Posting Date: October 25, 2010
Q&A with Patrick Sutton
Gaiety School director discusses KSU partnership
By Karen L. Jensen
Patrick Sutton during his Fall 2010 visit to Kennesaw State.
Photo by Brenda Curtis
(Above) KSU Department of Theatre, Performance Studies & Dance Chair John Gentile, Patrick Sutton and Martin Maguire at Smock Alley Theatre in Ireland in Summer 2010.
(Below) Scenes of Ireland and KSU students during their study-abroad program at The Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland in Summer 2010.
Photos courtesy of John Gentile
Patrick Sutton is director of The Gaiety School of Acting, The National Theatre School of Ireland and Smock Alley Theatre. He recently visited the Kennesaw State University campus and spoke about the ongoing collaboration between Kennesaw State and The Gaiety School.
KSU: The KSU Department of Theatre, Performance Studies and Dance and The Gaiety School of Acting collaborate to offer a summer study aboard program in July each summer in Dublin. In what way does participation in the summer study abroad benefit students?
Sutton: A study abroad experience broadens the mind and extends the horizon. But a study abroad in theatre and the acting craft particularly provides value for students. The value is that the students get the opportunity to immerse themselves totally in a creative experience in another country morning, noon, and night. They are able to utilize Ireland’s great writers as the means, if you like, to exploring the craft of acting. It’s like being buried alive—a total immersion— in acting. Students find themselves having to and wanting to give themselves to the program above and beyond the call of duty. We make sure that we bring from the very first moment a positive working environment which includes the rules of the full-time actor training program. The Gaiety School of Acting has a 25-year tradition of training actors for theatre, film, and television.
KSU: In what ways is instruction designed to immerse students in literary, theatrical, and historical settings?
Sutton: There two parts to the study abroad program in Dublin. The first part is the opportunity for the students to immerse themselves in the history and the culture of the Irish so they get a chance to understand where they are—in a fairly extraordinary city in an extraordinary country. The students study the social, political and infrastructural backgrounds of the works. We provide the student with the academic opportunity to contextualize their location so that they’re not just acting in a safe little bubble. It’s a chance to move distractions out of the way and to focus directly on why the work was written in response to what impulses were going on socially and politically in Ireland at the time or today and to create the work from there. The second part is getting the body being switched on. It involves how to take the information that you’ve intellectualized and give it an authentic life above and beyond just saying words and hoping that you’ll get away with it. A very central part of the program is the imperative for the actor to learn to be acutely aware of his body and how it exists and stands and how it can breathe itself into authentic life. Students learn to distill the whole world into the moment. Theatre is about real life, and it’s about telling stories, but we don’t have time to tell the whole of a life’s story, so we distill it so that we can really highlight and extenuate the experience. At the end of the program each summer, we showcase actors who look like they were born for the stage.
KSU: In what areas does The Gaiety School of Acting train students during the summer program?
Sutton: We’re in the business of stripping away all the junk, and all the noise, and leading an actor to the point where he can be still. Silent. Relaxed. So that, in that mode, an actor can put the building blocks in place and create an authentic performance that is alive.
Acting is more essentially about what’s not said more than what is said. What makes theatre alive, dangerous, authentic and in the moment is what’s going on below the text. What are you thinking? What am I thinking? It’s what’s going on at the conscious and subconscious levels. Another essential part of what we do is help actors figure out what they stand for as an actor. We run a program called Manifesto designed so that the actor who leaves acting school has an idea of what he stands for, what his values are and what kind of work he wants to make.
KSU: What playwright and traditions will students study this summer?
Sutton: Students will study Samuel Beckett for all the reasons to do with stillness and the integrity of silence. And they will study John Millington Synge for the lyricism of his text. Synge went to live in Western Ireland, and he didn’t have a recording device. He only had his own ear. But he would listen to the language spoken by the people; he’d hide in the top of houses, and he’d just listen to what was going on in the house. He would take that language and create dramas. Also, Sean O’Casey’s very political plays are studied in the light of changing Ireland as Ireland grew away from the 700 years of English oppression and became a nation in its own right. Students also study Brian Friel, Marina Carr, Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh.
KSU: Please explain the significance of Smock Alley Theatre and its relation to The Gaiety School of Acting.
Sutton: In 1662, Dublin built its first theater called Smock Alley. It was called the Theatre Royal, but Dubliners called it Smock Alley. It is the only one of three theaters from the time period that is still standing to this day. About six years ago, I decided that I was going to return it to its original purpose. Next summer, we’ll be opening Smock Alley Theater to the public. So 350 years after it first opened its doors, it will be opening its doors again. It’s the oldest standing theatre in Western Europe. The Gaiety School of Acting will be relocated inside Smock Alley Theatre.
KSU: Tell me about the instructors that the students will learn from.
Sutton: Dennis O’Brien is the academic teacher; his world is the world of theatre and text analysis. He’s been with us for over 10 years. He has a phenomenal ability to ignite the world of the student actor coming from Kennesaw State University. There’s also Nuala Hayes, an actress and a storyteller, who does storytelling work with us. There’s me. I teach Beckett and Friel. My colleague Martin Maguire, who is an actor, writer and director, teaches Synge and O’Casey, and he’s been with us for a long time.
KSU: How are students given the opportunity to assess their own growth as actors and writers?
Sutton: They are on fire with the possibility of a craft that’s been lit. That’s it. Students that come back from the program are more confident, more alive and much more aware of their abilities as performers. But the most fundamental thing is that the individual feels that they’ve gone through a journey. They’ve climbed a mountain, and at the top of the mountain they’ve seen the next mountain is even bigger, but they have the wherewithal and tools to climb it.
KSU: Why does The Gaiety School of Acting enjoy working with Kennesaw State University?
Sutton: Because Kennesaw State University enjoys working with us. You know, it’s mutual. It’s a valuable partnership that’s gone on for a long time. The faculty is enthusiastic about talking to students about the program, and scholarships are available. Of course, we are enthusiastic about KSU students coming to Dublin. Applications are open and scholarships are available.