Spotlight On… Niamh O’Connor

With auditions kicking off next week, we spoke to the very talented Niamh O’Connor in this third edition of our “Spotlight On…” series! Niamh directed last year’s panto “The Dancing Dead”, and is here to reveal all, from direction techniques to working with some of DCU’s finest creatives! Make sure to give it a read below! 🧟‍♀️

So tell us a little about the show you directed to set the scene, how about a quick blurb?

Hey! I’m Niamh (O’Connor, to be specific) and between October and early December last year, I directed DCU’s annual “Christmas” Panto (Christmas in very bold quotation marks), “The Dancing Dead”. The show was based on the premise, ‘what would happen if a zombie apocalypse came to Ireland?’ (Let’s not address how the world went into quarantine a few months later. Yup DCU Drama manifesting our reality.) It was gory, campy, and colourful, and easily one of the best experiences of my life.

What inspired you to put yourself up for the role of Director?

I began my DCU Drama journey in the Panto, way back in 2016 and my involvement in it propelled me into the society further. I participated in another panto, the annual musical and intervarsity piece over my three years in the society and as my final year approached, I thought it fitting that my time in Drama ended full circle – by directing the show that had started it all for me. I wanted to make it a tribute to all I learned and loved in Drama. But mostly, I wanted to begin a fresher’s journey the way mine had – ignite someone else’s tragic love story with DCU Drama.

The mixture of over the top panto and heartfelt scenes in DD must’ve been a huge task to find the right tone for each scene, how did you decide where to lead the actors emotionally?

I think when you are given a stellar script like I was, paired with a phenomenal cast with chemistry, the hard work is already done for you. Panto can very easily become one dimensional in its plot and characters and I cannot credit the cast enough. For taking on any direction and really rooting themselves in their characters, to find what made them tick. What drives the comic relief, the melodramatic villain, the recurring Comms student? Every scene had to have an ebb and flow to it, a balance between comedy and tragedy, and thankfully the script provided ample opportunity for both. It was just a matter of highlighting those moments, and letting the cast do what they do best – perform.

Working with a choreographer and musical director can be tough work, did you find that your overall sense of the show was helped by this? Was the choreography, for example, an extension of your arm, or something separate to what you were doing?

I can’t think of the right analogy for the way the production team worked for the show, but I can tell you with confidence that the standard of the show would have been a fraction of what it was, if not for Charlotte Cautley and Robbie Walsh. Each of them added their own identifiable, stylistic flair to their roles yet they remained faithful to the vision we had for the show. There was a lot of give and take and varying input with each member. Ultimately, I think we were all on the same wavelength and understood what we wanted it to look like holistically. There definitely were times it felt like they were reading my mind, an extension of me, and then there were even more spectacular moments where they would pull something out of the woodwork I wouldn’t have considered. Without a doubt, navigating the Panto with them raised the show to a whole new level and I am so lucky I had them in my corner.

What tips would you give to auditionees? What did you look for in the room?

Fake it ’til you make it. If you can come in and pretend to be another person, you can pretend to be confident. You’re an actor, darling! You’d be amazed at what it can do to loosen you up and how your body will begin to follow your brain’s lead. Get out of your own head, and into the head of the individual you are portraying. And have fun! Particularly with Panto, we want you to enjoy every moment on stage! We’re not looking for peak professionalism, we want people who can have a laugh, who want to make friends and memories! And remember, the people auditioning you – they’re only students too. They’re probably just as nervous. 

Furthermore, what tips would you give to actors? As a director, is there anything you need your actors to do before even the first rehearsal?

Bring new insight to the table. Nobody gets into the mind of your character deeper than you. The director may have some insight, but don’t be afraid to be bold and make suggestions. And be open to suggestions from others. Grow with your character. Be sure of where you want them to go, but open to new directions.

Oh, and give a little of yourself to your character, and they’ll give a little of themselves to you, so when it’s over, you carry a bit of them around with you always. 

…does that make sense?

And finally, looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

TAKE MORE PHOTOS! I was told to take photos, but you get so busy you forget. DON’T FORGET.  T A K E P H O T O S. 

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