It was amateur drama but it was on a competitive level as well: and not just a home performance but travelling to various venues with the hope of returning this group to the All-Ireland finals.
Years ago I would have tried to conceal the sheer privilege of such a call. Now I stood transfixed and unable to consider anything. How could I escape this because I was sure to do something wrong and let Lislea down!
Keep a low profile, keep the indecisiveness under severe control, stay quiet and hope that the legends would not be about if a s.n.a.f.u. occurred. Yet my own history of dramatic performances had a few s.n.a.f.u.s and of the major variety.
I went back inside to join my friend who had already bought me another drink. I was going to celebrate but I could feel the huge weight of expectation crashing down upon my shoulders and soul. No amount of alcohol would or could block out the sheer dread of what I had just done.
I was going to be the ‘Sound’ person: this would mean operating machinery and that filled me with a tsunami of dread. The lake was now the largest ocean of anxiety. My nerves were fuelling the ocean waves and I had not even attended one rehearsal yet.
Then the whole frightening experience of going into and meeting new people, a new group and trying to conceal my sheer terror, trying not to say the wrong thing and just trying to stay in the background was adding to the flood of stress.
What was the play? Who was in the cast? Would I fit in or make a complete haims of it all.
I had now a mountain of insecurities and unanswered questions and more doubts being spawned by a dark mind and a dismal mood! So there I was, a few minutes ago, anxiety levels at a point where I was coping and now these levels were shooting skyward!
I was going to that unique community in South Armagh, Lislea and I kept asking the same questions, why and how do I survive this? How do I avoid screwing this thing up?
The first thought was to say little, avoid expressing any opinion, be monosyllabic and hide the terror behind a code of near silence and hope for a miracle that would suit all involved.
With my luck, no chance, so keep quiet and perhaps the mood might lighten. The illness had not suddenly gone away! It was still a huge part of me! Expectation haunted me and I had gone and opened my mouth. God help Lislea!
Somehow I found sleep that night but of the restless nature. I knew the geography of Lislea, I knew a good few from the area and there would be a great many who would know me as a teacher thus this could be huge minefield to traverse.
Saturday morning came and the clock went on the go slow and with it the nerves were racing around causing me to ponder deeply the dilemma I was in.
So I was picked up and taken out to ‘The Mountain House’ pub where a meeting/rehearsal was to take place as the hall was in use.
So I sat alone as the so-unfamiliar cast arrived and Kerry Rooney introduced me as the Sound person and I sat, firmly holding the CD player for sheer comfort and security. I was also handed a copy of the script. I thought I recognised a few faces but I was so unsure. Not a name could I get and the anxiety increased.
Worse still! I had never heard of this Brian Friel production. I wondered why?
While sitting listening to the director Kerry give out notes from a previous video rehearsal, I still wondered what this play was about and then I saw the jovial cast members making their farewells after looking at various costumes. I thought I knew some of them from my teaching days but I so wanted to remain unnoticed on the sidelines. I had not seen any part of this play and the nerves became severely taut again.
Kerry played the CD and told me about the various sound affects which was like a computer technician telling me how to operate a computer and the whole thing passing over in a welter of information, leaving me confused and dazed.
Thus ended my first Lislea rehearsal with me no better off! What had just happened? What was I involved with? Oh how I detest text messages.
They seemed so relaxed about the production and here I was, in a hell of sorts.
I would have to read the play but my illness had its way of affecting that decision. Reading needed a high level of concentration and I had been battling for weeks to finish a book I had bought recently. I shrugged and hoped that some type of inspiration might occur. I experienced that mixture of the Irish, slightly optimistic, permanently pessimistic.
I was to return to Lislea the next day so there was hope that I would at last get to see the play. The Lislea festival was ongoing so the rehearsal would take place in the bar.
So a scene involving Adian McParland, Ann Garvey and Kerry Rooney took place with me operating the CD player. I still had no real sense of the play but saw how important the sound effects were to the overall production. The worry factor was rising and any optimism was on the long road to the far West without me!
These three characters had that easiness of assurance as they delivered their lines and the banter between them again conveyed this air of experience. Many others would have described this as chemistry, a thing I do know when I am sitting amongst those who make drama easy: it is a joy to watch at times.
So I went to use the mobile phone and another element of the uniqueness of Lislea came into play. I had to find a signal and I smirked, just like in Belarus. When my phone would not operate, there was the answer right in front of me, the landline phone in the foyer. Not many places still have these machines but I so thankful that at least it was being maintained here. Little was I to know what a hugely important role this phone would play in the coming season.
There was a perceived calmness amongst the Lislea cast, though a few mentioned the attitude of the adjudicator of the Lislea Festival: that was the only level of concern I could pick up. When I returned home to eat my Sunday dinner I was so aware of my short comings and the ever increasing level of worry. Was providence going to arrive and save me from creating disaster on the unfortunates of Lislea? No, it was in the far west as well!
So to the next rehearsal on the Tuesday! Once again there was to be no run through of the play and I hid my concern. They all seemed again at ease with this and their ease transposed into more worry for myself.
Yet things took a momentous step forward. I was to go to the lighting box in the hall and operate the sound deck.
When I reached the box all I could see was this massive desk with an abundance of levers and knobs and I wanted a sick bag. So like a child who has been given the most expensive gift, I began to play around to see which levers controlled the sound. Like those who operate a computer for the first time there was the underlying feeling that touching the wrong button might result in an explosion of sparks and smoke. I furtively moved levers.
Just as I began to relax, I then became more aware that this sound position was more than just playing the CD. The sound had to seem to come from certain specific areas of the stage and thus the worry levels shot high again. More complications with levers and cables!
Aengus Hannaway arrived and in a very relaxed manner, showed me how to disconnect a cable to get a desired sound affect and as quick as he arrived, he departed and I sat with that worried smile upon my face. What had I got myself into? If the sound levels which varied greatly on each of the seventeen effects were not right then these would impact upon the scoring at competitive festivals that were so near.
Oh how I wished for a fairy Godmother and a quick trip to the far west because this week was at nightmare levels.
In the background was Chernobyl business and it was getting to a serious point as well. A school was going to allow us to take certain equipment from their old vacated premises and it had to be this week and I had to organise the transport and new storage facilities were to be contacted to make sure of access. One minute my life was so humdrum and in an instant the complete opposite.
I had to concentrate now on writing down the necessary levels. We were getting through them but I wanted to be more exact and perhaps gain some confidence.
By the time I had some semblance of what would be needed for Lislea which should have somehow soothed me, it had the opposite affect. Castleblaney was to be the first performance. When a halt was called, at least next week I was some way prepared for the home performance but the first performance was even closer. I did not know the exact location of the venue and what the play was all about!
I had to try to read the script but the Chernobyl business was now prominent. It was set for Friday, the same day I was to go to Castleblaney! Providence had a wicked sense of humour.
I just shrugged, things had definitely got complicated again!
… more later …