A Day in the life of our Artistic Director

It’s the beginning of winter in South Dublin and time for the annual Unwrapped Winter Festival of Lights that has brought artists and communities together since 2009 through original outdoor performances, processions, film and music. In 2020 I was delighted to take on the role of Guest Artistic Director for Unwrapped and I was looking forward to working in South Dublin with all the partners including Tony Fegan, Director of Tallaght Community Arts, who I’ve admired for decades. Covid forced us to change our plans for a live event but where there’s a will there’s a way. Through Shining a Light I had the pleasure of collaborating with associate artists of the Unwrapped partner organisations, as well as emerging young film makers and a talented spoken word artist, Lyndsey Lawlor.


Finding the Wild has evolved out of Shining a Light and the story starts with the Cailleach seeing what has changed over time through her eyes in the sky, the Raven, and her ears and eyes on the ground, the Fox. The Cailleach has seen huge changes to the environment over the years and the effect humans have had on the diminishing countryside. The Fox and the Raven tell her about the challenging times that people have endured but while they have stayed at home Nature has started to recover. People have been out walking, uplifted by their natural surroundings. And yet many species of flora and fauna remain under threat of extinction due to climate change and destruction of natural habitats.


September & October

I’m actually in South Dublin in person this time planning to work with some brilliant local artists, some who I worked with last year, via the internet, including film maker Annette Barnaville and animator Dave Barnaville, from FINK. Tony Fegan and I have been discussing an idea to continue the story from 2021 with an interactive installation featuring puppetry and projected animation. It will be created by our artists and presented with a small group from the Unwrapped community stakeholders. This will be a small celebratory event alongside the Christmas Lights switch on outside the Civic Theatre in Tallaght.

I have met with the Unwrapped partners Tony Fegan, Tallaght Community Arts; Martin Moran, Alternative Entertainments and Gerry Horan of Contact Studio and with Producer Grainne Walker-Murray, Creative Connections. We have decided that there should be a focus on developing young talent and this has been supported by a new partnership with Aideen McLaughlin, Music Generation South Dublin. Music Generation has agreed to support three young musicians to create the soundtrack for Finding the Wild. These young musicians are alumni of Sub Sounds, the highly regarded youth music programme run by Martin Moran at Alternative Entertainments at the Rua Red arts centre and also supported by Gerry Horan at Contact Studio, who wrote the music for last year’s soundtrack.

October & November

The music partners have recommended Domhnaill Corrigan, a young composer and music producer and throughout November he has been working on a soundtrack for Finding the Wild, pulling together all the elements to make one cohesive, dramatic soundtrack. Amy Naessens and Will Ryan, both astonishing young singer/songwriters have written two songs each, with Amy voicing the thoughts and feelings of the Fox and Will producing dramatic tracks as the Raven. I’ve had a few meeting from my London home via Zoom and their enthusiasm is infectious. I’ve sent them an overview and the story and I look each day in the shared folder to see what they have produced.

We’ve invited Pauline Dalton, musical director of the Kingswood Community and Youth choirs to write about people’s experiences of walking in nature. Pauline and the choirs have made memorable contributions to several Unwrapped festivals in the past. Despite their understandable fears of meeting together to sing Pauline has found a solution and has recorded them over several days in small groups to create the Walking Song. Domhnaill has mixed them perfectly with the voices of children and adults brought in gradually to join the soloist so that the song becomes more powerful as it progresses. Domhnaill has added an atmospheric drone from a harmonium.

The soundtrack also includes inspirational poems by Robert MacFarlane from his Book of Lost Words and the Lost Spells with artist Jackie Morris. The Red Fox poem is spoken by Ruby Collin, another emerging performer and make. I am Raven is spoken by Vlad Gurdis from Freshly Ground Theatre Company and the Finding the Wild story is narrated by Sailí Áine Ní Mhurchú.

All these elements have resulted in an evocative 20 minute soundtrack and every time I play it everyone loves it. The soundtrack underpins all the elements of the Finding the Wild performance and can be heard via the Unwrapped website.

Saili Aine narration 3

25 November - 6 December

Now I am back in Tallaght once again and the Covid crisis has changed our plans. We can no longer present a public event. We decide to make the most of the situation and use this time to explore the making of a multi-art form outdoor event.  I’m happy to be working with many of the same artists from 2020 including the Tallaght Community Arts team with Jackqualyn Gray, Sharon Devlin and Caroline Hyland who are working with Tony at the DoubleTake Studio in Rua Red making delicate shadow puppets of creatures found in the earth, water, buildings and trees of South Dublin.

Tadashi Kato is at the Tallaght Community Arts studio making an extraordinary fox costume based on a Japanese wood cut. He’s also creating two raven puppets and Cian Laffey, our Stage Manager has been painting delicate feathers onto the wire and paper structures. Cian has worked with Tallaght Community Arts since he was 11 years old and is a talented illustrator who is now studying to be a film art director. He is assisted by Brandon Finnegan, another aspiring young production team member. Tadashi has also made a huge white curtain for projections and has been experimenting with translucent organza fabric to create a shimmering 3D effect across the projection screen.

Experimentation and art form development are key to this year’s Unwrapped. Given the constraints of the current Covid situation we’ve decided to set up a ‘laboratory’ of outdoor arts in a discreet space shielded from the public gaze. This is Tallaght Community Arts’ Making Space, a studio and store for past work.

It’s also a space for Freshly Ground Theatre Company. With an extra push from our indefatigable producers, Tony Fegan and Grainne Walker-Murray, Local Live Performance South Dublin funds have been successfully raised at the last minute to support a live performance. Through this I have the good fortune of working with young theatre makers from Freshly Ground Theatre; Bronwen Barrett, who is channelling the character of the Fox through physical theatre and dance and Vlad Gurdis and Michele Henry who are breathing life into the two Raven puppets. They are a joy to work with.

This is an opportunity to research and develop narrative, art forms, technical capacity for a large scale immersive event in 2022. In a very short time we have repurposed the 2020 giant window art of the Cailleach as a shadow puppet screen and Martin Dunne has built a sturdy frame work in the Making Space yard so that the screen and paper art panels can be erected easily. The projection curtains have been rigged and anchored to railings. Everything is ready except for some of the digital animations as the FINK team has been waiting for the soundtrack to be completed as these two artistic elements are synchronised. We're up against time.

Film maker Annette Barnaville with Shane Ryan Croasdell and photographer Jonathan Stokes have been documenting the process all week. Cian and Brandon have worked long hours to get the set and technical requirements ready under the watchful eye of Tony Fegan. The Freshly Ground team have been devising and rehearsing each day. Tadashi has been finishing the Fox costume and Raven puppets with help from Cian. Brandon has prepared the shadow puppets for rehearsals. Grainne is in and out with useful pieces of kit and updates on production and budget. We take turns to make lunch but have maintained a good level of social distancing throughout the process. Covid self-testing kits are on hand. We’ve thought of everything.  

4th December

But this is an outdoor event. Throughout the week we have been assaulted by various fierce weather conditions but today, 4 December is freezing cold with clear skies and this evening is our opportunity to film a live performance of Finding the Wild. The day progresses towards a technical/dress rehearsal and I’m ready to brief everyone about their roles and their cues. We’ve pulled together an improvised lighting rig but have discovered that we have to be careful not to overload the wiring system of these old buildings. Now the PA system doesn’t seem to work with the projector. We send out for another one. It doesn’t work either. We improvise again with a small sound device linked via Bluetooth to the lap top. It’s loud enough.

There’s no time now to rehearse with the whole team. The cameras are set up around the yard but the film makers haven’t seen a complete run through so they too will have to improvise. Our invited audience has arrived but even the hot mulled drink isn’t quite warming enough in this winter cold so we can’t keep them waiting. The projector is focussed, the soundtrack starts, the fox dances, the raven speaks, the Cailleach watches over us from her illuminated screen. Tonight she has conjured up a cold blustery wind. Just as Dave Barnaville’s beautiful digital animations are projected the curtains become a huge sail requiring most of the team to hold them down. We’ll have to film those scenes again later. But mission is accomplished and our show is declared beautiful and moving by our small audience as we celebrate with more mulled drink and a bespoke Finding the Wild cake.

We’ve learned a lot about being flexible, adapting to the Covid situation each time. We’ve acknowledged how much a very small team can accomplish in a short time and we’ve agreed we were very ambitious and pushed ourselves very hard. However, I can’t wait to see the results and on Saturday 18 December at 6.00pm there will be a live stream of the Finding the Wild film. After this I look forward to conjuring up more after dark art adventures in 2022.