Across the generations


WORKING TOGETHER Pictured are pupils from Lankill NS who started last week to participate in the Éist Art Project under the guidance of facilicators Mary-Lou McCarthy and Nathalie El Baba. The project will culminate in some live performances at Westport Town Hall Theatre in February. Pic: Conor McKeown

Oisín McGovern

“I have an idea. I don’t know what it’s going to look like and I’ve never done it before.”
It’s safe to say you wouldn’t get too far on Dragon’s Den with a sales pitch like this. It’s certainly not how you’d expect to summarise one of the most novel and unique arts projects that Westport has ever seen.
But that is how artist Mary-Lou McCarthy sold ‘Éist’ to Westport Town Hall, who are hosting the Arts Council funded intergenerational project.
‘Éist’ (to listen) essentially involves visual art, music, storytelling and two generations that grew up in two very different Irelands.
Under the guidance of Mary Lou and fellow artist Nathalie El Baba, the students of Lankill NS and Holy Trinity NS have been working on recreating Westport’s iconic landmarks through mosaics, origami and paper maché. A third group of older citizens have been recalling stories, characters, fables and folklore of Westport in days gone by.
It is envisaged that these stories will form the basis of six performances in Westport Town Hall across the month of February. In total, over 60 people will be involved in the finished production.
Late last Thursday afternoon, The Mayo News called up to the top floor of Westport Town Hall, where Mary-Lou McCarthy and Heather Rose are meeting with the elder participants in ‘Éist’. The topic being discussed when we arrive is ‘Covie slang’.
Using a single page of folklore compiled by local legend and former Mayo News Editor Martin Curry, the group are hazarding rough guesses at the meaning of several bizarre and beautiful words.
For example, the word ‘lay’ refers to an alcohol beverage. The word ‘donor’ translates to ‘girl’. If one were to ‘crush’, they would essentially ‘move’ somewhere. If you’re ‘lamped’ in Westport, it means you’ve caught doing something you probably shouldn’t. If your offence is grievous enough, you could end up in ‘lid’ (jail).
One term that has not stood the testament of time is ‘a laying hen’, referring to ‘a working wife outside the home’.
Each phase is met with more flexed cheeks and raised eyebrows than the one that came before.
It’s little wonder that some members use words like ‘camaraderie’ and ‘therapeutic’ to describe their experience in this eclectic ciorcal comhrá.
There’ll be no shortage of material for Éist, if this meeting is anything to go by.
“They feel like their part of the project and that we’re making something together,” explains Mary-Lou.

Great excitement
We are sitting the in very room where this novel idea was conceived.
Mary-Lou was here on a so-called ‘Gap Day’, an initiative where artists take a paid ‘day off’ to dedicate themselves to creative media and thinking.
Inspiration came when she peered from the second-floor window down to the bustling picturesque Octagon below her. “I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a project where we explore the town and where you can have a live performance where children kind of get to look at the town in a different way and a perspective I was getting, like an overview’,” the Cork native explains.
Over lunch in Christy’s Harvest, Mary-Lou won over Westport Town Hall Theatre manager Rosaleen Heraty with her ‘mad idea’. One successful Arts Council application later, five other local artists and performers were then recruited to drive the multidisciplinary project.
This week, the youth of Holy Trinity NS and Lankill NS will meet with their elder statesmen and women for the first time. It is thought that this convention of creativity and wisdom will generate much of the material for the show.
“There’s a great excitement about meeting this week and about seeing the production. Bringing all the elements together. [The children] are like, ‘I really want to know what kind of stories we’re going to be hearing in a live performance’,” Mary-Lou says.
“There’s going to be two performers in it, but they’ll be directly engaging with the audience so there isn’t a fourth wall in this. It’s not like we’re going to pretend that the audience aren’t there,” she adds.
What happens on stage will be guided by the participants and remains somewhat in the air.
As Mary-Lou says: “You have to come and see it to know what it’s going to be. We don’t know yet, which is kind of exciting.”
But there’s a good reason for this, as Heather explains.
“I keep saying that’s one of the reasons that we’re working with the performers where we are. Julie Sharkey and Mikel Barceló are both very skilled improvisers, they’re also both facilitators that are used to working with kids and being around kids.
“There’s a strong chance that the show’s going to be significantly different every time it happens. That’s one of the gifts of doing something that will be so late is that it won’t be pounded into them. They won’t have done it 100 times. It will be fresh and new every time.”
That sales pitch doesn’t sound so daft now, does it?

School performances, February 8-10; public shows February 11 only. Contact Westport Town Hall Theatre for more information.