Following the triumphant return of Trinity Musical Theatre’s (TMT) annual show, an outstanding production of Guys and Dolls, some of Trinity’s leading musical theatre performers and showmakers set off to Thurles in Co. Tipperary to compete in this year’s Musical Theatre Intervarsities. I sat down with director Rachel Galvin to discuss TMT’s production of Mamma Mia! on the highs and lows of directing and all things musical theatre on campus.
For Galvin, performance has always been a passion and a necessary outlet for the challenges of childhood and teenage life. A naturally confident child, Galvin jokes: “my parents thought, okay, she needs some kind of outlet.” After joining The Independent Theatre Workshop (ITW) at twelve, Galvin loved it and in Transition Year received a scholarship to a school of performing arts in Boston for the summer. Reflecting on her experience, she recalls that this was “the first time [she] was surrounded by kids who were like ‘oh yeah this is going to be my career.’” Deciding to focus on school and getting into university first, Galvin was accepted into Global Business in Trinity and immediately became involved with TMT.
“It’s really important to be in a space with like-minded people. You have your own academic interest but also love theatre and make time for theatre.”
Having joined TMT in Freshers’ Week, Galvin decided to audition for that year’s production of Chicago. Going for the role of Velma, she recalls her somewhat embarrassing audition where she “dressed in all black; black mesh top, slicked back hair and red lipstick.” She then notes “you kind of have to do that stuff with auditions, you just have to swallow your pride.” Having gotten the part, “that really pulled [her] back into the love of theatre.” Reflecting on the social aspect of the society, Galvin remarks that “it’s really important to be in a space with like-minded people. You have your own academic interests but also love theatre and make time for theatre.” She describes the feeling of being onstage: “when you’re doing the bow and everyone’s standing up for you, there’s nothing like that high.”
Already a confident performer, Galvin made her directorial debut with Mamma Mia!. Speaking about her decision to try directing, she explains: “I kind of thought, I’ve done my part of being onstage with TMT and I want to give something back to the society before I leave.” Having performed in various large-scale productions over the years, she describes sometimes thinking: “oh, I would have done that a different way” and is thankful to have had “the opportunity to exercise that in a small-scale production.” Reflecting on the different experiences of performing and directing, she says: “I love that creative control, like I have a vision and this is exactly how I want to do it.”
“With the intervarsities just two weeks after Guys and Dolls, Galvin faced no small challenge in preparing her twenty-person cast to compete.”
With the intervarsities just two weeks after Guys and Dolls, Galvin faced no small challenge in preparing her twenty-person cast to compete. Describing the process as “overwhelming,” she explains the challenges of creating a twenty-minute show, because, “especially if it’s a well-known musical like Mamma Mia! you have to include the songs that people want you to include.” Reflecting on what she looked for in the audition process, she notes that “people aren’t really looking at your dance technique, especially in a musical like Mamma Mia!, it’s about how much you can draw the audience in… it’s that ‘wow’ factor, that presence.”
Regarding her choice of musical, she thought: “Why don’t we just do a musical where everyone already knows the lyrics, both cast and audience members.” She recalls wanting to include “a lot of big dance numbers” and making it “a very immersive experience, [having] cast members coming up through the audience, it was a bit of a dance party.” In order to include as many songs as possible in such a short time frame, the production managers had to edit all of the songs and put them into one twenty-minute soundtrack of music and dialogue, meaning “the actors had to learn how to say their dialogue when there was no music, so there was a lot of practice with that.”
“There wasn’t a wing on one side, there weren’t spotlights where we thought there were going to be spotlights, so you have to figure that out in forty minutes.”
The competition, held in Thurles, was organised independent of any one university for the first time. Galvin describes rehearsing on campus without knowing what the stage at the venue would be like, with only a forty-minute tech rehearsal the day before the competition to get a feel for the stage: “There wasn’t a wing on one side, there weren’t spotlights where we thought there were going to be spotlights, so you have to figure that out in forty minutes.” As Galvin then points out, “every college was in the same position,” levelling the playing field somewhat.
Having worked out the technical difficulties, the cast were ready to take the stage. Galvin explains that the nature of intervarsities is that “everyone does a twenty-minute musical and you watch everyone’s and then go backstage and do yours, so it was so much fun.” The competition was impressive, and with some of the performers, Galvin says she “wouldn’t be surprised if [she] saw them on the West End.” TMT walked away from intervarsities with three awards: Best Book (awarded for storytelling), Best Ensemble, and third place overall. Particularly proud of the Best Ensemble award, Galvin says that to her, “theatre is everyone coming together.”
Although TMT’s events are over for the year, Galvin encourages anyone interested to get involved next year. She says that while some people may see it as “quite an overwhelming society to get into,” that is definitely not the case. TMT hosts a range of events throughout the year, including karaoke nights, one of which “was literally just Mamma Mia! songs.” Regarding the auditions, she encourages anyone to sign up as “they’re not that intimidating in the first rounds because it’s just small groups of four and five.” She stresses that you do not have to be a performer to join TMT, “you just have to have a love of theatre!”
“I think if something very serious is going on in your life, it’s easy to come to the theatre and forget about it for two hours.”
The return of live theatre has been welcomed by Galvin and every theatre fan both on and off campus, and its impact on people’s mental health cannot be overestimated. As Galvin says: “I think if something very serious is going on in your life, it’s easy to come to the theatre and forget about it for two hours.” That escapism, “a break for your brain,” as Galvin says, is vital for students, and finding community among people who share a deep love for the arts is life-changing.