Ryan O’Shea: “It’s dangerous to pigeon-hole yourself when making theatre”
I spoke to theatre-maker and performer Ryan O’Shea about his #MoreOfTHISPlease project, working with Michael Pinchbeck, and pop-performance.
The #MoreOfTHISPlease project is described as “A sea of yellow stickers spills across a city, brandished with one unifying message: #MoreOfTHISPlease. Placed as a celebration of everyday enjoyment, this project is an attempt to make us smile, however small or mundane.”
Hi Ryan, so tell me – how did this project start?
The project started with this conversation I had in this lovely independent coffee shop in Bristol, with my brother and good friend, we basically heard this pop out of nowhere, I think it was a bottle or something, but we thought it sounded like a party popper. Then the conversation was focused on this idea of celebration in normal, everyday life, celebrating moments that personally make you happy or smile and how we can mark these moments, how we can celebrate them. That’s where the stickers were born from.
The timing of such a feel-good project feels apt.
It is really. The project started off before the recent deluge of crazy events – Trump, Brexit, etc – when there was already a lot of anticipation and darkness brooding on the horizon. Now there seems to be more division than ever, so the timing of the project is crucial in way, even though it’s not a direct response.
I was going to say, it doesn’t feel like a response.
It’s not really, it’s more about the individuals taking part. It’s crucial that those who want to go forth and use these stickers are doing it for themselves, not for my political agenda, but because something made them smile. That’s its purest form. And whatever makes them smile, it doesn’t matter. As long as it’s something that is important to them. If they want to place a political context to it, then that’s their prerogative. Once people get their stickers, they’re their stickers – so it’s not about me, but them, and what makes them happy.
Looking at your work, this feels like the least performative, artistic-driven project. How has it been working in this new way?
When I first had the idea for the project, that was something I thought about quite a lot: it isn’t really performative. Even though I am thinking of a small performative element in another phase, at this point it’s still not a performance. So thinking about that, why would (or should) I bother? But you know, it’s not expensive to make and send some stickers. It doesn’t matter why I’m doing it, or how I’m doing it; it has the potential to make an impact for people. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s something I wanted to do so I’m doing it. It doesn’t matter how long it lives, or doesn’t. It was more important for me to do something that didn’t have a performative aspect. It’s quite cathartic in way.
What’s been the general reaction to the project?
It’s has a positive reaction already which has made me happy – which is lovely. If it goes nowhere else it’s been worthwhile. It’s like with another thing I’ve started doing, I’ve started photographing all the stuff I put into the back of my van, even when I’ve been helping people move or going to a show etc. I don’t know what that means now, I only know I feel an urge to do it now. Later on in life, it might be useful. It might turn into a project, but I don’t know yet. It could be. We’ll see. It’s the same with this. I’m not sure where it’s going to end up yet, but we’ll see.
What stuff have you stickered this year?
I had one today! It’s been a busy day – lots of emails asking for stickers which I wasn’t expecting. So I sat down and sorted out all the stickers, I had to go out and buy stamps. For some reason, this was a real moment for me. I haven’t handwritten a letter in years, since I was ten probably. It’s just not something we do anymore. It felt quite romantic. I found myself sticking a ‘#MoreOfTHISPlease’ sticker on it when I put a stamp on it. That itself was my moment.
That’s very meta.
It is. I was thinking about the connection of writing something personal to someone, which is quite private and individual, and yet there’s this lovely public face to it, with the hashtag and social media etc.
I see you’ve been working with Michael Pinchbeck on a new piece called Concerto. What is it and where can we see it?
Concerto is basically a biography of a piece of music (Ravel’s ‘Piano Concerto for the Left Hand’), and the piece takes on all these narratives and stories of how this piece of music was commissioned. They’re these fascinating stories from history, and in particular WW1, weaving them together until we hear the final piece of music in all its glory. It’s performed by Nicholas McCarthy, who is a world renowned pianist – which is really special. It’s been amazing to work with Michael on it, and with my good friend and performer Katt Perry too. I’m a recent graduate, so this is a dream come true really. We’ve done three work-in-progresses thus far, but we’ll be premiering the piece in the Axis Arts Centre as its first official ‘outing’ on 23rd February.
What does the piece mean to you?
As an artist it was amazing to have this opportunity to devise and make theatre with a renowned theatre maker and thinker. Looking at all these narratives from the past and weaving them together, and working with such an amazing team – it’s been a real joy to be part of. I’ve learnt a lot about performing and acting, how we can use these devices and not be scared to push ourselves a little further, and those relationships for me as a performer. That’s not that the piece is about, but it’s what the piece means to me.
Looking again at your previous work, these projects don’t really align with the pop aesthetic you’ve explored previously. How has it been deviating from that world for a moment?
Concerto is the most different. It’s Michael’s project and I’m working on it as a performer and deviser. I’m synchronising my thinking to align with his vision, so it’s been easy to detach my own manifesto from the work. It’s really interesting and rich. I think, when making theatre, if you pigeon-hole yourself it can be very dangerous, so it’s healthy to collaborate with people who might challenge or stretch your idea of your own work I think if I make another solo piece I’ll relook at pop culture. I can’t escape it and I can’t disguise my passion for making pop-works. #MoreOfTHISPlease is pop in a way, as it’s happening now. So it’s not not about popular culture, but it kind of inherently is. By putting the focus on the individual I have no responsibility on the artistic vision. The circular yellow emoji-like design is quite pop art-ish, so I guess there are elements of conceptual thinking that relate to popular culture, rather than this being a piece about popular culture.
To order your free stickers for the #MoreOfTHISPlease project, visit Ryan’s website for more information and instructions.
Michael Pinchbeck’s Concerto featuring Nicholas McCarthy will be premiered in the Axis Arts Centre, Crewe on 23rd February at 7:30pm. Tickets are £8/£5 concession and are available from the Box Office 0843 2080 500 or the Axis Arts Centre website.