Ireland, China, Belgium, Finland: Brokentalkers and the Transnational Connectivities of Post-Celtic Tiger Performance

By McIvor, Charlotte | DQR Studies in Literature, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Ireland, China, Belgium, Finland: Brokentalkers and the Transnational Connectivities of Post-Celtic Tiger Performance


McIvor, Charlotte, DQR Studies in Literature


This essay explores the Dublin-based theatre company Brokentalkers' focus on the role of transnational networks in the future of the Irish arts through a close reading of their performances, In Real Time and Track. In Real Time and Track ultimately present two overlapping stories of the role of the transnational in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland.1 In Real Time animates European networks by means of an act of artistic collaboration, while Track stages an encounter with Dublin that brings participants on an exploration of the City Centre through the perspective of the Chinese community, both long-term residents and recent arrivals, living in Ireland. In Real Time literally enacts an interEU network physically manifested through actors' live and virtual bodies in theatrical time and space. Track challenges discourses of Irish nationalism and forces recognition of transnational networks of migrants in Ireland that reach outside the space of the nation and the EU. Brokentalkers' work thus insists on transnational connectivities as the future of innovation in the Irish arts. They work against mainstream formalistic approaches to Irish theatre by heavily relying on media and employ non-realist performance aesthetics that reject notions of Irishness as a discrete or representative artistic discourse or even as the literal geographical site of innovation for their work. As Gary Keegan, one of Brokentalkers' co-founders, puts it:

I don't necessarily feel that the work always has to originate in Ireland .... For us, we're trying to build an international profile. That's the ultimate ambition.2

Many contemporary Irish playwrights and companies such as "Barabbas ... the company, Blue Raincoat, Charabanc, Corcadorca, Com Exchange, Fabulous Beast, Fishamble, GúnaNua, Foose Canon, Macnas, Prime Cut, Pan-Pan, Performance Corporation, Red Kettle, Tall Tales and Tinderbox" create work that is, like that of Brokentalkers, often "radically different from the primarily text-based tradition".3 Companies like THISISPOPBABY and Calipo feature film and other media made expressly as part of the new work, in addition to experimenting with new performance environments such as THISISPOPBABY's presentation of their work in "a performance, art and electropop space at the Electric Picnic Music Festival".4 Brokentalkers are ultimately distinguished from their contemporaries by their careful attention to not only stylistic and formal innovation through their rejection of text-based theatre and use of new media in performance or their cultivation of an international audience and set of collaborators, but also by their literal and thematic treatment of the interplay between the international and the intercultural in contemporary Ireland.

In Real Time engages themes of "distance and the illusion of proximity afforded by technology" in order to question the intimacy that can be shared between two actors joined by "real time" but separated by physical and cultural distance. The first productions of this piece in 2008 and 2009 at the Dublin Docklands Authority and Project Arts Centre in Dublin featured a rotating cast of Irish actors performing live with Flemish actress Dolores Bouckaert present via broadband in Ghent, Belgium, and projected onto a large screen in the centre of the stage (Figure 1).

In Real Time's most recent incarnations brought Brokentalkers to the 2009 Noorderzon festival in Groningen, Netherlands, and the 2010 Tampere Theatre Festival in Finland along with another Brokentalkers piece, Silver Stars. In the 2009 and 2010 productions, the live performers were Dutch and Finnish, again communicating with Ireland via broadband. While In Real Time was presented in English at the Tampere Festival, the Noorderzon festival performance was presented in Dutch.5

Track remaps Dublin City Centre from the perspective of Chinese-/ Irish migrants whose presence disrupts clichéd expectations of Irishness and forces recognition of other narratives hidden behind familiar landmarks of the city. …

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