Fucked-up, crazy, and lovely is how Ultan Pringle summarises his time in Trinity. The playwright dripped with honesty and charisma as we spoke about his time in DU Players and how it shaped the person he is today over a cup of tea. At the beginning of his first year he was told by an older student to leave the society and learn his place, which only urged Pringle to become part of the Players furniture; Now a beloved relic.
The Donegal native grew up actively involved in the amateur drama guild. While working on a play at home, Pringle mentioned to the director that he was soon auditioning for drama in Trinity: “He said to me, ‘well, whatever you do, don’t join DU Players. It’s such a clique and they won’t be nice to you.’ I remember thinking well, I have to join now!”
The Drama Studies and Classics graduate recalled: “it was a rocky start. But I was like, they [Players] have their own theatre?! I’m never gonna leave this place. I loved it and I loved that you could get free cups of tea. I loved washing the dishes in the sink. I loved going in and sitting down and awkwardly speaking to students much older than you who didn’t want to speak to you. I wanted to become part of the place.”
“There was definitely an idea around Players at that specific time where it had been really cool for a couple of years. There was this sort of barrier of entry and you almost had to prove you deserved to be part of DU Players. It was so ridiculous. Continuing on with that society I wanted to see everyone be a part of it.” Defining “cool” in one sentence in the Trinity sphere would be strenuous, but Pringle, as far as societies were concerned, didn’t see the point in the matter.
“You should meet a friendly face, and that face should make you a cup of tea and tell you what’s going on. There were so many ways to be part of the society, which I thought was just so exciting and so fulfilling and wonderful.” He was successfully elected as Chairperson in 2020, and joyously recalled a past member declaring that Ultan Pringle as Chairperson of Players would be “the death of the society.” His intention was to be that person in Players who made you a cup of tea (which I can vouch for that he was).
“You can choose to be supportive and treat people with kindness” — A lesson that more Trinity societies need to learn.
“I thought, what’s the point of having this great, luxurious space if every member can’t be part of it? It doesn’t matter how trendy you are or if you’re making theatre that could win an Olivier Award. You should have a place to put your plays on and be encouraged.” Throughout his Players years, Pringle wrote and staged 11 plays, with his first piece entitled Hearts of Stone. “It was about a homeless man and a nun. It was as bad as it sounds. A nun looked kindly upon a homeless man and we discover he has a heart of gold. But like people hated me! I remember there was sneering and heckling during the show. I was just like, I’m going to put on another one and it’s gonna be even better than this.”
“Now a founding member of LemonSoap Productions, a theatre company of young artists and makers invested in stories of depth, imagination and character, Pringle feels the work ethic required as a Players committee member is something he’s carried with him.”
“It’s hard to talk about my time in Players without adequately expressing how intense that committee can be. The committee would meet every Monday morning from 7am to 9am. You had two box office shifts a week. Open and close the building. Some people were in there every weekend building shows and technically making sure everything was safe and working. Every Wednesday night you had an event. It was a huge undertaking.”
However, it was the social connections bound in Players which he holds dearest, mentioning, “my closest friends now were made from lying on the tech floor of Players sobbing because it was so hard. These were the friendships that stuck.” All cast and crew who worked on his first professional production, It Is Good We Are Dreaming, came from College — “Would love to diversify a bit from that going forward…” Players was where he learned to work in the industry and collaborate, and describes it as being “the best education.” “Luke Dalton was in my first ever play in Players, he played the homeless man in Hearts of Stone. Then seven years on, he was in my first professional staged production. Friendships became professional working relationships.”
From Players, he stresses that he began to understand important elements of leadership: “When you’re chairperson of a society that has 600/700 members and so many of them use the facilities you learn what you say, people listen to it.” Pringle explained that holding this sort of influential role found him consciously carrying himself in a certain and considerate way. “Like if you gave any sort of compliment to a group who worked on a show it meant something, I know it would have to me. These people elected you to be in this position. I mean definitely there were times when I slipped up and said crazy shit. I love to say crazy shit.” He began to understand that what you say matters. He saw countless past committee members be horrid to students, and this rudeness put a stop to their involvement in Players — “That’s a disgusting way to be. It’s only a college society.”
Pringle also went on to be Secretary of the Central Societies Committee (CSC) in 2020 which he described as “really eye-opening.” He felt that he could pass on the energy he brought to Players to other societies in Trinity. “I remember attending the Jewish Society AGM, and I was there having the craic with them and seeing how it all worked. It was incredible and I realised I was definitely in a Players bubble! There’s such a huge life to societies in Trinity and it’s so exciting.”
When asked if there’s any messages he tries to bring across in his writing now, he answered with one word: Generosity. “I’m really interested in writing that has a generosity of spirit. Also simplicity […] A word that always sticks with me when I read is kind. And it kills me when I read something that’s really kind, and has compassion and empathy. I try to include that in my own writing.” At the moment, Pringle is interested in performing his own work and discovering what that does for the text. “I tear myself as an actor, but I really want to see how I do with performing my own work. Like, can I be Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag? Is it an impediment on the work or is it an elucidation on the work to have the writer perform their own words?”
The day the curtains closed at Trinity for Pringle, a lecturer said to him, “you didn’t do a degree in Drama, you did a degree in DU Players.” Despite its flaws, he believes it to be the best thing he ever did. “I would never go back! But I’m really glad with my time there.” With our chat coming to an end, I asked if there was anything he’d tell his first-year self, to which he nonchalantly replied, “kiss more boys.”
Pringle’s latest upcoming project will be Piglet, starring Lora Hartin, coming to The New Theatre April 18-22 telling the story of a woman obsessed with revenge, fish & chips, and Jennifer Coolidge. Also, later on this year, Fruit, a six-part audio series exploring the trials, tribulations and flirtations of four queer women in Dublin today will premiere.