Marc Atkinson of the Sugarglass Theatre Talks Relationships In A Digital World

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Marc Atkinson is director of the Dublin theatre company Sugarglass Theatre, a company who in their short existence have performed a mammoth production of Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley, have been nominated for Spirit of the Fringe for All Hell Lay Beneath, designed the Illusion Exhibition at the Science Gallery and performed a production of Beckett short plays in Áras an Uachtaráin for the president and at the Happy Days festival in Enniskillen!

Marc is currently based in New York completing an MFA in Directing under the guidance of the legendary Anne Bogart. In his short three months home in Dublin Sugarglass have co-produced a new piece of mentalism/theatre by Shane Gillen and now in partnership with The Lir Academy are producing their first new full production since the acclaimed Tender Napalm.

So what is this new work and tell us a little about it.

It’s a new play by Ellen Flynn an extraordinary new writer who graduated from The Lir Academy MFA in playwriting. It largely explores what happens to our relationships in an age of social networks and digital life.

Technology provides easy solutions to the biggest questions in our lives like love and relationships. We can go online and have hundreds of options by simply swiping left or right. I understand why these things exist and I think it’s great and they provide ways for people to meet but I think it takes the risk out of it. There are so many options it removes the risk because if it doesn’t work out there’s always someone else, they’re disposable. 

I think what the characters in this play are dealing with is their inability to actually experience the big feelings, the feelings of chance, heartbreak, betrayal. A lot of our plays deal with love, jealousy, betrayal, memory , nostalgia, all those big feelings that we all have that tend to restrain us.

I think the theatre is better at asking larger questions. One of my lecturers at Columbia New York, Gregory Mosher, often says theatre is important because you can’t google heartbreak, you can’t google jealousy, you can’t google betrayal. These things don’t have easy definitions or answers and I think theatre is good at answering those questions in a way that many other forms aren’t.

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Is this something that Sugarglass is interested in then? The big questions? Or what would you say is the through line in your work?

I find this question really hard to answer because I don’t think were interested in a particular style of work I think once you start working on the individual piece a style develops. When you look at the great artists in the last 50 or 60 years they’ve all gone through huge changes in style. Our work can be vastly different, we’ve done Beckett plays, we did All Hell Lay Beneath which was fully devised developed from the novel Steppenwolf and Tender Napalm which is a contemporary play which gave us loads of room to experiment and now a piece of new writing. I guess it’s getting excited about doing different types of things and challenging ourselves. I think for better or for worse we’re all the kind of people that enjoy challenging ourselves. I think you can see that in the scale of our work. I think we’ve always been interested in scale. It’s about trying to make something big that deals with the questions of what it is to be human.

Why would you encourage an audience to go to the theatre?

Because it offers you a different experience. What I do know and what I largely believe is theatre’s greatest asset at the moment is it’s scarcity. We live in an age of infinite abundance. Abundance of information, abundance of media, I can download all the music on Spotify and all the films on Netflix and have them all at my fingertips. In a world of infinite abundance I think there’s something very valuable in the scarcity of theatre, that it only happens once and ok it is repeatable but it’s never an exactly repeat or exactly the same. It’s an experience at a specific time with a specific group of other people. I think that’s what people want right now, I think that’s why you see a huge rise in the popularity of pop up shops and pop up restaurants because in a world of abundance I think we’re hungry for scarcity we’re hungry to experience. I think that theatre has a huge opportunity to capitalise on that, because that’s what it is, it is by its very nature scarce it is by it’s very nature unrepeatable. 

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So why should we come and see Sugarglass Theatre’s new show Five Minutes Later?

Well because of four incredible actors: Manus Halligan; Sophie Jo; Bob Kelly; and Nichola McEvilly. If you want the real reason to come and see the show it’s because these actors are just extraordinary and we’ve been extremely lucky to find them, each wonderfully different and experienced. 

Irish actors are an extraordinary bunch, more so than in many other countries, it’s a natural ability that shines through. I think what is extraordinary with The Lir Academy and what I’ve seen is that when you’re taking that natural talent and combining it with the kind of rigorous training they’re getting at the academy they’re producing some really extraordinary people who are really capable of some game changing acting.

Do you think you’ll stay in New York or return or Dublin ultimately?

I love the people here. The company and the people in Sugarglass almost shouldn’t work well together, we’re very different people, I don’t think you would naturally pick us to be a group of friends but actually for some reason it works. Finding those kind of collaborators is very rare and its very important to me that we continue our work together.

Dublin is an amazing place to make work. In spite of the enormous funding issues and the difficulties in finding audiences, it’s a fertile ground for new work and new companies and exploring creativity. One of the things I find most refreshing about coming home is that I don’t necessarily always like the work that I see but I never quite know what to expect and so I think it s a really wonderful place to work. I’ve no intention of stopping working here, I’m just excited for Sugarglass to be based here and elsewhere.

Five Minutes Later opens on Thursday 28th August and runs until September 6th in The Lir Academy.

For more information click here.

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Written By

Aisling Murray

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