A sign of the times: an alumni interview

Daisy Gambles conducts a 90th Anniversary interview with a former Chairperson of DU Players: Heather Walsh

DU Players is the drama society for Trinity College, presenting over 300 plays a year and holding the title of the oldest drama society in Europe. Players is also a network of directors, actors, writers, producers, and creatives. With the society’s 90th birthday coming up, I was given the opportunity to interview Heather Walsh, Chair of the society from 2013-2014, who currently works in London as a talent agent for B-Side Management.

“Players ten years ago was a lot of fun, but a lot of work”

Gambles:  How would you describe your time at Players? 

Walsh: Players ten years ago was a lot of fun, but a lot of work. When I was Chair, it was one of the biggest societies on campus, rivalling the societies with four-year memberships. 

We took the work involved in the stewardship of the theatre and the society incredibly seriously, and I think the quality of the productions spoke to that. For my final two years in college we won nearly every award you could win at ISDA: A Woman of No Importance [and] The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband were real highlights. Making sure the productions that came through Players were at a certain standard artistically was the backbone of what we wanted to do as a committee. 

We also wanted Players to be the biggest and the best society, and knew we weren’t going to get people in the door by theatre alone. Players is unusual as a society because it has an incredible space and incredibly creative people, so it just made sense to use both to host some truly insane Wednesday night events. Often security would come to shut them down, [which] was our cue to head on to Workman’s. On Rodeo Hick Night there was whiskey tasting in front of house and a mechanical bucking bronco in the theatre. Players Ball was always a huge event, it felt like every year each committee tried harder and harder to push the boat out. [When] we had ours in D-Lite Studios, the place was completely transformed: two dancefloors, food trucks, photo booth, I think there was live music at one point. We collaborated a lot with other societies [such as] the Phil, Law Soc, Fish Soc in particular. Not many fish were involved.

Gambles: Before becoming Chair of the society, what other positions did you hold on the Players committee? 

Walsh: Before I was Chair, I was the Festivals Officer on committee. I think the position was only two or three years old at that point. The festivals we had at the time were ISDA, Fringe Festival, and the Shakespeare Festival. Looking back, the Shakespeare Festival was an absolute crackpot scheme. I can’t believe we pulled it off for as long as we did. It was started by Marc Atkinson, and when Marc and Paul were chairs we had a huge custom-built open air theatre in Front Square. It was equal parts insane and amazing. I don’t think anyone could emotionally face doing that again by the time I was Chair, so we scaled it back [to] smaller-scale productions.

Gambles: How many productions were you involved in? Did you direct or star in any plays? 

Walsh: I can’t go so far as to say I starred in many productions, but I definitely featured! Somehow I was nearly always a policeman. 

 One of the high points was Clue, à la the film. It went up in the final term of my final year, and the cast was mostly fourth years: drama students, the odd English student. Anyone who needed to study wasn’t stupid enough to be in it. The show was hilarious, and the vibe for the audience was very much fourth year co-op. Lots of cans, lots of heckling, and lots of showboating. My crowning achievement was possibly Jurass-tastic! I was a producer and actively told people not to come.

My crowning achievement was possibly Jurass-tastic!. I was a producer and actively told people not to come. How wrong I was. That show made so much money, I think it outsold Co-Op that year. [It was basically] Jurassic Park: the Musical. The T-Rex sung Speechless by Lady Gaga. Jeff Goldblum sang a song called That’s Chaos Theory to the tune of Suffragette City. I think it’s on the internet somewhere!

Gambles: Have you been back to Players since your graduation? Has it changed?

Walsh: When I was back in Dublin this summer, I wandered over to have a snoop – there is still some graffiti that I did in my first year in the downstairs bathroom. So in a very literal sense, it absolutely has not changed. Donal McKeating was Chair after me, and he’s one of my best friends, so I still felt very connected the year after I left. And then my sister Maeve was Treasurer, and my buddy Michael Stone was Chair, so the link was still there. After Maeve and her year graduated I had no sense of the people there anymore, so it all drift[ed] away a bit.  

Gambles: Do you feel Players has impacted or influenced your current career? Again, if so, how? And if not, why?

Walsh: Players definitely helped me decide that being an agent was something I’d like to do. Over the course of four years in Players you can wear a lot of hats, and you come to realise which ones suit you best. I knew I didn’t want to be a creative [and] I sort of hated being a producer, but I used to always joke about being an agent. You always need to balance the creative opportunity with the business reality as an agent, and cutting my teeth somewhere like Players, where you learn very quickly about cooperation and communication, started me on that path. I predominantly represent actors and I’m fascinated by their process. It’s both a transformative and truthful art form. [T]here are actors who started at Players who are still some of the best in the game. 

Gambles: What are three words you would use to describe your time at Players?

Walsh: Ambition. Creativity. Naggins.

Gambles: Was Co-Op a “thing” when you were in the society? Did you enjoy it?

Walsh: It certainly was! I actually was never in a co-op, but I loved going to it. There’s nothing quite like the energy of Friday nights: the drunken heckling, the night out after, the wrap parties! I hope the old traditions are still there as I think it really compliments the rest of the Fresher productions.

I directed Co-Op in third year along with Neil Fitzpatrick, Oonagh O’Donovan, and Jack Gleeson. A few years ago Neil stumbled across the script and sent it to us, and I have to say it was hilarious. The Orb of Azazel: A Cattermonkey Uprising. The songs in that play were genius. I still remember all the words to Here’s to You, Orville Wright and Fuck the Brits. The scale of something like Co-Op is insane, and the idea that it can all come together with creativity and wit from that many people in six weeks is remarkable.

Gambles: Finally, how do you feel about the society now? Do you keep in touch with previous members? Would you come back if you haven’t already?

Walsh: I’m always going to love Players! I can’t overemphasise the intensity of the experience. Truly some of the funniest moments of my life that remain touchstones happened in the building. Also [there were] some stupidly and unnecessarily stressful ones. Getting accused as a committee by academic staff of encouraging campus-wide “behaviour” is something I’m angry about now in hindsight. Of course I’m still in touch with other members; my best friends are all previous members.

Of course I’m still in touch with other members; my best friends are all previous members. There are people [from Players] in all walks of life now, but a lot of us work in entertainment and media. It’s always nice to have an official meeting in an office with someone you met when you were eighteen, and [also] to have really extended alumni connections.  

I know there are some 90th anniversary celebrations coming up and they’re looking for alumni contributions. There’s a huge network of ex-Players-heads knocking around – you’ll all be in our club soon so make the most of [being a member] while you can!  

After interviewing Walsh, I can see that the evolution and impact of Players is one to be admired. Its 90th birthday marks 90 years of connections, original works, and naggin-driven events. Throughout the next 90 years, I hope that stories like Walsh’s will continue to emerge from the (hopefully not haunted) basement of the society.