Interview with Mike Ryan (FEROCIOUS COMPOSURE)

Following last week’s wonderful production CLOWNS ON FIRE, we spoke with Mike Ryan – artistic director for Cork-based company Ferocious Composure. Part cabaret, part existential crisis – this production delved into the topic of modern dating, examining how relationships have adapted or failed to adapt in our digital age. Devised from a combination of personal anecdotes and collected video interviews, the audience was asked to sit back and cringe as the cast painfully re-visited their own experiences with Tinder, night clubs and failed relationships. Needless to say, hilarity ensued.


  • How would you describe Ferocious Composure’s approach to theatre?

Our approach to theatre is simple. We believe in the power of stories, and we’re profoundly passionate about telling them. As a company, we decided early on that our remit was going to be new and seldom performed work. This gives us enough scope to explore theatre as a platform for creating and telling stories that we believe will connect with our audiences.


  •  Who are your influences? Whose work do you really like and have they shaped your creation of theatre?

When studying for my undergrad in UCC (Music and English), long before I ever stepped into the world of theatre myself, I had come across the work of Sheffield based Tim Etchells and Forced Entertainment. Their work and their philosophy has been one of the biggest influences on how I approach theatre. I learned from them early on that a piece of theatre is more than a script. Aside from that, I’m always inspired by Cork theatre makers like Tom Creed, and getting to work with Pat Kiernan and Corcadorca on Caryl Churcill’s “Far Away” this past Summer was one of the most enlightening experiences I’ve had since I created my first lighting design.


  • Can you explain how you start a project? Do you have many ideas or concepts that never reach fruition?

I’ve a stack of notebooks full of abandoned, half realised concepts or projects that just didn’t take, or projects I think aren’t right us right now. I’m a notorious for dropping my own ideas for shows early on in the creative process. Usually if an idea holds your attention for long enough, that’s the one to pursue. If it doesn’t, then the right thing to do is drop it and maybe come back to it later. Maybe never. Some people are geniuses when it comes to making absolutely any idea work, I’m not one of them.


  •  Do you consider a play/performance/piece ever truly finished, or do they continue to evolve?

All theatre continues to evolve through each performance. Usually the evolution slows incrementally from the concept stage, through rehearsals, and throughout performances, but the joy of live theatre is the ability for a piece to adapt and change. If you wat to see a play don eexactly the same way every night, watch a movie. For us, we try to ensure a piece is almost as fresh for us as for the audience, because we believe that creates an energy that the audience can feel. Our evolution tends to be at a quicker pace. Working with actors and designers you trust wholeheartedly is key in that sense.


  • This production is being described as ‘part cabaret, part existential crisis’. Can you give us an idea of what an audience experienced from CLOWNS ON FIRE?

CLOWNS is a strange beast. It’s exactly the type of work we set out to create when we set up the company a year and a half ago. We say it’s an experimental piece, but I don’t know if that word has much merit. All art is an experiment really. It draws from multiple styles of performance in an effort to put the audience off kilter. One minute you’re watching an awkwardly delivered PowerPoint presentation, the next minute you’re watching a fairly classic improv game being played out, then you’re suddenly being inappropriately propositioned by three actual clowns. The last part is a lot of fun.


  • This new piece was developed in conjunction with your alumni company residency in the Granary Theatre, as well as Billable  Connect and the Fishamble Director Mentorship Programme. Can you tell us about how you worked with these tools and what you learned from the experience?
Our residency in the Granary was at times a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it was an enormous help in giving us the space and advice to create theatre, but on the other hand we both overstretched and confined ourselves by trying to adhere to deadlines we set ourselves. The Granary staff were an incredible asset for us as a new company trying to find it’s feet. We learned a lot about how we work, and even more about how we should work, by having them in our corner for the past year.
Working with Belltable and Fishamble was invaluable in giving me confidence in my own work. There’s nothing quite like the relief felt when speaking to a room filled with eleven of your peers from across the country, as well as Jim Culleton, Fishamble’s artistic director, and seeing them all nodding along in agreement with whatever creative idea you’re proposing. We were also very comfortable in challenging each other, and outright arguing with each other at times. By far the greatest tools for creation I brought away from that programme though, were the directors I now call friends. There’s always going to be three or four voices just a message or phone call away, to offer their sage counsel and opinion when needed. I’ve come to realise that there’s no space for rivalry in Irish theatre. At the end of the day, we’re all on the same side.