Martin Sharry is interested in making art. The most conspicuous achievements involve performance and an audience. The form of theatre encourages the belief that an event happens. The strength of this suggestion appeals to him, especially since he struggles to feel conviction in his occasional forays into other forms. The apparent finitude gives the impression that the work is done. Words were written, then actors repeated what they had memorised, mostly, and the audience corroborated the experience by their attendance and then their leave-taking. The realia of gravity, time and space are important to Martin. The contest of being interesting within these formal constraints generates the play. This process probably derives from his experience of growing up within certain conditions. However, the psychological explication is not the thing, at least not for him. This attention to form reveals the reason why certain people hate going to the theatre, because you must yield your authority, there is no remote control, you just have to sit there and take it.
He stood on a stage when he was 28 and this was a revelation. The marked boundary afforded the potential to walk for the first time, to say things once only and to constantly see things anew. This contrasted with his experiences of work in hotels and factories and school where everything was routine and habit. Instead the dimension of theatre offered a rare freedom. This was his initial attraction and the reason why he knew he never wanted to play Hamlet or wouldn’t hack Fair City. This thing became tangled up with labels such as ‘liveness’ and ‘presence’. He was lucky to have started by studying Peter Brook and Theatre De Complicité in UCC with Regina Crowley. The emphasis on ‘being’ before ‘saying’ resonated with the newly discovered excitement. In 2008 he completed a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies in NUI Galway. The course covered Poor Theatre and the Via Negativa through to writing plays and criticism to Postdramatic Theatre. His enthusiasm outgrew Grotowski and gravitated towards the latter.
Seeing Tim Crouch perform his play My Arm, in the BOI Theatre, blasted all previous theories of theatre out of the water. There was nothing overwrought about it, no indulging in physical agony for all to see. Instead the meticulous innovation of storytelling lightly worn for the benefit of the audience. Magic and heart. Not words regularly employed by Martin. Tim has stated that theatre deals with the problem of representation. This has stayed with Martin.
Martin loitered in Galway experimenting in performance until he brought his one man show to the Dublin Fringe 2012, I Am Martin Sharry. He talked about his habit of dossing, a recurring dream of tornadoes, the strangeness of theatre, his Uncle’s room, his sudden outburst, his time in Ballinasloe hospital, he talked about his grandfather’s return to Inishere, after the crash in 1920’s America, he talked about the house that he built and his failure as a shopkeeper. All three were named Martin Sharry. He was bearing witness. His Uncle was buried without a headstone. He wasn’t as physically fit as he would have liked. It was exhausting to hold the space for an hour and he had never experienced a test of stamina like it. It wasn’t universally loved but the show garnered a certain level of respect. He stayed in Dublin thereafter.
Then in 2013 he was diagnosed as having Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease. That year he produced nothing. It was all about acclimatising to the new reality, mentally and physically. At first it was manifesting as a mild tremor in his right index finger and occasional fatigue. The latter has proven to be the most intrusive symptom but also the one that gets least sympathy. Whereas the obvious strangeness of a hand conducting no music of its own accord is easier to box off as illness. Over time, things settled down, apart from the hand. The body began to accommodate the medication and Martin learned more and more about the limitations. The consultant told him that apparently one has Parkinson’s five years before the symptoms are pronounced. This might explain Martin’s penchant for the dead-pan (see The Three Friends sketch on Youtube).
He soldiered on and made two shows in 2014. Without You I Am Nothing was in Live Collision and GIFT in Gateshead. It was billed as a film, an essay and ‘a performer trying to be present’. He wanted to film someone walking along the whole coast of Inishere. As it was, he and Marta managed to film one eight of the shoreline. It was tricky to negotiate over the uneven rocky surface. They slowed the footage down and it worked out ok for the performance. The text was less an essay and more a collage of different texts written by Martin concluding with Czeslaw Milosz final poem Orpheus and Eurydice. There was appropriate space between the text and the video. He felt it went well enough in Dublin but not so well in Gateshead. He overheard people afterwards saying that they ‘got nothing from that’. He consoled himself with the negative subtraction but couldn’t shake off a dissatisfaction with the lack of communication.
He wrote and directed Looking For Work which was performed by Barry John O’ Connor, Rebecca Guinnane and Tim Creed. It was very much inspired by the sparse style of Richard Maxwell’s New York City Players. (seeing People Without History in Project was another revelation). The story went: a lodger in a couple’s house has an affair with the wife. The husband is oblivious, suffering some breakdown where he has given up his lucrative job and taken to isolating himself drinking and watching Youtube. The lodger’s promises of freedom are tentative and the wife stays with the husband. Fast forward five years and the lodger is a door to door salesman and happens upon the house. The wife recognises him but the husband who has recovered thinks that he’s some ‘form of ghost’ than he can’t fully identify. She says that she has a ‘five year old son’ and the lodger says ‘oh’ and then he leaves. But the how of doing it was probably more important than the why. Martin realises this disparity between the why and how may have been a weakness. The Irish Times review took exception to the brutalist nature of it and some people thought it was going too far not to have more costumey costume but Martin was happy with it. He was learning how to celebrate liveness and allow it to unfold into something with wider significance.
The Impossible Address
This was a collaboration between Brendan Rehill, Martin and Tim Creed. The premise was tested in Smock Alley’s Scene + Heard Festival. Martin met Brendan on Inishere during Drop Everything, Brendan went on to win the HearSay Audio Prize for a piece titled Aran of the Saints (on Soundcloud). In it he talks to Martin about the contrast between the city sounds and the ambience of the island. Anyway, they wanted to make something for the Scene + Heard Festival, it is a platform for new work or works-in-progress. Martin supplied some poems concerned with being by the shore and the state of mind that can beset someone looking at the sea. Brendan created a soundscape live, while Tim read the text. On Inishere, in Áras Eanna the performance was developed. There was a sound-walk, the audience met and walked to Tobar Éanna out towards the uninhabited part of the island, they stopped every five minutes and paid attention to what they could hear and noted the differences each time. This experience prepared them for the performance that followed. Tim made it across from Doolin on the last ferry and ran to Arás Éanna. It was ok, we didn’t need to rehearse, the text was recorded and relayed to Tim through earphones. This wasn’t a doss however, if anything it seemed more daunting and more in the moment. Martin recycled the video that he used for Without You. And finally there was a post-show discussion. Máirín was very generous in her singling out of Martin in a sort of homecoming. The show was well attended. One local teenager said the ‘show made her feel stupid’.
Marky Mac Sherry Tells It Like Is
Martin did a ten minute piece for JOLT, a Galway theatre initiative in 2012. It involved a failing stand-up comedian making jokes about death. Tommy Cooper was a big reference. In 2015 he resumes his interest in stand-up performance within a theatre context. He plays with the expectations of the form: a sense of liveness, an openness to improvising and a suspension of disbelief - to a degree, the show shouldn’t feel rehearsed. The appearance of spontaneity is necessary for laughter, hence the importance of timing. His subjects were sex and death, having learned that these were the subjects of the mature artist according to WB Yeats. The marriage of this content with a formalist approach was the most successful experiment with liveness.
Martin collected cardboard boxes for a year, actually longer, he was living in Galway in 2011 when he stopped throwing out boxes, mostly Barry’s Tea. They gathered in the small room he was renting and his housemates thought he was just untidy. He couldn’t defend his action, he didn’t know why he was accumulating them. He was embarrassed and stopped but still couldn’t throw the boxes out. Instead he folded them up so they occupied as little space as possible and put them in the attic. They might be still there today. Anyway, he forgot them and that habit until 2015, when he was living in Dublin with more understanding housemates. They tolerated the accumulation but wondered where it was going. Then Martin applied to TULCA with the idea of making a loose block out of the boxes, making a film of this block and creating a performance to occur beside it. Rebecca Guinnane read a text that touched on the phenomenon of Charlie Zelenoff, punding and puzzling over the possibility of part-time hoarding. The video was made by Francis Matthews and slowly panned across the four sides of the cardboard block, in an empty concrete studio. There were some shots up close mixed in and some brief percussion which comes in at 2.42 until 4.41 of the 5 minutes and 13 seconds.
This show was in The Dublin Theatre Festival, 2017. Martin received Arts Council Funding in 2015 for a week’s workshopping on a script that was facilitated by Tim Crouch and the Pan Pan Mentorship Programme. The originating seed of the whole thing was an image of an African man who couldn’t speak. He couldn’t speak because of the burden of trauma. That’s what Martin imagined. He was also thinking about what is the most that theatre could do? He remembered reading about the French Surrealist poet Robert Desnos. He had been rounded up by the Nazis and was being taken away on a truck with women and children, to be executed. Then he took the hand of a girl beside him and read her palm, he predicted that she would live a long and happy life. Everyone started to thrust their palms forward and each time a long and happy life was predicted. Apparently the Nazi guards were so moved by this that they couldn’t go through with the order. Martin wondered had theatre saved their lives?
He wrote a monologue for a dead man. He contrasted this with the drunken shenanigans of three yahoos from Mayo. They were based on three yahoos that had violently stormed into a hostel dorm once upon a time. The contrast between a quiet, frightened outsider and ignorant, entitled villagers could be accommodated in the structure of JM Synge’s Playboy of the Western World. Martin had been concerned with the issue of Direct Provision.
To be continued…