Nineteen-year-old Mairead is a circus performer, film-maker and language student. She talks of her love for theatre, how invaluable circus can be for mental health and how there are scarier things in life than walking on a tightwire in front of hundreds of people.
Photos and Words: Julia Monard
Tell us about your earliest projects?
I started performing when I was really young. Because my mom studied film in college, when I was a child, I used to be in her short films. I started doing Galway Community Circus when I was 12 – basically just because my friends were doing it. I was super shy and super anxious, and I really hated the idea of performing. Because I started young, I got so used to it. Then it became my release as I was growing up and in school.
How did you get involved with the performance side of things?
With circus, I used to do aerial and trapeze – I didn’t do a lot of acting or voice performance. I got into that at 14 when I was doing Macnas parades. Then I started doing some theatre with Theatre Room and I used to make short films with my friends.
How did you decide to study film?
When I was 14, I did a crash course in film with a guy who used to work in Circus. After we did that, he gave us a script that he wrote and asked us to make it – it was a script about teenagers. That was really funny, a horror film on a 90s camcorder. That was the first film I ever made and it was after that I decided I wanted to study film. When I left school two years ago, I went to GTI and did a two-year course in film. Now I study languages, but I still make films with my friends.
Why do you make art?
Mostly for myself, I think. I’m a very anxious person; I’m very introspective, I like my own company, and performing gives me a way to show a different side of myself. I feel like a different person when I’m acting and performing and I’m able to express myself better. It’s really freeing to be on stage. I find circus so good for my mental health too – I think that’s mostly why I do it, to be honest. The reason why I chose to create things and chose to perform is because it’s like therapy without having to talk about things. When you’re trying to focus on walking on a tightwire, you don’t think of all the other things going on in your life, you don’t think about the audience or whatever is happening, you don’t even think about the fact that you’re doing something that some people would be so terrified to do. You just think of getting to the other side.
What aspect of film do you enjoy most?
Making documentaries – you can do a lot visually with documentary. And I like being able to showcase things that I’m interested in. I’m not really interested in writing my own scripts for short films, but I really like making other people’s scripts and the production side of things.
Was there a moment when you realised ‘This is who I am’?
When I left secondary school. I really hated school and when I left, I really felt that freedom – the freedom of ‘This is my time to choose what I want to do and I can do anything’. When I did my Leaving Cert, I had some mental health problems and I really needed to get out. When I did, it was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I always knew I wanted to go to university, but I really wanted to take time to do something I just enjoyed, something that was just for me and nobody else.
If there were no restrictions, what would you be doing?
I would be circus performing. I’d like to do something really crazy. Galway Community Circus were walking across the river on a tightwire as a part of the Galway 2020 Wires Crossed project recently, and when I saw them doing that, I realised it’s something I’d love to do. I’d love to do it across something much bigger.
Are there any key people in your life that really inspire you?
Both my parents work in theatre and are musicians, so they really influenced me. My brother does circus as well. They always really encouraged me, not to simply get involved in the arts, but to do what I wanted. My circus teachers really inspire me too. I moved to a different group this year in the circus and both of my teachers, Davi and Isabela, are just amazing. They are so kind, and warm and motivate you so much. You just know they were born to do their job. It’s amazing, the fact that they give so much to us and don’t ask for much in return. I feel like when I go to circus, it’s the only place where I have no restrictions and I can really be myself and feel what I’m feeling, whether it’s good or bad. They’ve seen me at my worst and my best, so I have no reservations there.
“Galway is really diverse. There are so many opportunities here, especially artistically and voluntary. People just do it because they love it and because they want to provide something that’s accessible to everybody.”
How have you come to live in Galway?
My parents are from Scotland and they came to Galway when they were about 19 or 20, so when they were about the same age as I am now. I was born here and so was my brother but the rest of my family lives in Scotland. When I left school, I had to decide whether to stay in Galway or to go. The place where I felt like I could do everything I wanted to do was in Galway. I could go to a really good university, but at the same time keep doing circus and keep doing film and theatre, so it was a conscious decision to stay here.
What do you like most about living here?
Galway is really diverse. There are so many opportunities here, especially artistically and voluntary. People just do it because they love it and because they want to provide something that’s accessible to everybody. It’s not hard to find good art here. There’s loads of things that don’t cost money that are easy to get involved in and that are really supportive, especially things like Theatre Room, Little Cinema and Macnas. It’s not super serious or judgemental – it’s just fun. It can be so hard to be an artist, especially if you want to do it professionally. Because of that, you really have to be positive, motivated and hopeful. So that’s why I think why Galway lifts me – because there are so many people like that here.
What challenges do you think being in Galway poses?
Galway gives you a lot of freedom but it also brings a lot of things which hold you back or aren’t so good for young people, like drugs and drinking. I would also say it’s really expensive to live here. I don’t know if I would like to stay here forever or raise my kids here-it’s really hard for young people. My friends who grew up in the countryside, I feel like they had a lot more ‘youthful’ experience when they were young.
What is the most adventurous thing you’ve done?
I’ve been to a lot of different places with the circus exchanges. I’ve been to England, Finland, France, The Czech Republic and I’m just back from the Canary Islands. I’ve been on loads of different trips around Ireland as well. Then I don’t know, I’m not that adventurous!
What do you feel is missing in Galway with regards to culture?
With circus, there are a lot of things that we’d like to train in but we can’t because of a lack of space. So dedicated spaces for circus or physical performance would be nice. There’s a lot of volunteer-based art going on in Galway right now, which I think is really cool and it’s awesome that people are able to do that. But I think if there were more opportunities for professional development in art, many more people could stay here.
What would you like to see happen in 2020?
I would like to see more street performances and street theatre. Galway’s got such beautiful little winding streets – they’re so unique and picturesque. I hope Galway 2020 can show lots of diverse forms of art I’d love to see something I haven’t seen before, something really different, that’s going to really surprise me – like a new type of art form, something that shocks me. Galway is amazing for theatre and art exhibitions, but there are so many more different forms of art which aren’t so much at the forefront.
What would you hope Galway 2020 would achieve for your generation?
Making it easier, more accessible to be able to do arts professionally. Also, I think it needs to be brought to the young generation as well. It’s really important when you’re developing to have arts in schools and for children. A lot of people in my generation would be involved in sports – pretty much everybody is. But then a lot of people don’t have any form of art they would engage in. It’s so important because it can improve just about everything in your life – it’s not just about ‘being creative’. You can’t really be bad at art – there’s something that everybody can find. Even in circus, there are so many disciplines. It would be really great to get young people engaged with it. To see that it’s not this thing you’re either good at or you’re not and that’s it’s not only available to some people.
Generation 20 is a photo and interview series focusing on the new wave of artists in Galway. With each interview and portrait, we aim to uncover their motivations, aspirations and frustrations. To get the full authentic picture and find their common link, bring them all together and into the light. How does their journey relate to Galway and where would they like to see it in 2020? We want to see the people in the budding stages of their expression, those that are quietly grafting and doing wonderful things.
Open, bold and colourful, this is #generation20.
Photos and interviews by Julia Monard.