MindField @ Electric Picnic

“The mind is everything, what you think is what you become, with our thoughts we make the world”- Buddha.

I did two things this year to try and begin my festival recovery from Electric Picnic, while still at Electric Picnic. Firstly, treating myself like a machine which merely needed a certain recovery programme, I diligently drank a Berocca (well, a cheap alternative if we’re intent on facts) and inputted three pieces of fruit immediately upon waking, while opening the tent zipper for that first gasp of air and fumbling around for baby wipes so I could at least delude myself it was a fresh new day, if not an entirely clean one.

The second thing I did was spend my days mainly at the MindField area, exercising the brain cells that were still intact after the night before. MindField could be a festival unto itself with a theatre tent, a food-demonstration tent, a literary stage, a spoken word area, the Hotpress tent, Leviathan tent, a tent from Dublin’s Science Gallery and An Puball Gaeilge; all happy co-campers, there to mentally massage those of us who needed a cerebral awakening, as well as those perkier day-trippers or sensible folk who hadn’t been swinging from the trees until 5am (figuratively, of course).

With a full schedule in all tents, it was impossible to catch all the knowledge that was going around, the stories being shared, the views aired, but here’s what I managed and I’ve returned to civilization with a bit of over-enthusiastic glitter, still hopefully clinging on, as well as some learning.

Leviathan Tent

Those concerned with the state of the nation, as well as those after a smart laugh, were at the Leviathan Tent throughout the weekend, which hosted a David McWilliams Political Cabaret and a History Ireland Hedge School as well as a morning speed-dating session with a menu of “provocative” conversation topics. The Electric Picnic Parliament on Saturday drew up a manifesto for change in Irish society, voted by Picnic-ers, with speakers given five-minutes by a schoolteacher-strict, watch-wielding Mary O’Rourke. Paddy Cullivan (The Late Late Show band frontman) proposed to get rid of democracy and introduce instead a “benign dictatorship” led by himself. Abie Philbin Bowman took umbrage with the language around climate change and claiming it wasn’t “sexy” enough, he proposed a change to the term “terrorist weather” which should get people to take the issue seriously. This was passed by the house; I mean the tent. What’s our definition of sexy these days, again? Gunther Grün put in a hilarious turn, opening his five minutes with “my apologies I’m aware you don’t speak German….yet”. He was quickly challenged by a German-speaking woman in the audience, to much amusement in the tent. Yvonne Judge spoke passionately about equal marriage rights and had the emotional among us (the Berocca hadn’t yet kicked in) tearing-up as she made the case for love.

On Sunday, Miriam O’Callaghan (looking very festival-chic) hosted an Electric Picnic Brunch, which took a lively look at the Sundaynewspapers. Nineteen year- old comedian Alan Porter joined her on the couch and is definitely one-to-watch, stealing the show with his blue suit and sharp wit. Willie White, director of the Dublin Theatre Festival popped in from the theatre tent next door, and was measured and eloquent in his responses. Having admittedly not yet read a paper he brought up the passing of Seamus Heaney as his news topic, to whose memory the MindField area was dedicated. The panel discussed the rare quality of kindness, which Heaney possessed, with O’Callaghan sharing a story about an interview she did with him at his home, where he insisted on stopping the traffic at Sandymount to let her out the drive safely.

The Literary Tent

Amy Huberman and Pauline McGlynn packed out the literary tent in a talk hosted by Roisín Ingle of The Irish Times. They spoke of getting used to rejection in acting and the happy contrast of both writing and acting for a living. Huberman heads to Toronto soon with Irish comedy film The Stag, while McGlynn got a round of applause when she said next on her cards is “finishing her menopause”. Paul Murray (Skippy Dies) and musician Lisa Hannigan were a beautiful duo in conversation with Sinead Gleeson later on Saturday. Murray read Heaney’s “When all the others were away at Mass” as an opening tribute, followed by music by Lisa Hannigan, which set the emotional off again. (These cheap Beroccas do nothing for the teary, evidently). Hannigan had written a song inspired by Skippy Dies, which she also played. Andy Kershaw was passionate and engaging on Sunday about his life in Rock n’Roll and broadcasting, while later on Terri Hooley did a one-man show of pure rock n’roll, swigging from brandy and lighting up as his co-panelists Glenn Patterson and Snow Patrol’s Nathan Connolly struggled to get a word in. He also spoke with emotion about the city of Belfast, describing it as “both a heaven and a hell”.

The Theatre Tent

Theatre at Electric Picnic is like theatre no-where else, audience members come and go, bands (some louder than others) start up in the tent beside you, revellers shout nearby, the stage is small and blank and has to accommodate five acts in quick succession. The actors are looking directly out into the audience and into the fields beyond, they might even be able to catch an indie act out of the corner of their eye. All of this influenced the selection of the programme, presumably, with the majority of shows being monologue-driven plays, which work without lights or set; just performer(s) and the text.  And both had to work hard. We take our woolly hats off to them.

Brokencrow Theatre Company presented Hang Up at 11am on Saturday morning, which was an intense way to start the day. We just hear the performer’s character William on the phone, as he stands beside a rope dropping from the stage ceiling. Eavesdropping on his cellular communications at a time of desperation, there was a certain music created in the observed patterns of speech and humour came through in the recognition of the banal, ritual and often frustrating conversations we have on the phone whether to automated machines or to other people. Trying to connect and failing, emerged as a sort of theme at the theatre tent, a theme arguably innate in the monologue-play form.

The theme was also evident in Hugh Travers Clear the Air by Daedalus Productions, which premiered in Lanigans Upstairs earlier this year. A Dublin band make a trip to New York, despite the ash cloud, and we learn of the lives and loves of its members Lenny, Richie and Lisa. Strong performances (Margaret McAuliffe is pure watch-ability) and tight direction carried the storytelling.

Gerard Kelly’s one-man show Confusions Boats was a theatre highlight at Stradbally, before it appears in Dublin Fringe Festival this month. Looking at his own masculinity through representations of men in movies and music, as well as in relation to family members or early humiliations with the opposite sex and  fights with his own; the themes and questions that arise are intriguing. “Superheroes, icons, fictions, projecting onto me,” he says. How much of his identity is his own and how much of it is a YouTube montage? His writing is both musical, “I think there was a pause here… (pause)” and muscular, and Kelly is a captivating performer. The only problem was it felt too short.

Another highlight was Morgan MacIntyre and Ben Jacob who played as part of the Cáca Milis Cabaret in the theatre tent’s evening offering. This girl’s voice! A bath for the soul on a Sunday evening, as a perfect way to finish off the festival. And then home for a real bath. Lord knows we need one. Glitter be gone, at least until next year.



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