Gaza gets its First Call

First Call youth theatre group from the Playhouse Theatre - pictured from left, Orla Mooney, Anna Hegarty, Seanan McKinney, Eoin Gillespie, Gavin Barr, Gareth O'Neill, Steven Graydon, Jill Hyndman and Niamh Roberts. (FC0502AQ01)
First Call youth theatre group from the Playhouse Theatre - pictured from left, Orla Mooney, Anna Hegarty, Seanan McKinney, Eoin Gillespie, Gavin Barr, Gareth O'Neill, Steven Graydon, Jill Hyndman and Niamh Roberts. (FC0502AQ01)

They’re huddled around a table in Fitzroy’s and they’ve just ordered lunch.

First Call is the Playhouse Theatre’s youth theatre group and the current crop of hopeful Thespians have just staged their own production of the ‘Gaza Monologues’. They’re celebrating in style.

“It went really well,” says 17 year-old Oakgrove Integrated College student Steven Graydon.

“There were a lot of people in to see us - it couldn’t have been better.”

First Call youth theatre started in Derry over six years ago.

The group meet every Tuesday and Thursday from September to December.

Eoin Gillespie, (20), is from Burnfoot in Donegal. Eoin is one of the longest serving members of the group and says that this year’s production was by far the best.

“We’ve tried our hand at a few things in the past but nothing has come close to our production of the ‘Gaza Monologues’.

“Everyone involved in this year’s group is brilliant. Everyone was totally dedicated and when it came to the actual day itself I think we all did really well.”

The Gaza Monologues were created by the ASHTAR Theatre in Jerusalem and other partnering theatre companies in 2010.

ASHTAR Theatre was founded by two prominent Palestinian actors in 1990.

The Gaza Monologues are the personal stories of children from Gaza. On October 17, 2010 over 1500 children travelled from Gaza to more than 50 cities in 36 different countries around the world to simultaneously perform the monologues. It was a huge success.

“I think most of us had a bit of an idea of what was happening in Gaza from watching the news and reading newspapers,” says 17 year-old St. Mary’s pupil Niamh Roberts.

“Some of what they wrote was very emotive so when it was decided that we were going to do the monologues we wanted to make sure that we did them justice.”

Eighteen year-old Gavin Barr from Carnhill says that whilst it was important they enjoyed working together the group’s main aim was to get the important message of the monologues across to the audience.

“Personally, I have had an absolute ball and I have met some really amazing people.

“We always knew that a big part of getting involved with a youth theatre group was to have a good time but when you’re trying your hand at something as important as the Gaza Monologues it was vital that we captured and delivered the message of the young people from Gaza - I think we did that.”

Although the Gaza Monologues were created so that young people all over the world could share the stories of the Gaza young people, it’s encouraged that theatre groups try to bring something unique to the production.

“We wanted to do something to show what life is like for us living in Derry and then jump to one of the monologues,” says 16 year-old Prehen girl Orla Mooney.

“Everyone in the group has an interest and passion for drama.

“When we started working on the project everyone was really excited and I think that it has stayed that way since September.”

She added: “It’s great getting the chance to meet with other people. I didn’t know anyone in the group before I started but, now I would regard them as my friends.”

The group say that the decision to stage their own production of the Gaza Monologues was taken by local local director and facilitator Shauna Kelpie.

Gareth O’Neill says that Shauna was the driving force behind the group and explains that when morale was low she was there to keep everyone on the straight and narrow.

“To be honest with you I was thinking of leaving the group before Christmas,” says Gareth.

“After talking to Shauna I decided to stick with it - looking back now I am so glad that I listened to her.

“I’ve done a bit of drama in the past and when I go to university next year I plan on keeping it up - it’ll be hard to find someone who is as brilliant as Shauna to work with.”

Gavin says that he was also contemplating walking away from the production but explains that it was Shauna’s professional and dedication that convinced him to stay.

“Words can’t describe how thankful the group is to Shauna,” says Gavin.

“She was an absolute joy to work with and fingers crossed we all get a chance to work with her again in the future.

“Yeah, I was a bit like Gareth in the sense that I was thinking of packing it in but I had a quick chat with Shauna and decided to stay. I’d be kicking myself now if I had left.”

Shauna says that she enjoyed working with the young people and praised them for their talent and fervour for the material.

“The show was insightful piece of theatre and it showcased rich local talent in this city,” Shauna said.

“The young people have worked tirelessly and I thought they took Playhouse stage with real energy and enthusiasm - this group of young people so special.

“They delivered an absorbing performance of this powerful piece of internationally recognized theatre.”

Seanan McKinney, (17) is at St. Mary’s College. Seanan says that the experience of the Gaza Monologues has confirmed to her that drama is something that she would like to pursue when she leaves school.

“It’s just been amazing. I hardly knew anyone here but I’d count everyone around this table as one of my friends.

“Although a few of us will be leaving the group to go off to university I think that we will all keep in touch through Facebook.

“I am really interested in drama and it’s what I want to do when I go to university.”

Despite the fact that the project is officially over the group say that that they would jump at the chance to stage the Gaza Monologues again during Derry’s City of Culture year next year.

“Never say never,” says Steven. “It’s something we didn’t even think about until you asked the question but if the chance came about I think that we would all try our best to make it work.

“I think we have all benefited and enjoyed working together. If we were able to do it again, we’d be mad to say no,” says Steven.