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«Mirror up to Nature»

The Fourth Seamus Heaney Lectures


Edited By Patrick Burke

Ours would appear to be an era of unprecedented variation in the mediation of meaning – television, computer, the older forms of radio and print.

Since, however, such profusion of resources has not of itself guaranteed enhanced profundity or sophistication in our modes of understanding – psychological, sociological, philosophical, historical, and theological – the issue of the continued relevance of cultural forms, dependent both on the human voice and on ritualization, presents itself for consideration. How may modern people most tellingly relate to such overwhelmingly verbal processes as teaching, be it an erudite lecture or a classroom lesson with infants? Is singing, in the words of Tom Murphy, ‘the only way to tell people who you are’? What, in particular, is the contemporary usefulness for the building of societies of one of our oldest and culturally valued rituals, that of drama?

The Fourth Seamus Heaney Lectures, ‘Mirror up to Nature’: Drama and Theatre in the Modern World, given at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, between October 2006 and April 2007, addressed these and related questions. The gifted play director, Patrick Mason, spoke with exceptional insight on the essence of theatre. Thomas Kilroy, distinguished playwright and critic, dealt with the topic of Ireland’s contribution to the art of theatre. Two world authorities, Cecily O’Neill and Jonothan Neelands, gave inspiring accounts of the rich potential of drama in the classroom. Brenna Katz Clarke, Head of English at St Patrick’s College, offered a delightful examination of the relationship between drama and film. Finally, John Buckley, internationally acclaimed composer, spoke on opera and its history, while giving an illuminating account of his own Words Upon The Window-Pane.

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4 | Mirror, dynamo or lens?: Drama, children and social change

4 |Mirror, dynamo or lens?:

Drama, children, and social change


Jonothan Neelands

This essay builds on a series of bullet points which I prepared as the basis for my contribution to the Seamus Heaney Lecture Series. I have never been comfortable with the idea of speech where this means reading out a ‘finished’ lecture. For me, this oral recitation of a given and closed text short-circuits the essential ‘liveness’ of a shared public event. It asks an audience to listen to what they could read for themselves and at their leisure in some other context. It is an important feature of my own work as a drama practitioner that when people come together for the purpose of making theatre there should be some room for improvisation and dialogue, for responding to the here and now, for serendipitous happenings that could not have been planned for in advance or even repeated again. For this reason I wanted to give a ‘talk’ rather than a lecture.

As it was, the ‘unexpected’ drama of the event nearly unseated me and threatened to leave me without even the small props I had prepared in order to build my talk in action. I stood at the lectern and realized with horror that the notes I had so carefully placed earlier were missing! I asked again and again where my notes were. The audience laughed imagining that this was some playful ruse. This call and no response went on for some minutes and I was in total panic now. And then a...

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