropriate. Or just that it’s irrelevant! I was told that I didn’t have a chance at a career because of my gender. And someone from The Irish Times asked me that recently, what would I say to a young woman who was told that today. And I said, actually, you can’t tell that to a young Irish woman today! Because there are already a few of us out there doing it. So it’s no longer relevant [to say something like that]. And that’s wonderful, where something like that is no longer relevant, or has no basis in fact. It never did have any basis in fact. Those are energy-drains to me, those kinds of things. They drain a creative person’s energy. And that’s not helpful to anybody. That’s not helpful to the audience. You want a young artist putting their energy into creating beautiful things for the audience. By draining their creative energy, that’s just a complete waste of energy on every level.” 


Eímear continued, “Now I have to say there are certain things that I love that are happening in Ireland right now. I absolutely love that the National Concert Hall has a female conductor’s program, which I’m very proud to be a part of. They have a wonderful colleague of mine, Alice Farnham, they brought her in to set up the program. I’m thrilled about that. And also, I have to say IMRO does amazing work, and Screen-Skills Ireland in terms of preparing people to work in films and video games. We have some amazing groups of people doing wonderfully positive work  here. And I’m getting to know more about that since we came home. We came home for a year so that I could do all my European tours, but also to work on that Irish animated film, Two By Two: Overboard! I became reacquainted with the industry here, especially in the world of animation in Ireland. It’s just stunning what people are coming out with, the level that they’re creating at. I feel like the attitudes in the music world are changing. I feel like we need a bigger platform to get the work of female Irish singer/songwriters out there onto the world stage. I feel like that’s an area that needs a big kick in the pants. Because you’re no longer competing in Ireland, you’re competing with the whole world. When I’m in L.A., I see my colleagues from Finland and Iceland and they have such a massive presence for their population size. But they definitely work together to build together a bridge from home to the world for their artists, in a very consolidated way, and a very targeted way. It’s absolutely amazing, the kind of penetration they have in both arts and entertainment. I feel like we have more of that in the film industry, than we do in the music industry at large. And that’s not the fault of the music industry, it’s that the music industry as a whole has been taking a massive hit since the early 2000s, so it’s a smaller industry in general for us to play in.” 

Eímear had mentioned in her answer to my previous question the people who would be coming up behind her, and that reminded me of something she had said about Oscars producers Stephaine Allain and Lynette Howell-Taylor. She said, “They’re amazing producers and when they’re having their moment in the sun, they’re reaching back to pull somebody else up – like me – and then I have my arm out for someone else, and that’s a chain of events that they’ve set in motion.” One of those for whom Eimear has reached out her arm, bringing her and her work to an even wider audience, is the incredible Irish designer, Claire Garvey. I asked Eímear to tell me about the connection she and Claire share…


“Claire and I met through a photographer friend called Frances Marshall, he specialises in photographing classical musicians. She just felt that we’d hit it off. At the time, I was sort of sick of the black jacket, I wanted to do something better. Especially for video game audiences, half the audience were showing up looking like they were going on stage! And here I was, I just didn’t feel like I was doing enough to meet the support that they were giving me. So I wanted to do something extra. And also I wanted to break out as an artist. I wanted to express who I am on the inside as well. So I met Claire, and we just hit it off instantly. She has a way of getting into my mind that is just a little bit scary [laughs]. So we’ve worked together many times over the last few years, so much so that when I got the call about the Oscars – after letting my mother know – the next person I called was Claire Garvey! I was like, ‘Claire, we’re going to the Oscars!’ [laughs]. I really felt a responsibility to her work that when I was there – because basically what Claire creates is a piece of art – and I really, really felt that I was the stick inside the piece of Claire Garvey art walking on the red-carpet [laughs]. And we had this weird moment, Claire and I. I was talking to a producer friend in L.A., and my friend said, you know what, it has to be gold, you have to wear gold. And I’d never done that before. I don’t think I’ve ever worn anything gold in real-life. But my friend said, ‘No, no, no, it has to be. It’s a symbolic moment…’, and all of this, and she convinced me. And this is the thing that Claire always does with me, she pulls me a little bit more out of my shell all the time. Classical musicians, sometimes it’s hard for us to do that because we feel so much in service to the music. So I called Claire, and I said, ‘Claire, you’re gonna think this is a mad idea, but my friend Juliette said it has to be gold.’ And Claire started laughing on the phone, and she said, ‘I can’t wait to tell my husband!’ She said, ‘I’ve started it on a mannequin in the living-room…and it’s gold!’ So she had already picked that up from the universe, which is typical Claire. I brought my aunt Marian with me for the first fitting, and my aunt just put her hand to her mouth and gasped when she saw it. Claire had outdone herself again. It was just the right person, ya know. Designers were offering me things from all over the world, but this was the right person for this moment. It wasn’t because she was Irish, it wasn’t because she was a female designer. It was because she was the right designer for this exact moment for me. When I tried on her work, I felt like I could embody that moment. I felt strength from it. I felt strong when I was wearing it. And the other thing is that we’re both influenced by Grace O’ Malley. So there was a little bit of that in there as well! [laughs]. Claire is amazing. There’s only one Claire Garvey!” 

For Warcraft, Eímear created a piece called Malach, dedicated to her son Aaron, whom she sadly lost in 2012, and she described it as being, “the epic adventure he might have had”, a most beautiful and tender way of explaining Malach and why it came to be. I wondered if her work often presented the kind of space or opportunity to put as much of herself into what she creates as Eímear did with Malach?


“Well, I think, like a lot of creative people, I work through things. Through psychologically and emotional hurdles. I work through it in music. Artists from every discipline do this. Sometimes for me, it’s the only way I can work through it. One of the things that came up recently is for the film that we just did, there’s an end title song. And writing in lockdown, and creating in lockdown, was like trying to create with weights on. It was just so hard. The negativity around this awful pandemic, to any sensitive person it was overwhelming. I found that the end-titles song, the lyrics, all of it – everything pertained to the film and the story of the film – but every single line was about the situation that we were in as well. I’ll give you an example. And I can tell you because the film is out in the UK and it’s out in Germany, we’re waiting for the cinemas to open here. We have the beautiful Sibéal Ní Chasaide singing, and Frank McNamara on piano, and we have a music video to go with it. But the chorus goes, ‘When all around us has come undone/ Our dreams on hold, and our songs unsung/ We can’t go back to what we knew/ But I stand for hope when I stand with you.’ That last line is absolutely 100% inspired by us standing on the doorstep and clapping for our frontline workers. And for us, that was extra hilarious because we were out in the middle of the countryside and the only people who could hear us clapping were the crows in the trees! [laughs]. But we did it anyway. And that’s where that line for the song came from. Even the music video for it, for the big choruses, we couldn’t get a choir together. So I said to Moe Honan, the producer – our fearless leader [laughs] – I said, ‘Listen, why don’t we have everyone who worked on the film be the choir?’ So our choir is all our animators and their families, and our director and our producers. All of us that worked on the film, we all recorded ourselves at home with our families, and our dogs, and our babies, singing the chorus of the song. Because it really is a gift from us to everybody. We all went through the wringer to get it done, because getting locked-down delayed the film by months, of course. Strangely enough, the writers captured the spirit of the zeitgeist, and there’s this unbelievable correlation between the theme of the film and what’s going on right now. It’s incredibly hopeful and uplifting. It’s kind of one of those things where this giant metaphor is unmissable in the film, but it came before the pandemic, and before all of this political turmoil and the stuff that’s going on. The political turmoil in the U.S. of course, I mean. Yeah, that’s my way of working through what’s going on. And I couldn’t believe it took me like two days to write every line of the lyric. It was just so hard to create in that time. But then, I had this song, and every time I played it on the piano, I felt like I was expressing what I was going through, what I couldn’t really find the words to describe or adequately convey what I was thinking. But I worked it out in the song. It’s called ‘Stand For Hope.’ And the theme from the chorus is throughout the movie. When we were writing the score, myself and Craig [Stuart Garfinkle], my husband, I wrote this theme we called ‘The Hope Theme.’ And we didn’t know there was going to be a song at the end, it just came out of the Hope Theme. It was a very organic process. And then we called our beautiful friend Sibéal, who we’ve worked with since she was fifteen. And of course I called Claire…that’s just a hint, that’s all I’m gonna say [laughs]. She gets dragged into everything around here. But you’ll see everything when it comes out.”

One of the things I noticed when preparing for my chat with Eímear was that she says so many things that are worth paying attention to, and giving serious thought to. Again speaking in relation to the Oscars, Eímear had said recently, “Little girls everywhere will see this and say, ‘I think I’ll do that.’ And that’s what we want.” So, I put it to Eímear that she’s obviously aware of how big a role-model she is, and that being so, I asked her how does she carry the weight of that responsibility? 


“I think if you’re in the public domain, if you’re out there in public doing what you do, you have to be aware of the repercussions of how you carry yourself. It’s not that I want to be a role-model, or that I’m looking to be a role-model, nothing like that. It’s just about [having] an awareness of how you carry yourself in the public domain. When I was growing up…and I love the expression -which isn’t mine – ‘if you can see it, you can be it.’, and that’s especially poignant for me, because when I was growing up I couldn’t see anyone who looked like me doing what I wanted to do in Ireland, in my home country. And what I didn’t know, was that she had existed! And it wasn’t even that she’d been written out of history, but she hadn’t even been acknowledged in Irish music history in the way that I think she should have been. A woman called Alicia Adélaide Needham. I posted something on Facebook when I was putting together a program of women composers, and one of my brothers teachers from Garbally College in Ballinalsoe, Johnny Johnston, said ‘Don’t forget about Alicia Adélaide Needham’, and much to my shock, I had never heard of her! I thought have I just been completely blinkered, what is this?! So I asked some other composers that I know, and none of them had heard of her either. She was the first woman to conduct at the Royal Albert Hall, and she’s from Dublin. She won a massive international composition competition, that was championed by King George. But if I want to study her work, I have to go to Oxford to get a hold of it. So, all the while that I was growing up, there she was! And when I was told that I didn’t have a chance of a career because I was young, Irish, and female, I could have said well if Alicia Adélaide Needham did it as a suffragette in the early 20th century, why on Earth wouldn’t I do it now? But I couldn’t say that, because I didn’t know she existed. And that really hits me in the heart. So being out there, and being visible, is important purely because I don’t want that to ever happen again to a young Irish girl who has this mad imagination, and this mad dream. Because if you can see it, you can be it. But also, if you’re very visible out there, it takes away the power of the naysayers as well.” 

~ The animated movie, TWO BY TWO: OVERBOARD!, from Moetion Films, and featuring Eímear’s song Stand For Hope, is out now. The official music video for Stand For Hope, performed by the magnificent SIBÉAL NÍ CHASAIDE, and showcasing yet another awe-inspiring creation from CLAIRE GARVEY, is also available to enjoy now on YouTube. 

ENDS

Linda Coogan Byrne

First Published July 2020

IRISH RADIO HAS FAILED IRISH FEMALE ARTISTS

Linda Coogan Byrne

Hasn’t it been brilliant seeing Irish artists such as Gavin James, Hozier, Picture This, Dermot Kennedy, and Niall Horan becoming the huge acts they have over the last few years? And make no mistake about it, for their talent, the work hours they put in, and the miles they clock up in making it happen, they deserve every accolade, plaudit, and hit that comes their way. No question about it. I’ll tell you what, though, HERE IS a question for you, and it’s one that LINDA COOGAN BYRNE has decided to ask out loud…what about Ireland’s female artists…where are they? Why aren’t they breaking through to the same degree? Why, actually, are they barely even being heard on Irish radio?

If music is just something that you tune in and out to during your day or every now and then, then perhaps you might be forgiven for falling for the rather lazy assumption that if Irish female artists were ‘good enough’, or ‘as good as’ their male peers, then they’d be getting the same amount of airplay. And in turn, there’d be as many – if not more – breaking through in the same spectacular fashion as the gents mentioned in my opening. But, if music is the world in which you live, and is what you live for, and is at the centre of how you live, then this question will have bothered you in the same way it’s bothered Linda for a long time. Too long now. Way too long to not finally look deeper.

When you know Ireland has fantastically talented female artists like Megan O’ Neill, like RuthAnne, like Emma Langford, like Luan Parle, like Una Healy, like Soulé, like Kehli, like Hannah Kathleen and so many more…but you hardly ever even hear them on Irish radio, then you know that something is definitely not right. And when Linda decided to look deeper, by compiling her recently released report on Gender Disparity on Irish radio, an ugly truth was revealed. And there’s no other way to say – nor should there be – than that Irish radio has failed Irish female artists. Over the course of a full year, from June 2019 to June of this year, only RTE Radio 1 achieved a 50-50 gender balance in terms of their Top 20 most played Irish artists over that time. Many stations had as little as 5% Irish female artists in their Top 20. And that is definitely NOT an accurate reflection of the number of amazing female artists we have on this island, nor of the music they’re creating.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Linda to talk about her report last week. As the founder of Good Seed PR, and someone who has experienced every area of the music business – from having played in bands herself, to working for and with major record labels – what, I wondered, was the tipping-point for her to actually chase down these figures, put things into black and white, and say to Irish radio…LOOK! Linda had mentioned in a recent interview elsewhere on this same topic that while compiling the data there were actually moments where she became really angry, and even cried. Were there, I wondered, similar moments along the way to finally making the decision to put this report together?

“Yeah, totally. I mean, first of all, during Covid I had time to actually finish the report, because I had started it last year. That’s why it’s from June of last year to now. I’ve worked in the industry for over fifteen years, professionally as an industry person, but I was in bands since I was seventeen years of age. So I’ve been in the industry for a long time, as both a musician and an artist as well. And just seeing the disparity and inequality that women constantly have to face…You know, the likes of walking into a recording studio, and there’ll be two lads beside ya. I’d walk in with a guitar and even whoever is producing, or is on the desk as an engineer, would be like, ‘Oh right, go on, let us see ya play, go on take it out there.’ And I’m like, would you say that to a dude? Would you say that to a guy? It’s about always having to constantly validate ourselves because we’re women! It’s ridiculous. Or wearing a tee-shirt, a Rolling Stones tee-shirt, or a Ramones tee-shirt, and someone’s goin’ around to ya goin’ can ya name a song? Ya know! [laughs]. And I’m sure any woman that hears me say this will be like, ‘Yeah, totally.’ It’s this gender bias that women have no idea about music and that it’s all about men. And unfortunately, it’s because the industry hasn’t supported us. It’s not because women aren’t making  music. It’s the fact that females creating music aren’t being given the same platform and opportunities as male acts to be broken. And it’s neglect. It’s inequality on a national level in Ireland. It has devastating effects on women who are creating music and on those who aspire to create it. Because the message that they’re sending, and have been sending for more than a decade, is that they [female artists] don’t matter. What they’re creating doesn’t matter, because they won’t be heard. You have the likes of the UK who have broken their own domestic acts, I mean, Jesus, just to name a few there’s Amy Winehouse, Mabel, Rita Ora, Jessie Ware, Paloma Faith, Dua Lipa…the list goes on! But in Ireland, in the last ten years, who can name a breakthrough Irish commercial act that has gone outside of Ireland? I mean, anyone can name Picture This, Gavin James, Dermot Kennedy. They roll off the tongue. And that’s just in the last few months. There’s no women. The Cranberries were 1989, The Corrs were 1990. B*Witched were probably the last pop commercial act from Ireland. That’s shocking to see that that’s the last era of Irish female acts that were adequately represented. Why did that stop? That’s the question we need to ask.” 

It’s a very broad question in so many ways, something I acknowledged to Linda as I put it to her, but in her own opinion and based on her own many years of experience in the music business and dealing with radio…why does she think this gender gap has come to exist across Irish radio? And to exist in so big a way at that…

“That’s a good question, and it’s one that keeps coming up. A lot of people go with the argument that commercial radio plays what’s commercial and what’s on Spotify, and what’s trending. And while that’s all well and good for the likes of Doja Cat who trends on Tik-Tok and then everyone starts playing her. The likes of Gavin James, the likes of Picture This…and I have to keep going back to the lads because this is about male and female in Irish radio, it’s Irish artists only…but they were being played on the radio before they broke. It wasn’t the fact that radio suddenly started playing them when they got this big record deal. They were supported, record labels saw the support they got, and then they took a chance on signing these artists. Women aren’t getting the same chances. So why are radio doing that? I don’t know. I have to question how play-lists are put together. Some say it’s an algorithm based system whereby they chose what’s on-trend, they look to Spotify and see who’s trending. But if you do that, then the likes of RuthAnne [Cunningham], who’s brought out the Women In Harmony single [a cover of Dreams by the Cranberries], but prior to her even doing that collaboration, she has over three billion – THREE BILLION – streams collectively on Spotify for artists that she’s written for. And herself, she has millions of streams on her own merit, on her own music that she’s released as an individual artist. So if it was a case where the argument is, ‘Oh radio are following trends’…, that’s not true. Because there are female artists that are mentioned in the report that have got more streams than some of the artists that have been broken in Irish radio that are male. So it’s really about why the system is in place in Irish radio where they can add a female to a play-list and add a male to a play-list, and yet the females are getting totally thrown aside and not being appointed the heavy rotation play-lists that men are. They [female artists] are being put on overnight play-lists that nobody listens to because it’s in the middle of the night! It really needs to be properly looked at and inspected. Because to be honest, it’s not only a blatant disregard of female creatives, it’s an infringement on basic human rights. If you’re given a broadcasting licence in Ireland, there are standards that come with that, stipulations where there has to be equality all around. It’s legislation. So if they’re neglecting that…! It’s a discriminatory practise if they’re directly impacting how an artist can make money and earn a living, and that’s what they’re doing. It’s 100% radio licences who are being given the privilege, via the government, and they’re taking that privilege and they’re rejecting female artists. And that is a big issue.” 

Something I’m sure Linda has probably thought about often is what would she do right now, if she was in a position of influence within a radio station, to go about redressing this horrific imbalance?

“I’d look for an opt-in solution. RTE Radio 1, our national station, they have gender balance. I rang Martina McGlynn and Aidan Butler, who are senior producers and who are on the play-list committee – because it’s a play-list committee that’s on Radio 1 – and I asked them why did they think they have come up trumps in this, because they have, they’re 50-50. And their answer was because it’s mindful. They go in every week, they sit down, they look at the submissions, and they say right, we have to make sure that there’s a non-gender bias here. Some weeks it might be six women over four men or whatever. But generally, from their annual perspective, they have got it right. She said you can’t always have every week five and five, or 50-50, but they mindfully are always aware to try and enact gender balance. She said it’s as simple as that. Women and men deserve equal opportunities. So what I say to radio, and what I have said to radio, because I’ve issued an email to every single radio station, to every single head-of-music in each station, and I’ve welcomed them to open up the conversation. I’ve said that myself and Áine [singer/songwriter Áine Tyrrell who co-compiled the report with Linda] are here to discuss it, to accept and acknowledge that they have let down the women of Ireland – because they have, this is a fact, it’s not an opinion – and how they can go about changing that and enforcing change. And how do they do that? They get together as a team, the programme directors, the marketing team…because everyone goes, oh it’s marketing because men are easier to market than women, which is absolute tripe! Some of the biggest artists in the world of music are female artists; Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Billie Elish…they’re all some of the biggest artists ever, in history! So this whole thing of people don’t like women being heard on the radio, or female voices, ya know, it just has to stop. Radio needs to sit down and look at the facts. And stop feeling so personally attacked that someone has stated the obvious. And this is what we’re seeing coming back. Even on these ridiculous Twitter attacks where DJs are feeling like they’re being targeted. We’re not targeting DJs. This is not a personal attack. This is not an opinion based report. It’s a factual data report, which outlines the gender disparity that’s in radio. It’s as simple as that. I have DJs that I’ve worked with for years going, ‘Oh Linda, I feel like you’ve fed me to the wolves.’ And I’m going to them, well if you feel that, how do you think female artists have been feeling for over a decade in Ireland?! So again, they have to put their ego aside, because this isn’t about them. It’s about gender equality. It’s about the likes of FM104 giving 100% male acts, 100%! Most stations are 95% [male] to 5% [female]. Like…5%? I mean, I can’t even…! When I was putting this report together, I had to keep checking, because I was thinking, am I seeing this right? Is this actually true?! [laughs]. But these figures can’t be pushed away. It can’t be the case where it’s like, oh it’s just another woman voicing her opinion. It’s not an opinion. It’s a fact. And we’re not going to be hushed away this time. I’ve noticed that other types of reports, and research pieces have been done – especially through colleges, and women studying women, womens’ equality and all that – and it’s fallen on deaf ears. For whatever reason, I don’t know. But this time it’s not falling on deaf ears. The article itself has reached just over sixteen million views worldwide, it’s been shared by every national publication in Ireland. There’s going to be more international publications published over the next few weeks because I’ve literally been doing back-to-back interviews since the 24th of June. We have solidarity in the UK, we have solidarity coming in from the US. There’s other people getting in touch going, oh my God, this is a human rights issue. So radio stations cannot ignore this anymore. They’ve turned their back on a generation of Irish women that have been told their music is not good enough, and that their voice is not important, and is not up to the standard of their male counterparts. And that is not true.” 

We talk a lot about the importance of mental health these days, which, of course, is just as it should be. But in terms of the impact that this treatment has surely had on Irish female artists over the years, and the loss to Irish musical culture (through the loss of the music itself, but also through the denial of opportunities for those artists to grow), what kind of damage does Linda think may have been done?

“Irreparable damage. Irreparable on the psyche, on the levels of confidence a woman can have within herself and in her own voice, in who she is as a person with a view, a perspective, a story to tell. We’re all weaving stories in terms of our own narratives in life, as songwriters, as composers. I’ll go back to Ruth Anne. Ruth Anne has written for John Legend, for Niall Horan, for Brittany Spears, Bebe Rexa, JoJo…the list goes on. She is a brilliant storyteller. She has reached billions of people through her songwriting with men singing her songs, and other women singing her songs at an international level. But when it comes to her own country, telling her stories…And by the way, Irish radio has no problem playing Niall Horan. And RuthAnne has written songs for One Direction as well. I have so much respect for the women of Ireland, honest to God, because I can’t imagine the mental weight that they’ve had to carry for a generation of songwriters, and music creators, and musicians, and session musicians, and women in bands and fronting bands. Because they’re looking at their male peers thrive, being told yes, yes, you’re great, this is brilliant. And they’re being told to look sexy. Lose a bit of weight. Maybe if you get more followers…Men aren’t being told any of that! Lewis Capaldi is one of the biggest male artists in the world! And I love Lewis, but nobody ever told him to look sexy, ya know? Dermot Kennedy was never told to look sexy. There’s a lot of sexism as well involved. And we have to look at it from a broader perspective as well, because most of the heads of music in radio stations are men. OK, this is a fact. So men have to address the issue of gender imbalance and gender inequality. For whatever reason it is, and I don’t know why they’re choosing not to play women, but it has to be addressed, and it has to be addressed now. Because we’re not going away. We’re going to keep speaking. And we’re not shouting. This isn’t women shouting. It’s not opinions. We’re voicing facts at this stage.” 

If it seems to be mostly men who also compile play-lists, does the fact in itself point towards a large part of this problem? Or does it point towards an even deeper problem still in Irish radio?

“I mean…you said it, not me! [laughs]. At the moment, I’m being harassed, there’s Facebook groups after being created, hate groups, ‘ya sexist feminist’, all of this absolute tripe. On the Nialler9 Facebook group, one of the women put up the report, and the horrific comments that started coming in. Horrific. And I’ve said to the ladies, because we’re all in this together, do not go onto that page. You’re all better than that and you do not deserve to be reading the comments that men are putting on the page. And I just want to address another thing. I don’t know why Nialler is allowing that type of commentary to happen on a page that should be a safe space. I think that needs to be moderated in a better capacity than just letting people have free reign to tear women down. I love Dermot Kennedy’s music. Hozier is an incredible activist, let alone a musician. He’s a brilliant man. I travelled to Amsterdam last year to see Dermot Kennedy because I couldn’t get a ticket to go to his show here. And I want to be able to travel to another country because I can’t get a ticket to see an Irish woman playing here as well. All of those men deserve to be where they are. But there should be some balance. RuthAnne deserves to be where Hozier is. Soule deserves it. All of these other amazing female artists, Kehli, Hannah Kathleen, there’s loads of these artists emerging who are creating brilliant pop music. It’s really well produced and the quality standard is there. I just don’t know why the predominantly male play-listers aren’t deciding to play them. I think they need to take a long, hard look at themselves to see what they’re doing to the creative women of Ireland and why they’re doing it. They need to have a good answer for that, because the facts are there. The data is there. And they should respectfully respond.”

I wondered if perhaps play-lists themselves – the fact that they exist, why they exist, what their presence in the industry in turn allows to exist – are a part of the problem? Are they a part of what has damaged the way some people value music, and therefore, its creators?

“That’s a very good question. That goes to a deeper level of opinion, and again, I don’t want to go too far away from this report on this occasion. Because it’s a factual report, it’s a data report. So I’m just mindful that we don’t go off the terrain of factual data versus opinion too much. This report isn’t based on one argument over another, it’s just about the findings and how we can get people to react. I can’t answer the question of play-lists. Only people within broadcasting can. The likes of the B.A.I. [Broadcasting Authority of Ireland], it’s even on their site that they will endeavour to ensure that viewers and listeners in Ireland will have access to a diverse range of services, programming, and perspectives that meets their needs and reflects their diversity. And that it will actively encourage and support Irish broadcasters in realising this objective. So it is within the objective of radio play-lists all across the world to reach an equal level of diversity. And it’s not happening in Ireland. So in terms of looking deeper into the play-lists, I don’t even think it’s play-lists that are the issue. It’s the people behind the play-lists. That’s where the issue lies. Irish artists are being broken, but it’s male Irish artists. Certain stations will have a remit, which is basically the genre relating to a station and the commercial viability of that and how it will pan out. So there’s pop music, there’s rock music, Radio Nova, for example, is predominantly guitar led rock music, it’s a specialist station, that’s what it is when you go there. 98FM is a commercial station, you’ll mostly hear pop music and R’n’B, commercial mainstream. FM104, the same. Spin, the same. RTE Radio 1 is adult contemporary, folk music crossing over mainstream acoustic. You’re not going to hear a mad, up-tempo pop song on Radio 1 because it’s not their remit. So there are remits to different radio stations, and that’s standard within the whole entire industry. I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue is the people that the artists that are played across every genre, are predominantly male. So for every Hudson Taylor, there’s an Emma Langford. There are all these counterparts on the female side who are just as good as their male equivalent. So why is it a case that it’s predominantly male?” 

So with regard to the report, what does Linda want to see happen next, as in right now?

“I want to see radio stations respond. I’m issuing a report tomorrow about the response from Irish male artists, and their initial reaction. And they had no idea it was this bad. In an ideal world, I want radio stations to firstly get back to me, because only five have got back to me so far. The rest are ignoring me. So I want them to actually respond. I want them to engage and open a conversation. I want them to not look at this as a direct attack, it isn’t. It’s a question. Women are entitled to ask a question without being seen as being shrill, without being seen as being argumentative, without being seen as,’oh she’s on one!’ Ya know. This thing that I’m getting on Twitter, and there’s some female DJs that are on the defensive as well, going oh why are you attacking me? But I’m not. I just asked a question. You can see that they are intimidated by the companies that they work for, because they’re on eggshells at the moment in the radio industry. And I have to say, one major station got back to me and said that they’re gonna work on it, and that’s 2FM. And it’s amazing that they have because they are one of the trending stations when it comes to breaking Irish music. They have amazing champions of Irish music like Tara Stewart, Tracy Clifford, Eoghan McDerrmott. They got back to me like a flash and said, ‘we’re definitely going to look into this, thank you for highlighting it. We’ll try to do better.’ That’s what I want the other station to do. I want them to follow Radio 1’s influence, that they mindfully go into a play-list meeting. This isn’t a hard thing we’re asking them to do. Let’s split this down the line. We’ll appoint play-lists to women, and we’ll appoint play-lists to men. That’s what I want to see happen. It shouldn’t take six months to happen. They can do this in the next few weeks.” 

Looking at the music business and the impact of Covid 19, I asked Linda how she sees the industry returning from the trauma of the last few months? How far away are we from the old ‘normal’, or, what does she believe a new ‘normal’ for the industry will look like?

“I think the way people perform is gonna change. I think with the likes of ‘net gigs, different online platforms that will show artists playing from their home or from a home studio direct to their fans, I think that’s gonna be huge. I think people need to stop putting up their performances for free. I love the likes of IG TV which is great, it’s raw, and putting a song or two out there, that’s fine, no problem. But for actual gigs, people need to realise that the likes of this pandemic can happen again. There could be a second wave of this one as well. If you keep up with the actual science side of it – not just the news – they are saying that it might get worse. So we mightn’t even be at the worst stage of Covid yet. We have to embrace change. And we have to embrace the digital era of music, and the digital era is having the likes of these huge online platforms that are now catering for artists to perform and to stream ‘live’ gigs. And to pay for it. To be honest, a fiver to see your favourite artist versus eighty-eight euro to see them in the 3Arena, I know it’s not the same buzz or whatever, but if there’s an alternative there to engage with someone you love listening to, why not engage? People need to stop putting up free gigs because it’s reducing the value of their own creative work, their portfolio. They need to think right, this could be a long-term thing, so they have to still be able to monetise what they’re creating because it’s a profession that they’re in, it’s a business that they’re in. I feel that as the music industry expands, it’s going to become more digitised and we’ll see a lot of new, different platforms emerging.” 

 
 

~ You can view Linda’s full report into Gender Disparity on Irish radio by visiting her website, www.lindacooganbyrne.com. You can also follow Linda on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

 
 

ENDS

Kathryn Thomas

First Published February 2015

KATHRYN THOMAS TRANSFORMING TULLAMORE

Kathryn Thomas

During the course of her career so far Kathryn Thomas has established herself as one of the most high-profile and well known presenters in the country. She’s someone many of us will remember from her earliest days on ‘Rapid’, with then Dublin football star Jason ‘Jayo’ Sherlock. From there, we clocked up God knows how many miles around the world with her, taking in all kinds of weird, wonderful, mad and exotic locations during her tenure as presenter of travel show, ‘No Frontiers.’ These days, of course, Kathryn graces our screens as host of the hugely successful, and influential, lifestyle show ‘Operation Transformation.’ Kathryn was in Tullamore last Saturday to open Clinical Fitness Tullamore (Thomas McLoughlin) in the Tanyard, and I had the pleasure of spending some time in her company. And on Valentine’s Day, too!

I began by asking Kathryn what she reckoned were the advantages of coming somewhere like Thomas’ superb new facility, Clinical Fitness Tullamore, for someone thinking of either starting a fitness plan or joining a gym for the first time?

“Well I think everybody needs support and everybody needs a bit of a kick-start when they’re looking to try something like that. Because if you haven’t been following a fitness plan I think it’s really difficult to do it on your own. So to be able to come somewhere like this, and have the likes of Thomas, who’s professionally trained, walk you through all the equipment and all the stations, well that’s exactly what you need. And also, I think once you make a decision to join, the first thing is you’ve parted with your money so that in itself is motivation to go! But as well, if you’ve made an appointment on a one-to-one basis, that’s an incentive too because you’re not going to let anyone down. I always say that the most difficult thing for people is actually walking through the door of somewhere like this and getting over that first fear. But I think Thomas is great and for people to have his level of support behind them will be brilliant, I mean, his knowledge of fitness is huge. And he has a huge passion for it as well, and I think for anyone starting up a business like this, passion is everything. You put your heart and soul into it, because it’s a big step to open in times like these. So what you have to be is passionate, and you have to believe in yourself, and that’s exactly what he does. It’s a fantastic facility here and I know he’s going to do really well.” 

In both her role as presenter of ‘Operation Transformation’ and in her own personal life, I was sure that Kathryn had probably seen more gyms than some people in need of gyms have probably had hot dinners! So what would Kathryn say makes Clinical Fitness Tullamore that bit different to what else is out there?

“Well basically it’s all body-weight focused here. If you go into other gyms, most gyms, you’ll see thread-mills, you’ll see spinning bikes, you’ll see all this sort of stuff. But what Thomas is doing is focusing on strength and conditioning using your own body weight. And what I like about that is that everyone, whether you’re 10 stone or 20 stone, can use this facility and it’s going to suit YOU. And you’ll see your strength increase as you go, and you’ll be able to gauge it. If you were able to do 3 rungs of the monkey bars starting off and then collapsing, well over the weeks if you can get to 5 and then 10, well you can see and feel the progress that you’re making.” 

Again, taking into account Kathryn’s position as presenter of ‘Operation Transformation’ and her own passion for fitness, I wondered what she saw as being the biggest threats to Irish health at the moment?

“Well it all comes down to our diet, Anthony. I mean for the World Health Organisation to turn around and say to us that with the way we’re going, in 5 years time we’ll be the fattest country in Europe, I mean that’s just shocking! In the past we’d always talk about America and the obesity crisis there, but we’re in the throes of an obesity crisis here, now. So I think it comes down to education and to teaching our kids early. ‘Operation Transformation’ has been campaigning for 4 years to get calories put on menus and finally it was enacted and announced that it was going to be law by Minister Varadker last week. And that was a lot of the pressure that was put on by the show. Not solely, of course, but what we did definitely contributed in a big way, I think. We got literally hundreds of thousands of people to sign up their support for something like that. And it’s about getting kids moving as well, you know, encouraging compulsory P.E. in schools. And again, through ‘Operation Transformation’, we’ve been showing that kids simply aren’t getting enough exercise. Even 30 minutes a day would make a massive difference to kids. So we need to start early, we need to get real about it, and people need to realise that it is a problem that we do need to tackle.” 

So where does Kathryn think the line is between governmental responsibility and parental or personal responsibility in this regard?

“I think it’s both. And I think if it’s enacted into law, as it was last week, then the government are taking it seriously. So what that means in turn is that parents are more encouraged to look at their kids and take a harder line with their diet and with exercise, you know. Because this is about the health of the next generation, and for the first time what we’re looking at now is seeing diseases like cancer, and heart diseases, in teenagers. All related to obesity, which has never happened before in the history of the modern world! And again, this is something I didn’t know, but it’s only through my involvement in the show, reading the stats, listening to people like Professor Donal O’Shea, well it leaves you going, my god, we have a major problem here!” 

Having already mentioned Minister Varadker, I wondered if he were to step down tomorrow and the call came through for Kathryn to fill the breach, would she have maybe 3 things in mind that she would try and implement straight away, given all that she’s learned and been exposed to from her time on ‘Operation Transformation’?

“Certainly. I’d be making P.E. compulsory for every child of school going age. I personally would introduce a health initiative whereby kids would be weighed yearly. It might sound severe, bu I think it would be a good way to help kids keep their weigh in check, and for adults to help them that way, too. Because I think what we’re seeing now is people who are overweight, and we’re saying, ‘Ah sure they’re grand’, you know? But in fact, they are overweight, or even obese. I mean, we’ve taken 4 years just to get calories on menus. I’m going out with a restaurateur and I know some people in the business don’t agree with that, but what it’s actually doing is facilitating people to make healthy choices, so I would definitely be a supporter of that. And I think it will make a difference. But people have to be realistic as well. If you’re going out for dinner and you’re looking at a meal and it’s 800 calories, you’re still going to enjoy it, you’ll just know you’ll have to work harder in the gym or on the road the next day! Or else, eat a little bit less the next day. It’s just about education.” 

So as regards staying fit and healthy herself, what are Kathryn’s main motivators? What keeps her going?

“Well Anthony, I love my food! My biggest downfall is cheese and red wine! Not the healthiest of choices! And I love going out for dinner, hanging out with my friends. I have pizza on a Sunday, I have take-aways, I do all of that. So because of that, I’m actually prone to putting on weight. So I have to work really hard to maintain what I am. I work out twice a week with a personal trainer, and I have 2 dogs as well, who need to be walked every day, twice a day. So all of that kind of keeps me fit. I’d be quite healthy during the week, in terms of I’d eat a lot of fruit and veg. But at the weekend the pause button is pressed and all of that goes out the window! But I try and get back into on Monday.” 

And would Kathryn be the kind for setting yearly goals for fitness? Or because her job can kind of take her anywhere at any time, is it more consistency that she aims for?

“Yeah, that’s pretty much the way it is and the way I am, in that I try to stay consistent. I don’t really have a routine job that has you somewhere from 9 to 5 and all that. I can kind of be all over the place. So yeah, I would say that it;s consistency that I strive to achieve.”

Kathryn has already been to the fore in 2 hugely successful shows which have revolved around subjects about which she’s passionate; travel with ‘No Frontiers’, and health and fitness with ‘Operation Transformation’. I wondered if Kathryn’s role in either of those shows came about because of her passion for those subjects, or if it was the other way round, that those subjects became passions because of her involvement in the shows?

“Hmm, good question! Well, I was very lucky to get into travel. I used to work on a sports programme years ago , ‘Rapid’, with Jason Sherlock, I think I was only 19 or 20. So what happened there was that Jayo, who was the big sports star at the time, his role on the show was all the serious sporting interviews, and my role became sort of action/adventure girl! I did bungee-jumping, sky-diving, shark-diving…..anything that he was too scared to do, I’d end up getting to do it! And we did a lot of travel at that time, I mean that was even my first time ever in America with the show. So on the back of that show was where ‘No Frontiers’ came knocking, asking would I like to put a back-pack on and go travelling around the world for a year? And I thought to myself, well this sounds like an easy decision to make! So that was it. And obviously my love of travel grew because I worked for 10 years on the show after that. And I’d always try to maintain my fitness on the road too, you know. I always had an interest in fitness. The travel developed because of the show, but with ‘Operation Transformation’, I’d say it was the perfect show for me because I’d already developed a huge interest in health and fitness. And the producers of that show, they knew I was already genuinely interested in that. And of course, that I’d struggled with my own weight before, when I was in school I was overweight and I’d spoken openly about it. So I think they thought that I’d be a good fit for the show.” 

So, with 2 great passions of Kathryn’s life already in the can as far as tv shows go, I wondered if there’s a 3rd great passion that we might expect to see Kathryn grace our screens with sometime in the future?

“Oooh, well! Well I’m innately nosey! And I think through the little bit of radio I’ve been doing over the last few years, I’ve realised I’m actually a better listener that I thought! I always thought I was the ‘mouthpiece’, because that’s my profession, talking for a living. But actually I love the radio and I love listening to peoples’ stories, hearing all sorts of stuff about their lives. So, even though it sounds like a cliche, Anthony, I would love to do a talk-show or a chat-show a little further down the line. I don’t think that I’m ready for that couch just yet, but I’d like to think that it’s a plan for the future.” 

ENDS

Lauren Pidgeon

First Published December 2019

“SPEAK YOUR OWN TRUTH”

Lauren Pidgeon (2)

I love the word tribe. And I love it all the more the older I get. Because I understand it all the more. The people who make up your tribe are a lot of different things. They’re the ones who have your back. Not just when it suits them to, either. But always. When you need them, they’re there. They’re the ones who support you wholeheartedly when you chase your dreams. The ones who cheer you on loudest when success comes your way. And the ones who are first at your side when life hurts most. Moving in close to you quietly but swiftly, no fan-fair, but just being there.

If life is a boxing match, then your tribe are those in your corner, taking care of you between rounds. Patching up that cut over your eye. Telling you what you can’t see for yourself when the blows are landing fast. Advising you on what’s the best course of action to take next. Whispering whatever they know you need to hear so that you get back on your feet again, and make it through one more round. Then one more after that.

Your tribe are the people you look up to as well. The ones who inspire you with how they face their battles. And how they chase their dreams. And battle their demons. And how they treat others. And how they do it all with honesty, integrity, class, compassion, character. Your tribe doesn’t necessarily have to be your family, or even your closest friends, although they can be, of course. Sometimes the people in your tribe find their way to you in the strangest of ways. But that ‘how’ doesn’t matter. It’s just the finding their way there that counts.

Lauren Pidgeon is many things. A mother, a daughter, a sister, an actor, an entrepreneur. And somehow, Lauren has found her way into my tribe. What I admire about Lauren is that she always speaks her own truth. And that’s a kind of courage that we need more of. Lauren is the founder of the Little Theatre School of Drama, so when we sat down for this chat, that’s where we began…

“Well, years and years ago, before I even set up the Little Theatre School of Drama, I always had a dream to set up a drama school. But I never, ever thought that dream would become reality. I don’t know why. I suppose like a lot of our dreams, we let them just sit there, take a back-seat, and we don’t take action [on them]. I think a lot of us are like that. I was encouraged to go to drama school by my mum and dad. In 2011, the recession was in full-swing, and I suppose nobody really knew what to do. Everybody was going for safe choices. And a lot of people, even though they had dreams of going into music or drama, they said, ‘Well I’m gonna get the back-up degree first.’ That was a saying – the ‘back-up’ degree, ya know. But my dad would be of the opinion to do whatever makes you happy and everything will work out from there. Now I was scared, but I was really happy that they – my mum and dad – encouraged me to do that. There’s many parents that don’t at all. In my third year of my degree, I got pregnant. And it turns out that was one of the best things in my life, because it made me far more ambitious. I did my fourth year, and after that, applied for an internship in Midlands 103, where I did loads of different things and I really enjoyed my time there. I did current affairs which just wasn’t my thing at all, so I was moved into the arts show and the breakfast show, which were far more fun, and more engaging, and far more artsy. So there was more for me to enjoy. And it just so happened that I was put in an office space beside a lady from Portarlington, who told me that there was no drama school in Portarlington. And that was literally it. She told me that, and from there I just went for it. I was about twenty-two, going on twenty-three.” 

Lauren said she had the idea about starting a drama school for a long time, but when was the moment when she actually realised that was what she wanted to do?

“It was when I had Noelie [Lauren’s son], and this little child brought so much joy and so much laughter, and so much love into my life. I realised very quickly the joy that children bring. Then in college, facilitating workshops with children was a module I did in fourth year, and I really enjoyed it. So from there I realised that I was really good with children, and that I could really do this. This is my thing. That was it. It was Noelie that brought so many fresh concepts and ideas into my life. I have so much to thank Noelie for. I was twenty-one when I had Noelie, and I know for so many people, that’s a frightening concept. And rightly so, I’m not encouraging anyone to have a child at twenty-one [laughs]. For me, Noelie is the driving force behind so many things that I do in my life.” 

From realising that was what she wanted to do, to going ahead and doing it, how did all of that happen. Because there’s a big difference between the two. A lot of people have ideas, but not everyone follows through on them…

“I started by applying for a job as a drama teacher at a school, and it went from there really. I found a lot of the things about running your own business to be the most stressful part. Because while I have the creative ability to organise classes, and a programme, and a syllabus, when it came to the business side of things, organising accounts, tax-returns, that’s just not my forte! But my dad is a wonderful, wonderful man, and I just can’t thank him enough. He supported me so much, and he’s got a real head for maths. He’s an engineer by trade, but I got none of his brains when it comes to those sorts of things [laughs]. He came to the accountant with me, to the insurance broker with me, he did all of that with me. It was very stressful, but I was so happy he was by my side for all of that. He’s kind of let me off now on my own, which is kinda scary! [laughs]. Ah no, this is the fourth year now, so you get used to it.” 

As well as being a teacher, Lauren also acts herself…

“Yeah, but I think acting has taken a back-seat a little bit because of the drama school. That’s full-time, it’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Then I have Noelie. But it’s still in me [to act], and I do enjoy it when I can. I’m the vice-chairperson with TADS and I do voice-overs at Midlands 103. Yeah, it’s in me. I had so many plans this year, but I’ve had to put them  back a bit because I said to myself I actually can’t do everything. I wish I could! [laughs]. I think life is too short sometimes for the amount of things I’d like to do. And the day is too short for the amount of things I’d love to do. Honestly. And it’s a good complaint to have. But I have to be…not selfish, but practical. And I have to put Noelie first, because he is only five and I’ll never get this time back again.” 

But mostly, though, Lauren is a creative person. At the same time, however, she is also a businesswoman, an entrepreneur. Does she think of herself more-so in that way now, four years in?

“Yeah, I definitely do. I can’t imagine working for anybody. Maybe in the future, because you never know what that holds. I definitely feel like an entrepreneur because everything you do, you do yourself! From advertising, to planning classes, to running down to the accountant, to keeping all your records together. There’s so much to it. Even the way you dress. Everything about you, is your business. You ARE the face of your business. So you have to be self-motivated to get up every morning and know what’s coming and what has to be done. All my work is evening work. I wish it was daytime, but it’s not. So that leaves a lot of the day to think about it. But you can’t really do anything, you’re stuck there waiting for the evening to come. But look, it’s really enjoyable.” 

What’s the biggest challenge for Lauren as an entrepreneur?

“Organisation. I’ve had to become very organised. My dad gave me one or two warnings in the very beginning! [laughs]. But I think that’s just the creative side of my personality! Organised chaos is what I call it [laughs]. For me, it’s that anyway. that might sound crazy to some people. Everything is organisation. From keeping money safe, to looking after your roll-book.” 

Something that Lauren is really passionate about is the position – or non position – of drama in Irish schools…

“I think there’s such a rich heritage in Ireland when it comes ti the dramatic arts, and I think it’s a shame that drama is excluded in the Leaving Cert syllabus. It’s purposely excluded. There’s subjects like music, and art, and graphic design…all creative subjects, so why is drama excluded? Drama is so good for children. And even Irish. I’d put drama on the same level as Irish. But we still have Irish. And a lot of people would argue that there shouldn’t be Irish. But why shouldn’t there be drama? There are so many people in this country capable of teaching drama. It would open up so many opportunities for people, and so many more for students. Even across the pond, if you go to England and you look at some of the people there, I feel like confidence just oozes from them. They’re a lot more confident, a lot more outgoing than Irish people, and I definitely feel like it’s because drama is in the secondary school curriculum. And I think it would be so, so good for children to have that opportunity. But they don’t. The only ones who do are the children whose parents will pay for them to go. And even at that, it’s very difficult to step outside your comfort zone to something that you’ve never had any experience of, have never dabbled in, to go and do that as an extra-curricular activity. Most teens will only go if there friends are in it, and the period of time they’re involved is short because they’re becoming so insecure very quickly. I only had a talk with them very recently in my class about this. We speak about a lot of things that are current and that they can relate to. We’re preparing for a radio-play in Midlands 103, and I’m writing four scripts. One of them is body-image and social media. I sat down with them, almost all between the ages of twelve and sixteen, and they told me about all their pressures. And they’re absolutely unbelievable. Unbelievable. Like, we had nothing like this [to deal with]. It [social media] was only starting when we were teenagers. We had BEBO! [laughs]. And even at that, we went to the Harriers with dresses down to our knees, and cardigans, and no make-up on, and no alcohol! Honestly, that was my group of friends. I’m sure there were other groups of friends that had alcohol or whatever. But mostly, we were so innocent towards now. The pressure is massive. And that’s why they’re not coming to drama. It’s all part and parcel of it as well. There’s an awful lot of pressure in schools in Ireland. There’s a very bad work/life balance here. There’s so  much attention on work. People live to work here. But where’s the life in that? When you go to other countrieand see people running down to the beach after work in beautiful weather – and maybe it’s something to do with the weather as well – and their coffee shops are open all night long…but here, there’s the pub. It’s a very bad work/life balance, and I think that seeps into the education system as well. Everybody is so focused on work, and what they’re going to do after school, and continuous assessment is a massive thing now as well. They just have so much pressure, they really do, God bless them.” 

The fact that drama doesn’t have a place, never mind a place of prominence in the Irish education system, did that make Lauren’s decision to found the Little Theatre School of Drama feel like more of a risk?

“It did, and it didn’t. It’s a risk because a lot of people don’t value the arts. And a lot of people don’t value drama for their children. I had somebody last week who asked me what my job was WHILE I was taking her child in to teach her drama. I said THIS is my job. And she replied, ‘Yeah, but what’s your day job?’ Ya know?! Then another parent piped in, someone who’s known me for years, and said, ‘Well she has a little boy as well’, kind of making an excuse for me. Which I’m sure she probably didn’t mean. And the other woman was like, ‘Oh well that’s a full-time job in itself!’ I was just thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe this was actually a conversation. THAT side of things, yes, a risk. But the other side is that I knew there was a place for it in Portarlington. And by the way, those conversations have happened more than once! When they do, I just say yes, this is my full-time job. There’s no point in getting into it beyond that.” 

But where did Lauren’s own love of drama come from?

“It’s literally innate, I think. I started with Mary Dolan in Tullamore, then I moved onto Regina McCarthy, then Backstage Theatre in town. From drama school to drama school. I’ve just always loved it. And my mum, as cliched as it is, has said I’ve always been dramatic. I could sing before I could talk. And I would, there’s so many videos of me making my own songs up, and directing my sisters in plays. And I’d write little plays for them when they were very small. It’s just something that’s always been there. And I don’t think I realise how ‘into’ it I am, until I’m sitting in the car with my boyfriend playing songs from musicals and I know EVERY single word! [laughs]. While he’s sitting there going, Oh my God! [laughs]. And I’ll be spouting off poems and rhymes! And he’s into it himself too, but I’m REALLY into it! [laughs]. But there’s a side to it too where it’s very stressful. I find with myself I put a lot of stress on myself because it’s very important to me. But I have great friends that will calm me down, and great family that will sit me down, too. I tend to catastrophise everything in my head, and worry. I’m terrible for worrying. I do a lot of mediation, and mindfulness to calm my own mind. And I’ve brought a lot of that into my classes. I’m starting a class soon in Creative Mindfulness for Children in Athlone, so I’m going to incorporate a lot more mindfulness into my classes.”

Lauren mentioned that she was working on FOUR different scripts at the one time, which must surely take up a lot of creative energy…?

“To be honest with you, the most important thing for me was to first sit down with the children and get their opinions on things, and then just write, write, write, all of their opinions, and their thoughts, and their experiences, and then just go from there. Then I’ll read through what comes out of that with one of my family, maybe with a friend, take advice from them, and that’s how it all comes together. I just really, really enjoy it. For some people I know that’s a nightmare, and they couldn’t do it. I know because I live with a person like that, my dad [laughs]. Like I say, maths is his thing, so he just winces at scripts and is like, ‘How does she do this?!’ [laughs]. It’s not like a job to me, it’s really enjoyable, I just love it. The only thing I have to do is try and find the time.” 

Often times a lot of people who are artists, or musicians, or actors and in the public eye, can seem quite extroverted in those roles. But in private, the opposite is very often the case. Is that something Lauren has experienced?

“I know a lot of people in the creative field, dance teachers, acting teachers, singing teachers….and they’re some of the deepest people I’ve ever met. But they suffer from anxiety…For some reason, they’re people who have gone through an awful lot as well. And I’ve had some of the best conversations with these people. So yeah, I think to do what we do, there needs to be a certain depth to you, an emotional side to you. And a lot of these people suffer from anxiety, it’s a known fact. Look at Robin Williams, one of the best examples. I’ve said this to my friends as well, with me, everything is so well put together on the outside – and it is, the drama school is something I work so, so hard at – but nobody sees the other side of things. The bad days. Where I’m worrying. Or I’m crumbling. But it doesn’t matter what kind of day I’m having, I walk into the drama school and I leave so, so happy. Children bring so much happiness to me. Isn’t there a saying about, to lie with the beasts and the babes? Children and animals, because they’re always living in the present moment. That’s children. They have no real concerns about what’s going on in the world, and rightly so. And they can bring you into that energy, and it’s so good. The other day, I was having such a dull day. It was the 2nd of October or whatever it was, it was cloudy and dull, I was on the way to a little village…the buzz of that, like! [laughs]. But when I got there, there was a little boy waiting for me with flowers in his hand that he picked in his garden, and he said ‘I got you these teacher’, and it was just lovely.” 

What has been Lauren’s proudest moment as a businesswoman and entrepreneur so far?

“I don’t think there’s any one thing that stands out, to be honest. Everything together, that’s what I’m proud of. All the children who have grown before my eyes. I’ve had some children for the last four years, and I’ve seen the difference in them, and their parents have seen the difference. So I suppose that feedback, that sincere feedback that I get, is something that I’m really, really proud of. ” 

Has there been a moment that stands out for Lauren as a teacher?

“There are many, many moments that stand out for me. And kind of not drama related, either. I’ve had children come to me to speak to me about things that have been troubling them, because they feel that they can. And I feel like I’ve helped them emotionally, they’ve told me. And I’ve had parents come to me and told me about moments where their children have grown so much in confidence. I don’t want to put it all down to me, because it’s not just me. It’s drama, it’s the process. But I guess I can facilitate it. That’s what I’m proud of, that I can do that for children. It’s small things. Like I’ll have days that are show-and-tell days, or bring your own blanket and pillow and we’ll have sleepovers, and their creative mindfulness classes. And they really enjoy this sort of thing because they’re children. So what I do, is I try and think with the mind of a child. So what did I like? What did I enjoy? And I’ll do all of those things, and that’s what they love. It’s through those little activities that they come out of themselves, and they don’t even realise it. There’ll be days where we’ll make a mask or make an instrument – we’ll do some art every now or then, but it’s always drama related – and they’ll stand up and present it to the class. And they’re very proud of their piece and the story behind it, but without even realising it, they’re public speaking, in front of twenty or thirty children. That’s what’s really powerful. And little by little by little, they’re growing.”

From all of Lauren’s experience as a businesswoman, from being a mum to Noelie, and just from life in general so far, if she was to pick one piece of advice that has really helped her along the way, or that she has learned herself…what would it be?

“I would say to speak your own truth. Speak your own truth, and be true to yourself. Because not everyone is going to like you. So at the end of the day, as long as you’re kind, and you’re good, and you’re true to yourself it doesn’t matter that certain people don’t like you. Because it doesn’t matter what certain people think. To care too much about what other people think is so damaging to your soul and to you as a human being, because life is so, so, so short. And you’re a prisoner of other people if you care too much about what they think. So don’t be a prisoner! [laughs].” 

ENDS