One: Healing Through Theatre – Pan Pan on Film

When thinking of a theatre performance, the most common image might be this: a large room, in which the audience members sit in complete darkness, watching the distant figures on stage act out a story. This is, in its most basic terms, a play. Yet when the Pan Pan theatre company started developing ‘One’, they reframed this aspect of theatre practice in an ambitious and exciting way, questioning what a performance is and can be, and how we all connect to (performance) art.

One: Healing With Theatre was a project unlike any other. Over the course of a year, Gavin Quinn, Aedín Cosgrove, and Jimmie Eadie met with one hundred actors to ask them one simple question: “Why do you think you became an actor?” The result was a fourteen-hour film linking the interviews together as a form of testimony and confessional. A book of the responses, published by Lilliput Press, as well as a live performance, took place at The Warehouse @ The Digital Hub in Dublin City in 2005, in a specially-building designed by Andrew Clancy. One featured one hundred rooms, each with enough space for exactly one actor and one spectator as part of an intimate performance.

During the performance, the hundred audience members each received a room number, where one of the hundred actors was awaiting their arrival. “The actor”, according to director Gavin Quinn, “strives to make their audience member as comfortable as possible, telling their own story and acting out their first audition piece, much as they did in their own home for the camera”. The actors in One are given nothing but a bed, a chair and a lamp, and formed a personal, intimate connection with the audience in their confined space. This experience might lead audiences to question how they connect to the people and the story presented to them. The performance’s combination of personal attention, artistic interaction and the sense of exclusivity made for an unforgettable performance. In an interview for the Irish Times, Quinn notes how the show is “an awakening for the audience that theatre is live and unique and can't be emulated by any other form. You're putting yourself in the hot zone. There's no just sitting back.” 

One’s book sets out to recreate the performance’s sense of intimacy by featuring full-page pictures of the actors who were involved in the project; they are pictured in their own home, perhaps on the kitchen counter, on their sofa or bedroom, and usually look directly into the camera. Next to these pictures are snippets of text, pulled from the full transcripts of the one hundred interviews, which tell the reader (part of) the true reason why the actor chose their profession. In a sense, the book (and performance) is like a personal diary which all the world has been permitted to read. Apart from being a fascinating time-capsule of actors working in film and theatre around 2005, the book captures the heart of the project and serves as a keepsake of a unique and truly ‘Pan Pan-esque' experience. 

The interviews which the book pulls its quotes from were edited together into a fourteen-hour film, which was screened in various venues in Dublin while One was also being performed. Among the interviewees were Ruth Negga, Tom Hickey, Catherine Byrne, Karl Shields, Bisi Adigun and Kelly Campbell, providing the viewer with a multifaceted and diverse snapshot of the people who make theatre what it is, and what it can be. The film was livestreamed in April 2021, in two seven-hour sessions. 

With One, Pan Pan set out to, ‘heal with theatre’. In the words of Gavin Quinn, One was “a great triumph of personal warmth and vitality between two people, the actor and the audient”. The healing quality of One stemmed from its ability to connect to the audience in a unique and deeply personal way, strengthening the potentially life-altering effect theatre can have. 

Excerpts from One:

“I never really thought about doing anything else. There was no real kind of epiphany or decision. Quite simple, really.” - Ruth Negga 

“There’s a nice kind of lottery attached to it, in that it’s all always only a phone call away.” - Ned Dennehy 

“That day I said to myself, if this man can make me cry, I’ll try and become an actor to make people cry, and also to make them laugh. That was the day I decided to become an actor.” - Bisi Adigun 

“I said, I’ll have to have a go at this. It probably won’t work out, but I’ll try it. Which I’ve been doing ever since, in many forms. Always have a go, if the ground is right.” - Tom Hickey 

“I never made a decision to become an actor. I just assumed I always would be what I was going to do. I just did it. I suppose it’s a bit like being a nun or something, you feel you’re called to it.” - Sonia Kelly 

“I was asked would I audition for a local drama group to play the part of Lieutenant Langan in The Plough and the Stars, which I did, and then I was hooked. I think that’s where my addiction started, because it did become an addiction.” - Karl Shiels 

“We thought this is great craic. So then we started wearing mad clothes and doing exciting things. It was all just a bit magic. That was it, I was gone. An excellent love affair started.” - Philip McMahon 

“I still don’t really know what drove me to it, other than I knew I couldn’t really sit at home and paint all day. It’s kind of the only think that made sense to me really.” - Gina Moxley 

“’Hurling is perfect. I love it. I need it. I crave it. I fucking hate it.’ And you could say the same about acting.” - Mark O’Halloran 

Pan Pan and Film

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