Jamie Beamish signs off as 2022 artist in residence
A question of residency
Last year marked 30 years since I first set foot on a stage. That stage in question was The Theatre Royal, Waterford. For the past 18 months it has been my privilege to be that theatre’s very first artist in residence.
But to all good things there must come an end.
And time flies when you’re having fun.
The past year and a half have been an absolute whirlwind. They’ve flown. But then again so has the 30 years since I stepped onstage and the bug first bit me. That seems like only yesterday. I remember every bit of it… And here’s a bit of it I’ve never told anyone before…
It’s 1992, I’m barely 16 and we’ve come into the Theatre Royal to start the tech for Stage Fright Musical Theatre Co.’s production of CHICAGO. This is my first ever time being involved in a theatrical production. We’re all young and buzzing, but I’m crazy with excitement. The past three months of rehearsals have been unreal. New friends! Singing, acting, dancing, drinking! It’s been a dream, and now we were heading towards the big week. Show week. I’d never been backstage at the Theatre Royal before we went in for tech and I’m excited and nervous and all those those things in-between. It’s a rush that would never be bettered, I thought. Only it would be bettered the week of the actual show and on and on. But I didn’t know that then. I’m running around the theatre, checking out everywhere. The dressing rooms downstairs where the orchestra pit is now, the make-up room, the upstairs dressing rooms that were in bits but brilliant, the tiny narrow staircases. At the end of one of those tiny narrow staircases on the grey concrete wall was a plastic white sign with red indented writing that said:
When I saw it I knew what I was gonna do. I was gonna mark my territory. I got a blue biro and scribbled in an ‘f’ to the left side of the second word. It had become:
The name of the company I was doing the show with. Some buzz. Something to make me a legend in the eyes of the cast I was trying so desperately to impress.
I looked at my handy-work and immediately regretted it.
I’d marked the Theatre Royal. I had vandalised the building. Me excitement had gotten the better of me. What if the theatre staff saw it and went ballistic? What if I get thrown out of the show for what I’d done? My theatre career in Waterford was on a knife edge. It could be over before it started. I tried to rub it off but it wouldn’t come off completely. It had left a mark. I did what any teenager would have done: put the head down, walked away and worried about it all night. And I’m a worrier let me tell ya. One sleepless night later I came in fully expecting my vandalism to have caused a furore between the company and the theatre and I would be quickly ejected out the stage door onto the old Flaggy Lane and told to never darken its doors again. I went straight to see the source of my shame.
And it was gone.
Maybe it was our stage manager who had gotten rid of the mark, or maybe the legendary Larry Quinn had seen it while locking up the night before, cursing some eejit young fella, then wiped it off and said nothing more about it. In fairness that man had probably seen horrors during Féile an Scoileanna during his time. Whatever had happened, I’d gotten away with it and I went onstage that week and had an experience on that stage that changed the course of my life forever. One that eventually led me, in September 2021, to start as the Theatre Royal’s first artist in residence.
I tell that story to give a little insight into my history with the Theatre Royal and how much it means to me. Cos it means a LOT to me. I’ve worked in pretty much all the main theatres in the UK and I’ve toured and played stages around the world, but for me there is still nothing like walking on from stage right onto the Theatre Royal stage and seeing that beautiful auditorium in front of me. It’s thrilling.
That’s probably cause it’s home.
When I was first offered the role, I accepted it with some trepidation. The honour was a huge one: the first artistic residency in the history of the theatre where I began my career on stage? That brings a pressure of its own kind. Would I rise to the occasion? Would I fulfil the requirements? As theatre artists we should never be afraid to fail as long as we try. That said, it’s scary when it’s my home city and a theatre that means so much to me and was so formative in the early part of my career. But I felt I could maybe give something back to the theatre and the city that had given me so much.
I have to say the aspect I found the most rewarding and enlightening, was my work with young people in Waterford.
There was two different strands to that work: The first strand was a monthly workshop with transition year students from various schools. These young people were the same age as me when I did Chicago all those years ago. In these workshops I was able to impart the knowledge of theatre making and acting in general that I’ve accrued myself over years.
Some of the students came into these workshops already wanting to be involved in theatre somehow and enjoying the insight from a professional perspective. Others finished the workshops with a newfound desire to get involved and see what theatre might have to offer them. That was so brilliant to see. The RTE Six-One News even did a piece on one of these TY workshops. The feedback was really gratifying and it was just class to be able to show the entire country what the Theatre Royal was doing.
The other strand was two lectures for third level students from SETU. The first lecture was to the BA Music degree students (a course which I’m an alumni of meself) about composing music and designing sound for theatre. It was magic to be able to talk for three hours on a subject that brings together my two great passions: Music and Theatre. The second Lecture was on Iambic Pentameter and ‘Concept’ productions in Shakespeare delivered to English and Theatre Studies students. It was great to be able to talk about some of the things I’ve learned about Shakespeare over the years having performed his work all over the world. We had craic. I hope these might continue in the future.
But I also found both strands incredibly enlightening for meself, because in preparing for them I had to examine my own practice as an actor and musician and theatre maker. I discovered things about what I do and how I do it that I’d normally take for granted or never even notice and now going forward I feel like I am re-armed with them. This engagement with education, working with young people like that, was something I had never done before and had never planned to do. I’m so grateful it was part of the residency. I hope the young people benefitted from those sessions, cos I tell ya, I benefitted immensely from them.
There were many other aspects and benefits to being Artist in Residence. The simple fact of being presented with the keys to the theatre made it feel like that building was there for me in whatever way I needed it. And I certainly used the opportunity. There were Sundays, when the theatre was dark, where I would sit in the auditorium or on the stage knowing I was the only person in the building and either work or sometimes just think. It was just magic.
I also faced up to my biggest fear during my time there when I performed my concert ‘Songs I Wish I’d Sung’. I couldn’t let the residency go without actually taking to the stage myself. To get up on my own (with a piano player) and tell songs and sing stories to a theatre full of my family, friends and peers was at once nerve wracking and exhilarating. That voice in my head that all actors have told me I was crazy to do it. But at the end of the day what’s the point of bing an artist of any kind if we only do what we are comfortable with. We raised a good sum for Solas Cancer Support Centre too. A night I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.
A more recent part of my own artistic skillset has been greatly enhanced by the support I got during my residency. I would term myself a new and developing playwright and the Theatre Royal has been an enormous help with that. They helped support a reading of my play ‘The Horrors’ last November and they have facilitated a relationship between myself and the dramaturg Karin McCully to work on a new play called ‘Bloods’, on which the work is ongoing and I hope to do a reading of that in April. Neither of these things would be possible without the Theatre Royal’s support and I will be the better writer for it.
My ongoing passion of trying to give Leaving Cert students an opportunity to see Shakespeare performed in the proper way by top class actors was realised in Theatre Royal’s Macbeth Review in January. I was buzzed to have a fully Waterford cast performing scenes from the play to a theatre packed full of students and for them to be able to experience what they had only been reading in the classroom actually on a stage. Where it’s supposed to be experienced. And every line said in an Irish accent too. Shakespeare belongs to the world.
Going into this residency I had it in my mind that this was my opportunity to give something back to the Theatre Royal and to Waterford. I have come to realise that I have benefitted much more personally from this Artistic Residency than I could have given. This is down to the support of everyone at the Theatre Royal from technical to box office to marketing and especially Mary Boland, whose idea it was to create an Artistic Residency for the theatre in the first place. I’m delighted with what I was able to achieve during my time there and I am even more delighted that the Theatre Royal is continuing with this initiative and more theatre makers and artists will benefit from the kind of support I experienced and be rewarded and enlightened also.
I am so very hopeful for the future of the arts in Waterford because of my dealings with young people over the past 18 months. They are hungry. Hungry to create and see good work. Work at the top level. Let’s give it to them and make them even more hungry. Let’s help them develop and develop ourselves at the same time. We 4 never stop learning and I have learned so much over this residency. We must always strive for excellence. The young people are watching. I know that now more than ever.
Over thirty years ago I was so worried that I had marked the Theatre Royal and I would get into trouble.
Now, as I leave a wonderful 18 months as the first ever Artist in Residence at the Theatre Royal, I really hope I have left some kind of mark on it.
That said I’ll probably still get into trouble, but that, as we say, it’s showbiz kids and all part of the craic.
With gratitude to and admiration for the Theatre Royal and all who sail on her, and with all the hope for the future.
6th February, 2023
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