A Lislea Season: To the All-Ireland

Thursday saw some beautiful things happen. We went to see the new storage facilities which during the daytime would prove awkward to offload into and out of.  As I was having a conversation with Gerard Duffy outside The Bank, luck would have it that Mr David Downey had a chat with us. 

Not only were we offered wooden chairs lying idle in St Colman’s Hall, but he offered us a better storage solution out at his home at Glenn village. I had that contented smile on my face as well as Gerard. This was just fantastic!

Friday morning saw panic stations at the school because at first it seemed we were to get little and our secondary help of another van had failed to turn up.  My attempts to solve the issues on the mobile phone were proving useless. I asked myself a couple of times why I was involved in this charitable work.

The morning was heading towards noon and I had a cut-off point of 2pm to be getting prepared for Castleblaney.

Somehow, I switched to a mood of staying quiet and hiding the turmoil within.

The second van arrived and the first run out to Glenn happened.  Our second run saw us getting some things that we desperately needed for our own kitchen at Puhavichi and while the others began to relax and feel content, I could see time passing by and creating a growing storm of stress..

We still had to get materials from Dineen office supplies and transport them out as well.

I was exhausted by the time I got home. It was now 3.15pm.  Providence conspired to feed the stress with a severe lack of any humour!

A phone call delayed me further and then as I left home I knew that getting through Newry at this time of day would be a nightmare and thus it proved.  I left at 3.45pm and it was ten past four by the time I had reached the Five Ways roundabout.

The schools had emptied, buses and other vehicles on school and shopping runs were halted at every traffic light which seemed to be permanently on red and every time I took a short cut, I ended up in more slow-moving or static traffic.  The joys of Newry driving on a dammed Friday!

Could this get any worse? The answer was yes.

Getting across to the Camlough Road I had a Sunday driver in front of me;  this was slowing me down and they were going in my direction. I got to Camlough and then decided to take the more narrow route to Sturgan Hill and was foiled.  The Sunday driver headed me again.

Over the hill I got pass him but by the Longfield road entrance I encountered one long convoy behind a small slow moving lorry and then further ahead, was a tractor was well. The gods were testing me.

By Ford’s Cross, I had enough and where it was possible I overtook and a few miles short of Crossmaglen I had open road.  There had been a few hairy moments in overtaking but I had been assertive and succeeded.  For a short time I felt that the worse was over and the gods back on my side!  Oh how I hate that trait of optimism that surges to blind my pessimism.

Out of Crossmaglen, onto the Culloville road I flew but then the gods had something else planned.  At the oncoming bad bends I had to slow down anyway but round the first corner I had to slam hard on the brakes. There were cattle on the road and I knew that my presence and the oncoming taxi was somehow agitating them.

I was stopped, the taxi moving and whatever he did, I saw the reaction of one beast, the swaying, swinging head and then it began to dance on its feet and headed directly for my car.  I had my hand on the door to jump because many years before I had seen the damage a beast could do to a car.  I sat there in dread as it eyes seemed to focus in on dire helpless me.

Somehow it halted as I prepared myself for the worst. It stared at me and then calmly passed by without the slightest impact and the others followed. I felt I had been severely pranked by the bullock!

I sat there for a few seconds wondering what had I done to deserve this?  My emotions were all over the place and I was stressed out completely.  Perhaps I had used up all my good will and luck: Why had I answered that call on my birthday?

I had to focus on getting to Castleblaney and avoid speeding plus calm down. I was so exhausted and still a few miles to go.

The rest of the journey was uneventful but I had no energy left. I could feel this numbness that would not allow any more tension or stress to occur. It was auto-pilot and thus excitement of any level was a non-event. Thankfully I had a clear road but even my car music could not crash through the numbness.  I had to be careful, I had been to extremes of emotions this day and still a long testing evening ahead.  I thought I had put such days to the realms of my history.  I had too many of such like and the exhaustion and lack of time to recover began the slide towards burn-out and depression. A road I did not want to ever travel again.

I made contact for directions to the venue when I reached ‘Blaney but somehow ended up getting slightly lost! In a place of this size!  I had lost the plot.

I finally found the An Iontas Centre and what a modern facility it was. Somehow this slightly lightened my mood.

Into the auditorium and the audience seating was banked up way from the stage and then I saw where I was going to be.  Up at the back looking down on the set, a fantastic view!  I would not be encased in a small room.  I would clearly be able to hear the sound levels and have a chance to see the play from a true audience perspective.  I allowed the beginnings of a contented smile to crease my lips, optimism alert. I wanted to restrain any thoughts of rash exuberance after the experience of this day.

The last thing I needed to be was careless. 

When the stage lights were on I got my first sight of the set and it left me gobsmacked.  The attention to detail was spell-binding!

The auto pilot mood had been breached and I could sense the nerves jangling. This level of attention to detail was awesome but, more so, inspiring.  It immediately conveyed a sense of dedication and a high level of commitment. This was Lislea drama doing what it does extremely well.  All aspects of production given its rightful attention.

I had a moment to wonder.  Would the acting match the vista of the set and if it did, then I would know that I was indeed involved with something so special.

I had not felt like this for years.

Young Gerard Donnelly was on the lighting board and he has that attitude of many that I have come across who work the lights.  It is so close to never being fazed by whatever happens: it is more than a laid back temperament.

The lights were being set so I began to get acquainted with the sound deck.

At six we were invited to a meal and still no sound check. The inner turmoil was running riot.

I took the Alice Spring chicken and the apple crumble dessert with a covering of something that was not custard.  This at the time felt good though I had doubts about the dessert.

Just after this I got the opportunity of a sound check and that meant I was ready. So ready I was glued to the sound deck chair! Now I had the long wait to curtain opening. I have had many first openings but this was far too long to sit about and wait.  I always had a routine that I kept to with drama productions where I was just part of the team.  When director, that was a different thing entirely!

I thought of disappearing and finding somewhere to completely rest body and soul but I was rooted to the chair, lacking the nerve to move.

I was sitting at the desk when Evelyn Hannaway sat down beside me and she was not affected by my presence.  Problem here was I knew Evelyn was married but I had not a notion of her husband’s surname.  Perhaps luck would provide an answer.  It did not!

An easy casual conversation began between the two of us and somehow two things occurred.  I became less unsettled and the clock did not matter.

The chat ceased as we watched and wondered about the size of the audience for this opening night.  Evelyn wondered about the lack of a complete recent run through of the play and whether this would affect opening night nerves of the cast.

So the festival was duly opened and it was time for things to happen. I was to open the show with my first sound cue which was quite long but did set the time of the period and recalled a few of the main political characters.  I felt the audience was ready, the mood truly set.

So the curtain rose and I then saw the dual role of the set and I thought of the great thinking behind the idea.  It made the set alive in so many ways, ingenious to have two functions for one set.

I was aware of the central role of the judge and somehow the character instantly grew on me. It was there from the very start, the great acting ability of this character actor, Pius Tierney.  This had charisma and never faltered at any time throughout the whole opening performance.  It was mighty powerful!

As the first act continued I got to read the script for the first time and I wondered why this play was not produced more often. The take on Bloody Sunday and the Widgery whitewash was so engaging and with the results of the Saville enquiry due to be released soon.  It was such a contemporary piece of theatre.

The three main characters, Anne, Aidan and Kerry, within the Mayor’s Parlour were growing on me as the underlying conflict between two of them arose but I thought the audience was very slow to pick up on the Lily character.  As we headed for the end of Act One, there was an increasing, positive audience reaction. They loved this and while the three main characters were not word perfect script-wise, at least they were close enough for me to follow.

Experience was to enlighten me that these three never were word perfect as concerns the script but they were constantly to be very close to it.  It added to the atmosphere of the production, never a distraction or negative element.

There was an increasing awareness of the already seen tragedy that opens the play but also the great comedy of two of the characters.  This was another element to the production, we knew these three were to die but this never impacted upon the sheer tragedy of the oncoming final scene.

This performance had pace and energy and a growing sense of belief in the characters.  Not bad for an opening performance. The others who performed in the first act and who I still had to get to know contributed to the excellence of the show!  From my perspective they all had added not detracted and I thought that there abounded so many positive elements of the whole production.

Yet experience made me aware that adjudicators did not always see things the way an audience does. This was competition and adjudicators can be moody and very unpredictable.  

The play was doing well as far as I was concerned and I had an inkling the audience liked it extremely well. At the interval I had been through thirteen of the seventeen total sound effects and I thought I had done alright.

I had seen the tremble in my right hand as we edged closer to each first act cue. I would have to be very careful about this because the last thing I would need was an unfortunate push on the pause button.

So with Gerard, I headed down to the dressing rooms. There was an atmosphere of quiet contentment and level of excitement: everything was going so well for a first run. There was an understated buzz in the relaxed room.

The first one to approach me was Pius Tierney, The Judge, who introduced himself and asked for my first name because everyone else was calling me Fitzy.  His performance was so engrossing; he was this person of the British establishment and when he spoke, the audience believed in this character.  Immense was the word I would use and at every performance there was never a drop in his characterisation. It stayed at that high level and I looked forward to his holding the stage in awe: he had the talent of real stage presence, a gift indeed.

I turned and froze in horror and shock because making a beeline for me was another of the legends, Joe Murphy.  It was me he wanted to talk to and I was trapped.

What was said will stay with me forever. He thanked me and said I was doing a great job on sound for a first attempt. I think I muttered a thank you and all the previous hassle seemed to fade away. I think I may have smiled a mixture of nervousness and contentment. Somehow I had succeeded when the inner belief was the opposite!  I was in pleasant shock and somehow a part of the group. All I had to do was settle myself again and not let confidence bring about an unforced error. 

The performance got even better in the second act.  Even I knew that something special was happening when Ann delivered the ‘Declan’ Speech. There was a tear swelling up in my eyes and the audience reacted by applauding this. Wow!

Over the years I had heard something similar from parents who had a ‘Declan’ in their family and the whole thing was so real and I gently let a tear fall.  So many, many beautiful memories of great moments of laughter, achievement and a touch of regret about people gone brought about that tear.  Amazing that this should spark such an emotion.

Just at this stage when I should have begun to relax my stomach was beginning to ache, the food was not agreeing with me and I still had four cues to deal with.

So we ran to a conclusion and the first adjudication. All I could think about was the growing pain in the stomach.  I sat still hoping that all would be well.

The adjudication itself was mostly positive but when he spoke about gas, I raised my eyes to the ceiling.

Even so the overall point was that Lislea had opened the festival with a production that had made an impact on the adjudicator and the audience.

I had time to think and I had that sensation of long ago. I sensed that this cast and production had that little bit of stardust sprinkled around giving an air of great belief in what they were doing.

I had experienced this before many years ago, with Newry Musical and Orchestral Society and the 1979 production of Fiddler on the Roof.  I had a small speaking role in this but during rehearsals there was that growing sense of belonging to a really unique and magical production that increased after each performance.  It went on the win the premiere award at the Waterford festival.

I had seen Newpoint’s One Flew over the Cuckoo Nest and sensed the same thing that this was a winning production because of the belief of all involved in it.

In Castleblaney I sensed this quiet belief but I was so afraid to say anything. I was now so grateful that my position would allow me to see all the next performances from the audience’s perspective. I was beginning to like being part of Lislea’s drama production and my hope was that I be proved right that it had that piece of magical essence of stardust.

So the audience left and so began the task of striking the set: I became so aware that the food was disagreeing entirely with me and I had to disappear rapidly on a few occasions.

I was also taught a lesson about the increasing limitations being imposed upon me by the two illnesses that I have to live with. The first caused bouts of anxiety while the second, arthritis was impacting on my ability to walk.  On a couple of occasions I found it so difficult to carry a flat onto the back of the lorry and coming down was proving a painful experience as well.  Thank God that I had begun to lose weight.  It was at times embarrassing as I tried to quell the sharp pains in my left leg that could see me falling down. The limping was so noticeable and it angered me.

There was time to have a cup of tea as the stomach had finally quietened down and I now had the journey home to consider.  I would be alone with my music in the car and I could have the volume at whatever level I desired. This was turning out to be a very good experience.

I was on the road so contented: not bad, not bad indeed!  I had been granted a privilege.  

The following Monday evening and it was now time to prepare for the Lislea Festival.  By this stage I do not want to fall down if carrying too heavy a piece of scenery.  I was aware that it was becoming increasing difficult to walk and I was so afraid of damaging myself and perhaps a piece of scenery.  By the time the set was in I had moved aside, the pain very sharp in my hips and it would take a while to settle.

This was the night I became aware of Jerome Burns and how he somehow got to carry in all of the heavy pieces of the set and he was suffering and we all heard it! So the stage became a hive of industry as the set was put together again and as it was, my estimation of Pius grew.

With the low stage ceiling, Pius, whose elevated position in the raised Judge’s Bench in Court brought him close to ‘ceiling’ height, would have to deal with the nearness of stage lights which radiate great heat in a confined place.  How would this affect him because during the whole of the play he had to remain in his position!

I had a chance of a rerun over sound cues but the position at Lislea was inhibiting to a great degree to get a clear sense of sound levels.  The lighting and sound would be in a box room at the back of the hall and thus I had to be extra careful not to overdo the levels.

Wednesday came along and I had obtained the extra extension lead for a stage light.  I was to be picked up at half six so I was going to dander down at my leisure at about 5.55pm when I glanced at my mobile phone and saw that Kerry wanted me there at 6.15pm.

The rush, if it could be called that saw me trying desperately to walk faster but the pain was hindering this. I hate this state of panic because of the limitations of this illness. I knew I would pay for this exertion later in some way.

I did arrive at 6.15pm but Kerry was caught in traffic.  When the car arrived I could see the look on young Gerard’s face as I clambered ungainly into the back seat. The clambering resembled dire struggling as I was barely able to lift my left leg to gain access.

This was annoying me greatly because it seemed the arthritis was going to another level indicating deterioration and greater restrictions on my mobility.

So we arrived and I could sense the growing anticipation and tension from the cast. Would this performance be as good as that on Friday last?

Gerard and I took up our positions in the room but I have so long to wait, so I went for a walk around the backstage area.  Luck would have it that the extension lead that I had taken to Lislea saw me tripping over it and as I tried to regain my balance I had visions of something crashing through the painted window on the set.  I stood for those long seconds trying to stay calm and to get my eyesight used to this darkened area.

I went back to the sound deck and I had to ask Gerard to check out the connections that I had nearly fallen over.  He arrived back and all was okay.

The hall filled and so with sound cue one the performance begun.

Early on I could sense that the performance was not as easy as it was on Friday. It was still good but it lacked something, that little bit of edginess that comes from a first performance was absent.

The audience was engrossed but without saying anything to Gerard, I felt that something was missing. The problem was that they were not as responsive as the Friday audience was. Halfway through the first act and secluded as we were in our perch, a comical moment for me at least.

Gerard had a radio handset when I heard this blast coming through from Kerry. What a reprimand and there it was on Gerard’s face,  that look of nothing or nonplussed that certain lighting technicians always have.  He never moved a muscle on his face or neck.  He just waited for the next cue.  If I had got that blast, I would probably have turned white with stress and collapsed in a heap of tears.  I was going to get used to Gerard’s seemingly calm exterior no matter what was going on and I would have given anything to have even a miniscule drop of that quiet easy going style.

So came one panic moment when after extracting a sound cable I heard Lynore King doing her first TV commentary and I was going to be late with the helicopter cue.  The cue was faded in and now I was another mess of stress and nerves.  That would be the last time I would ever try that manoeuvre with the cable. The interval came to save me.

The cast agreed that while the play was running quite well, it was missing the spark of Friday night. Second act and the temperature in the hall had risen again and all I could think about was the task facing Pius. The heat from the stage lights was long and intense and he had some lengthy pieces of dialogue to deal with.

We got to the end without any major mishaps and awaited the adjudication.

In essence, while there were a few minor things he wanted changed, he seemed content with the performance.

So I got the extension cable, made sure I had all my sound CDs and headed for home.  I became aware in the car that I was missing the interval music CD and one sheet of my cues. I did not panic because I had back up material at home.

The set was loaded on the following day back onto the lorry for the performance on Friday in Portadown. Having learned from the Castleblaney experience I left early enough to find the Town Hall on the Friday.  I was on my own and thus could indulge myself with music and loudness for the journey. I travelled along under no pressure and felt so at ease.

I found the hall but was put off by the private parking sign and thus headed away to park in a nearby street.  I was first to arrive so I got acquainted with the building.  I saw that I would be alone and Gerard would be behind me in the lighting room.  At least I was at the back of the audience and would have a better chance to set sound levels.  I would have a great clear view of the stage.

The audience seating was again banked like that in Castleblaney. There was a high ceiling on the stage so Pius would not have the ordeal of intense heat to contend with.

The lorry arrived and by this time I was so aware of the helpful attitude of the Portadown stage technician. I was able to go and get my car and park it in the private car park.  I was also aware that stepping up and down trying to carry pieces of the set in and onto the stage was again a painful exercise for myself and the hip pain became unbearable. At one point I had to go back to the sound desk and Kerry was startled by my limping as I climbed the steps.

So the set was put together again as others arrived!  It was obvious that there was plenty of room side stage. What should be conveyed here is that there had to be a level of patience taken as the set was assembled.  It was now I was getting to put names to faces, Vinny Boyle, Liam Hannaway, Gerry McParland, John Quigg and John McElroy. I was shown the sound deck and what channels to use but I was aware that only one channel was working.

So work began on the lighting requirements and I sat relaxed. As the afternoon drifted by I finally asked the technician to solve the sound channel problem and he really became frustrated as each move he made just came up with one channel working. Yet he persevered and finally he solved the problem.

I was beginning to laugh to myself as I could hear the odd individual of the backstage crew singing along with the music I was putting out through the sound system. Vinny could actually sing well until someone spotted him and then he would go quiet.

Finally it was time to go for something to eat. I was sitting opposite Jerome Burns and he decided to engage me in a conversation. What he did not know was I had been on the end of few practical japes by his mum and dad and I knew his brother Cormac really well.

So Jerome opened with the sentence about me knowing Cormac and I looked stunned as if I did not know what he was talking about.  Jerome was about to choke on his food.  I think his mother would have been proud of me because she was brilliant at keeping a straight face when involved in a wind up. I let Jerome suffer for a few seconds then relented by laughing.

Fairly soon it was time to drift back to the theatre and run a sound check. I was happy enough and now came the seemingly long wait towards the audience arriving. I had a few cups of tea to while away the time and a few conversations with a few individuals.

At long last the focus of attention was towards the performance but the audience was slow to come in. At one stage I feared that we could be playing to an empty hall but they did arrive and the numbers were adequate enough, not a full house though.

So once again there was an atmosphere of quiet expectation amongst us. Within the first few scenes it was evident that there was an easiness with the performance. It had the same aura as Castleblaney! I had no panic attacks during the first act, I was in on time with the cues and I was more able to watch the performance rather than following the script.

As I got up to head down to the dressing rooms, I felt we were doing alright.

I was back early to my position and that was when a few members of the audience approached me and spoke of the wonderful performance. In was there in their eyes that they were watching something special!

I was now grateful that I had been given this opportunity and the whole experience was in fact good for me for so many reasons. After such a short time I was been treated as part of the team. The second act began and once again the ‘Declan’ speech was so charismatic and entrancing.

This scene was now Ann’s and in many ways that night I forgot entirely about Ann and was watching the wounded Lily.  It was so profound to engage and enchant me again pointed to someone truly skilled at the acting game.  I felt the audience too were enthralled and beguiled by this scene though no applause came They were caught up in the moment though.

So I had this feeling that this could be a great night until the sound effect occurred. My sitting position was level with the three back rows of the audience. There was sound cue to come from the back of the stage and was to be manipulated by the stage manager Kathleen O Hare. I had no control over any aspect of it.

Lily went into the Lord Mayor’s toilet and when she exited there was supposed to be the sound of a toilet flush.

What happened was an explosion of a toilet flush and it lasted so long and loud. All the heads of the audience in the back rows all turned towards me and I could sense their desire that I do something to correct this renegade sound.  I just put up my hands in surrender mode and they turned their heads back to the stage still convinced that I had badly blundered.

I sat there focused entirely upon the sound deck because I did not need another face of disdain to be pointed in my direction.

So the performance ended and the adjudicator made his way to the stage.

I watched him with great care wondering what was his attitude towards the drama?

He put his papers down on the Lord Mayor’s table and slowly he walked about touching and inspecting items of the set.  With sheer reverence he stroked the wall flat and still not a word spoken.  He caressed a few more things and then took up his notes but again there was a long silence.

So began an adjudication that praised highly the set and attention to detail, even the dreaded radiator was praised.  Amongst those who put the set in and out, the heavy radiator was a thing to be avoided in lifting and carrying. So I could sensed that he really liked the performance and I smiled.

When he finished I overheard an audience member say that this was the first show that he had gushed about.  I was to hear a few more people praise the excellence of the show.

Now began the task of loading the lorry again and I was more careful about what I carried because I sensed a severe deterioration in my mobility and balance.  I could become a real liability and I would have to stay within my limitations.

With the set nearly on the lorry, we went up to the hall to have a cup of tea and a few sandwiches and to listen to a more detailed notes from the adjudicator.  He still held to his view that this was a very good performance and offered a few pieces of advice.

Finally the set was stored upon the lorry and it was time for a solo trip home. I was content in many ways. It had been a good day. I would have fond memories to treasure. I was right about my first thoughts on this production. There was an element of sprinkled magical stardust about this play.

Saturday was in ways an easy going rest day but the evening would be entirely different. It was results time at both Lislea and Castleblaney! Kerry called for me at about 9.30 pm and we headed out to the packed hall. We talked about the previous night and I filled Kerry in on the adjudicator’s slow, deliberate and reverential caressing of the set.  He told me that they could not see this and wondered why the very long silence before he began to speak.

This was an element that I missed from being involved in drama productions, hearing another side to a story, the craic of travelling, preparing, performing, after-show things and the travel home.  The same story but with different angles!  Everyone had a story to tell!

So the final company were into their second act as we went to the bar.

Funny how things happen but I had a great craic with Pius and then Cormac Burns joined me and before long the banter started.  It was so enjoyable.

The final play concluded and so followed its adjudication.

It was time to hear the final results so we filed into the back of the hall.

The first award to come our way was the lighting award and as Gerard was not about, I was asked to go up. So off I went.

I duly accepted the award and then had to stand for photographs. Tthus I began to have doubts … what if the papers got the wrong information or put in the wrong information … this was Gerard’s award, not mine.  I wondered would this haunt me in the future.

Best set went to Lislea, along with best supporting actor to Pius, best actor to Aidan McParland and Anne won best actress. Finally Kerry won best producer and then came the real highlight, the best play in the festival.

Not bad indeed. As a matter of fact is was brilliant!

So down to the bar and while we were happy, we were also awaiting news by text from Liam Hannaway in Castleblaney as it was results night there as well.

We sat down and the craic was about the haul of trophies and in many ways justified.  So if the Lislea festival performance was seen as not the best performance of Freedom of The City then what would come from Castleblaney?

Aengus Hannaway stood thus halting the chat in the bar with the text information from Liam, they had only begun the awards ceremony. We would have to be patient!

A while later Aengus stood again and there was an immediate hush. He read the text message with the immortal words,  ‘We won’!

This brought laughter and a few questions but there was no more information except that they were on the way back so we would have to wait again.

So Joe Murphy got Kerry to sing and we passed the time in jovial banter until Liam arrived with a large box. We were first in Castleblaney, best actor for Kerry, best actress for Ann, best set, best lighting. Jerome had got a replacement as well for his 2009 award which had been broken.


What a night!

The one trophy that stood out was the brand new award for best set in Castleblaney.  It was a beautiful creation and when I thought of the set and the amount of work that went into design and construction, it was a fine testament to those that stay in the background but their work is so worthy and now appreciated.

Then John Campbell spoke to announce that there was a spare award that was not awarded in Lislea and he was taking it for being the best Sociologist which brought a few smiles to a few faces.

I just stared at the bravado of the move but no objection came and I smiled.  It was all done with a sense of under-played comical sincerity.  Even now I still wished for someone to have trumped him just  to see the banter and reactions.  It was all done with a certain style.

The sociologist role in the production is a strange one because of the language used and the wonder why Friel put this character into such a play. The thing was, that John’s delivery somehow made sense at certain phrases. This was in a way a difficult role to understand and play but John never faltered in any performance.

So we headed for home and I smiled. It had been a good night and the stardust had been sprinkled well through the whole cast and production team. The trophy haul pointed to this production as being unique. I was part of it and somehow I felt a sense of pride and utter fortune at being involved.

So the photographs appeared in the Crossmaglen paper on the following Monday and I was content.  

No wrong information!

It did not last long!

Tuesday saw the issue of the Newry Democrat and when I spied what was there I just wanted to die.  One photograph of me accepting the award for Gerard and a very small write up!  I would get some ridicule for this because the piece left the reader seeing me as Gerard.

So along came a bit of a break. It would be nearly a week before we would have to set off for Strabane and for may reasons it was well worth the trip. I had a few things to deal with before this trip. I had a funeral of an aunt, the last of my father’s generation.  It was so sad to know that they were all gone now!

Friday morning came and off we went, Kerry, Gerard, Chris Grant and me.  Kerry was driving and that meant I could relax!

Kerry nearly had us on the way to Enniskillen just outside of Aughnacloy but I put him right and we arrived in Strabane just after the lorry had made it to the theatre. We pulled up behind the lorry and I walked in and unto the stage. The set up was worth the travelling.

They had such a modern theatre. They had trolleys and mobiles to make the carrying of heavy scenery an easy task. Once again the seating was banked upwards but with further seating at right angles to that of the main auditorium.

It would take a while until I found my way to the lighting box and getting to know the building but it was there, a relaxed atmosphere and such a place to perform in.


It was now that the first barbed comment from John McElroy about the Democrat picture came and I had to laugh at it all.  I wondered how many more would air this comment!  I was compared to the stunt of John Campbell’s spare trophy grab. When I finally fond my way to the lighting and sound room, I was so taken aback by the amount space and the huge sound board. Access to lights was so easy that the lighting requirements were easily dealt with. Any company would have loved performing here. It was awesome. It was a joy!

So I got to find my way round the sound board and this would be easy enough though the board restricted my vision of the stage. There was no glass partition so I would hear clearly the sound levels needed.

I headed back to the stage area just as Jerome arrived and he was so excited.

So he began his revelation tale. He had been listening to the car radio and at 1.30pm came a startling fact.  Hugo from Strabane was usually on and to be avoided when on came THE WEE Show with Sean Coyle. This was unbelievable. There was no need to change the channel coming towards Strabane. Jerome was so elated by this fact that Hugo could not be heard in his home town and set the tone for the rest of the day.

The lights were set and there was such an easy going atmosphere around the whole place. Down on the stage, the outside door flat was finally positioned and things were under control. It was time to go for coffee and the stage crew had already gone. When I got to the reception desk the woman on duty stated to turn right at the front door and the Fresco Caf

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